Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick: Cowboy, Nature Lover, Man of Letters

Posted by Michael Zimny on

Nat Love, alias Deadwood Dick, was one of the early prototypes for the American Cowboy, though not the one that predominated in Hollywood.

Born a slave on a plantation in Tennessee, he left home in 1869 and headed West to find a better life. He wasn’t alone in making the migration from postbellum South to the Wild West, many cowboys at the height of the first great Western cattle boom were black.

natlove5.pngThe roping contest at Deadwood. Photo: The Life and Adventures of Nat Love.

His legend began in and around Dodge City, Kansas and picked up steam in Texas, where, according to his autobiography “The Life and Adventures of Nat Love,” he became Red River Dick, and word of mouth about his mastery of horses began to spread. In the employ of a Texas panhandle ranch he referred to as the “Duval outfit” he made journeys herding cattle and horses from Texas to Wyoming and the Dakotas. “By strict attention to business, born of a genuine love of the free and wild life of the range, and absolute fearlessness, I became known throughout the country as a good all around cow boy and a splendid hand in stampede.”

Later on as a chief brand reader for another cattle baron his territory expanded from Montana to Mexico, growing his notoriety for squaring off with bandits, rustlers, and at least one buffalo stampede. He was known to play as hard as he worked, hitting cattle towns between runs with the “ambition to paint the town a deep red color and drink up all the bad whiskey in the city.”

  natlove3.jpgNat Love and family.

He secured his status in the folklore of the West in Deadwood, where he arrived in July of 1876, days after a coalition of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho forces routed Custer’s 7th Cavalry. At an impromptu Fourth of July roping contest, he “threw, tied, bridled, saddled and mounted” a particularly “vicious” mustang in the best time. For his exploits, legend has it he was given the title of Deadwood Dick — the first dime novel in Edward Lytton Wheeler’s Deadwood Dick series, “Deadwood Dick, the Prince of the Road; or, The Black Rider of the Black Hills” was published the following year.

According to his memoir, he held the title of champion roper until his retirement from cowboying in 1890. Among other exploits, he claims to have been present when Sheriff Pat Garrett of Lincoln County, New Mexico shot and killed Billy “The Kid.” He may or may not have spent some time among the Pima, or Akimel O'odham people in Arizona. Like many figures in Western folklore, some of the tales told by and about Love may be tall, it can be hard to separate life from legend.

natlove2.pngNat Love as Pullman Porter.

Love met and married his wife in 1889, and hung up his spurs to work as a Pullman Porter. With his keen workman’s sense for where industry was headed, he anticipated that with rise of the railroads the culture of the American cowboy had already seen its zenith. when he published “Life and Adventures” he waxed eloquent — enthralled to the scenery of the American landscape he criss-crossed first as a cowboy then as a porter — about the railroad as a way to “See America.” “I have seen a large part of America, and am still seeing it, but the life of a hundred years would be all too short to see our country.”

In his short 67 years — Love died in 1921 — he saw more America then most freeborn Americans will in their lifetimes.

Related:

Leonard "Bud" Williams, Mitchell Pioneer of the Possible

Yankton-Born Cleveland Abbott Played a Pioneering Role in American Sport

subscribe to sdpb email updates food blog link image learning blog link image living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

Related content from SDPB Radio - Art

Artist Deborah Mitchell: Gardens I've Known

In The Moment ... January 4, 2017 Show 249 Hour 2 It's always a delight to catch up with artist Deborah Mitchell...

Images Of The Past

In The Moment ... December 18, 2017 Show 242 Hour 2 We talk with Conor McMahon, Chief Curator, U.S. Department of...

"Loving Vincent" Comes To Sioux Falls

In The Moment ... November 29, 2017 Show 229 Hour 1 Cinema Falls brings the film "Loving Vincent" to Sioux Falls. We'...

Paul Horsted’s Epic National Parks Project

In The Moment ... November 22, 2017 Show 226 Hour 1 Paul Horsted has been making photographs for more than 35 years....

Books

Bruce Wylie Discusses "Adventures In the Bush"

In The Moment ... February 13, 2018 Show 276 Hour 1 If you're looking for an adventure, you can live vicariously through Bruce Wylie's book "Adventures in the Bush...

"Glorious Fourth Of July" By Mary Gibson Sprague

In The Moment ... February 7, 2018 Show 272 Hour 1 Mary Gibson Sprague has a new book featuring the artwork and...

Scott Freeman's "Saving Tarboo Creek"

Scott Freeman is a biology professor at the University of Washington, where he received a Distinguished Teaching...

Author Illustrator Harry Bliss & "Grace For Gus"

Harry Bliss is an award-winning children's author and illustrator and a cover artist and cartoonist for "New Yorker"...

Music

The Transformation Of Chase Padgett

In the Moment ... February 14, 2018 Show 277 Hour 2 Head to the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City this Saturday at 7:30...

Kid Dakota Talks About Pain, Music, And "Denervation"

In The Moment ... February 13, 2018 Show 276 Hour 1 Kid Dakota is the musical moniker of Darren Jackson. His albums...

Moment In Sound With Anna Robins

In The Moment ... February 9, 2018 Show 274 Hour 1 For this week's Moment in Sound we welcome Anna Robins . Her new...

Personalities: Jim McKinney, Fmr. SDSU Band Director

Jim McKinney came to South Dakota State University in 1975 and was SDSU's band director from 1983 until his...

Theater

Images of the Past: Stage To Screen

In The Moment ... November 27, 2017 Show 227 Hour 2 A new exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum tells the story of...

Personalities: From Huron High to Broadway

Singer, actor, and teacher Joseph Mahowald graduated from Huron High School in 1977. He went on to study music and...

In The Moment ... Alex Meyer's Scenic Design

In The Moment ... May 10, 2017 Show 090 Hour 2 Alex Meyer. He's a junior art and theater major at Augustana College...

In The Moment ... Remembering Vietnam On Horseback

In The Moment ... May 9, 2017 Show 089 Hour 2 Colt Romberger’s father served in Vietnam, and it changed his life...