Set in the American West during the late 19th century, The Harder They Fall is a cavalcade of bloodshed spilled by real historical persons—but while the people are historical, the specific nature of the bloodshed is not. Or, as the opening text of the Netflix film makes clear: “While the events of this story are fictional…These. People. Existed.” That makes cowboy Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) real. And it makes gang leader Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) also real. (The exact feud between them: maybe not so real.)
It also makes Cherokee Bill (LaKeith Stanfield) a real person who existed, too (he went by Cherokee Bill, but his real name was Crawford Goldsby). He was real and he was deadly.
The fidelity to historical person—at least nominally—was important to the cast and crew, as many of these cowboys and outlaws have been absent from public awareness. Despite America’s mythology of and fascination with the “wild west,” movies and TV shows cherry pick these outlaws and cowboys—and they tend to all look the same.
Edi Gathegi, who plays real-life cowboy Bill Pickett, said in an interview with ESSENCE that the history itself had been robbed.
“Stories of our exploit started to travel and become popular and famous, then white writers hear about those stories and they write about them and make them white and they created literature with white cowboy heroes and started making films with characters that were white cowboy heroes and that was the beginning of the erasure. The genre was created erasing us.”
Cherokee Bill is a “hero” in a different way, and no less important to the mythology of the west. Now, he gets his time to be bad on screen.
Here’s what to know about the real Cherokee Bill.
Who was Cherokee Bill?
Cherokee Bill was born Crawford Goldsby in 1876. His father claimed Black, Sioux, Mexican, and white ancestry; his mother was reported to be half Black, one quarter Cherokee, and one quarter white. The two separated when Bill was seven, after which he lived with his mother and attended school in Cherokee, Kansas and then later in Pennsylvania.
Accounts differ on the timeline of Goldsby’s early criminality—he was between the ages of 12 and 18 when he committed his first murder. By eighteen he had joined the Cook Gang, which committed train and stagecoach robberies.
Goldsby soon after formed his own criminal gang, which is reported to have included Billy the Kid. Goldsby’s life of crime was nasty, brutish, and short. The law caught up to him only after a few years of robberies. (It’s unclear how many murders he ultimately committed.) He was apprehended in 1895.
How did Cherokee Bill die?
After a second murder conviction, Goldsby was hanged in 1896. His last words, reportedly: “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”
Josh St. Clair
Joshua St Clair is an editorial assistant at Men’s Health Magazine.
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