On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America by Lisa Winkler
On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America by Lisa Winkler is a fabulous biography of a cross-country horseback ride of Miles Dean. The biography gives a short background to introduce the reader to the purpose of Dean’s journey and the deep emotion behind it. His inspiration grew from watching cowboys on tv and realizing that none of them looked like him. There were no positive and influential African American role models that he could look up to in his world until he saw Sidney Poitier portray a cowboy in Buck and the Preacher, a 1972 film. As a teacher, he noticed the intense lacking of the history of African Americans in school. Thus, the film and his desire to bring attention to of the contributions African Americans made to the United States during the 1500-1800s spurred inspiration to follow in the steps of the early pioneers exactly as they would have done it- on horseback. Slowly, Dean was able to procure time on a ranch, riding lessons and eventually a horse.
Winkler’s story weaves Dean’s ride from New York to California with very small tidbits on the history of why Dean stopped in the various locations important in African American history along the way. Each small history, sometimes only a paragraph in length, begs for elaboration for a deeper tale. Along the way, Dean meets many small town people who are in their way heroes to him: a sheriff who clears the way for him to ride his horse, people who open their open to him, and others. At other times, he stops and talks with students, many taking an interest in his horses, animals which many of them have never seen in person. Trials and turbulations greet him at every turn but valiantly he fights through and finishes his journey six months later at a celebration at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
The book is a quick and easy read and would be very effective for a middle school classroom that could evoke a deep discussion about African American contributions throughout the centuries. Too often school curriculums only focus on slavery and the Civil Rights movement, both important in their own right, but then neglect the other aspects of a vital group in history. The book could be paired with a bulletin board map and student assignments on the history of the importance of each of Dean’s stops along his journey.
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For more information on the author, Lisa Winkler, visit her website.