Want to learn more about the pioneers depicted in the film? We have put together a list of books you should read.
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“The Harder They Fall,” the highly anticipated all-black western that debuted on Netflix on November 3, is a fictional tale that features true black pioneers of the Old West. Watching the movie will make you want to learn more about these trailblazers, so we’ve done a little homework for you. Below, find books on Nat Love, Stagecoach Mary, Rufus Buck, and others featured in the Jeymes Samuel-directed movie starring Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, LaKeith Stanfield, Regina King, and Delroy Lindo.
For additional recommendations, check out our summaries of the best celebrity memoirs and fascinating film review books. And if you need a place to store your books, check out these affordable options.
“The Life and Adventures of Nat Love: A True Story of the Days of Slavery, of Life in the Great Cattle Ranges and on the Western Plains” by Nat Love
Major, who plays Love in the film, picked up on this autobiography after landing the role. “I kept this book with me most of the time,” he told IndieWire. “These are the feats Nathaniel Love spoke about for himself, that he was the best shooter, the best shooter, the best stringer, the best all of those things.”
Originally published in 1907, “The Life and Adventures of Nat Love” is one of the few first-hand accounts of a black cowherd in the West at this time. Born into slavery in Oklahoma during the Civil War, Love learned to read as a child (despite being banned) and discovered his talent for breaking horses as a teenager. He left home at 16 and headed west where he found work as a cowboy at the Duval Ranch in Texas and the Gallinger Ranch in southern Arizona. This fascinating tale details Love’s many adventures and exploits, including being captured and shot by Pima Indians, who ultimately spared his life because they sympathized with his plight as a black man. You will also learn how he earned the nickname “Deadwood Dick” and more.
“I dreamed that I was in paradise: the rampage of the Rufus gang” by Leonce Gaiter
Played by Elba in the film, Buck was a biracial (back and Native American) outlaw and founder of the Rufus Buck Gang, a multicultural collective of outlaws who embarked on a bloody crusade in the summer. 1895. Heaven “tells the true story of how the Rufus Buck Gang embarked on the murderous 13-day rampage to reclaim Native American lands from white settlers.
“African-American Women of the Wild West” by Tricia Wagner
Mary Fields, or “Stagecoach Mary” as it is popularly known, was the first black female mailman for the United States Postal Service. Portrayed by Beetz in the film, this armed pioneer secured contracts with the US Postal Service from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Fields was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1832. After slavery ended, Fields worked as a maid and housekeeper, and held several odd jobs for which men were typically hired, such as maintenance and repairs, and hauling goods. At 60, Fields landed his first contract as a flagship carrier for the postal service. She used a stagecoach to deliver mail in the rough terrain of Montana and was known to carry a Smith & Wesson .38 revolver under her apron for protection. Fields never missed a day of work and became something of a local celebrity in Cascade, MT (schools even closed on his birthday). She died at Columbus Hospital in 1914, but her legacy has been celebrated for decades. Earlier this year, a Adopt a highway sign was erected outside Cascade in his honor. Besides the above book, you can learn more about Fields in Jess Nevins’ “Stagecoach Mary”, which features some of his lesser-known adventures.
“Cherokee Bill: Black Cowboy-Indian Outlaw” by Arthur T. Burton
Played by Stanfield, Cherokee Bill might be a name you’ve heard. The young outlaw, whose birth name was Crawford Goldsby, is best known for committing multiple robberies and murders in Oklahoma in 1894. The infamous crime spree only lasted seven months, but around this time Goldsby and a gang robbed banks, railroad cars, post offices, general stores, and more. He also killed eight men, including an MP, and his own brother-in-law. After fleeing, Goldsby was eventually arrested and sentenced to death by hanging at just 20 years old. He was nicknamed “Cherokee Bill” because of his black and Native American heritage, and was the son of a former Buffalo Soldier who became a sergeant in the 10th United States Cavalry.
“The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Boy Scout, Pioneer and Leader of the Crow Nation of Indians” by James P. Beckwourth
Beckwourth (played by RJ Cyler) was a fur trader, explorer and mountaineer whose memoir “The Life and Adventures of James. P. Beckwourth ”was first published in 1856. Beckwourth was born circa 1800 in Frederick County, Va. To a slave mother and a slave owner father. After being freed by his father, Beckwourth found work as a wrangler for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He later claimed to have been captured by the Crow tribe of Montana. Nonetheless, Beckwourth adopted Native American dress, married a chief’s daughter, and based on his story, rose through the ranks in the Crow Nation, while working as a trader. He also served as an Army courier during the Mexican-American War, traveled to California in the midst of the Gold Rush where he opened a store and discovered what is now known as Beckwourth Pass between the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“Bill Pickett: Bulldogger” by Bailey C. Hanes
Cowboy, rodeo artist and entrepreneur, Pickett wore many hats. The Texas native is probably best known for his stunts and rodeo tricks and film appearances, but he also invented a rodeo technique called bulldogging (where the rider grabs the bull by the horns and slams it to the ground). Born in Travis County, Texas, in 1870, Pickett started his first rodeo as a teenager and owned a horse-breaking business, The Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters, with his four brothers. In the early 1900s, Pickett got a job on the 101 Ranch Wild West Show under the nickname “The Dusty Demon”. In his spare time, Pickett worked as a cowboy and competed against white competitors in rodeos (black competitors were generally off limits, so Pickett had to identify as a Native American to participate). Pickett became so popular that he appeared in the 1921 films “The Bull-Dogger” and “The Crimson Skull”. He died in 1932 after falling into a coma after being kicked in the head by a horse. Edi Gathegi plays Pickett in the film.