Read CHAPTER IV of The Life and Adventures of Nat Love Better Known in the Cattle Country as "Deadwood Dick", free online book, by Nat Love, on

Boyhood sports. More devilment. The rock battles. I hunt rabbits in my shirt tail. My first experience in rough riding. A question of breaking the horse or, breaking my neck.

In those days it was more the custom, than now, to work six days and rest on the seventh, accordingly us boys always had our Sundays free. And we never lost an opportunity to put in motion some devilment to make the time pass in what we thought was the most pleasant way. Anything to have a great time. Our chief means of having fun for a while was the rock battles. We boys of the entire neighborhood would get together, then divide in equal numbers on a side, then after gathering all the available rocks from the landscape, we would proceed to have a pitched battle, throwing the rocks at each other as hard as we could, and with a grim intent to commit battery. As a rational consequence the bravest would force the weaker side to retreat. It then became a question of running or being rocked to death. After these battles we were all usually in very bad condition, having received very hard knocks on sundry and various parts of our anatomy, but for all that we have never bore malice toward each other. We were careful to keep these escapades from the knowledge of our elders. In this way we were quite successful until one time we had a boy nearly killed, then we thought the old folks would whip us all to death. This incident ended the rock battles. But we soon had something else doing to furnish ourselves fun and excitement.

About this time we planned a rabbit hunt, after the small cotton tail rabbits, which were plentiful in the surrounding country. Getting all the boys together and securing the track hounds of the neighborhood we were off. It was not long before the dogs caught track of something and away they went with all the boys behind. Now at that time it was not customary for us boys of the plantation to wear shoes and pants, the principal reason being that we did not have either shoes or pants to wear. So you can perhaps imagine the sight presented by a score or more of boys of all ages chasing behind the hounds, with our shirt tails flying through bushes, thorns and brambles, up hill and down hill, many of us bleeding like stabbed pigs, but we were too much interested to pay any attention to a little blood. We wanted the rabbits, and everything else was of secondary importance, even the calls of the younger boys who got tired and fell behind. Onward we went over rocks, through fields, over fences, until we could hear the dogs no more, then tired out we had to stop. I told the boys to sit down, that I thought the dogs would come this way again. It was not long before I thought I heard something and told the boys to hush and have their rocks ready to kill the rabbit. It never occurred to me that it would be anything but a rabbit. The bay of the dogs came nearer, then over the fence jumped a big red fox right in front of me. He stopped and we looked in each others eyes. It was hard to tell which of us was the most surprised, however, I was the first to run away, and run I did. I ran like a black tailed deer. Many times I thought I felt him nibble at my shirt tails, and his eyes grew in my imagination as large as wagon wheels and Mr. Fox, himself, seemed to grow as big as an elephant. When at last I dropped from sheer exhaustion and could summon courage to look behind me, I could see nothing. It was then I realized I was not so game as I thought I was and the knowledge was not pleasant by any means. Not far from our house there was a horse ranch, owned by a Mr. Williams. He had two sons about my own age and I would often go and see them on Sundays. As I was very fond of riding horses most of the horses on the ranch were very wild. So one day the oldest boy and I made a plan to break the young colts. The only chance we had of doing so was on Sunday, when the family went to church, as we did not think Mr. Williams would approve of our plan. Mr. Williams’ boy said he would give me ten cents for every colt I broke. That was perfectly satisfactory to me. The money was made of shin plaster those days (paper). The next Sunday I started to break horses. We did not dare to put the bridle on them as we were afraid the boss might surprise us and we would not be quick enough to get it off. Our mode of procedure was to drive one at a time in the barn, get it in a stall, then after much difficulty I would manage to get on its back. Then the door was opened and the pole removed and the horse liberated with me on its back, then the fun would commence. The colt would run, jump, kick and pitch around the barn yard in his efforts to throw me off. But he might as well tried to jump out of his skin because I held on to his mane and stuck to him like a leech. The colt would usually keep up his bucking until he could buck no more, and then I would get my ten cents. Ten cents is a small amount of money these days, but in those days that amount was worth more to me than ten dollars now.

Well, we went on Sunday after Sunday and I broke about a dozen colts in this way, and also managed to do it without the boss discovering the favor I was undoubtedly doing him, in breaking all his wild horses. Only his boys were aware of the doings and they paid me. So I had no scruples about what I was doing, especially as it afforded me great fun. Finally the boys wanted me to break a big handsome black horse called Black Highwayman. Knowing the horse’s uncertain temper and wild disposition and taking into consideration its size, I refused to break him for ten cents, as the fact was I was rather scared of him. After considerable bargaining, in which I held out for fifty cents, we finally compromised on twenty-five cents. But I can assure you it was more for the money than the fun of the thing, that I finally consented to ride him. With great difficulty we managed to get him in a stall as we did the others, but I no sooner landed on his back than he jumped in the manger with me hanging to his mane. Finally the door was opened and the pole removed and out of the barn we shot like a black cloud, around the yard we flew, then over the garden fence. At this juncture the track hounds became interested and promptly followed us. Over the fields we went, the horse clearing the highest fences and other obstacles in his way with the greatest ease. My seat on his back was not the most comfortable place in the world, but as the horse did not evince any disposition to stop and let me get off, I concluded to remain where I was. All the dogs of the neighborhood were fast joining in the race and I had quite a respectable following. After running about two miles we cleared a fence into a pasture where there was a large number of other horses and young colts, who promptly stampeded as we joined them, Highwayman taking the lead with me on his back, looking very much like a toad. And all the dogs in the country strung out in the rear. Naturally we formed a spectacle that could not fail to attract the attention of the neighbors, who soon as possible mounted horses and started in pursuit and vainly tried to catch my black mount but could get nowhere near him, while I without bridle or anything to control him could do nothing but let him run as all the other horses bunched around us and the dogs kept up a continual din. I simply held on and let him go. It was a question of breaking the horse or breaking my neck. We went over everything, through everything, until finally the killing pace told and Black Highwayman fell, a thoroughly exhausted and completely conquered and well broken horse. As for myself, I was none the worse for my exciting ride. But on looking for my twenty-five cents, I found it gone. The boys had paid me in advance, as I insisted, and I had tied the money up in a corner of my shirt tail and during my wild ride it had come untied and worked out. This was a great misfortune to me and for a while I was inconsolable. I asked the boys if they would make it right, but no, they had paid me once and they refused to give me another quarter. This riled me considerable and I told them all right, to come again when they wanted a horse broken. That settled us and the horse breaking. The experiences I gained in riding during these times, often stood me in good stead in after years during my wild life on the western plains. Mr. Williams of course, heard of my last wild ride, but instead of being angry, he seemed to see the funny side of it, which I could not.

The spectators wondered how in the world I ever escaped a broken neck and I have often wondered how I escaped in after years from situations that seemed to be sure death. But escape I did and am now hale and hearty, without pain, with muscles like iron and able at any time to run a hundred yards in eleven seconds or jump a six foot fence.