Pale Horse Revelations - #40 Nat Love
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. where we explore significant people, places, and events in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.
The Netflix film "The Harder they Fall" opens with a message to viewers stating that the events depicted in the film are fiction but that the people are real. One of the central characters featured in the film is Nat (pronounced Nate) Love. The film presents a complex character - an African American gunfighter who survived the murder of his parents at the age of ten who grew up to be an outlaw who robs other outlaws as he seeks vengeance against those who killed his family. As fascinating as the film's depiction of the character was, I couldn't help but wonder about the real Nat Love. What was he really like?
As it turns out, the real man behind the Hollywood image is just as fascinating. In fact, his exploits made this African American cowboy one of the most famous heroes of the Old West. Please read on and let me introduce you to the real Nat Love.
Nat was born into slavery on June 14, 1854, on the plantation of Robert Love in Davidson County, Tennessee. His father, Sampson, was a foreman enslaved on the plantation's fields. Despite slavery era laws that outlawed black literacy Sampson learned to read and write and taught his son to do the same. After slavery ended as a result of the Civil War Nat's family remained on the plantation as sharecroppers. His father, Sampson, died shortly after the second crop was planted and Nat was forced to work odd jobs on farms in the area to make ends meet. It was during this time that he developed a reputation for breaking horses.
On two separate occasions Nat managed to win a horse in a raffle. In both instances he sold the animals back to the original owners for fifty dollars. And so, at the age of sixteen, with one hundred dollars to his name, Nat Love headed west.
Love eventually turned up in Dodge City, Kansas, and found work with cattle drivers from the Duvall Ranch. In his autobiography Love claims to have come up against both rustlers and inclement weather on numerous occasions. Love also claims to have become an expert marksman and cowboy which earned him the nickname Red River Dick from his companions. He moved to Arizona in 1872 where he found work on the Gallinger Ranch. According to his autobiography Love encountered Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, and many other notable figures while driving cattle through Arizona.
Again, according to his autobiography, Love was captured by Pima Indians in 1877 while rounding up cattle near the Gila River in Arizona. Love claimed that although wounded during the capture the Native Americans spared his life out of respect for his heritage. According to the account in his autobiography, the tribe nursed him back to health and he almost married the chief's daughter. Instead, he stole a pony and escaped into West Texas,
In 1889 Love decided it was time to give up the cowboy life, so he married and settled down in Denver. There he took a job as a Pullman porter for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. His duties revolved around overseeing the sleeping cars. During his years with the railroad Love and his family lived in several western states and eventually settled in California. Love published his autobiography in 1907. He spent his later years as a courier and guard for a Los Angeles based securities company. Nat Love lived to the age of sixty-six, dying in 1921.
Much of what we know about Nat Love comes from his autobiography. As such, there are doubts as to the authenticity of his story. For example, Love claims to have entered a Rodeo held in Deadwood on July 4, 1876. It was during this event that he allegedly earned the nickname Deadwood Dick. The problem is that the Deadwood papers covered every event of the Independence Day celebrations that year and make no mention of a rodeo being held. Love also claimed to have received over fourteen bullet wounds during his lifetime. Surviving so many wounds seems highly unlikely, especially given the limitations of Old West medicine.
Regardless of how much, if any, of Love's account was factual, his story captured the imaginations of an American public that was hungry for stories of the Old West. As such, he became, arguably, the most famous African American cowboy. And whether his story be fact or fiction, it is nonetheless fascinating.
I hope you have all enjoyed learning a little bit about this legendary cowboy, but I'm afraid that this brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you found it to be both interesting and entertaining. As usual, I have tried to provide some interesting historical information while trying not to bog the casual reader down with too much detail. I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
As a reminder, I would love to hear your suggestions for topics to focus on in future editions of Pale Horse Revelations. If there's a particular location, person, or event that you would like to know more about, please let me know. Just fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your desired topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.