Nat Love (1854-1921), African American champion cowboy known as Deadwood Dick, was famous for his great skill as a range rider and cattle-brand reader.
Nat Love was born a slave on a plantation near Nashville, Tenn., in June 1854. He had no formal education but, with help from his father, he learned to read and write. When the slaves were freed following the Civil War, Love worked on the small farm that his father rented from his former owner. After his father's sudden death, he became the sole support of his mother and younger brother and sister. He was able to obtain work on various plantations, where he displayed great skill in breaking horses.
In 1869, at the age of 15, Love was strong and alert and looked older than his years. He left his family in an uncle's charge and, with $50 in his pocket, headed west for Kansas, walking most of the way. When he reached Dodge City (a shipping center for the cattle industry), he got his first job, as a cowboy with the Duval Ranch. In the course of his 3 years with the Duval Ranch, Love became their buyer and chief brand reader. He made many trips into Mexico in this capacity and in the process learned to speak Spanish fluently.
In 1872 Love went to work for the Gallinger Ranch in Arizona, where he remained for many years. He became a master range rider and traveled over all the important western trails between the Gulf of Mexico and Montana. His dangerous work involved him numerous times in gun battles with Native Americans, cattle rustlers, and bandits, and he became an expert marksman. In one encounter with Indians he was wounded but taken captive rather than killed because the Indians were impressed with his bravery. He came to know many of the famous men of the West, including Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, and Pat Garrett.
Love acquired the name Deadwood Dick as a result of winning a shooting contest in Deadwood, S. Dak., on July 4, 1876. He became a champion rifleman by placing 14 out of 14 shots in the center of a target at 250 yards.
Love married in 1889, and a year later he left the range to work as a Pullman porter on the Denver Rio Grande Railroad. In 1907 he published his autobiography, which contains photographs of him wearing his western gear. He died in Los Angeles in 1921.
Further Reading on Nat Love
The best book about Love is his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love (1907; repr. with new introduction, 1968). A well-written source of general information about the Afro-American cowboys is Philip Durham and Everett L. Jones, The Negro Cowboys (1965). Also useful is William H. Leckie, The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West (1967).