Nat Love, a cowboy of excellence
*The birth of Nat Love in 1854 is celebrated on this date. He was an African American Pullman porter, and cowboy.
Born on his master’s plantation in Davidson County in Tennessee, Love was raised out of an old log cabin. His master Robert Love, an extensive planter and the owner of many slaves owned his father and mother. Love’s father was a foreman of the slaves on the plantation, and his mother worked the kitchen at the master’s big house waiting tables, milking the cows, running the loom and weaving clothing for the other slaves.
The other members of Love’s father's family were a sister Sally, about eight years older, and a brother Jordan. Sally looked after young Nate between her duties of helping his mother and chasing the flies from Master's table. Love received very little rearing from any of the family and at an early age he looked after himself. His earliest recollections were of pushing a chair in front and toddling from one to the other of his Master's family to get food like a pet dog.
As he became older, he raided the garden of the young onions, watermelons, turnips, sweet potatoes, and more. Love’s father died when he was about 15, after which he gathered his belongings and headed to Dodge City, Kansas to work as a cowpuncher for $30 a month. As a ranch hand, Love was excellent in everything! After a few years he left Kansas and headed north for a cowboy competition in Deadwood City, South Dakota. Arriving near Deadwood on July 3, the cowboys delivered the herd and got ready for the Fourth of July celebration 1876.
Deadwood was a brand new town, booming because of the recent discovery of the Homestakes mine. The mining men and gamblers organized a roping contest, and collected two hundred dollars for prize money. Six of the contestants were Black. Each cowboy was to rope, throw, tie, and bridle and saddle a mustang in the shortest possible time. Love roped, threw, tied, bridled, saddled and mounted a mustang in exactly nine minutes from the crack of the gun. The time of the next nearest competitor was twelve minutes and thirty seconds. This record and the championship of the West were held up to the time he quit the business. A shooting contest was arranged for the afternoon.
A range was measured off at 100 and 250 yards. And the ranges for the Colts were set at 150 yards. Each contestant had fourteen shots with the rifle and twelve shots with his Colt. Love hit all of his rifle shots in the bull’s eye and ten of his twelve pistol shots in the center! His nearest competitor hit only eight with the rifle and five with the forty-five.
The winner was Nat Love, the Black cowboy and former slave. The crowd was so impressed they gave him the nickname that would have followed him for the rest of his life “Deadwood Dick.” Nat Love died in 1921.
The Black West by William Loren Katz.
A Touchtone Book, published by Simon & Shuster Inc.
Copyright 1987, 1996 by Ethrac Publications, Inc.