Category Archives: Curator’s Corner

People I Know: Augustus Thomas

*The following is part of a new series of blog posts researched and written by Dr. Mark Thistlethwaite, Kay and Velma Kimbell Chair of Art History TCU School of Art, and guest curator of SRM’s special exhibit Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East.

Willard L. Metcalf | Hudson River | 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

When you visit the special exhibition Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East be sure to check out the photographs, letters, and drawings displayed in the vitrines in the center of the gallery. One particularly intriguing object to see is a portrait of the renowned American landscape painter Willard L. Metcalf, which inhabits a page from Frederic Remington’s People I Know, an album of caricatures drawn by the artist and his friends. To counter the sullen visage that he had been given, Metcalf wrote good-naturedly: “This is what they do to an unsuspecting visitor—Take warning!!” If you look closely at the page, you’ll notice that the caricature is signed by Gus Thomas (who contributed several other sketches to this album). Who was he?

Augustus “Gus” Thomas | “People I Know”, Augustus “Gus” Thomas’s illustration of Willard Metcalf, with Metcalf’s Inscription (1895) | ca. 1895 – 1909 | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Augustus “Gus” Thomas | “People I Know”, Augustus “Gus” Thomas’s illustration of Willard Metcalf, with Metcalf’s Inscription (1895) | ca. 1895 – 1909 | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Augustus (Gus) Thomas (1857-1934) was Remington’s very good friend and neighbor in New Rochelle, New York. He was also one of the leading American playwrights of the day. Born in St. Louis, Thomas secured a position as a “page boy” for the 41st United States Congress (1870-71), where his talent for caricature caught the attention of his Congressional sponsor, who encouraged him to render images of members of the House of Representatives. Later, after returning to his hometown, Thomas turned his skills to editorial cartooning for local newspapers. However, a longstanding interest in the theater convinced him to begin writing plays in 1884. His career would flourish and he would write more than sixty plays.

Augustus Thomas (1957-1934) | New York: Bain News Service | 1913 | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C.

The play that secured his reputation (and wealth) was Arizona, which was a theatrical blockbuster when it opened on Broadway in 1900. The impetus for the play was Frederic Remington—who had enthusiastically encouraged Thomas, then experiencing “writer’s block,” to head west in 1897 to rejuvenate himself. Remington obtained for “Tommy” (as he called him) a letter from the U.S. Army’s Western major-general directing all commandants to provide him with information and assistance. August Thomas declared his trek to Arizona to be a turning point in his career.

Arizona poster | Ray Brown, illustrator | Chicago: Winterburn Show Printing Co. | 1899 | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C.

Arizona poster | New York: U.S. Lithograph Co. | C. 1907 | Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C.

Remington may have further assisted in the play’s success. In two articles describing Arizona’s 1899 premiere at Hamlin’s Grand Opera House in Chicago, the New York Times stated that Remington, “an undisputed authority on both soldiers and cowboys,” had participated in the stage production’s scenery and costumes. Arizona went on to captivate audiences on Broadway and throughout the country (in 1913, a film version was released), while reinvigorating dramas about the frontier. Remington himself became involved in the theater when a dramatization of his novel John Ermine of the Yellowstone opened in New York in 1903. Unfortunately, his play failed to duplicate the success of Thomas’s Arizona.

While Remington’s prompting helped to further Thomas’s career, the playwright, in turn, affected the artist’s work. It was Gus Thomas who first alerted Remington, by telephone,  of the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor in 1898. After commanding Thomas to “ring off,” Remington immediately contacted his New York publishers; his cover illustration of recruits—“A First Lesson in the Art of War”—appeared more than three weeks before the United States officially declared war with Spain.

Thomas is also credited with piquing Remington’s interest in trying his hand at sculpture, when he told the artist: “Frederic, you’re not an illustrator so much as you’re a sculptor. You don’t see your figures on one side of them. Your mind goes all around them.” Later, Gus Thomas recognized Remington’s attraction to landscape painting. He remarked that in his Sunday morning and weekday evening “tramps” with the artist that he discerned how the tints of nature increasingly appealed to Remington’s evolving aesthetic sensibility. The playwright supported Remington’s new direction in painting outdoors; in his October 31, 1908 diary entry, Remington recorded: “Gus says my landscapes are as good as anyone paints. Says I will be a great landscapist. One will always believe nice things of himself.” The impressionistic landscapes featured in Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East confirm Gus Thomas’s assessment of his close friend’s work.

Frederic Remington | Pete’s Shanty | 1908 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Augustus Thomas was one of the few people able to attend the artist’s funeral services (many could not because of blizzard conditions) and he was one of twelve subscribers who funded the presentation of Frederic Remington’s painting On the Southern Plains to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1911, which hangs prominently in the museum today.

Frederic Remington sketch of Augustus Thomas | c. 1896 | Reproduced in Augustus Thomas, The Print of My Remembrance, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922, opp. 326 [Public Domain]

For an enjoyable, anecdotal account of this playwright’s friendship with the artist, see Augustus Thomas, “Recollections of Frederic Remington,” Century Illustrated Magazine 86, no. 2 (July, 1913): 354-61.

Gus Thomas sketch of Maurice Barrymore (“My wife forbids me to sign this—”), c. 1895
He was the patriarch of Barrymore acting family, and had acted in plays written by Thomas.

Rowing Up a Muscle and Fighting Mosquitoes

Frederic Remington | Small Oaks | 1887 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Frederic Remington enjoyed spending his summers outdoors, preferably camping. In his painting Small Oaks, he records his campsite from the summer of 1887, on Small Oaks Island in the St. Lawrence’s Chippewa Bay. In a letter to his friend Lt. Powhatan Clarke, Remington clearly expresses his fondness for the outdoors, writing: “a friend of mine owns the Island and has a small cottage but we ‘are in camp’—camp is the only thing in summer—if I had money enough I would live in a bark camp the year round . . .”

Google map pinpointing Chippewa Bay in New York.

Remington wasn’t the only one who enjoyed camping in the summer. One of the little-known turning points in the history of American travel occurred in the spring of 1869, when a Boston preacher named William H.H. Murray published one of the first guidebooks to a wilderness area – the Adirondack Mountains of Remington’s North Country. Murray made the then-outrageous assertion that taking trips into the great outdoors could be a virtuous way to spend one’s leisure time. With the country’s rapid rise in industrialization, life in the city was beginning to take its toll on its citizens. The wilderness was the antidote for restoring one’s mind, body and spirit. Many of Murray’s suggestions of hiking, canoeing, and fishing were among Remington’s favorite pastimes.

Frederic Remington paddling his canoe, 1902. Photograph likely by Edwin Wildman, August 1902. Ingleneuk Album. FRAM 71.831.5

Following the camping trail further, I was curious to learn more about the history of this outdoor pursuit at the turn of the century. The tent featured in Remington’s campsite resembles a wall tent, a common style of tent used in the early 20th century. Today, wall tents and the similar bell tent have become used in recent years for “glamping” – a style of camping that is more luxurious than rugged.  A quick Google search of bell tents today will result in a slew of advertisements for the ultimate glamping or music festival tent.

‘Trail craft; an aid in getting the greatest good out of vacation trips’ by Claude Powell Fordyce (1922)

Google search result for “bell tent”

Camping today is vastly different than it was when Remington took off to Small Oaks. Tents were made of heavy canvas and outdoor clothing was heavy, bulky, and hard to dry. Today, thin, synthetic fibers simplify packing and keep campers more comfortable.

Not having access to insect repellant back then, Remington spent his evenings fighting mosquitoes. However, all in all, he reported having a good time camping, and this 1887 experience on Small Oaks may have planted the seed that led to his 1900 purchase of his own Chippewa Bay island, Ingleneuk – a place where Remington could nourish his inner being.

“I am in Chippewa Bay 10 miles below Alexandria Bay. Seven miles wide here and blows like hell every minute. Got a dandy lumbered island – 6 acres – good house – kitchen outside – boat house – two docks and a hospital tent. Its cool here all the while and I work summers. It was a good scheme since no one can live in New R – in the summer and work. It is cheaper than travel and anyhow summer is no time to spend on cars…” FR to Julian Ralph, Summer 1900

Old boathouse and dock at Ingleneuk, Ingleneuk Album, FRAM 71.831.1


Come Ride East With Us

When visitors enter the museum, usually they are immediately greeted by a portrait of Sid Richardson, which was painted by the American artist Peter Hurd. But starting today, a different gentleman will be welcoming our guests; Henry Lloyd Herbert to be exact. Mr. Herbert served as Chairman of the Polo Association from 1890 to 1921 and helped found the Meadow Brook Club on Long Island, New York.

Frederic Remington | A Hunting Man (In Full Pursuit: H.L. Herbert Taking A Wall) | 1890 | Oil on canvas | Private Collection

Frederic Remington painted a portrait of Mr. Herbert as part of a four-part article that the artist illustrated for Harper’s Monthly published in 1891 called “Some American Riders,” written by military officer and historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge. The author explores various types of horse riders: American Indians, US cavalry, cowboys, gentlemen riders, and more. Remington’s illustrations carefully distinguished the regional characteristics of these riders and their horses.  Both Remington and Dodge take pride in the different forms of American riders, reminding readers that “we have no cause to be ashamed of what we have in horses, nor of what we can do in the saddle.”

Frederic S. Remington, An Indian Trapper, 1889, Oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection

(Another example of “Some American Riders” that Remington painted for the article can be found nearby at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.)

Why is a foxhunter now greeting our visitors? Well, because we’re asking our visitors to come ride East with us. The Sid Richardson Museum has partnered with the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York to bring our visitors a new exhibit opening September 14, Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East. In this unprecedented exchange of artworks, SRM visitors familiar with Remington’s iconic Western paintings will have an opportunity to discover another side of the artist, one rooted in the Eastern region of the US.

Frederic Remington | River Drivers in the Spring Break Up | ca. 1905 | Oil on canvas | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

Frederic Remington’s art has so profoundly shaped our perceptions of the Old West that we only vaguely, if at all, recall that he was an Easterner born and bred. He grew up in Canton and Ogdensburg, New York—the North Country, the forested region stretching from the Adirondack Mountains across the St. Lawrence River into Canada.

In the first decade of the 20th century, Remington was in a period of his life and art when he became enamored of painting landscapes in a newer style, and it’s the verdant lands of his home country that visitors will experience during this exhibit. Join us as this Fall as we explore a different frontier in Remington’s art.

Frederic Remington | Boathouse at Ingleneuk | ca. 1903 – 1907 | Oil on academy board | Frederic Remington Art Museum, Ogdensburg, NY

When Camping Goes Awry

It’s summer time, which for some also means vacation time. For those who are looking to escape to the great outdoors, camping is a fun way to enjoy “ma nature.” Charles Russell enjoyed being outdoors and went on several camping trips, including a few with friend and pioneer dude rancher, Howard Eaton. After one such trip, Charlie’s wife Nancy recounted to a friend, “This trip has been a trip of memories. Chas. just loved it all and had such a good time every day then around the camp fires at night they always had the big talk.” Russell gifted to Eaton his painting, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, in gratitude for such a memorable excursion along the Grand Canyon in October 1916.

Charles Russell, Man’s Weapons Are Useless When Nature Goes Armed, 1916, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 48 1/8 inches

This painting is a great example of Russell’s sense of humor. Here, the two hunters return to a campsite left in an absolute mess. One of our SRM docents was a Scoutmaster for Boy Scouts of America for several years, and he interprets this artwork as a scene of what NOT to do when camping, including:

  1. Never leave food out in your campsite. You have to store food in safe, strong, closeable containers, and if you’re in a bear area, it has to be suspended waaaaayyy out of reach.  Never, ever eat in your tent.  Not following these rules invites critters, big & small, into your campsite (or tent) – ants, raccoons, skunks, bears, etc.
  2. Always clean up right after eating; wash all used pots, pans, & utensils. You’re going to need them clean next time, anyway, and if you don’t clean up food, well… see #1.
  3. Cutting tools (axes, knives, saws, etc.) must be sheathed when not in use. Leaving them lying around a campsite invites severe injury, especially at night.  Since the hunters in the painting would have been leaving their campsite in the moonlight, the unsheathed axe would have been very hazardous.  It’s also interesting that Russell painted the axe head in such a way that its gleaming sharp edge looks unusually bright & shiny, as if to say, “Look at me, look at me!!”
  4. Cutting tools should never be left in a precarious, dangerous position. The axe, in addition to being unsheathed, is placed in a way that if someone were stumbling around in the night, and stepped or fell on the handle, the axe could have been catapulted up and caused serious injury.
  5. Axes should only be used in a well designated area, usually a 15′ to 20′ diameter circle, away from the campsite, which has been cleared of debris and is well marked by a rope or rock ring. This would be more explicitly marked in a Scout camp than in a hunter’s campsite, but anyone using an axe should always make sure that there is no one & nothing within axe-swinging range that could be hurt or damaged accidentally should anything slip or fly off.
  6. Be careful about where you put your sleeping bag or bedroll – or tent. Stay away from low areas or gullies, as they can fill with rainwater. Don’t sleep under or next to anything that can fall (e.g., tree limbs) or next to a cliff-type structure where water or rocks can fall from above.  And never, EVER, sleep near anything that looks like an animal den.  In the painting, the bedroll was placed under a very snaky looking overhang.  To most people, it looks like it could be a safe place, out of the rain, but that also makes it a desirable place for animals, especially snakes.

I suspect other experienced campers could cite other helpful guidelines found in this painting that have not been listed. Let us know in the comments what you notice!

Finding Remington’s Signature

Scholars consider Frederic Remington to be one of the most copied American artists. While compiling a catalogue raisonné[1] of Remington’s paintings, the review committee examined nearly 500 two-dimensional works. Of those submissions, only 22% were deemed original. The rest were copies, fakes, and forgeries.

What’s the difference between a fake, forgery, or copy? A fake is a painting that does not relate to any known Remington work but is given a fraudulent Remington signature and is of a subject that might have interested him. A forgery occurs when someone takes an artist’s work, paints out his or her signature, and signs the forged signature of another artist. A copy is a reproduction of a known Remington painting but painted by someone else, with a false Remington signature.

The issue of fakes and forgeries is something that is dealt with frequently in the art world. The current system for authenticating works relies on a three-tier approach of connoisseurship (an expert verifying that the work reflects the artist’s style and technique), provenance (the history of an artwork’s ownership) and scientific analysis done by conservators like Claire Barry, Director of Conservation at the Kimbell Art Museum.

The Way Post | attributed to Frederic Remington | ca. 1881 | Watercolor and gouache on paper

In preparation for the Sid Richardson Museum’s focus exhibit, Frederic Remington: Altered States, Ms. Barry examined The Way Post, a watercolor & gouache painting currently attributed to Remington. However, scholars as well as the museum staff, question the painting’s authorship. The work is dated circa 1881, just at the beginning period of the artist’s career at a time when Remington made his first trip West to Montana. Conservators like Barry acknowledge that it is difficult to authenticate very early works or very late works of artists.

One of the many tools conservators employ in their lab is infrared reflectography, which allows one to examine any underdrawings. Unfortunately, Ms. Barry did not discover much underdrawings in The Way Post. Instead, one can get a better sense of the underdrawings with the naked eye, as the graphite is visible through the watercolor.

Infrared reflectogram mosaic, Attributed to Frederic Remington, The Way Post, c.1881, Sid Richardson Museum

The Way Post, detail

As mentioned in a previous blog post, the similarities between The Way Post and the work of one of Remington’s contemporaries, William de la Montagne Cary, is striking. Like Remington, Cary was also a Western illustrator around the same time period (1840-1922). Compare The Way Post with Cary’s The Strong Cup from the Gilcrease Museum’s collection, which is similar in subject, media and size.

William de la Montagne (1840-1922), A Strong Cup, Collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Other clues about the painting’s authorship are best found within the composition and painting technique itself. Note the presence of a child in the background, the inclusion of which is unusual for a Remington painting. Yet the use of a raking shadow throughout the painting, particularly under the fence, is a signature of Remington’s work. Likewise, one will note the difference in texture between the foreground washes and the opaquely painted sky – another signature of Remington’s style.

Detail of Remington’s signature, The Way Post

The painting is monogramed with Remington’s initials, F.R. While Remington did use his initials on other early works, the style of the letters in this painting is a little different. Unfortunately, Remington was not consistent with his signatures, using different colors, different styles, and even different angles. See if you can spot which signature below appears on a fake Remington painting:

If you guessed “d.”, you’re correct!

While recent studies have provided a closer look at The Way Post, attribution still remains unclear. What are the next steps? Claire Barry suggests an examination of the areas with white gouache under ultraviolet light and analyze the samples this paint with XRF and polarizing light microscopy, which are tools that would help determine if the paint used in the gouache is titanium white. Why is that important? Titanium white was not invented and produced until the 20th century after Remington’s death. Despite the continued mystery of authorship, whoever the artist of this painting may be, what’s clear is that the work exhibits an underlying quality that one can enjoy regardless.

[1] A catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all known artworks by an artist in a particular medium.

The Unsolved (and Solved) Mysteries of Remington

This month marks the opening of our new focus exhibit from our “Guest of Honor” series entitled Frederic Remington: Altered States. This exhibit brings together a small grouping of Remington’s works, including two rarely seen paintings from the Museum’s permanent collection, as well as bronzes and books from private collections. Altered States not only highlight’s Remington’s career as an illustrator, but it also examines the various issues surrounding the authenticity of a work of art.

Let’s first look at alterations to artworks made by the artist’s hand. The exhibit features two versions of the same Remington bronze, The Rattlesnake. In this sculpture, Remington depicts a rider and his horse shying away from a rattlesnake on the ground. The scene is filled with unrestrained action. Three years and eleven castings after his first cast of The Rattlesnake, Remington reworked the design and the resulting bronze exhibited some different details. First there are the structural alterations, with the overall sculpture being 3 inches taller than the first version and with a smaller base. Changes to the model included tucking the horse’s forelegs and straightening his rear legs which increased the tension and thrusted the rider forward. While viewing the two bronzes displayed side by side in the gallery, make note of the alterations of the rider’s gear in the second version of the sculpture. Even the color of the patina of the bronze is different.

The Rattlesnake [first version] | Copyrighted January 18, 1905 | Roman Bronze Works cast #5, 1906 | Private Collection

The Rattlesnake | Copyrighted 1905 | Roman Bronze Works cast #19, 1910 | Private Collection

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | Oil on wood panel | 30 inches x 18 inches

Another example of alterations to an artwork by the artist himself is the SRM painting The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum. We explored the mystery surrounding this artwork in an earlier blog post. Fortunately, we have great detectives in the way of art conservators to help us. X-rays and infrared photography of the painting revealed the hidden third figure that Remington had over painted. Exactly why Remington chose to alter the composition from the published illustration remains a mystery.

X-ray of Remington’s Thunder Fighters with 3rd figure circled

Sometimes artists make changes to their artwork, but sometimes alterations are made by those other than the artist, which raises various questions about authenticity. Take for example the SRM painting He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade. Remington originally painted this work in black-and-white for an illustration that was published in his novel, The Way of an Indian (a copy of which is on display in the exhibit). The Museum has other black-and-white paintings in the collection by Remington as well. What makes this work stand out? At some point, someone painted over He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade, resulting in a vibrantly hued composition. But who did it? This sounds like another excellent case for art conservators, a.k.a. the detectives! An analysis at a research lab revealed that a layer of dirt separated two layers of paint, indicating that several years had passed between the applications. Furthermore, analysis of the top, colored layer determined that this paint was not produced until over two decades after Remington’s death. Ah ha! Twas not an alteration by the artist’s hand. Someone with fraudulent intentions has compromised the work.

He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade | ca. 1900 | Oil on canvas

The ultimate Remington mystery involves a small work on paper entitled The Way Post. The simple watercolor study could perhaps be a product of Remington’s first trip West in 1881, a brief period in which the young artist signed his works with his initials, “F.R,” though he rarely used it as his signature after that year. Despite those details, it is difficult to attribute this work to Remington with certainty.

The Way Post | attributed to Frederic Remington | ca. 1881 | Watercolor and gouache on paper

In fact, the work is reminiscent of another Western illustrator of the same era, William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922). The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK houses a collection of Cary’s works, including a watercolor sketch of comparable size, The Strong Cup.

William de la Montagne (1840-1922), A Strong Cup, Collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma

With so many questions circulating around an artwork like this, who are you going to call? The art conservators! Conservation staff at the Kimbell Art Museum conducted studies on the work from the Museum’s collection. While infrared reflectography (a non-invasive method of looking through paint layers) did not real any pentimenti, or artist changes, examination under the microscope revealed that the signature initials were painted with a bulkier, more granular white paint than the artist used for highlights in the rest of the work. Likewise, the initials appear raised from the surface, not integrated. All of this suggests that the signature was a later addition. Did Remington add his signature at a later date? Is The Way Post the work of another artist? Do we have a forgery on our hands? This mystery remains unsolved.

Detail of Remington’s signature, The Way Post

Remington’s artwork was in popular demand even during his lifetime, selling for high prices. With so much value attributed to a work by Remington, many have attempted to forge the artist’s signature or “enhance” a painting in order to increase the artwork’s market value. Remington scholar Peter Hassrick once speculated that there may be more Remington forgeries than of any other American painter. Whether altered by his own hands or at that of another, Remington’s artwork can sometimes leave us with more questions than answers.

Gateway to the West

Named after Louis IX of France, St. Louis is a city filled with history. Now home to Anheuser-Busch and the Gateway Arch, St. Louis was once home to some of our SRM artists: Charles Russell, Oscar Berninghaus & Herbert Herget.

Downtown St. Louis. Image courtesy Timothy K Hamilton.

Born in St. Louis in 1864, Charles Marion Russell grew up in Oak Hill at his family’s manor-style house near present-day Tower Grove Park, a site of picnics and Sunday gatherings for the best families of St. Louis. For Russell, it was a great area in which to ride his horse. Once a rural plantation, Oak Hill was a suburb of St. Louis by the time Russell and his family moved to the area, welcoming the development around them. His father, Charles Silas Russell, was president of the local Parker-Russell Mining & Manufacturing company, a leading maker of industrial fire bricks. St. Louis was a city mostly made out of bricks, with over 80 brickyards in town by 1870. The Russells expected Charlie to join the family business or go to college. Instead, Charlie headed out west to Montana to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a cowboy.

Charles M. Russell, Cowpunching Sometimes Spells Trouble, 1889, Oil on canvas, 26 x 41 inches

Russell visited his family from time to time, which would have afforded him the opportunity to explore the exhibits at the 1904 World’s Fair hosted in St. Louis, where Russell had a few of his own paintings on display.

Russell was not the only SRM artist at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Oscar Berninghaus had two designs selected for the fair’s medal competition. Before he became one of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, Berninghaus spent his formal years in St. Louis, where he was born in 1874. Like Russell, Berninghaus began his art-making at a young age, sketching local scenes around town. He left school to become a lithographer, eventually working for Woodward & Tiernan, the city’s leading commercial printing firm. Berninghaus also completed illustrations for the local Anheuser-Busch Brewing company and painted several works for the Busch family throughout his career, many of which can be found today in the St. Louis Art Museum.

Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Image courtesy Katherine Johnson.

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches

Audiences may be less familiar with another artist in our collection, Herbert Herget. Herget was born in St. Louis in 1885. Like Russell and Berninghaus, Herget enjoyed making art at a young age, drawing inspiration from the reproductions of Frederic Remington’s paintings published in popular magazines of the day. After attending public schools in St. Louis, Herget spent six months studying sculpture before he decided to pursue painting. His first serious training as a painter took place at the Washington University School of Fine Art. Later, Herget spent several years serving as an apprentice and illustrator for the publishers Woodward & Tiernan, the very same printing firm at which Berninghaus began his commercial art career. Today, the historic Woodward & Tiernan building in St. Louis is transitioning into loft-style apartments.

Woodward and Tiernan Printing Company. Lithographic retouching department. Photograph by W.C. Persons, 1926. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 34596. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

Workers in the Finishing Department at Woodward and Tiernan Printing Company, 1926. Photographer: W.C. Persons. Collection: Industrial Buildings. Image Courtesy of Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.

Who else at our museum has ties to St. Louis? Our museum director, Mary Burke! Having grown up in the Gateway City, Mary is familiar with many of these artists’ old haunts. For the past two decades, Mary has worked to preserve and share Sid’s legacy through the museum’s collection and education programming.

What Makes Thunder?

Remington depicts “thunder fighters” of the Sioux Nation not only braving a storm, but braving their own fears to chase off the big black thunder bird whose beating wings filled the air with roaring. The painting was originally intended as an illustration in the 1892 edition of Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail.

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | Oil on wood panel | 30 inches x 18 inches

Francis Parkman (1823-1893) was born into a well-to-do Boston family. In April of 1846, just out of Harvard Law School at age 23, Parkman and his college friend and relative, Quincy Shaw, departed from Westport, Missouri on a journey of western travel and adventure. Despite being in poor health (dysentery, cramps and dizziness – oh my!) for much of the nearly 6-month journey, Parkman traveled 2,000 miles of prairies, deserts and mountains, coming into contact with emigrant trails. The Oregon Trail is the author’s reflection (and, in some cases, exaggeration) of his travels.

The first edition was published in 1849. For his 4th edition, Parkman asked Frederic Remington to illustrate its pages. Remington accepted.

My dear sir: As you know, I am to illustrate your “Oregon Trail.” You paint men very vividly with your words and I imagine I can almost see your people. I shall never be able to fill your mind’s eye but if I manage to symbolize the period, I shall be content. Trusting that I may hear from you shortly, I have the honor to be very respectfully yours, Frederic Remington.  (January 5, 1892)

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would Take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | line engraving | Parkman, Francis. The Oregon Trail, 1892, p. 112

Remington’s image illustrates a scene described in Chapter 14, “The Ogillallah Village.” Parkman and his travel companion, Raymond, enter an Ogallala Sioux village, where the two men meet an acquaintance named Reynal, a French Indian trader. Reynal serves as interpreter between the two men and the members of the village. Parkman and Raymond, guests of the village, have been moving from lodge to lodge to taste the foods their hosts set before them. After a meal of boiled buffalo meat and other foods, a thunderstorm that had been threatening strikes, which spurs Parkman to ask:

“What is it?” said I, “that makes the thunder?”

“It’s my belief,” said Reynal, “that it’s a big stone rolling over the sky.”

“Very likely,” I replied; “but I want to know what the Indians think about it.”

So he interpreted my question, which produced some debate. There was a difference of opinion. At last old Mene-Seela, or Red-Water, who sat by himself at one side, looked up with his withered face, and said he had always known what the thunder was. It was a great black bird; and once he had seen it, in a dream, swooping down from the Black Hills, with its loud-roaring wings; and when it flapped them over a lake, they struck lightning from the water.

“The thunder is bad,” said another old man, who sat muffled in his buffalo-robe; “he killed my brother last summer.”

Reynal, at my request, asked for an explanation; but the old man remained doggedly silent and would not look up. Some time after, I learned how the accident occurred. The man who was killed belonged to an association which, among other mystic functions, claimed the exclusive power and privilege of fighting the thunder. Whenever a storm which they wished to avert was threatening, the thunder-fighters would take their bows and arrows, their guns, their magic drum, and a sort of whistle made out of the wing-bone of the war-eagle, and, thus equipped, run out and fire at the rising cloud, whooping, yelling, whistling, and beating their drum to frighten it down again. One afternoon a heavy black cloud was coming up, and they repaired to the top of a hill, where they brought all their magic artillery into play against it. But the undaunted thunder, refusing to be terrified, darted out a bright flash, which struck one of the party dead as he was in the very act of shaking his long iron-pointed lance against it. The rest scattered and ran, yelling in an ecstasy of superstitious terror, back to their lodges.

Compare the illustration with the painting as it exists today at the museum. Do you notice how they differ?

When you visit the painting in our galleries, you’ll see that Remington eliminated the figure in the background, softened the shadows and added a design on the drum, which resembles a drum in the Remington Studio Collection at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Crow Drum | ca. 1880 | pigment, wood, rawhide, lacing, string | Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming

The original painting showed the three figures shooting and beating the drum to frighten the cloud down to the earth. In the first version, Remington included a third man standing behind the other two discharged his musket into the sky. Later, as seen today, the artist painted over the third figure, simplifying the composition.

Millie in Montana

In 1907, Charlie Russell painted Utica, also known as A Quite Day in Utica, a scene that is anything other than quiet. This work was a commission by the Lehman family, who had owned the general store in Utica, Montana. By this point, the family had moved to Lewiston and were wanting their former customer, the now-famous cowboy artist, to paint a picture to be used on a calendar to advertise their family store in Lewiston.

Every figure in this painting is said to be identifiable, but today I want to focus on just one. In the doorway of the general store is the owner, Charles Lehman. Next to him on his right is an African American woman, Millie Ringgold, a freed slave and prospector in the area.

Charles M. Russell | Utica (A Quiet day in Utica) | 1907 | Oil on canvas | 24 1/8 inches x 36 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell | Utica (A Quiet day in Utica) | 1907 | Oil on canvas | 24 1/8 inches x 36 1/8 inches

Millie Ringgold was a gold prospector, boarding house proprietor, and long-time resident of Yogo City, just down the road from Utica. How did this self-made businesswoman find her way to central Montana?

Millie was born a slave near Chestertown, Maryland in 1845. It’s likely that she remained a slave until Maryland finally abolished slavery on November 1, 1864. After spending time in the D.C. area as a nurse for the military and working for a family, she boarded a steamboat in 1878 and traveled up the Missouri, landing in Montana. Two years later, Millie joined the Yogo gold rush in the Little Belt Mountains in Central Montana.

Little Belt Mountains,

ringgold link to Billings Gazette

A photocopy of a photo showing Millie Ringgold in front of what is believed to have been her restaurant, bar and boarding house along Yogo Creek in the Little Belt Mountains. Billings Gazette.

After settling in Yogo City, Millie opened a boarding house, where she experienced profitable business until the gold rush boom went bust in the early 1880s. Despite this bust, Millie continued to run her boarding house. It’s said that any traveler who wrote about Millie raved about the immaculate house and dining room, which was complete with white linen and polished silver. Even though the town was nearly deserted, she kept her boarding house in good shape.

In addition to running her boarding house, Millie supplemented her income by washing for prospectors, raising some chickens and turkeys, and cooking or nursing for ranchers from time to time. If money was tight, Millie relied on the aid of her cat, George Washington. The cat could catch a rabbit for both Millie and her cat to enjoy.

Millie Ringgold

Millie Ringgold


Sid Richardson MuseumThe 1900 federal census listed Millie Ringgold as a prospector-owner. She never lost faith in the Yogo mines. Until her death in 1906, she continued to live alone and work her mining claims in Yogo City, sometimes hiring the help of an African American man, believed to be Abraham Carter, the only other black resident of the Yogo District listed in the 1900 census.

Likely to have encountered Ms. Ringgold during his early days in the Judith Basin, Charles Russell paid tribute to Millie Ringgold in his 1907 painting.



Keep Calm and Trail Drive On

*After the Civil War, there was a need to connect the ranchmen of Texas Longhorn cattle with the feeders and packers in northern U.S. By the 1870’s, Texas began to assume its preeminence as a source of American food, particularly beef. As such, moving cattle from grazing lands in Texas to rail terminals was an annual job.

The new Kansas Pacific railroad brought an opportunity to set up new markets for Texas cattle in northern states. Promotional maps and pamphlets were printed in large numbers between 1871 and 1875 praising the benefits of using the railroad’s services to fill the government’s demand for cattle. These “promotionals” were used to advertise the Kansas Pacific Railway, enticing drovers from the shipping centers of rival railroads, but also to promote certain towns over others.

Our current exhibit, Hide & Horn on the Chisholm Trail, features a map, guide, and book that would have been used by cowboys and cattle businessmen during the late 19th century.


Kansas Pacific Railway Company | The Best and Shortest Cattle Trail from Texas | 1873 | Map | The Rees-Jones Collection

Kansas Pacific Railway Company | The Best and Shortest Cattle Trail from Texas | 1873 | Map | The Rees-Jones Collection

On prominent display in our galleries, the map shows various cattle routes from points in Texas to Camp Concho where the L.B. Harris Trail begins and to Red River Station, which is shown as the beginning of the Ellsworth Trail.

The map was the brainchild of Englishman William Weston (1844-1920), a mining engineer who was in the area at the time railheads were competing for the cattle trade.

Maps like this one and their subsequent printed guides were distributed complimentary in Texas by the Kansas Pacific railroad’s agents and others.ellsworthThis particular map showcases the town of Ellsworth, Kansas, depicting its railhead as the most convenient by providing easy access to markets both east and west.Railroad arrows

Red arrows along the top show the direction of the Kansas Pacific and the towns in Kansas that were railheads. These towns included Ellsworth, Russell, Fort Hays, and correction 1

Viewers visiting our exhibit will see that the map on display has a few corrections and notes in blue ink, which were done by Texas historian-antiquarian Alexander Dienst, Jr., commenting on the crossing at the Leon River.

 In 1890 on the banks of the Leon River. The path cut deep in the steep bank of Leon was plainly visible where cattle went down the bank. The crossing at Leon River was at same place where wagon bridge spans Leon between Temple and Belton.

Alex Dienst

Temple, Texas

map correction

Dienst moved the town of Hamilton to the northwest and then moved Gatesville to where Hamilton had been placed.

When not in use, the map was folded into a stitched paper wrapper and inserted into the guide book.


Guide Map of the Great Texas Cattle Trail, from Red River Crossing to the Old Reliable Kansas Pacific Railway, Kansas Pacific Railway Company, St. Louis, MO: Levison & Blythe, 1873, Rees-Jones Collection

Guide Map of the Great Texas Cattle Trail, from Red River Crossing to the Old Reliable Kansas Pacific Railway, Kansas Pacific Railway Company, St. Louis, MO: Levison & Blythe, 1873, Rees-Jones Collection

The guide book includes a narrative and guide table. The narrative details the route and the conveniences it offers for drovers:

The abundance of grass and water; absence of ticks and mosquitoes, and the abolishment of taxes heretofore exacted by the different tribes of Indians, are facts too well known to incorporate in this article.


The narrative is followed by a guide table, which includes valuable information such as the distance between each stop, details about streams and crossings, camping grounds, good sources of water, wood, supply stores, etc. Pretty handy on a cattle drive, right?


James Cox | Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory | 1895 | Book | The Rees-Jones Collection

James Cox | Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory | 1895 | Book | The Rees-Jones Collection

This compendium on Texas cattle and cattlemen is one of the rarest of Texas books. It is over 700 pages long. The first half of the volume provides some of the best accounts of the history of the Texas cattle trade.  The second half has nearly 400 pages devoted to biographies of 449 Texas cattlemen.

In addition to featuring cattlemen, the biographical section is also a great source of biographies about women in the cattle country of Texas. Many of the women were married to ranchers and participated in the business. However, some women had to forge their own way without a husband.Lucinda Dalton

As part of our Hide & Horn exhibition, these objects provide a tangible representation of an ephemeral period in Texas history, a time of “The Cowboy, As He Was, And Is, And Is Supposed to Have Been.”

*Research collected and compiled by Shelle McMillen.