‘1883' Star LaMonica Garrett Shines a Light On Black Cowboy History

By Gabrielle Pharms | January 20, 2022

Danny Glover, Otis Young, Rick Worthy, and Raymond St. Jacques are among the handful of Black actors who have brought iconic cowboy characters to life on screen in the past. Finally, however, the western genre is back in a big way, with a fresh wave of Black actors portraying cowboys as lead characters. Among the actors leading the way of representation in westerns is LaMonica Garrett in the critically acclaimed new Paramount+ series 1883.

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Garrett stars alongside Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw, and Billy Bob Thornton on the Taylor Sheridan-directed show. Garrett plays the character Thomas, a cowboy who is a former enslaved person and an American Civil War Vet – serving as a Buffalo Soldier in the war. He is now a Pinkerton Agent and has joined the journey to Montana as the right-hand man to the fellow cowboy and war vet Shea Brennan (Elliott), leading the group on their travels. Historically, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency – founded in the 1850s – was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the peak of its power and was one of the first agencies of its kind to hire Black people and women. Garrett tells EDITION, “This arc that Thomas has was in the past traditionally given to people that don't look like me. So, where he's come to this point and what he means for the show is only going to go multiple steps further.”

See more: How Director Jeymes Samuel Reinvented The Western

We caught up with Garrett to talk about westerns – from the significance of playing Thomas on 1883 to the impact representation in the genre has on the next generation of cowboy culture fans. Garrett even gave us the scoop on his forthcoming role opposite Chris Pratt on the upcoming thriller drama series The Terminal List.

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With your role as Thomas on the show 1883, I'm sure you had to do a lot of research about cowboys. I know you also have long had an interest in westerns. So, tell me a bit of your character development and what’s gone into you playing that role.

I read a lot about Black cowboys, and I didn't know nearly as much as I do now. The rich culture and the history of Black cowboys – I had no idea. I knew a little bit about Buffalo Soldiers already. I did some research on them as well because that's part of his character dynamic. But mainly, it was Black cowboys. I just had no idea the way the West was shaped by the impact they had. You just wouldn't know it by watching those old shows, and I watched them – Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, The Virginian, and all those. You just never really saw Black cowboys. So, you just don't know what you don't know. When you start reading and reading and reading, you're like, ‘Wait a minute, we were a big part of shaping the West,’ and that’s the main thing I focused on. I read as much as I could before we started filming.

So, from your research and the reading that you did, what was the biggest aha moment for you?

I’m reading that one of every four cowboys were Black. That's a lot for not being pictured in any of these old TV westerns. Twenty-five percent is a lot of people. The aha moment was that they all shared a similar background as former slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation and moving west. In Texas – West Texas and southeast Texas – they found work as cowboys because that's what they did back on the ranches where they lived in Mississippi. They were attending to the horses and attending to the field. So, it came naturally to them. When they got to Texas, it was less discrimination with other cowboys. It was still there and still present in the 1800s, but it was less discrimination with other cowboys because it was working the field and it was like, ‘All of us are working in the field, and if you can pick up your end of what you're doing workwise, I respect you.’ They felt like it was more freedom, that wasn't complete freedom – but it was more equality than where they came from. That’s the one thing I never knew.

That is a staggering fact. One in four. Wow! So, looking at some of the actors in the past – you have Woody Strode, Danny Glover, Otis Young, and Ricky Worthy – only a handful of these cowboys portrayed in the films were Black men. So, how does it make you feel as playing the role of Thomas? How do you think that's going to impact the next generation?

I just see this wave coming. Taylor Sheridan didn't invent the genre, but he's giving it a shot of adrenaline. Cowboys are in right now. It’s back. All these movies and TV shows are coming out with cowboys and the cowboy culture. It’s really great to see The Harder They Fall and Concrete Cowboy with leading Black men in these roles. I just hope that along with what they're doing and what Thomas means to this project – Thomas is right in the center of it – and what he represents moves forward to more people of color. One of every four cowboys was of Mexican descent; like Mexican cowboys, it was the same as Blacks. They weren't represented. So, it’s like more diversity in the whole genre because we were grossly misrepresented, and we were a big part of shaping the West.

This wave of westerns coming out is featuring more people of color, which has largely been erased in Hollywood. So, kudos to you for playing this role. Later in the year, you're starring alongside Chris Pratt on The Terminal List. What’s the gist of the show and your character? What are you most excited about for the show?

That show is going to be a big one when it comes out. It was so fun to work opposite Chris Pratt. So, it’s a Navy SEAL action conspiracy kind of show. Jack Carr wrote a series of books, and he's a former Navy SEAL. So, there's an authenticity to it. There's a lot of former Navy SEALs in front of and behind the camera in that production. So, it’s going to be the real deal. The cast is amazing. Chris Pratt, Taylor Kitsch, and Constance Wu, just to name a few. In my role, I'm Commander Fox. I'm pretty much his mentor in the show. We have this connection where he trusts me. When he comes back home, I'm kind of steering him in the right direction to see how he should approach this and try and get to the bottom of what happens to his platoon in the opening sequence of the show.

Nice. 2022 is a big year for you. It’s only January, and you have all these exciting projects. What inspires you to keep going as one of these amazing actors on these two different series?

I just love telling stories. You get these good gigs every once in a while, like Designated Survivor to me was really great working opposite Kiefer Sutherland. I've had some fun roles. Then, every once in a while, you get those not just good gigs, but those gigs that there's a responsibility to it like on 1883. Growing up watching these westerns with my mom, I didn’t see any Black cowboys. Now young kids are watching this, and they might be inspired by it. I've gotten messages from a bunch of buddies of mine whose parents have passed away. They would call me and say, ‘Man, my dad would love the show.’ That was a bonding time with your kids. When you were growing up, that was all that was on TV. So, you were just sitting around watching westerns. So, the calls I'm getting from my friends saying they wish their parents were still here to see this because it's significant to keep pushing me to tell different stories and play different characters that have that effect and inspires change.

Photography by: Bobby Quillard; Paramount+