At the ripe ago of only 5 years old, Nat Love was suited for greatness. He would tackle adventure like a cowboy securing a villain with his lasso. You don’t really hear the stories of Black cowboys, so much that most people think it didn’t exist. Nat Love was a legend.
The story begins in Davidson County, Tennessee, in 1854. The way my relatives tell the story, my ancestors came over to America from Africa on a slave ship. After the long and treacherous ride over to America, all the African warriors, soldiers, kings, queens, princesses and princes were gathered. There were two white men who would claim ownership of my African ancestors. One of their last names was Love and the other one was named Whitehead. The white men divided the captured Africans up into two groups. They told one side to report to slave owner, Whitehead and the others to report to slave owner, Love. Nat’s family was the Love side. They would give birth to “Deadwood Dick“, who was Nat Love and whom was destined to become the greatest cowboy that ever existed.
Born into slavery, Nat Love learned to herd, rope and brand cows and horses. Those were skills that would prove necessary for the adventures that would follow, Nat Love.
“I’ll be the Yankee and you be the rebel”, said my ancestral great grandfather Nat Love. “No, you be the rebel and I’ll be the Yankee,” Nat Love’s friend William, retorted.
“It’s my gun. I’ll be the Yankee,” Nat Love replied, as he took the stick away from William. “Bam, bam. I killed a rebel,” laughed Nat, pointing the stick at his friend. Seven year old Nat Love was playing a soldier. In 1861, the Civil War had just begun. Nat Love and all of his friends wanted to be Yankees because they opposed the rebels who wanted to keep African slaves. But the North couldn’t let this happen. The South was becoming too powerful and rich. If they continued to own slaves, then they would dominate the rest of the country, leaving the North to suffer or perhaps become a different territory altogether. Someday, Nat Love would fight against the rebels. He and the rest of his crew would often go into the fields in search of an enemy. “Nat yelled, when I give the order… CHARGE!” Those rebels put up a good fight. Nat and his friends ran home.
That was Nat Love. All of his life, he sought and ran straight into adventure. That’s a typical Love for you.
Finally, the time had come when the slaves were set free. Nat Love and his family didn’t talk about the part they played in freeing the slaves much; but it was common for Black families to conspire and fight against slavery in those days. They finally found their freedom. Nat Love’s father bought a farm and tried growing tobacco, but was unsuccessful. Nat Love remembered that there was a horse ranch not too far from where he resided. So he went to try his luck.
The owner had two son’s, Nat Love’s age. One of the boys told Nat Love that if he could break his Colt, then he would pay him 10 cents. Nat Love needed money for his family so he took the challenge. The Colt jumped back and forth and they were all over the barnyard. But Nat stayed on. By the time he was finished, he rode the Colt like they were long lost buddies who had just found each other. Nat retrieved his money from the white boys. Every Sunday after that, Nat went back to that ranch until he had enough money to buy his mother a sunbonnet and a pretty new dress.
Nat Love – Journey Down A Road Of Adventure
With all the money that Nat Love made breaking in horses, things began to turn around. Tobacco on the farm was starting to make a profit. Family stocked up enough food to last the winter.
He told his mother that things were turning around; He turned to his mother, “What do you think?”
“Don’t play the fox with me, Nat Love,” his mother replied. “I see that wandering look on your face. I ain’t never seen much of the world. Maybe one day you’ll come back and tell me what’s on the other side of the mountain.”
Nat hugged his mother before hopping on his horse and heading West.
It was 1869 and Nat Love was fifteen years old. All the years of working on the farm made Nat Love’s body strong. He rode into Dodge City, Kansas, like he owned it with every bit of confidence with a burning passion inside of him to conquer what was there.
Nat Love wanted to be a cowboy. He started to ask people where he could find work. Someone told him of a place that was hiring. Nat Love showed up at 6:15 A.M. the next morning for work. The man told him, if he could ride “Good Eye” then he could get the job. Good Eye was a huge horse and the wildest horse at the campsite. It took 2 or 3 cowboys to bring out Good Eye. Once they saw how easily Nat Love was able to control their horse, the men started to scream, “Ride him, ride him young fella, ride him.” The boss told Nat Love how good he was and that he hadn’t seen horse riding like that before. Nat Love got the job.
Nat Love – The Legend of Deadwood Dick
Nat learned all he could about the cattle business with the Texas outfit. He showed a natural talent for roping, riding and shooting. As his reputation spread, more job offers came his way. By the time Nat Love reached Deadwood City, South Dakota, everyone was saying that he was the “best cowboy ever.” They even compared Nat Love to the likes of people like “Billy The Kid” and “The Lone Ranger.” Nat actually came across these cowboys and showed Billy The Kid the right way to shoot a gun. Billy the Kid was grateful to him for sharing his expertise. Others argued that other cowboys, like Stormy Jim, Powder Horn Bill and Whitehead – the most meanest and feared cowboy of all, were sharper than Nat.
Eventually, the trail bosses decided to hold a contest. The man who could rope, saddle, bridle and mount a wild mustang in the shortest time would be the winner. Nat Love was ready for Glass Eye; which was the wildest mustang for miles around. Everyone assumed that Nat Love met his match, but Nat Love wasn’t worried at all. Once Glass Eye was in place, Nat waited for the signal. He shot after the mustang like a wolverine after a weasel. It was a sight to see. He completed his task 3 minutes faster than the closest contestant, then won the best shot competition. It was down to Stormy Jim and Nat Love. After a coin flip, Stormy Jim went first. He let out ten shots. When he finished, 8 bullets were in the bulls eye. Nat knew he had some slick shooting to do if he wanted to win the contest.
At the signal, Nat Love did something that nobody expected him to do. Nat fired the shots from his hip. He placed every single bullet right into the bulls eye. Stormy Jim couldn’t believe it, but once they checked the targets, he had to agree with the judges. It was at that moment that Nat Love was crowned “Deadwood Dick”, the champion roper and best shot of the western cattle country.
Nat Love continued to work on cattle drives.
Nat Love Meets The Indian People
One time Nat Love was crossing Yellow Horse Canyon in Arizona. He was at the tip of an Indian war whoop. Bullet’s whipped by his head like hornets caught in the Easter Bonnet. One of the bullets tore through Nat’s leg and zipped into his horse. He passed out from the pain.
When Nat Love finally came to his senses, he laid in the Indian camp of yellow Dog. When he looked at his leg, it was almost healed. Nat questioned, “Why didn’t you kill me?”
The Indian brave stood over him and said, “You are a mighty warrior.”
The Indian people respected Nat’s bravery. His captors offered to adopt him into the clan, but Nat Love longed to return to his people. Late one night, he slipped a thin strap of buffalo skin into a horses mouth to use as a bridle. Leaping onto the horse’s back, Nat headed for the open prairie. He turned towards Texas and never looked back. Nat Love was on to many more adventures.
In 1889, Nat Love married a woman named Alice and the couple had one child. In 1890, he began work as a porter for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, a job he held for the next fifteen years. Nat Love died in Los Angeles, California at the age of 67.
When old cowboys sat around campfires, they told tales of cattle drives and mostly they would mention Deadwood Dick – Nat Love, the greatest cowboy who ever existed!