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Pale Horse Revelations #62 - Isom Dart

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.

This week's entry will introduce you to a man named Isom Dart. What I find intriguing about this Old West legend is the dispute about the facts of his life. While conducting my research I found two very different portrayals of his life and character. As is my habit when confronted by this situation, I have decided to present both views and let you, the reader, come to your own conclusions.

In 1927 author W.G. Tittsworth published a book entitled "Outskirt Episodes." Advertised as the biography of an African American cowboy, Tittsworth's work first introduced readers to Isom Dart. According to Tittsworth Dart was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1849 and was also known as Ned Huddleston. During the Civil War he allegedly aided Confederate soldiers in stealing food and goods. Freed from slavery as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dart headed west, eventually turning up in Texas.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado disputes this origin. According to their sources Dart was born in Texas sometime around 1858, nine years after Tittsworth claims. According to this account, Dart was born to a farmer named Cyrus Dart in Sequin, Texas. Dart was one of four children having one sister and two brothers.

According to Tittsworth's account, Dart first turned to cattle rustling shortly after his arrival in Texas. He allegedly stole cattle in Mexico and drove them across the border into Texas where he sold them. Over the course of his life Dart held a number of jobs, but often reverted back to rustling. One thing all accounts seem to agree on is that Dart was a skilled horseman and bronco buster. He supplemented his income by capturing, breaking, and selling wild horses.

Tittsworth claimed that Dart, under the name Ned Huddleston, rode with the Tip Gault Gang. According to the Museum of Northwest Colorado and others, this was pure fabrication. According to the museum the very existence of the Gault gang is pure fiction. It also disputes the idea that Dart ever went by the name Ned Huddleston. In support of this position is the fact that there are no public records of anyone by that name. Researchers also determined that no one who knew Dart knew of Huddleston.

Although Dart's association with the Gault gang (if it existed) is disputed, his reputation as an outlaw seems to bear merit, although he was never convicted. One interesting (and possibly embellished) story reports that Dart was arrested by a deputy sheriff (for an unspecified crime) who attempted to transport him to jail via a buckboard wagon. According to the story the wagon slid off the side of a mountain while enroute, injuring the deputy. Dart allegedly rescued the deputy, provided first aid, and then surrendered to the sheriff. The grateful deputy was a character witness for Dart during the trial, resulting in Dart's acquittal.

Dart, along with two others, was accused of burning down the ranch of J.S. Hoy and was to be tried for arson in 1890. He escaped from jail before the trial and laid low in Denver for a while. He returned to Browns Park, where the crime occurred, in 1894 but was never tried for arson.

In 1881 Dart was among a group of men who drove cattle from Texas into Wyoming Territory. He soon found work on a large ranch wrangling horses. He spent a year or so in Wyoming Territory working for a while as a cook at a railroad construction camp.

In 1883 he drove cattle to Browns Park in northwestern Colorado near the borders with Wyoming and Utah. There he found work on the ranch of Herb and Elizabeth Bassett. He worked as a ranch hand but also cooked meals, washed laundry, chopped wood, and performed other household duties. Dart grew close to the Bassett family, particularly the children of Josie Bassett (Herb and Elizabeth's daughter) and her husband Jim McKnight. He reportedly sang for the children, put on shows for them, and taught them to rope and ride.

Elizabeth Bassett was suspected to be the mastermind behind a rustling ring that allegedly included Dart and his ranch partner Madison (Mat) Rash. Rustling became such an issue that the area's ranchers banded together and turned to the notorious Tom Horn for assistance. Allegedly his agreement included a payment of $500.00 (equivalent to about $18,000 today) for every rustler that he killed. A stock detective and former Pinkerton detective, Horn went undercover as a horse buyer to learn the identities of the rustlers. Both Dart and his partner Mat Rash were among those Horn identified.

Rash was shot and killed on July 8, 1900. In response, Dart invited his friends, who included the Bassetts, to stay at his cabin. Dart assumed that they would be safe there. He was proved wrong on October 3, 1900, when he was shot and killed walking from the cabin to his corral. The Bassetts reported that they heard the shot but saw no sign of the shooter. An impaneled jury determined that Dart had been killed by a rifle shot at the hands of an unknown party. Journalists have long suspected that Horn was responsible for the deaths of both Rash and Dart though he was never charged with either crime. Horn was, however, charged with killing the fourteen-year-old son of rancher Kels P. Nickles in 1902.

Thus ends the story of Isom Dart. Regardless of which version of the story, if either, you believe to be true, one thing is not in dispute. His story is indeed a fascinating tale worthy of being remembered and shared. As is often the case, there are most likely some small kernels of truth to be found hidden deep within each account.

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 on the "Contact the Author" page of this website 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.

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