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The Creole Cowboys

Black Cowboys

THE CREOLE COWBOYS

Creole:

  1. A person of mixed European and Black descent, especially in the Caribbean.
  2. A mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage.

What's the difference between Cajun and Creole? Cajuns are the French colonists who settled the Canadian provinces in the 1600s. In 1713, the British took over Canada, and due to refusing to accept the King’s Protestant religion, they were extradited to New York and The West Indies; some were sent down South and to the Louisiana Territories where they found acceptance. It is here where they became known as Cajuns.

Creoles as an ethnic group are a bit harder to define than Cajuns. Creoles can mean anything from people born in New Orleans with French and Spanish ancestry to those descended from African/Caribbean ancestors.

To me, the main difference between Cajun music vs Zydeco music is that Cajun has more guitars and basses. Zydeco features more prominent accordion and washboard, having a backing of a Rock ‘N’ Roll rhythm section. Both styles feature accordions, but they are different types. Cajuns favor accordions with a single row of diatonic keys while Zydeco players use a button accordion or piano accordion, which has multiple rows of buttons or keys being able to play legato runs. I myself like the latter.

Rockin’ Dopsie Jr. and The Zydeco Twisters is my favorite Zydeco group. He took over his late father’s (Alton Rubin Sr) band in 1993 after his death. On stage, Dopsie literally twists in every direction, ending in spectacular splits that amaze his audience.

Many folks think that Western and Texas cowboys were the originals, but there is another source of what is considered most likely the first cowboys circa 1680. Free men of color and slaves from West Africa are thought to be the first cowboys of a very young country, the USA. Their descendants became present day Creole cowboys.

Creole cowboys herded cattle prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Although the word cowboy has been glamorized, it was intended to be derogatory, as in field-boy and house-boy. The mules and horses left in the care of the Creole cowboys were valued more than the cowboys themselves. I remember being incensed when I learned the name of Paladin’s man servant, "Hey-Boy," in the Western series of the fifties and sixties.

Many of Creole descent continue to live in South Central Louisiana in Bayou Teche, where Legend has it that the Chitimacha Tribe killed their enemy, a snake, that was so big it was measured in miles not feet. They fought and triumphed over the snake, and when it died, the earth around it sunk into the land, creating the 125-mile long waterway of today.

The Zydeco Trail rides are popular in Louisiana as well as Zydeco country music created by Creole cowboys. When I first heard Zydeco in the early eighties, I loved it right away because I, being a Cali Gurl, grew up around Mexican music that also has heavy accordion and a galloping beat.

My first conscious recognition of "Creole culture" was during the eighties when I saw Kid Creole and The Coconuts. I learned more after a trip to Natchitoches, Louisiana, during the late eighties. I had always loved Zydeco music, and while there, I got to witness a Zydeco band in person.

What struck me is that everyone knows how to dance to Zydeco music; from five-year-olds to eighty and older. The music is infectious and makes you feel happy wanting to kick up your feet… which I did faking it as best I could… but I had a blast!

When I think of the Creole cowboy, I hear Zydeco music in my head and envision the beautiful green countryside of Louisiana.