Remington’s painting of five cavalry men defending themselves and their horses at a rare watering hole in the Arizona plains reminds the viewer how desperate the search for water could be to early occupants of the West. Circled by Indians, the men calmly wait for action. Long shadows suggest the end of the day and the start of an attack is imminent.
By the mid-1870s, most American Indian tribes ranging from Texas to the Canadian border were a fraction of their pre-contact size. White men’s diseases such as smallpox killed tens of thousands of Indians, and the loss of the buffalo herds due to commercial hunting by the government and the railroads took away their primary food source. Skirmishes with settlers brought the army to control remaining tribes and by mid-decade, most American Indians had been forced onto reservations.