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    "The Harder They Fall" Introduced Us To Real-Life Black Cowboys And Outlaws: Here Are Their Real Stories

    Why haven't we gotten a big-budget Bass Reeves film yet?!

    The Harder They Fall debuted on Netflix, and it's caused a surge in searches pertaining to the Black cowboys who are portrayed in the film.

    Nat Love and Rufus Buck standoff
    © Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

    The film emphasizes an ensemble cast featuring Regina King, Idris Elba, Jonathan Majors, LaKeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Zazie Beetz, RJ Kyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole, and Damon Wayans Jr. Honestly, it was amazing to see a Black western, especially one with such a stellar soundtrack and Tarantino-esque violence. Plus, who could say anything negative about this cast?!

    Not to mention, Jay-Z was a producer on the film, along with Will Smith's production company, Overbrook Entertainment. Director Jeymes Samuel's vision is a testament to Black excellence, and the team that brought this film together really went HARD.

    Jay-Z, Seal, Swizz Beats, and Jeymes Samuel at the premiere of the film
    Axelle / FilmMagic / Getty Images

    Plus, that TWIST at the end really hit me in the gut. Although the events in the film are fictional, the Black cowboys we see depicted on screen were real. Let's dive into these pioneers, cowboys, and outlaws to see how much their onscreen depictions drew from real-life circumstances. 

    Jonathan Majors as Nat Love

    Majors sits on a horse as Nat Love
    © Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

    Nat Love was born into slavery but was freed by the 13th Amendment. His family stayed on as workers at the plantation where they were once slaves, but fate led Nat in a different direction. He picked up a real talent for breaking horses and won them in raffles in which he sold them back to the owners. Using that money, Nat headed west, and in time, became an infamous cowboy who went by the nickname "Deadwood Dick." His marksman skills and somewhat magical connection to horses made him a legend. 

    Love was once captured by Native Americans, who then accepted him into their own ranks. He learned and stayed with them, until escaping back to Texas sometime later. Although Love was an infamous cowboy, he did retire from that life and moved to Denver, where he worked as a Pullman porter, then to California, where he worked in security. Love published his autobiography, Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in the Cattle Country as 'Deadwood Dick,' by Himself, in 1907. 

    Idris Elba as Rufus Buck

    Director Jeymes Samuel stands next to Idris Elba who shits on a horse on set
    © Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

    The Rufus Buck Gang was comprised of Black and Native American cowboys. Headed by Rufus himself, the gang is most known for going on a bloody rampage that led to them all being hanged. Rufus was both Black and Native American, and he was only a teenager when he formed the gang to take back Native lands from the US government ‚ÄĒ by any means.¬†

    His gang's rampage left several dead, although it's hard to separate truth from fiction. Newspapers at the time often painted Black men as "savages," regardless of if they were men of peace or war, so it's hard to say just how much of Buck's stories in the media of the time are true. What we do know is both he and Cherokee Bill (played by LaKeith Stanfield) were ordered to be hanged by ‚ÄúHanging Judge‚ÄĚ Isaac Parker, a white judge known for his bias and cruelty. This coincidence is strange because it is uncertain if¬†Cherokee Bill and Rufus Buck even knew each other.¬†

    Zazie Beetz as Mary Fields

    Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary holding a gun as she stands on a dancefloor
    © Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

    I'd be remiss not to mention the ongoing conversation about colorism when it comes to Zazie Beetz playing Stagecoach Mary. There has been some backlash, since the real-life Mary was a dark-skinned woman. However, I think the strong depiction in this movie overall (by Regina King, Zazie Beetz, and Danielle Deadwyler) is testament enough to the director's vision of empowering the Black woman.

    Stagecoach Mary was simply a badass. Mary Fields was a mail carrier who drank like a pro and carried two guns, which she was an expert shooter with. She was the first Black woman to carry mail, and wasn't about to put up with the BS that came with being a pioneer in that space. Born as a slave, Mary gained her freedom after the Civil War and became a groundskeeper at the Ursuline Convent of the Sacred Heart in Toledo, Ohio. Because Mary loved drinking, smoking, guns, and men's clothing, she was ultimately kicked out of the convent life. She did odd jobs that related to shooting and being a badass in general until the Postal Service caught notice and was like, "we need this woman."  She was only the second woman in the United States to be a mail carrier and was tasked with protecting the mail from bandits and thieves. After almost a decade, Mary retired and lived out her life as a legend until her passing in 1914.

    Regina King as Gertrude Smith

    Regina King as Trudy Smith alongside Lakeith Stanfield's Cherokee Bill
    © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    There isn't much history written about Gertrude Smith, aka Treacherous Trudy. Her past is shrouded in mystery. What we do know is that she was a very good pickpocket who carried out crimes alongside partner, Dolly Mickey. Trudy came from San Francisco but was very well-traveled in the west.

    King said of Trudy, ‚ÄúThere may be only one image, and there‚Äôs not a lot of history written on her. So, here I have a space to really just play. I don‚Äôt have to be beholden to any certain image or story when it comes to her, and [Samuel] just encouraged me to do that.‚ÄĚ

    Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves

    Delroy Lindo as Bass Reeves stands in a townsquare
    © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Bass Reeves, in my humble opinion, is the most badass person on this list. Reeves was born into slavery and entered the Civil War with his father as part of the Confederate Army. During the war, Reeves escaped (stories of HOW he escaped vary greatly) and ended up living among Native Americans until the 13th Amendment freed the slaves. He learned how to speak several Native dialects during his time with them, and also became well-versed in their ways, such as tracking, hunting, and agriculture. During this time, Reeves learned the terrain like no other.

    After the war, and as the American government started to move west, Reeves was recruited to be a Deputy US Marshal (the first Black man west of the Mississippi River to do so). His knowledge of the terrain and the ability to speak several dialects attracted the government, and he spent over three decades capturing felons. His name became legendary, and bad guys stood little chance against this marksman. He was known for bringing in the most dangerous criminals and riding a white stallion, which became somewhat of a signature of his. He used disguises and guile to capture many felons, although his skill with a gun shouldn't be overlooked at all. By the time he retired, Reeves had captured over 3,000 felons and killed over a dozen others. He is the original Black superhero and badass in America... Can we get a big-budget Bass Reeves movie, please?!

    LaKeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill

    LaKeith Stanfield stands in a town square as people look on in "The Harder They Fall"
    © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Crawford Goldsby, or Cherokee Bill, was another Black man of mixed race: his mother was of Native, Black, and white ethnicity, while his father was Black and white. It is said that Cherokee Bill killed his first man at 12 years old. He is also known for shooting his sister's husband in the back after he found his brother-in-law assaulting her. The movie hints at this when Cherokee Bill shoots and kills Pickett. 

    Cherokee Bill created a gang with Bill Cook, mostly made up of men who were both Black and Native, and began to harass, murder, and intimidate citizens. The gang of outlaws was known for their cunning, and they murdered several lawmen during their crime sprees in Oklahoma. They went on several bloody rampages and stole thousands of dollars (which would amount to MUCH more today) before Cherokee Bill was ultimately captured and hanged. 

    RJ Cyler as Jim Beckwourth

    Jim Beckwourth smiles as he stands outside
    © Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

    Jim Beckwourth was a stout fighter, fur trader, explorer, scout, guide, and badass in the American West. His mother, a slave, had a sexual relationship with her owner (it is unclear if he raped her), and had Jim. His father/owner, Sir Jennings Beckwith, had Jim apprentice as a blacksmith and eventually freed his children (he had multiple mixed kids) roughly four decades before the 13th Amendment. This made Jim a free man long before many of the others on this list. 

    As a young man, Jim became a fur trapper and mountain man for General William Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He lived among the Native Americans for some time as well, about a decade, and married and learned their culture before returning to white settlements in America. He worked as a scout, guide, and mountain man for whoever required his services for many years, including the military. While indulging in the California Gold Rush, Jim discovered the Beckwourth Pass, which is situated between present-day Reno, Nevada, and Portola, California. This discovery helped thousands commute to California. Jim's death is a mystery, with some claiming he had ongoing health issues related to his diet, while others (such as William Byers, Jim's friend and the founder of the Rocky Mountain News) claim he was poisoned by the Native Americans he once called his family. While working with the military as a scout, Beckwourth played a role in the infamous Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. This may have led to the rumors that Native Americans poisoned him in revenge.

    Danielle Deadwyler as Cathay Williams

    A closeup of Danielle wearing a cowboy hat
    Netflix

    Cathay Williams is yet another badass in American history. She was the first Black woman to enlist in the military, and she did so in disguise as a man named William Cathay. She held duties as a chef and washman before she joined the legendary Buffalo Soldiers (she was the only female Buffalo Soldier) *queue the Bob Marley record*. However, after several years, Cathay was caught. She contracted smallpox and was inspected by a physician, who discovered she was a woman. She was honorably discharged and spent the years after working as a seamstress.

    Unfortunately, as she got older, Cathay developed serious health issues tied to her time as a soldier. She died of health-related issues after trying to apply for military benefits and getting denied. 

    Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett

    A closeup of Bill Pickett who's wearing a cowboy hat
    Netflix

    William Pickett was a Black and Cherokee cowboy and rodeo performer who was born to former slaves. He is famous for inventing the act of bulldogging, or grabbing a steer and wrestling it to the ground using its horns. Soon after finishing the fifth grade, Pickett and his brothers started learning how to break horses. Not long after that, they started their own business: The Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders.

    Pickett gained a reputation as an expert rodeo performer and cowboy with a knack for courage and flair. He was also featured in several films, and is credited with being the first Black cowboy movie star. Richard E. Norman Studios, an all-Black film production company in Florida, featured Pickett in Crimson Skull (1921) and The Bull-Dogger (1922). After retirement, this cowboy and rodeo star died in 1932 after being kicked in the head by a bronco. 


    Deon Cole as Wiley Roscoe

    Deon as Wiley holding up a deputy's badge
    Netflix

    There really isn't much information about the real Wiley Escoe online. However, we do know he was a Black deputy US Marshal. The Fort Smith National Historic Site has a room dedicated to the history of Black lawmen, which highlights Wiley briefly, but his history is unknown.

    ‚ÄúWe may never know exactly how many Black men served as Deputy US Marshals,‚ÄĚ reads a notice at the site. I will say that it was refreshing to see comedian Deon Cole in a more serious role. I almost didn't think it was him!

    Did you enjoy The Harder They Fall? Let us know below in the comments!