Ned Huddleston (also known as Isom Dart) was born into slavery in Arkansas in 1849. His reputation as a rider, roper and bronco-buster earned him the nicknames of the “Black Fox” and the “Calico Cowboy.” He was also a notorious Wyoming Territory outlaw.
In 1861 twelve-year-old Huddleston accompanied his owner, a Confederate officer, into Texas during the Civil War. After being freed at the end of the war Huddleston headed for the southern Texas-Mexico border region where he found work at a rodeo, became a stunt rider and honed his skills as a master horseman.
Huddleston straddled both sides of the law. For a time he and a young Mexican bandit named Terresa survived as rustlers stealing horses in Mexico and selling them in Texas. Huddleston later joined a cattle drive heading northwest to Brown’s Hole in the Colorado-Wyoming area around 1871. The 6’2” Huddleston briefly found success mining gold and silver then claimed his partner cheated him out of his earnings.
After a tumultuous love affair with a Shoshone Indian woman in 1875, Huddleston joined the infamous Tip Gault Gang, a cattle and horse rustling outfit of southeastern Wyoming. After narrowly escaping death he went further west and started a new life as a hard-working man. He changed his name to Isom Dart and made a living as a bronco buster.
Isom Dart later returned to Brown’s Hole around 1890 and established his own ranch, but local cattlemen suspected he had built up his ranch herd from cattle he’d rustled from their ranches. The ranchers hired the notorious range detective, Tom Horn, to punish Dart. Horn ambushed and killed Isom Dart on October 3, 1900 near Brown's Hole. Public opinion was (and continues to be) divided about Dart's guilt. Some Brown's Hole residents mourned his death, claiming Dart was killed by cattleman who wanted his land and cattle. They saw Dart as a good-hearted, talented horseman and a top bronc stomper. Others believed he never completely relinquished his life of cattle rustling and thus remained a menace to the community.
Tricia Martineau Wagner, Black Cowboys of the Old West (Guilford, Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, 2011); Dean F. Krakel, The Saga of Tom Horn: The Story of the Cattleman’s War, with Personal Narratives, Newspaper Accounts and Official Documents and Testimonies (Laramie, WY: Powder River Publishers, 1954); Arthur Cromwell, The Black Frontier (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Television, 1970).
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