Johanna July, a black Seminole, was born around 1857 in Nacimiento de Los Negros, the settlement established in northern Mexico following the emigration of Indian and black Seminoles from the Indian Territory in 1849.
By 1870, the U.S. Army, desperate for translators and scouts familiar with the border country, employed the black Seminoles leading to their return to the United States. Most of them, including the July family, settled in or near Eagle Pass, Texas in 1871. There Johanna July learned to tame horses and herd the family’s goats and cattle. With the death of her father, she worked the stock and continued to tame wild horses for the U.S. Army and area ranchers.
Johanna developed her own method of taming horses. She would lead a horse into the Rio Grande, swim up, grab the mane, and gently ease astride. As the horse tired from swimming, he lost the strength to buck.
Johanna July is recalled as a tall, barefoot girl, who wore bright homespun dresses. She wore her hair in thick braids and wore long gold earrings and necklaces. When she married a man named Lesley, the couple moved to another black Seminole border community along the Rio Grande at Fort Clark, Texas. Her new life, however, did not go smoothly. Not being used to household chores she burned beans and improperly cut fabric. Her husband responded to her difficulties with violence and Johanna eventually left, riding her pony to Fort Duncan, Texas.
Life changed little for Johanna July as she got older. After the death of her first husband, she married two more times and continued to tame horses and herd stock. About 1910, Johanna moved to Brackettville where she lived the rest of her life in a small house on a hilltop near the cemetery. Family members recall her as that old lady who rode sidesaddle and went barefoot around the house. She died shortly after World War II and is buried in the Brackettville Seminole Cemetery.
Jim Coffey, “Johanna July: A Horse-Breaking Women,” Black Cowboys of
Texas, Sara R. Massey, ed. (College Station, Texas A&M University
Press, 2000), 73-84.