Photo Gallery: Cowgirls of the Mississippi Delta

Photos and words by Rory Doyle | April 3, 2020


Just after the Civil War, one in four cowboys were African American, but this diversity has not been fairly represented in historical accounts. To this day, the cowboy and cowgirl identity retains a strong presence in many black communities, including in the Mississippi Delta.

This gallery pays special attention to the cowgirls of the Delta, integral members of the local culture who are often overlooked. These images are part of my ongoing documentary project shining light on this riding subculture. The project resists both historical and contemporary stereotypes.

The body of work reveals how deep and diverse the cowgirl community is. I’ve been invited to black heritage rodeos, horse shows, trail rides, “Cowboy Night” at black nightclubs and subjects’ homes across the Delta.

On a personal level, I’ve been welcomed by these folks in a way I could not have imagined. And, because of that, it’s been the most engaging project I’ve worked on. It’s a story that’s particularly timely with the current political environment and one that provides a renewed focus on rural America.

Take our 2023 reader survey

Rory Doyle is a working photographer based in Cleveland. Born and raised in Maine, Doyle studied journalism at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.

He was a 2018 Mississippi Visual Artist Fellow through the Mississippi Arts Commission and National Endowment for the Arts. Doyle won the 16th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest, the 2019 Southern Prize from the South Arts organization, the 2019 Zeiss Photography Award, the 2019 ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography, and the 2019 Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography from the New Orleans Photo Alliance.

He has had solo exhibitions in New York City, London, Atlanta and Mississippi. Doyle’s work has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian and CNN.