This was the black rodeo circuit in Texas during the early 1980s. No sponsors. No telecast. Just hard-living rural black folks, mostly, who wagered their entrance fees on their ability to lasso or ride a large animal. Dangerous? Hell yes. Both the event and the people.
We waited in a line of trucks pulling horse trailers. Father scanned the large crowd. Some recognized his truck and would hoop and holler. Father casually nodded at his fans, hiding his glee. It took so long to become somebody. But he earned itthe good and the bad.
That's what they called him after he returned to the South following the incident in Los Angeles, but he would say that he preferred the pseudonym rather than his given name because "them cowboy niggas is a rough bunch. They don't need to know nothing about me." But they did. They knew where he lived, where he kept his horses, where he worked, all the info. But then again, they admired him because he was deadly accurate with the lasso, the bullwhip, knives, pistols, arrows, spit, and every other thing he learned from those years in Basile, Louisiana, and from film sets in Agua Dulce Canyon, California. A regular Wild Bill Hickok with the charm and grace of a screen actor. He was smooth, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by the women in attendance, married or unmarried.
But they also knew that he was tough and would fight at the drop of a dime. Nobody fucked with John Frenchy. Nobody.
Our horses snorted as they shuffled backward out of the trailer. TJ, carved from cream marble with a golden mane, made a stately exit. A proud animal indeed. Father grabbed the reins and huffed a command. The golden horse extended his front hooves, then dipped into a bow. Many looked at the spectacle as Father mounted the prostrating animal. Show-off. I put one foot in the stirrup of my skittish bastard, Black Jack, and he started moving, avoiding my mount, denying my glory.
"Yank the reins, Ti' John."
I did, but Black Jack kept moving so I had to mount in motion. Bastard.
Father lit a cigarette, then made a clicking sound. We headed out. He liked to take a spin around the arena when he'd first arrive to see his friends and let everybody know he was there. An impresario of the highest caliber. And off we'd go for our presentation lap. John Frenchy and Lil' Frenchy. That's what they called me, and I can't say that I minded it much. It carried some weight with the rough kids of these rough people, because you sure as hell didn't fuck with John Frenchy's son.
Now imagine a black carnival where the smells of barbeque, cigarette smoke, and manure mixed into a delightful rustic aroma and nobody held their nose. All around us, black people of all ages in cowboy attire. Hats and boots. If your clothes were too clean then they'd assume you weren't a real cowboy. As we moved slowly through the crowd on high atop our steeds, smiles and waves and whispers and nods confirmed Father's status. He was a rock star and I was his son.
In the 1970s and early '80s, Father competed in "breakaway" calf roping, where the roper flies out of the chute after a calf that's given a bit of a lead. The roper must rope the calf, jump off the horse, slam the calf on its side, then quickly tie down all four legs with a smaller rope called a "pinky string." The roper who can manage that in the shortest amount of time wins. That was Father's money event. He was going to win that.
But he'd also compete in "team roping," which involves two ropers who chase a steer out of a chute. One roper must lasso the steer's horns (called "head"), and the other must lasso both back feet (called "tails") for time. This required a different type of finesse because the head roper must swing the steer to make the back legs more available. This was John Frenchy's big question as we rode around the arena. Who was going to be his partner for team roping?
Excerpted from Red Now and Laters by Marcus J Guillory. Copyright © 2014 by Marcus J Guillory. Excerpted by permission of Atria/Emily Bestler Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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