The True Stories Behind The Characters in “The Harder They Fall”

Over the last several years, Netflix has really stepped it up in the original content department, and the 2021 movie The Harder They Fall is arguably one of the platform’s best original films. Set during the late 1800s, the film centers around a Black cowboy named Nat Love who spends his life trying to get revenge on the person who killed his parents. Along the way, he forms a crew that ultimately ends up helping him in his quest. Although the story itself is fiction, many of the characters in the movie actually existed in real life. In fact, many of the characters were even larger figures than you can imagine. Here are the true stories behind the characters in The Harder They Fall.

Nat Love

Portrayed by Jonathan Majors, Nat Love’s journey in the movie started when he was just a little boy. He seemed to be enjoying a comfortable childhood until his parents are visited by Rufus Buck and his gang. While eating dinner, Nat’s parents are murdered at the table by Rufus. Not only does Nat witness the whole thing, but he has a cross carved into his forehead. While it’s true that Nat was a real person, his story was quite different than what was depicted in the movie. Nat was born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854. He learned to read and write even though it was illegal for enslaved people to do so. When he was 16 years old, he left town and moved to Kansas where he began working as a cowboy. Nat was well known for his ability to break horses and he eventually moved to Arizona. In the fall of 1877, Nat was captured by the Pima tribe although he eventually escaped. Nat eventually decided to leave the cowboy life alone and settle down. He claims to have been shot more than a dozen times during his career. Nat published an autobiography in 1907 called The Life and Adventures of Nat Love. He passed away in 1921 at 61 years old. Nat and his wife, Alice, had one child but we weren’t able to find any additional information on Nat’s family.

Mary Fields AKA Stagecoach Mary

In The Harder They Fall, Stagecoach Mary was portrayed by Zazie Beetz. She was depicted as an entrepreneur who owned several saloons. She was also Nat’s love interest. However, outside of the name and the tough demeanor, the movie version of Stagecoach Mary didn’t have much in common with the woman who really existed. In real life, Stagecoach Mary was born into slavery during the 1830s. During her 60s, Stagecoach Mary became well known for becoming a mail carrier. In fact, she was the first Black woman in the United States to deliver mail on a star route. According to Merriam-Webster, the star route was “a mail-delivery route in a rural or thinly populated area served by a private carrier under contract who takes mail from one post office to another or from a railroad station to a post office and usually also delivers mail to private mailboxes along the route”. She received the nickname Stagecoach Mary due to the fact that the mail was transported by stagecoach. During her tenure, Mary became known for being extremely tough. She never backed down from a challenge and regularly carried firearms which she sometimes hid under her stress. Regardless of the conditions, she was working in, Mary never missed a delivery. She retired from the mail service when she was 71 and settled in Cascade, Montana.  She died in 1914 when she was around 80 years old. Her funeral attracted lots of people who wanted to pay their respects.

Rufus Buck

Idris Elba’s portrayal of Rufus Buck was unforgettable. The character was intriguing and terrifying all at once, but he ultimately proved to be complex and misunderstood. In the film, Buck appeared to be somewhat of an outlaw who was known for being involved in bank robberies. While almost all of the details about Rufus in the movie are made up, it is true that he was an outlaw who was feared by many. Not much is known about Rufus’ young life. However, it appears that he was probably born some time during the late 1870s or early 1880s. He was half Black and half indigenous. By the time he was a teenager, he was the leader of a gang that was made up of several other teenage outlaws. The gang became notorious during the summer of 1895 after allegedly terrorizing white settlers in Oklahoma who had taken over indigenous land. The gang was also accused of raping white women and they were ultimately captured and hanged. According to an article from Indian Country Today, Rufus Buck’s “dream was impossible; and he used the same violence to achieve it that he saw all around him. The Rufus Buck gang were childish and vicious, innocent in their naiveté and brutal in their outlook”. The article continued, “Their 13-day reign of terror is historically fascinating in that it marked the end of the Indian Territory, soon swallowed whole by the land-hungry United States”

Bass Reeves

Brought to life on screen by Delroy Lindo, Bass Reeves was shown as a police officer who wasn’t afraid of anyone and would stop at nothing to bring the ‘bad guys’ to justice. In real life, that appears to be exactly who Bass Reeves was. Reeves was born into slavery in Arkansas in the late 1830s. He was brought to Texas during his childhood where he stayed until the Civil War. Many of the details of his life are unclear, but he somehow gained freedom during the Civil War. He settled in Arkansas where he provided for himself and his family by farming. Bass became a deputy during the 1870s, after being highly sought after for his ability to speak multiple indigenous languages. He continued to work for more than 30 years and he became well-known for arresting more than 3,000 people and killing 14 in self-defense. Bass died in 1902 when he was 71 years old. During his lifetime, Bass had been married twice and he had 11 children.

Cathay Williams (Cuffee)

Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler) is arguably one of the most memorable characters in The Harder They Fall. Despite her small size, she was very tough and was often mistaken for a man. Even though Cuffee wasn’t technically a real person, the character was inspired by Cathay Williams. The film also hinted at the fact that Cuffee’s real name was actually Cathay. She was born in Missouri sometime in 1844. Although her father was free, Cathay was born into slavery due to the fact that her mother was enslaved. In the 1860s, Cathay joined the United States Army under a male identity using the name William Cathay. She only served for about two years after being discharged after it was discovered that she was a woman. Cathay eventually settled in New Mexico where she got married and worked as a cook. She moved to Colorado after her marriage ended badly. Her health began failing in the early 1890s. Despite her service in the military, she was denied her pension. She died some time in 1893 but her gravesite is unknown.

Crawford Goldsby AKA Cherokee Bill

Played by Lakeith Stanfield, Cherokee Bill was known for being incredibly quick on the draw. On top of that, he didn’t hesitate to pull his weapon out on anyone. It appears Cherokee Bill was very similar in real life. Cherokee Bill was born Crawford Goldsby in Texas in 1876. Surviving photos of Bill show that he had very light skin and it is believed that he came from Black, white, and indigenous roots. Cherokee Bill became an outlaw when he was a teenager after shooting a man over an altercation with his brother. He quickly became known for being tough and fearless. It is believed that he was involved in more than a dozen crimes ranging from robbery to murder. He was tried, convicted, and hanged in 1896 when he was just 20 years old.

Bill Pickett

Even though Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) didn’t have the biggest role in The Harder They Fall, he is one of the most well-known Black cowboys. However, who he was in real life differs greatly from the character we saw in the movie. He was born in 1870 to parents who had previously been enslaved. Bill left school when he was around 11 to work as a ranch hand. He is known for inventing a technique called bulldogging which essentially involves wrestling cattle to the ground. Over the years, he became very well known for his skills and went on to perform tricks as well as teach others his methods. He died in 1932 at 61 years old after being kicked in the head by a bull.

Jim Beckwourth

In the film, Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) was shown as being a talented young shooter who wasn’t afraid to take on anyone. As with the other characters we’ve discussed, Jim was rather different in real life than he was shown in the movie. He was born into slavery in Virginia. His mother was enslaved and his father was their owner who eventually freed Jim. Jim became known as a fur trader and explorer. According to Beckwourth.org, Jim “was a man of his times, and for the early fur trappers of the Rockies, the ability to “spin a good yarn” was a skill valued almost as highly as marksmanship or woodsmanship. And while Beckwourth certainly had a tendency to exaggerate numbers or to occasionally make himself the hero of events that happened to other people, later historians have discovered that much of what Beckwourth related in his autobiography actually occurred.” He died in 1867 when he was in his mid or late 60s.

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