a storyteller with a mission to preserve the African-American cowboy's
life began under less than perfect circumstances. His father died when
Wil was 2 years old, his mother when he was 4. But if you ask Wil what
he thinks, hell just smile and say, Thats OK, Gods
got me covered.
Today Wil has risen above his humble beginnings to become a cowboy storyteller,
educating audiences across the nation about African-American heroes of
the American West.
Wil Robinson keeps the African-American frontier alive sharing pioneer
After his mother died,
Wil and his siblings went to live with his Uncle Kingsley and Aunt Regina
Frey in Topeka. His uncle, an expert in breaking and training draft horses,
taught those same skills to young Wil as he helped on the farm.
He taught me not to go at something haphazardly, says Wil,
56, and to put enough of myself into whatever Im doing so
Id be proud of a project when I was finished.
Wil never forgets the many questions he asked his uncle about his black
heritage. In 1996 he decided to turn that passion for knowledge into something
he could share with the rest of the world. He started Black West Presentations,
Inc., a not-for-profit business that teaches the heritage and history
of the African-American cowboy.
Against an elaborate backdrop, Wil steps onto the stage in full cowboy
regalia and becomes one of the many black Western heroes such
as cowboy trail-blazer Bose Ikard, steer wrestler Bill Pickett and bronc
buster Ned Huddleston, also known by the nickname Isom Dart. Wil also
includes stories about his mentors Uncle Kingsley and his ancestor George
Robinson, who rode for the Pony Express.
With only the change of his hat, Wil steps into each characters
life. One of his favorites is Nat Love, an emancipated slave who earned
the name Deadwood Dick after winning numerous roping and shooting
contests out west.
Wil calls his presentation Cowboys of Color, and takes it
to schools, theaters and rodeo events all across the United States. His
one-man show has been at Bransons Silver Dollar City, Coterie Theater
in Kansas City and is currently performed across the United States as
part of the Great American Wild West Show.
I had no formal training in storytelling, says Wil, a member
of Osage Valley Electric Coopera-tive, but I had a cousin who helped
me out with a little method acting advice.
That cousin happened to be movie and TV actor George Moses Gunn, probably
remembered most for his role as Joe Kagan in the series Little House
on the Prairie.
As early as age 8, Wil says he remembers peppering his Uncle Kingsley
with questions about his heritage and asking things like why he didnt
see many other black farmers or black cowboys around town.
My uncle answered all my questions, says Wil, and he
taught me about my family and the importance of knowing your heritage.
Thats stuck with me all my life.
After high school, Wil joined the Marine Corps, serving as a combat photographer
in Vietnam. But no matter where he was stationed, Wil found a stable and
rode horses in his spare time. After he left the service, Wil bought a
few horses of his own to break and ride.
A cowboy to the core, Wil went on to became a professional bronc rider.
He describes the experience as jumping out of a 10-story window
with a 2,000-pound suitcase in your hand.
It was a thrill he loved, but he realized he couldnt do it forever.
You just have to know when to quit. One of the last times I rode,
a horse rolled over on me and stepped on my chest, says Wil, who
competed for 15 years. That helped me decide to retire from bronc
Sadly, Wils Uncle Kingsley didnt live to see him perform his
Cowboys of Color presentation, but many of his children have.
A couple of years ago the family held a huge family reunion and
they asked me to do my program for them, says Wil. A lot of
them didnt know how Id come to live with Uncle King and Aunt
Regina or how he taught me about my heritage. Uncle Kingsley would always
tell me, Youre never gonna know where youre going if
you dont know where youve been.
And thats what cowboy storyteller Wil Robinson wants to share through
I want the audience to become aware of African-American heroes and
everyday people in the history of the American West, says Wil. And
I especially want to inspire todays African-American youth to catch
the meaning of their heritage and to take it forward with them in the
Wil has also created the Cowboys of Color Educational History Game and
is finishing his book Cowboys of Color Yesterday and Today,
scheduled to be published later this year.
Cowboy Wil also has another subtle message he hopes to get across to all
Were all Gods children, and we are called to honor him,
says Wil. I want everyone, especially the youth today, to know that
they can do anything because God is on their side giving them the strength
to tackle it all.
Its a colorful, as well as powerful message of good news for all
races to hear and draw upon today.
You may contact
cowboy storyteller Wil Robinson at Black West Presentations, Inc., 23900
S. Airport Rd., Harrisonville, MO 64701; (816) 626-3763.