Black American West Museum is Under Construction.

  • About Us

    People

    About Us

    The Museum began as the personal hobby of Paul W. Stewart who, as a child playing cowboys and Indians, always had to be the Indian because he was told "There is no such thing as a Black cowboy." So began the story of one man's search and discovery of a past not recorded in history books. Travel throughout the West; gathering artifacts, memorabilia and oral histories, the Paul Stewart Collection formed the museum's nucleus in 1971.

  • Our Mission

    Agency

    Our Mission

    We strive to educate, motivate and empower people as they learn about the intrepid Black Americans who gave their all toward the development of our national heritage. Originally founded to tell the story of “Black Cowboys”, the scope widened to include “stories” of those early Blacks of every profession needed to build up the American West.

  • Our Community

    Events

    Our Community

    Welton Street, the Harlem of the West. Five Points and Curtis Park, northeast of downtown, were sanctuaries for the African American community. Since Benny Hooper's club/recreation center/hotel for black servicemen, the streets of Five Points have whispered Jazz. Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington and many others performed along this historic corridor.

  • Our Partners

    Marketing

    Our Partners

    We are proud to have the following partnerships:

    A Private Guide, Inc.

    Denver Foundation, Eulipions Fund.

    Scientific & Cultural Facilities District.

    Please contact us if you are seeking opportunities to collaborate!

  • People

    Our Founder, A Celebrated Man

    Museum founder celebrates blacks in the West, Colorado celebrates him

    By John Wenzel, The Denver Post

    Posted: 12/13/2014

    [Image caption] Paul Stewart, 88, founded the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in 1971. Sunday has been proclaimed by Colorado's governor and Denver's mayor as Paul Stewart Day. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

    Paul Stewart strikes an iconic silhouette in his studded chocolate leather jacket, Western shirt, bolo tie and crisp, cream-colored cowboy hat. "My wife bought me these," said Stewart, 88, founder of the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver's Five Points neighborhood. "But I can't wear the boots anymore because I have dialysis three days a week. I still wear a black cowboy hat to every one of the appointments, though."

  • Marketing

    Our Founder, A Cowboy Ambassador

    On Sunday, Stewart's family and friends and the staff of the Black American West Museum will hold a small public party for him at the two-story Victorian home that houses the museum. There, they will present Stewart with proclamations from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock that officially mark Sunday as Paul Stewart Day. (His 89th birthday is Thursday.)

    "When people see me, they always say, 'Here comes the black cowboy!' " Stewart said from his Aurora home earlier this week. "And I say, 'Gimme the cowboy handshake!' And if they don't know it, I teach it to them."

    Stewart has traveled more than 100,000 miles teaching that handshake — a pinkie grasp, a thumb swivel and a hearty palm embrace — in his quest to document the oft-ignored impact of African-Americans in the Western United States. It's a trail that has led him to record hundreds of stories from cowboys, pioneers and legislators, but also be interviewed by dozens of magazines and newspapers, appear in TV shows and films, and lecture in front of thousands of students over the course of more than three decades.

    "When I worked for Human Services in Arapahoe County, kids would come in and see my picture of him and go, 'I know him. That's the black cowboy!' " said Johnnie "J'Mae" Stewart, 66, Paul's wife of 27 years. "And the mother would say, 'You do? I remember him from when I was in the third grade.' "

  • Events

    Our Founder, Curator Emeritus

    A place to call home

    Stewart's fragile health has kept him away from the Black American West Museum for the last five years — or about the length of time he's been undergoing dialysis.

    That is, until a few weeks ago, when Stewart stopped by the museum and was asked to pose for photos with a group of tourists from Chicago.

    "The reason it's here and has survived is because of Paul," said JoKatherine Holliman Page, a museum board member. "But people who live in Denver don't even know where the museum is."

    The Black American West Museum's tiny annual budget of $80,000, which is cobbled together from admission fees, donations and impromptu fundraisers, means its staff and board are all volunteers, even as they shepherd a unique collection of about 1,500 on-site artifacts — and tens of thousands more in storage.

    "People with this passion are slightly crazy," said Moya Hansen, a museum volunteer who has worked in collections for History Colorado. "Paul was talking to so many people and gathering so many stories over the years, and every one of them said, 'Here's a piece of the True Cross! Here's that thing my daddy used on the farm!' The stories are really more important than the things, but the things are evidence of the stories."

    Guns, saddles, farming equipment, papers, uniforms and photographs tell the tale of the black migration to the West during and after the Civil War, when pioneers and freed slaves set up their own frontier communities and blended in with existing ones.

    "It was fascinating to realize how invisible we were all throughout this history," Stewart said as he paged through a copy of 1976's "Westward Soul!" — one of two books he has co-authored about early black settlers. "I'd love to be able to do another book about women and mining out West. There is still so much that hasn't been published."

  • People

    Our Founder, An Historian

    A rich history

    Stewart's lifelong passion for Western culture has taken a couple of sharp turns over the years. The first happened when he realized he had never seen a black cowboy — in daily life, movies, or otherwise.

    Whenever Stewart played cowboys and Indians with childhood pals in Clinton, Iowa, he always filled the part of the Indian because, as his white friends insisted, there were no black cowboys. (It was with a sense of irony and appreciation that Stewart later found he had Cherokee blood in his lineage.)

    The second tale, also well-told, involves Stewart noticing a black cowboy on a street corner in Denver shortly after arriving here in 1962. A barber by trade, Stewart was inspired to move to Colorado by his distant cousin Earl Mann — a World War I veteran, legislator and former Denver Post columnist.

    "Look at that drugstore cowboy over there. Who's he trying to fool?" Stewart wondered of the lanky fellow on the corner. "And my cousin said, 'He's a cowboy. In fact, he has a ranch outside of Denver with horses and cattle. He used to ride on the trails in the early days.' "

    Stewart was flabbergasted. His interest snowballed as customers at his barbershop on Welton Street brought in old photographs, cowboy boots and saddles, and other artifacts of the African-American West.

    "We had so much stuff we had to put it in storage," Stewart said of his collection, which was officially founded as a museum in 1971.

    The collection moved around over the years — including a stint in an old saloon and in the basement of Clayton College — before settling at the rescued home of pioneering black doctor Justina L. Ford, who delivered more than 7,000 babies during her time practicing in Denver.

    These days the museum is only open for a few hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Its busy time is summer, when visitors from Europe — spurred by international tourism guides that (correctly) single it out as the only Western-black-history museum in the world — stroll through to absorb tales of African-Americans taming the West with hammer and chisel, saddle and spur.

    Stewart remains an avid collector — of artifacts, stories, friends, press clippings — even if he doesn't get out as much as he used to.

    "It's just like digging a hole in the ground," Stewart said of discovering the layers of African-Americans influence on the West. "You just go deeper and deeper and realize we've played this important part that's not in your history books."

    John Wenzel: 303-954-1642, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or twitter.com/johnwenzel

  • Our Founder, A Celebrated Man
  • Our Founder, A Cowboy Ambassador
  • Our Founder, Curator Emeritus
  • Our Founder, An Historian

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  • Spend time with a BAWM & HC Docent
    People

    Spend time with a BAWM & HC Docent

    What is it like to serve as a docent at the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center? Find out!

  • Why teamwork was, and is still, important
    Marketing

    Why teamwork was, and is still, important

    Our founder and Curator Emeritus, the late Paul W. Stewart, lead by developing teamwork. Our collaboration with universities, businesses and people from around the world keeps his unique leadership style alive and well.

  • Spotlight on Leadership
    People

    Spotlight on Leadership

    Meet one of the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center's Executive Board members.

  • Dearfield: A Colorado Legacy
    Agency

    Dearfield: A Colorado Legacy

    Explore the history surrounding Dearfield, Colorado, a town founded by African Americans in 1910 to promote goodwill and empower African Americans in the West.

  • What's in store for you at the BAWM & HC?
    Events

    What's in store for you at the BAWM & HC?

    Find out what awaits you at the Black American West Museum & Heritage Center.

Visit us in the historic Five Points community!

3091 California Street

Denver, Colorado 80205

(720) 242-7428

 

Open: Fri & Sat 10am-2pm

Closed: Mon-Thurs & Sun