I’ve recently, and in the past, received many questions about Black Mask & Pale Rider, and at some point I’ll do an FAQ about the book and post it up as it’s own page. But one thing I wanted to focus on was the question of why I decided to change things to African American gunfighters. The character of Clayton “Slowhand” Johnson (changed in the rewrite to Adams) is a former slave who escaped bondage and became a part of the Underground Railroad in Indiana and Arkansas (in the book, he’s not an actual historical figure). Many have asked, and even stated, that such a thing is very fictional, that most gunfighters were white.
This is inherently incorrect. What history lets us see, and what Hollywood promotes, is the fantasy and romance of the white gunfighter. Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Jessie James (who, for his own part, was a psychopath who used the Civil War as a way to feed his own addictions). A vast majority of actual gunfighters that Hollywood doesn’t touch on were in fact African American and even First Nation.
We are fooled by the romance of the kindly white freedom fighter who is trying to help the victimized slave obtain their own freedom. In truth, many blacks were finding their own freedom through their own agency, and helped along the way through kindness of strangers, many of whom were other escaped slaves or free blacks who lived in free territories in the United States and even Canada. For many African Americans, they fought for their own freedom through their own agencies and helped others obtain freedom later. A good example is Harriet Tubman. Tubman is even further seen as an anomaly because she is a woman, and a female gunfighter is considered even more rare. Annie Oakley was called a trick shooter, even though she did the same things other male gunfighters did.
African Americans proved they were some of the best cattle ranchers, gun hands, farm hands and land owners. Many who escaped wanted to own their own land, work land that they owned and they tended. There was a large urgency for family, because slavery often stripped African Americans of any semblance of family. They were, after all, treated no better than cattle.
So having Clayton Adams as a gunfighter in the rewrite to Black Mask & Pale Rider (and even making it known that Shani’s ethnicity is First Nation) isn’t that far from the truth of what actually happened in historical events. The book is fantasy fiction, but the time it’s placed in has some aspect of accuracy.