Nat Love

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Nat Love
Nat love cowboy cropped.jpg
Died1921 (aged 67)
Other namesRed River Dick; Deadwood Dick
Occupationcowboy, rodeo performer, pullman porter, author
Years active1866–1921

Nat Love (sometimes spelled Nate Love)[1][2][3] (June 1854 – 1921) was an American cowboy and former slave in the period following the American Civil War. His exploits have made him one of the most famous heroes of the Old West.[4]

Early life[edit]

Love was born into slavery on the plantation of Robert Love in Davidson County, Tennessee around 1854.[4] His father was a foreman enslaved on the plantation's fields, and his mother the manager of its kitchen.[1] Love had two siblings: an older sister, Sally, and an older brother, Jordan.[5] Despite slavery-era statutes that outlawed black literacy, he learned to read and write as a child with the help of his father, Sampson. When slavery ended, Love's parents stayed on the Love plantation as sharecroppers, attempting to raise tobacco and corn on about 20 acres, but Sampson died shortly after the second crop was planted. Afterward, Nat took a second job working on a local farm to help make ends meet. At about this time, he was noted as having a gift for breaking horses. After some time of working extra odd jobs in the area, he won a horse in a raffle on two occasions, which he then sold back to the owner for $50 each time. He used the money to leave town and, at the age of 16, headed West.[1]

Life as a cowboy[edit]

Love traveled to Dodge City, Kansas, where he found work as a cowboy with cattle drivers from the Duval Ranch (located on the Palo Duro River in the Texas Panhandle).[6] According to his autobiography, Love fought cattle rustlers and endured inclement weather. He trained himself to become an expert marksman and cowboy, for which he earned from his co-workers the moniker "Red River Dick."[1] In 1872, Love moved to Arizona, where he found work at the Gallinger Ranch located along the Gila River.[1] He wrote in his autobiography that while working the cattle drives in Arizona he met Pat Garrett, Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, and others.[1]

"Deadwood Dick"[edit]

After driving a herd of cattle to the rail head in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, he entered a rodeo on the 4th of July in 1876, enticed by the $200 prize money.[1] He won the rope, throw, tie, bridle, saddle, and bronco riding contests. It was at this rodeo that he claims friends and fans gave him the nickname "Deadwood Dick,"[5][7] a reference to a literary character created by Edward Lytton Wheeler, a dime novelist of the day.[1][8]

Capture and escape[edit]

Mounted on my horse my ... lariat near my hand, and my trusty guns in my belt ... I felt like I could defy the world.[1]

In October 1877, Love writes that he was captured by a band of Pima Indians while rounding up stray cattle near the Gila River in Arizona. Although he claimed to have received over 14 bullet wounds in his career (with 'several' received in his fight with the Native Americans while trying to avoid capture), Love wrote that his life was spared because the Indians respected his heritage, a large portion of the band themselves being of mixed blood.[1] He almost married the chief's daughter.[citation needed] The band of Native Americans nursed him back to health, wishing to adopt him into the tribe. Eventually, Love writes, he stole a pony and escaped into west Texas.[1]

Life after being a cowboy[edit]

Love during his career as pullman porter (left); Cover to his autobiography, published in 1907 (right)

Love decided he needed to leave the cowboy life. He married a woman named Alice in 1889 and settled down, initially in Denver, taking a job in 1890 as a Pullman porter, which involved overseeing sleeping cars on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. While working for the railroad, he and his family resided in several western states, before finally moving to southern California.[citation needed]

In 1907, Love published his autobiography entitled Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as 'Deadwood Dick,' by Himself, which greatly enhanced his legacy.[4] Love spent the latter part of his life as a courier and guard for a Los Angeles securities company.[1] He died there in 1921, at the age of 67.[7]

In popular culture[edit]


Joe R. Lansdale used Love in the novellas Nine Hide and Horns, which was published in the anthology Subterranean Online (2009) and Soldierin, which was published in the anthology Warriors (2010), in the novella Black Hat Jack (2014) and the novel Paradise Sky (2015).[citation needed]


In 2012, a graphic novel was published about Nat Love, Best Shot in the West, by Patricia and Fredrick McKissack (script) and Randy DuBurke (drawings).[9]

In 2018, the Italian publishing house Sergio Bonelli Editore adapted the stories of Lansdale to comic series Deadwood Dick, with scripts by Michele Masiero, Maurizio Colombo, and Mauro Boselli and art by Corrado Mastantuono, Pasquale Frisenda, and Stefano Andreucci.[10]


In the television film, The Cherokee Kid (1996), Nat Love is portrayed by Ernie Hudson. In They Die by Dawn (2013), Love is portrayed by Michael K. Williams.[11]

Jonathan Majors portrayed Nat Love in the Netflix film, The Harder They Fall.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick," by Himself; a True History of Slavery Days, Life on the Great Cattle Ranges and on the Plains of the "Wild and Woolly" West, Based on Facts, and Personal Experiences of the Author; reference: Love, Nat; Los Angeles, California; (1907); [Summary & Review by Harry Thomas]; Documents South collection; Nat Love; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill website; retrieved October 2015
  2. ^ Great American Plains – Nate Love; article; May 21, 2017; World History - U.S. online; Accessed September 2019
  3. ^ The Real 'Deadwood Dick' ; Black Hills Visitor online; accessed September 2019
  4. ^ a b c Texas Ranchouse – Black Cowboys;; Text: "...One of the most famous western black cowboys – because he wrote his memoirs ..."; accessed October 2015
  5. ^ a b Nat Love, A Cowboy of Excellence Archived 2018-01-06 at the Wayback Machine; African American Registry; accessed October 2015
  6. ^ "Nat Love: A True Original". Denver Public Library History. 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2020-11-14.
  7. ^ a b Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience; p. 175; retrieved .
  8. ^ Note: Scholars Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones believe that after the rodeo, Love laid claim to the Wheeler character's nickname to help sensationalize the events of his own life, although they don't believe the autobiographical book is wholly discredited by this. See: Durham, Philip, and Everett L. Jones; "The Negro Cowboys;" New York: Dodd, Mead & Company; (1965)
  9. ^ Terri Schlichenmeyer (April 2012). "Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love". Tennessee Tribune. GP Subscription Publications. 23 (15): 6A. Retrieved April 4, 2017.[dead link]
  10. ^ Audace 2018
  11. ^ O'Keefe, Meghan (March 20, 2013). "Real Black Cowboys Live On Screen In They Die By Dawn". Retrieved September 7, 2021.
  12. ^ Holmes, J.M. (September 21, 2020). "The Timely Arrival and Urgent Ambition of Jonathan Majors". Retrieved September 7, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Black West; Katz, William Loren; Touchstone Books; Simon & Schuster, Inc.; (1987; 1996 – Ethrac Publications, Inc.); ISBN 0-684-81478-1

External links[edit]