Nat Love (pronounced “Nate” Love) (c. 1854 – 1921), also known as “Deadwood Dick”, was an African-American cowboy and former slave in the period following the American Civil War that liberated African American slaves in the United States.
Love was a slave when he was born on the plantation of Robert Love in Davidson County, Tennessee, around 1854. Despite slavery era statutes that outlawed black literacy, he learned to read and write as a child with the help of his father, Sampson. When slavery ended, Sampson Love attempted to start a family farm to raise tobacco and corn, but he died shortly after the second crop was planted. Nat then took a second job working on a local farm to help make ends meet. After a few years of working odd jobs, he won a horse in a raffle, which he sold in order to leave town. He went west to Dodge City, Kansas, where he found work as a cowboy from the Duval Ranch, located in Texas. Because of his excellent horse riding skills, the Duval Ranch cowboys gave Love the nickname, “Red River Dick.” He left Dodge City and returned with them to the home ranch in the Texas Panhandle.
Love fought cattle rustlers and endured inclement weather. He was an expert marksman and cowboy. When he entered a rodeo in Deadwood, South Dakota, on the 4th of July in 1876, he won the rope, throw, tie, bridle, saddle, and bronco riding contests. It was at this rodeo that fans gave him the nickname “Deadwood Dick”.1
On October 1877, he was captured by a band of Akimel O’odham (Pima) while rounding up stray cattle near the Gila River in Arizona. Love reported that his life was spared because the Indians respected his fighting ability. Eventually, he stole a pony and managed to escape into west Texas.
Love spent the latter part of his life working as a pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. He died in Los Angeles in 1921 at the age of 67.