SOME MORE BLACK COWBOY’S
Hollywood and popular fiction has in the most part ignored the roll of blacks in the settelment of the west. The entertainment media has for years been geared to the white pocketbook, so most of the attention has been centered on the roles of the white individuals. Fact be known, depending on who you are reading, one in every three cowboys were black, some say three out of five, but that is so near the same there is no need to fight over the numbers. In the days of the trail drives, the cowboy was an underpaid, over worked young man. By the time of the big herds so many slaves had been freed and were seeking employment that this cheap labor pool was readily available.
While we are in this area let me again explain that the term “Cowboy” was one the trail hands felt to be an insult. The people who worked at the loading pens at the end of the drives were not the men who drove the cattle up from Texas or wherever. The work at the pens was below the drovers, although the movies depict them as what we view as cowboys today. Once the herd was sold, it was out of the Cowhand’s hands. For the most part the loaders were blacks, as the pay was poor and hard, and in those days a black worker was commonly called a boy, hence “cowboy.”
In the same slang a “cowpuncher” was a man who stood over the loading chutes on a platform and prodded the cattle up the ramps with long poles. Thus also a insult to a cowhand.
All that said, let’s look at a few noted black hands.
Nate Love was another born slave who headed west after gaining his freedom. Nate soon found a Texas outfit which had delivered its herd and was ready to return to Texas. There were several good black cowboys in the outfit. After hearing some of their stories , Nate asked the boss for a job. After some recommendations from the other cowboys the boss said he could have a job – IF he could break the worst horse in the string. Bronco Jim, another black cowboy, gave Nate some pointers. Nate rode the horse and claimed later in life that it was the worst ride he ever made. He got the job.
The work was very hard. Nate rode hailstorms only strong men could stand them. The first time he met hostile Indians, he stood his ground – because he later admitted he was to scared to run. After a few such drives he learned the ways of the cattle country and became a top hand.
Nate had a forty-five and took every opportunity to practice with it, eventually became very good with it. There came the time when could out shoot most of his friends.
Nate left the Texas Panhandle for Arizona where got a job working on the Gila River. He had ridden many trails in the southwest and believed he was a capable cowboy. Working with Mexican vaqueros, he polished his talent even more and learned to speak Spanish like a native. He could soon read any brand on the range.
In the spring the outfit Nate rode for took a contract to drive a herd of three thousand steers to Deadwood City in the Dakota territory. They arrived in July just in time for the forth of July celebration. The gamblers and miners had goten together a $200 purse for a contest. Out of the dozen or so men entered in the contest six were black. They had to rope, bridle, saddle and ride a mustang to the finish line in the shortest time. Nate accomplished his in exactly nine minutes, the next closest time, also from a black man, was twelve. Only the meanest horses available were used in this event.
In the rifle shooting event at 100 and 250 yards, Nate shot all his targets in the bulls eye and wih the pistol he shot 10 of 12 in the black, winning both events.
Nate was declared the winner and earned the title of “Deadwood Dick”.
Nate “Deadwood Dick” Love loved to stretch and spin a tall tale, “mostly about himself”. (more…)