Dr. David J. Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
“They numbered thousands, among them many of the best riders, ropers, and wranglers.”
– Philip Durham & Everett L. Jones, “The Negro Cowboys” (1965).
“As one descendant of a black cowboy explained, ‘We didn’t write the books. We didn’t produce the movies. So we were politely deleted.’ There is a conspicuous absence of the black cowboy recorded in the history of the American cattle-ranching industry. The role these men played in the settling of the Old West deserves scholarly attention.”
― Tricia Martineau Wagner, “Black Cowboys of the Old West: True, Sensational, and Little-Known Stories from History,” (2010).
As the US continues to grapple with challenges surrounding diversity and inclusion in society it is increasingly important to find meaningful ways to fight stereotypes and overcome racial oppression. One such way is to diversify school curriculum in meaningful ways. That is, educators must integrate materials into lesson plans that offer a diverse perspective; especially when it comes to teaching subjects such as social studies and language arts. For example, teachers can use books and materials from authors of color or deal with subject matter that highlight individuals from racial and ethnic backgrounds other than European. This article will discuss a topic that is little known to the general public, but is important for K-12 students to learn about, giving a fuller picture of US history. In this article we will discuss the topic of Black cowboys. We have written about this topic in the past, however this essay will focus specifically on a well known African American cowboy named Nat Love. The latter part of the article will include resources for teachers and the general public to learn further about the topic.
Nat Love (A.K.A. Deadwood Dick) by Harvie Brown, 1998
A Brief Biography of Nat Love
Nat Love (1854-1921) is an exemplary historical figure most people have never heard of. Love was born into slavery on a plantation in Davidson County, Tennessee in 1854. He was given the surname Love after his enslaver Robert Love. Despite difficulties and challenges that enslaved Blacks faced in obtaining an education, he learned to read and write as a child with the help of his father. When slavery ended, like so many other free Blacks, Nat’s parents stayed on the Love plantation and worked as sharecroppers. As a teen, Nat Love developed a reputation as a gifted horse breaker and won a horse in a contest (Love, 1907).
At 16 years old, he sold his horse and moved to Dodge City, Kansas working on a ranch as a cowboy with cattle drivers. Love lived an eventful life as a cowboy; having had run-ins with cattle rustlers, enduring inclement weather, had his horse shot from beneath him and even meeting the likes of Pat Masterson and Billy the Kid. Honing his skills on the range, he became an expert marksman and cowboy. In 1876 Love decided to test those abilities, entering a rodeo in the Deadwood, Dakota Territory. All of his hard work paid off; he won the $200 prize money, prevailing in two shooting contests. He competed successfully in lasseling and in bronco riding, earning the nickname “Deadwood Dick” (Durham & Jones, 1965).
In 1877 Love was captured by a band of Pima Indians in Arizona while rounding up stray cattle near the Gila River. He received several bullet wounds while trying to avoid capture, but his life was spared out of respect for his African American heritage. The Pima’s nursed him back to health, and after gathering his strength, he stole the fastest horse and escaped, travelling over 100 miles riding bareback. In 1889 he married Alice Love, left the cowboy life and spent the remainder of his working days as a Pullman porter. He died in 1921 at the age of 67 years old (Love, 1907, Durham & Jones, 1965, Smith, 2019).
Bill Pickett (1870-1932), Corbis
Bill Picket (1907) Courtesy North Fort Worth Historical Society
The life of Nat Love is an exemplar of the storied exploits of many black cowboys during the Wild West era of the nineteenth century. There is an increasing amount of research and writing on Black cowboys in the old West; however, when movies, television and other popular media sources decide to tell stories about the Old West the life of Nat Love and other Black cowboys are conspicuously absent.
In order to offer opportunities for further exploration of Nat Love’s life and the history and culture of Black cowboys we have provided a number of resources below including, lessons plans for educators and other materials (I.e., Books, articles, Recordings, documentaries) for students and the general public.
Lesson Plans and Other Resources of Black Cowboys
Black Cowboys Lesson Plan and Activity- Language Arts and Social Studies
Black Cowboys and Wild Horses Lesson Plan – Language Arts and Social Studies
Black Cowboy- Bill Pickett Lesson Plan
Various Lesson Plans- Spanish and Mexican Roots of Cowboy Culture
Unit Plan- Debunking the Myth of the American West
Lesson Plan: The Cowboy Life
Lesson Plan: The Cowboys
Elementary Unit Plan and Resources: The American Cowboy Life
Elementary Lesson Plan- Nat Love Graphic Novel and Lesson
Books and Articles on African American Cowboys and the American West
Black Cowboys of the Old West: True, Sensational, and Little-Known Stories from History
The Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as ‘Deadwood Dick,’ by Himself
Black Cowboys of Texas
Black Cowboys in the American West: On the Range, on the Stage, behind the Badge
Bill Pickett: Bulldogger (Biography of a Black Cowboy)
The Black West: A Documentary and Pictoral History of the African American Role in the Westward Expansion of the United States
Black Cowboy, Wild Horses
Black Cowboys in Oregon
The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys
Willie Kennard: Yankee Hill’s Black Marshal
Love on the Range: The Story of a Cowboy
Nat Love, aka: Deadwood Dick – Greatest Black Cowboy in the Old West
Bill Pickett (ca 1870-1932), African American Cowboy
Stahl, Jesse (c. 1879–1935)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
American Indian culture of the West
Calamity Jane – Rowdy Woman of the West
Video and Audio Resources
The Black Cowboy
Roping as a Way of Life: The Proud History of Texas’ Black Cowboys
Federation of Black Cowboys
Black Cowboys of Texas
The Cowboys of Color Rodeo
African-American Cowboy: The Forgotten Man of the West” Documentary about Black Cowboys
Recordings of Black Cowboy Songs
Please share what resources you find useful for your teaching.
We are open to feedback and discussion. If you see any typos or grammatical errors please feel free to email the author and editor at the address below: