CLINT Eastwood's "Unforgiven," which relentlessly deglamorizes the heroic myth of the Old West, already seemed destined for classic status before it was nominated for a bevy of Oscars this year.
The film, purportedly based on a real historical figure, stars Mr. Eastwood as William Munny, a reformed gunslinger who teams up with a black sidekick named Ditty, played by Morgan Freeman, to carry out a contract killing in a godforsaken prairie town.
Until recently, black cowboys were virtually invisible in American Westerns. One notable exception was Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," which presented a cowhand character named Deets, also played by Mr. Freeman.
Last month the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Deets may also have been based on a real historical personage, a pioneering black cowboy named Bose Ikard, who was born a slave in Mississippi in 1843.
"While still a child," the paper reported, "he was moved to Texas by his owner and learned cowboying as he grew up in Weatherford, just west of Fort Worth.
"At the end of the Civil War, he was hired by Oliver Loving, a veteran cattleman who was rounding up stock to drive to Colorado.
"In 1866 Charles Goodnight and Loving decided to combine their herds. When they blazed the Goodnight-Loving trail from north central Texas through New Mexico to Colorado, Ikard rode with them.
"The route was too tough for calves. So another black cowboy, Jim Fowler, had the task of killing them, keeping their mothers on the move and hobbling the cows at night so they wouldn't turn back.
"Ikard stayed with Goodnight for four years, working as a rider and roper. Goodnight, then in his 90s, arranged a marker and wrote its inscription when Ikard died in 1929: 'Served with me four years on the Goodnight-Loving Trail, never shirked a duty or disobeyed an order, rode with me in many stampedes, participated in three engagements with Comanches. Splendid behavior.'
"Ikard is buried in Weatherford's Old City Greenwood Cemetery. In 1990, the grave site was given a Texas historical marker."