No story or movie about a cattle drive is complete without a stampede. Remington’s painting is from late in his career when he struggled to render unusual light effects in his famous nocturnal works. In his diary on May 31, 1908, Remington wrote, “Worked on the Stampede and have made a dandy of it. I got the light that is unearthly—the curious yellow glow of a rain storm . . . .” While pleased with his nocturne, Remington also sought to convey the incredible danger of a stampede, writing that nothing is “a more desperate deed than running in the night with long horns . . . all as mad as the thunder and lightning above . . . .”
Any number of things could trigger a cattle stampede; a sharp noise, a clap of thunder, even the clanking of the cook’s iron pots. Here a drenched cowboy races to the front of the herd in an effort to head off the leaders. In Lonesome Dove, Newt faces a similar threat, a stampede that has his horse running blindly among charging cattle.