Article abstract: In his drawings and bronzes, Remington recorded the Old West before it vanished, thus preserving it for later generations.
Born October 4, 1861, in Canton, New York, Frederic Sackrider Remington was the only child of Clara Bascomb Sackrider and Seth Pierrepont Remington, a newspaper editor and publisher. Remington’s early childhood was marked by the four-year absence of his father, who was a lieutenant colonel in the Civil War. Upon his father’s return, Remington eagerly listened to his tales of the cavalry and the West; perhaps Remington’s lifelong fascination with the horse can be traced to this period. At any rate, Remington grew up sketching horses, cowboys, Indians, and soldiers. His artistic ability pleased his father, whom he idolized, but did not satisfy his practical mother, who envisioned for him a career in business. School never received much of his attention; instead, his childhood revolved around fishing, swimming and other outdoor activities.
In 1878, after two years at a military academy in Massachusetts, Remington entered Yale and its newly established School of Art and Architecture. In the college weekly, Courant, he published his first drawing, College Riff-Raff (1879), a cartoon of a bruised football player. Despite his interest in art, he was soon bored by the study of classical painting and sculpture, but he discovered a new diversion, football. Tall, robust, and burly, he was a natural football player and became a forward on the varsity team. In 1880, Remington’s father died, leaving him a modest inheritance. Finding himself financially independent, at least momentarily, he left Yale against his mother’s wishes, after having completed less than two years. In Canton, he tried several jobs, but none was to his liking. In the summer of 1880, upon meeting Eva Adele Caten of Gloversville, New York, he fell deeply in love and asked her father for her hand, but he was refused on the grounds that his future was not promising. Remington, dejected, left to find his fortune in the West. Working as a cowboy and a scout did not make him rich, but as a result of the trip he sold a sketch, Cow-boys of Arizona: Roused by a Scout (1882), to Harper’s Weekly, his first appearance in a major magazine, a milestone even if the sketch was redrawn by a staff artist.
In 1883, Remington bought a sheep ranch in Kansas. Yet the difficult and lonely work induced him to sell it in 1884. With the last of his inheritance, he invested in a saloon. Although the business was successful, his unscrupulous partners tricked him out of his share. After selling a few drawings to a Kansas City art dealer, he began seriously to consider an art career. In retrospect, he said of his interest in drawing, “I knew the wild riders and the vacant land were about to vanish forever. . . . Without knowing exactly how to do it, I began to record some facts around me and the more I looked the more the panorama unfolded.” Thus, he began the task of chronicling the West before it disappeared.
Returning to New York, Remington again approached Eva’s father, who relented, perhaps because Eva would have no other. After being married on October 1, 1884, he and his bride set out for Kansas City to establish their home. A steady income was not to be found, however, so after less than a year Eva returned to New York, and Remington resumed his travels through the West. At one time, he prospected for gold, at another, he rode with an army unit in search of Apaches, but always he sketched.
Realizing that New York City, with its many publishers, was the place for an aspiring illustrator, he returned in 1885 and, with Eva, set up a household in Brooklyn. The early days were difficult as he doggedly tried to sell his drawings, but the turning point came in 1886, when Harper’s Weekly published on its cover his drawing The Apache War: Indian Scouts on Geronimo’s Trail (1886). Soon Remington’s work began to appear regularly in major magazines.
In the years following 1886, Remington became recognized as the foremost illustrator of his day. Over his lifetime, his drawings, numbering more than twenty-seven hundred, were published in forty-one different periodicals. His illustrations, with their Western themes, struck a responsive chord in the American public, whose curiosity had been aroused by the tales of gold and Indians, circulating out of the Wild West.
After 1886, Remington went West every summer to sketch and to collect Indian artifacts and cowboy paraphernalia. At other times, he traveled on assignment for magazines. In 1888, he covered the army campaign against the Apache. In 1890, he was in the Badlands of South Dakota, documenting the Plains Indian Wars. Traveling with the army, he experienced at first hand several brief skirmishes with the Sioux. The Wounded Knee Massacre, the last battle of the Indian Wars, took place a few miles from where he was situated.
When the Spanish-American War erupted, Remington, representing Harper’s Weekly and William Randolph...
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