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Nat Love was born to slaves in Tennessee. Upon issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation, his father rented 20 acres of land from his former master, and the family set about making a living as farmers. After the death of his father Nat went to work for a local rancher breaking colts, a job for which he had a natural talent.
One day Nat learned that another rancher was raffling off a horse for 50¢ a ticket. Nat bought a ticket, won the horse, and then sold it back to the rancher for $50. The rancher turned around and raffled the horse again. Nat won the same horse again, and again sold it back to the rancher, for another $50. Now ready to embark on a life of adventure, he gave half of the money to his mother and then set out for the West.
By February of 1869, Love was in Dodge City, Kansas. There, he met a crew from the Duval Ranch in Texas who had just driven a herd of cattle to the Dodge City railhead. Love asked the crew foreman for a job, and was told the job was his if he could break the wildest horse in the outfit. Although it proved to be one of the toughest rides of his life, Love managed to break the horse, and got the job. He soon earned a reputation as one of the best overall cowboys in the crew, and subsequently became a buyer and chief brand reader for the ranch. In these latter capacities he was sent to Mexico on several occasions, where he learned to speak fluent Spanish.
In 1872, Love moved to Arizona to work for the Gallinger Ranch, which offered him better money. During his time there he traveled most of the known western trails, engaged in battles with Indians, and fought off rustlers and bandits on numerous occasions. His sharpshooting skills, along with his cowboy skills, earned him the nickname "Red River Dick." In the spring of 1876, the Gallinger cowboys drove 3,000 steers to Deadwood, Dakota Territory. The crew arrived at Deadwood on July 3, as the town was preparing for its Fourth of July celebration. Part of that celebration was a rodeo contest, which Love naturally entered. Love not only won every roping contest, but every shooting contest as well. For years afterward he was known as "Deadwood Dick."
Love lived a life of adventure for many more years after his rodeo victory, but as the West was tamed the opportunities for adventure became fewer and fewer. The expansion of the railroad network eventually ended the era of cattle drives, and cowboys found it harder and harder to get work. Despite his great skills, Love was not immune from the decline of the cowboy era. He finally gave up his life of adventure in 1890 and took a job in the Pullman service on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Having never held a "regular" job in his life, he found it extremely difficult to adjust and made so many mistakes on his first day that he quit. He then tried to make a living selling fruit, vegetables, honey and chickens from a covered wagon, but this venture proved unprofitable. After trying to reclaim his life of adventure and being unsuccessful, he finally returned to the Pullman service. He spent the rest of his working life pleasing passengers and gaining favor within the company.
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This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.