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Dossier: Nat Love "Deadwood Dick," Wild West Cowboy

Updated: Feb 17

Sleuthing Brighton, Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective®(aka Robin Kring)

Case Number 00004: Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: "Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza" by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified: Nat Love, Adams County Rodeo Competitor & Goodnight Trail Rider

NAT LOVE “DEADWOOD DICK” (1854-1921), Adams County Rodeo Competitor and Goodnight Trail Rider, was a legendary cowboy of the old west. His autobiography perpetuated his fame across the country and was entitled, Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick," by Himself; a True History of Slavery Days, Life on the Great Cattle Ranges and on the Plains of the "Wild and Woolly" West, Based on Facts, and Personal Experiences of the Author. Brighton historian, the late Albin Wagner, wrote that Love worked as a horse trainer and competed several times as “Deadwood Dick” in the Brighton Driving Park rodeo (the predecessor to the Adams County Fair and Rodeo). Wagner also wrote that Love drove cattle along the Goodnight-Loving Trail, portions of which crossed present day Adams County.

Nat (pronounced Nate) Love was born into slavery in June 1854 on the Robert Love plantation in Tennessee. Nat had no formal education and learned to read and write with the help of his father. After the Civil War, Nat’s father worked a small farm he rented from his former master, Robert Love. His father died a few years later and Nat then took various jobs on area plantations to help support the family. It was here he found that he had great skill for breaking horses. At 15, Nat would leave Tennessee for his dream to go west. Arriving in Kansas, he met a Texas outfit, driving a herd of cattle, and asked the boss to be a cowboy. This would be the start of an extensive cattle-driving career where he traveled many of the major western trails. Love earned the nickname “Deadwood Dick” after entering a roping competition near Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876.

“I roped, threw, tied, bridled, saddled and mounted my mustang in exactly nine minutes from the crack of the gun,” he recalled. “My record has never been beaten.”

In his travels, Love became fluent in Spanish and cattle brands and worked as the Chief Brand Reader for the Pete Gallinger Co, on the owner’s immense Arizona range. Love later gave up the cowboy life and struck out for Denver, where he met and married Mrs. Love on Aug. 22, 1889. In 1890, he accepted a position for the Pullman service on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. He spent the latter part of his adventurous life in Los Angeles, where he died in 1921.

The Goodnight-Loving Trail

This historic cattle trail started in western Texas and ran southwest, connecting with the Pecos River, up the river valley to Fort Sumner in the New Mexico Territory, and north to the railhead at Denver. The original trail was set in 1866 by cattle driver Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, and later extended to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

After the Civil War, there was an abundance of cattle in Texas, and a large demand for beef in the north. Cattle drives were used to connect resources to markets and having the advantage to avoid middlemen, the cattle drivers could earn higher prices per head. Rather than plan a drive north and east, Goodnight believed a drive to the west would be more profitable. He knew that Fort Sumner had an urgent need to fulfill beef rations to the Native people. He also was aware of the need to supply beef to the mining camps springing up, further north, in the Rocky Mountains.

The Goodnight-Loving Trail was dangerous, passing through hostile Indian territory of the Southern Plains. Attacks were frequent. In 1867, Loving was trapped by 500 Comanches along the Pecos River. Shot in the arm and side, he managed to escape and reach Fort Sumner. However, he developed gangrene from the injuries and died. Goodnight and others continued to use the Goodnight-Loving Trail, and it soon became one of the most successful cattle trails of the day. By the early 1880s, the arrival of the railroads to western Texas made long cattle drives obsolete, and the trail was abandoned. ©2023 Robin Kring

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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