“Now, here’s the thing that you have to remember about a place like this. You’re the curator for everything that lives, breathes on that range. Anything that moves, yells, swims, hunts. You’re the curator. That means birds, bees, skunks. There are beehives on my range, but when there are no blooms and there’s no flowers blooming, they get hungry.
So we have to bring sugar water to feed them. You’re the caretaker for everything on that range no matter what it is. If it’s a skunk, if it’s a snake, whatever it is, that’s your job."
- Quote from 2016 article in MensHealth
"Keeylocko was born in South Carolina in 1931. Abandoned by his mother, he was rescued by a woman who gave him the name Keeylock (he added the O later). He left home at 14 and traveled America as a hobo before serving in the Army for 23 years.
He then attended the University of Arizona, earning degrees in agriculture, because he wanted to breed aggressive, well-armed cattle that could protect themselves on the range. (“Give them back their horns,” he says.) After experiencing discrimination at a cattle auction, he decided to create his ranch.
Keeylocko’s life is as unpredictable as the Wild West. He’s an ordained minister. And he has traveled the country, giving lectures on black cowboys.
“There are people that believe that people like me only play basketball, football, dance or maybe play the banjo,” he said. “What they don’t know is, there were black cowboys long before there were white cowboys.”
His life has made him open to welcoming anyone in his town, regardless of color, or as is the case in southern Arizona, regardless of citizenship. He’s known for chasing the Border Patrol off his property.
“I tell people that Cowtown Keeylocko doesn’t choose who comes here,” he said. “That’s the real West.”
Those he welcomes include illegal immigrants who come for water — from the U.S.-Mexico border, less than 50 miles away.
On a recent afternoon, Keeylocko continued to nurse his tequila at the bar, sweating slightly. Aside from the faint hum of a fan, which didn’t provide much relief, the only sounds were insects chirping. Keeylocko’s eyes became soft...
“A person has to go back to the land,” he said. “It creates thought.”
Then the triple-header of Ahmaud, Breonna, and George Floyd ripped my life foundations out from under me. I was raised with a set of values that promoted diversity-- albeit as God's Christian soldiers. I did have racism awareness growing up and plenty of first-hand witness to Arizona's brand of bigotry. But the depth and insidiousness of nation-wide systemic racism revealed itself in new ways to me everywhere. It is inescapable by design and white people have no idea how deep it runs, myself included. America's Original Sin is still the root of who we are... it's just more polished now. It is physically nauseating.
But then I witnessed something incredible: after 400 years of colonial control, a great reckoning seemed to be stirring within many Caucasian Americans as wave after wave emerged from all corners of the country, calling to end the perpetuation of violence and inequality towards black people-- indeed, all people of color on this land we share.
All the while Nature's voice was growing louder-- falling on impervious presidential ears, bouncing off MAGA hats and unmasked faces, long-guns and battle-gear, fluttering with "patriot" flags while it claimed thousands of American lives unabated. Wild conspiracy theories and demonizations flooding social media were being believed as fact and stoked by the president, creating real-life threats and incidents. Victim-blaming was now Patriotism, and survival assistance was now Radical Left Socialism. It was overwhelming.
So I shut down my Facebook, took time out and rediscovered the world as it really is through the peace of covid sequester in my home. As I sorted through my own countless experiences of sexism and double-standards I realized that no matter how much I experience and learn I can never know what it is to suffer as a person of color in America. I can only offer whatever gifts I may have to honor them.
Here finally, after months in the making, is my vision of Ed J.B. Keeylocko. I brought out his "swamp" green eyes. Above him is his signature Blue Dog Saloon. I include his pinto horse, Jazz, who seemed to be a perfect fit for this painting. He was an incredible man and led an incredible life -- I am sorry our paths never crossed in this world. For those who had the privilege of knowing him, I hope this portrayal of him comes close to doing him justice.
(Horse nerd note: registered pintos have dark bluish bands around their white markings.)