The Fearless Black Cowboy of the Wild, Wild West
From shootouts on horseback to hitchhiking toward a place called Dodge, if ever a life was tailor-made for the movies, it was that of the one-time slave known as Deadwood Dick.
Illustration by Eric Palma
On July 3, 1876 — eight days after Custer and his men were killed at the Battle of Little Bighorn — a cattle drive arrived in the Black Hills boomtown of Deadwood, South Dakota. Three thousand longhorn steers had been brought up from Texas via New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. One of the men driving this herd was a twenty-two year old cowhand named Nat Love. A large number of cowboys were already in town and, along with the freshly arrived Texans, they decided to hold an impromptu rodeo to determine the most skilled cowhand in Deadwood. Love, one of six African-Americans participating in the competition, won the roping contest by lassoing and mounting a wild mustang in nine minutes flat. He swept the shooting contests as well, nailing fourteen out of fourteen bullseyes with his rifle, and ten out of twelve with his pistol. Love — who had previously gone by the nickname Red River Dick — was awarded two hundred dollars and a new name: Deadwood Dick.