The mysterious murder of an African-American rancher in Daggett County.
In 1900, African-American rancher Isom Dart was gunned down while walking from his cabin to his corral in Brown’s Park, a valley that straddles the borders of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. No one was ever charged with Dart’s murder, but it’s widely thought that his killer was legendary hired gun and range detective Tom Horn.
According to historical sources, Darts’ real name was Ned Huddleston, a former slave from Arkansas, who after gaining his freedom turned to cattle rustling, first in Mexico and Texas and then in Colorado. The life of a cow thief, however, seemed eventually to run its course with Huddleston. He changed his name to Isom Dart, moved to Browns Park, and formed an alliance with a group of small-scale cattle ranchers, including Matt Rash and Ann Bassett, to resist incursions by powerful cattle barons connected with the Snake River Stock Growers Association. The Association charged Dart and his friends with stealing their cattle and altering their brands. When Dart and other Browns Park ranchers began receiving threatening notes, likely from the stock growers association, advising them to leave the region or face grim consequences, Dart defiantly stayed put.
Within weeks of the warnings, two men found the decomposing body of Dart’s friend Matt Rash in his cabin. He had been shot at least twice in the torso. Locals suspected that Rash’s murderer was a drifter named James Hicks, who mysteriously left the area right around the time Isom and others began receiving the ominous notes telling them to make themselves scarce. When Hicks popped up again after Rash’s death, whispering that Dart was the dead man’s killer, the Brown’s Park community refused to believe it. Their support, however, couldn’t save Isom Dart. That fall, he was ambushed, and fell dead from gunshot wounds only a few steps from his cabin.
Rumors later surfaced that Hicks, the presumed assassin, was none other than Tom Horn, who had been hired by the Snake River cattle barons to snuff out opposition from Browns Park’s lesser ranchers. Ironically, Horn was later hanged in Wyoming for the alleged murder of teenage sheepherder Willie Nickell.
Image: Studio portrait of Isom Dart, a Black man originally known as Ned Huddelston. He is dressed as a cowboy and wears a hat, jacket, bandana, and has revolvers or hand guns tucked into his chaps. c. 1870-1880. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
See Michael W. Johnson, with Robert E. Parson and Daniel A. Stebbins, A History of Daggett County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society and Daggett County Commission, 1998), 110-116; Ronald Gottesman, ed., Violence in America: An Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999), 143-144; and Philip Fradkin, Sagebrush Country: Land and the American West (Boulder, Colorado: Johnson Books, 20904), 144-145. You may also want to consult the entry on Dart on the “African American in the Old West” website, hosted by Long Island University.