Michael Searles is a professor emeritus of history at Augusta University. Known to the Augusta community as Cowboy Mike, Searles strives to educate audiences on the Western experiences of black cowboys. Although he is usually dressed in his signature cowboy hat, it’s not uncommon to see Searles wearing boots, spurs or other cowboy attire. Searles retired from the university in 2012 after a 20-year teaching career. He now writes a weekly column for The True Citizen, a Georgia newspaper serving Waynesboro and Burke County.
When did you first take an interest in the cowboy lifestyle?
At 5 or 6 years old. Like a lot of young kids, you hear them on the radio or see them on TV, so I had a fascination early in my life. But I didn’t become interested in terms of academics until much later. That sort of occurred over a period of time – for example, when I bought my first cowboy hat as an adult.
What impact did black cowboys have on the American experience?
America, from the beginning, has been a place that attracted different ethnic and racial groups. They all made contributions to America. For many scholars and individuals, America is defined by the American West. The American West makes us unique, and if we’re excluded from what makes America unique, that puts us at the outside looking in. But if we’re a part of that experience and play a role in that, then it concretes our place in American history.
What was your experience like as a professor at Augusta University?
I once told the students I would do it for no pay. I taught full time for 20 years, and I never had a bad day. Teaching is really engaging students, and I enjoyed engaging students.