Not only did Hollywood ignore black cowboys, it plundered their real stories as material for some of its films.
The Lone Ranger, for example, is believed to have been inspired by Bass Reeves, a black lawman who used disguises, had a Native American sidekick and went through his whole career without being shot.
The 1956 John Ford film The Searchers, based on Alan Le May’s novel, was partly inspired by the exploits of Brit Johnson, a black cowboy whose wife and children were captured by the Comanches in 1865. In the film, John Wayne plays as a Civil War veteran who spends years looking for his niece who has been abducted by Indians.
'If something is not in the popular imagination, it does not exist,' says Searles.
But why did Hollywood choose to so misrepresent the true racial diversity of the West?
'The American West is often considered the birthplace of America, where Americans were distinct from their European counterparts,' says Searles.
'The West was where white men were able to show their courage. But if a black man could be heroic and have all the attributes that you give to the best qualities in men, then how was it possible to treat a black man as subservient or as a non-person?'"