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Nat Love

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One of the main characters in the film “The Harder They Fall” is a Black cowboy named Nat Love. He, like the other characters in the film, was a real person.

A lot of our knowledge comes from his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick." Some parts of his story have been corroborated, with others likely embellished for dramatic effect. We do know he was born into slavery in 1854. He said: “the exact date of my birth I never knew, because in those days no count was kept of such trivial matters as the birth of a slave baby.”

In 1869, he left home and headed West. It wasn’t long before he was employed as a ranch hand. Soon he started taking part in rodeo activities. He admitted it was partially because of QUOTE “a love of showing off, a weakness of all cowboys more or less.” UNQUOTE

He roamed from Montana to Mexico, including Dakota Territory and modern day North Dakota, gaining a reputation for fighting off bandits and buffalo herds.

In 1876, he was part of a group tasked with bringing three thousand head of cattle to Deadwood. On this date in 1876 the job was done, and he couldn’t resist taking part in a Fourth of July contest. Each cowboy had to rope and mount a horse as quickly as possible. He gave this account of it: “I roped . . . and mounted my 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 gave me the record, and championship of the West . . . and my record has never been beaten.”

Next came the shooting contest. He claimed to place every one of his 14 rifle shots in the bullseye, shooting from the hip. As the victor of both roping and shooting, he reported that he was hailed as a hero, earning his “Deadwood Dick” nickname.

Whether or not all of that happened as described, Nat Love was a well-known figure by the time he hung up his spurs 1889. He lived out the rest of his life relatively quietly, and died in 1921.

Dakota Datebook by Leewana Thomas

Sources: 

The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick.” https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/natlove/natlove.html#nlove7

South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Nat Love aka Deadwood Dick: Cowboy, Nature Lover, Man of Letters: https://www.sdpb.org/blogs/arts-and-culture/nat-love-aka-deadwood-dick-cowboy-nature-lover-man-of-letters/

LA Times, “What’s True in The Harder They Fall” https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2021-11-04/the-harder-they-fall-netflix-real-people

Black Past, Nat Love (1854 - 1921)

https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/love-nat-1854-1921/

Bustle, The Real Nat Love Wasn’t Like His Onscreen Character At All https://www.bustle.com/entertainment/nat-love-the-harder-they-fall-true-story

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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