It is an unfamiliar part of the history of the old wild west to most, but there were actually about 10,000 to 15,000 black cowboys in the late 1860's and onwards. These men actually held quite a significant place in this part of history, after the Civil War, many of the freed slaves moved west to make a new life.
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They worked on ranches and in cattle drives, and also rode in the many rodeos. Some of them joined the cavalry where they were known as Buffalo Soldiers and they brought back much needed meat and hides to resupply many of the stores.
Two of the most famous African
American cowboys were Isom Dart and Nat Love, they lived during the
height of the Wild West. Whilst Nat Love was a great cowhand, Dart
was a great outlaw.
Isom Dart was a mild mannered, laid back, gentleman outlaw who never shot anyone during his reign as an outlaw, he just threatened to shoot them instead.
Ned Huddleston alias Isom Dart was born into slavery in 1849 in the state of Arkansas, taking the name Huddleston from his owner. During the civil war 1860-1865 from the age of eleven years old and onwards Huddleston served confederate officers as a servant and general hand, working as a cook, nurse and scout.
He was sixteen years old when the civil war and slavery ended, and decided made his bid for a new life, so he packed up and went off to the state of Texas.
In Texas he got a job on a ranch and learned how to ride a horse and later how to handle a gun. His skill at horse riding was excellent and it was said that he had a natural talent for handling them. Later he became a horse trainer and rider in Mexico and it was whilst in Mexico that he fell in with some Mexican bandits.
Huddleston rode with them, stealing horses and driving them across the Rio Grande and into Texas to deliver them on a pre ordered arrangement with crooked land owners.
It is thought that Huddleston trained the horses that were used by the Wild Bunch alias Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and their gang. He also trained horses not to be afraid of gunfire, which is useful if you are an outlaw!
Huddleston later formed his own gang, specifically for horse stealing and it became known as The Tip Gault Gang, their hideout and base camp was in Browns Park in North West Colorado. Huddleston had several successful trips selling stolen horses but one day in 1875 his luck took a bad turn...Below is a rare photo of Huddleston with his gang.
...several lawmen planned to ambush the Tip Gault Gang and kill or arrest its leader Ned Huddleston. The gang had stolen some horses belonging to Margaret Anderson’s ranch south of Saratoga, Wyoming. Late at night whilst the gang were huddled around a camp fire the lawmen engaged in the shootout, every gang member was shot dead around the campfire except Huddleston, who it is thought played dead from the first gunshot.
Huddleston spent a very unpleasant night hiding amongst the unburied, blood bespattered dead bodies of his gang, a few hours later near sun up he rifled through their pockets and looted money belts, hidden guns and anything else he could find before he escaped on foot. This might sound terrible, to rob the dead but we have to remember that in the days of the wild west which was by and large lawless it was a constant fight for survival. Huddleston didn't get far though as he was later shot and wounded by a rancher whilst attempting to steal a horse from a stable.
Huddleston now knew how close
he had come to death for the second time and out of desperation he quickly stole another horse,
saddled up and rode to Oklahoma to lie low for a while, it was there
that he changed his name to Isom Dart.
Several weeks later with only a few dollars to his name, Dart rode back to Browns Park to try his luck again at horse stealing. He changed his mind when he arrived at the old hideout though and deduced that cattle rustling may be a better alternative. On his attempt at stealing some cattle, Dart was caught and arrested at gunpoint by the local sheriff. As they were travelling to the jailhouse, the sheriffs horse bucked and threw him to the ground, badly injuring him.
This was a great chance for Dart to escape, but his mild and gentlemanly manner emerged, he pitied the sheriff and helped him to get back up on his horse after tending to his injuries. The sheriff promised to help Dart in the trial and they both carried on to the jailhouse. During his trial the sheriff kept his promise and paid Dart back for his help by managing to get Dart acquitted and officially granted his freedom.
Dart decided to keep to the straight and narrow and became an honest citizen he even ran for a lawman's position within the law enforcement community and was elected constable in Sweetwater County, Wyoming, in 1884 receiving a total of winning eight votes. He was defeated for re-election the next term and later in 1890 he went to live with the Bassett family of Browns Park and lived a quiet life there for several years.
Dart was an acquaintance of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid who often visited Bassett's ranch, but there is no recorded documentation that Dart ever rode with them.
Several years later Dart found himself as a member of a posse that went out and eventually captured the outlaw Harry Tracy in February 1898. Tracy had murdered Valentine Hoy, who was a rancher in Browns Park. But it was in 1900 that Dart himself was accused of murder, the murder of his old friend, Matt Rash in July of that year, the accuser was a cool and methodical killer who had apparently actually committed the murder himself.
Enter Professional Killer: Tom Horn
Dart's new way of life was now seriously interrupted in the form of an ethically questionable Bounty hunter and professional killer (Hitman) by the name of Tom Horn. Tom Horn had been employed for quite a while by land owners and cattle barons to hunt down cattle rustlers, horse thieves and local villains and force them off the land or bring them in dead or alive. Horn always preferred the latter!
Matt Rash had received a warning to get out of the area but had refused and Tom Horn would supposedly then persuade them to leave with a show of force. But Horn shot Matt Rash after having lunch with him in Matt's cabin. Horn later started to say that Isom Dart had done the dirty deed and that he would deal with him.
Horn usually preferred to terminate the problem...permanently and Dart was of no exception. Dart had received a note from the cattle barons a few weeks ago telling him to get off the land, but Dart ignored it and chose to stay and this was his downfall.
One cold morning October 3rd 1900, Dart opened the door of his cabin in Cold Springs, Routt County, Colorado to step outside for some bright and breezy fresh air and maybe check on his corral when two Winchester 30-30 bullets fired in quick succession smacked into his head and chest instantly killing him. It was never really proven but the assassin was always suspected to be Tom Horn who it was summized had hidden in undergrowth and awaited Dart to emerge.
Horn would appraise himself thus..." Yeah...haha, Killing is my specialty...I look at it as a business proposition and I think I have a corner on the market "
Tom Horn was born in
Out of work, he decided to do what he did best and that was to shoot people dead, so he became a hired gun, alias range detective or one of the first true "hit-men". During this time he shot and killed twenty-three cattle thieves, however, he was arrested in 1901 for allegedly killing the fourteen year old son of a sheep farmer. Most historians believe that this may have been the one murder Horn did not actually commit.
Tom Horn was later fully charged for the murder,
it is thought that the poorly uneducated Horn was 'stitched up' at his
trial as he was very drunk when he made a so called confession to Joe
Lefors, an office deputy in the US Marshal's office. Tom Horn was
executed by the hangman's noose in Cheyenne, Wyoming, November 20th
1903. There is an old saying " What goes around comes
Isom Dart was buried in an isolated spot on Cold Spring Mountain, close to his old cabin. The grave is still there today, surrounded by a wooden fence amongst the growing aspen trees, not far from North Highway 72. R.I.P
A very watchable movie was made about the life and times of Tom Horn in 1980, Simply titled Tom Horn and starring King of Cool...Steve McQueen, sadly and endearingly in one of his last ever roles.
Nat Love alias Deadwood Dick was born on a plantation owned by Robert Love, in Davison County, Tennessee in 1854. When the civil war ended, he had his right of freedom granted to him via the new Union 2nd Emancipation Proclamation act of 1863 and Love who was eleven years old, then left Tennessee to settle for a while in Dodge City in Kansas.
After a few years Love joined the cowhands from the Duval Ranch which was actually based in Texas. Love's apparent excellent horse riding skills, earned him the nickname Red River Dick. In the 1870's, the Duval Ranch cowboys returned to Panhandle in Texas and Love went along with them.
Love proved what an excellent horseman he was when a cattle baron and land owner by the name of Bronco Jim tested Love by getting him to ride a very temperamental mustang named Good Eye. Good Eye was known for his wild bucking and ability to throw all who tried to ride him into the dust.
Love, however was one of the few riders to ever stay in the saddle, Bronco Jim was impressed and hired Love for about $35 a month, which was a decent wage in those days. Love later admitted that it was the roughest and toughest horse he had ever ridden and was lucky to stay in the saddle.
Love became a popular and likable figure and his persona was optimized by having his picture printed in many old West articles and much later he was depicted in old Western movies. He was instantly recognisable not because he was a black cowboy as there were actually quite a few of them in the old west, but because he wore big wide leather (anti-cactus) chaps, and a broad brimmed hat, nearly always had his Winchester rifle with him along with a lasso and his distinctive wild and wavy hairstyle. And of course his wide smile!
Love was employed on the cattle drives for over 20 years, he was a good and honest man whom his employers praised quite frequently. In the spring of 1876, Love and his team of cowboys received orders to deliver three thousand head of steer to Deadwood City in the Dakota Territory, he accomplished this on July 3rd 1876 just in time for the 4th of July celebrations, of which he was duly invited.
Whilst working out in Deadwood, South Dakota, He became an expert at riding and indeed lassoing horses, he built up his skills as a sharpshooter and also won many a rodeo contest. Love was a true cowboy and helped to identify what it was that cowboy's did during those wild west days.
At that time in Deadwood, an official all-round-cowboy contest was organized by miners and gamblers with a prize money of $200...six months pay for Love. Whereas each cowboy was to lasso/rope, throw, bridle, and saddle a wild stallion in the shortest possible time.
Love completed all the assignments in the record time of exactly nine minutes, whilst the very next best competitor took twelve and a half minutes. In the shooting events, at targets placed 100 and 250 yards distance, Love fired his Winchester and all fourteen shots went into the bulls-eye, whilst his Colt .45 hit the bulls-eye ten times with only two outers.
All of these small feats earned him the endearing title of "Deadwood Dick" and of course the $200. He retired from being a cowboy in 1890 and got a job as a Pullman porter on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad until he retired a few years later.
Nat Love published his autobiography in 1907 entitled The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as Deadwood Dick. Historians have gathered most of their information from this publication, but not everything within its pages have been understood as gospel, as Love was often a teller of tall tales and ripping yarns like most cowboys of the time.
Nat Love Deadwood Dick died peacefully at the age of 67 in the year of 1921 after having a very full life. R.I.P. Read more about Nat Love here at the official website.