“Policing the Yellowstone”

Apart from his documentation of the American Indian Wars and the Spanish American War, Remington was often sent out on assignment to capture the daily routines of the cavalry. In 1893, he traveled west to Yellowstone National Park to write and illustrate an article about the 6th Cavalry patrols in the park to prevent poaching, including the dwindling bison herd that was supposed to be protected there. At that time when officers found poachers, they had no power to prosecute, and simply expelled them from the park. Following Remington’s visit in 1894, The Lacey Act was passed in Congress, allowing park administrators to punish poachers. While Remington was there, the plight of the buffalo must have been evident as he mentioned in his article, “only one was seen on the trip, though there was fresh spoor, and they were undoubtedly about.” At that time the Yellowstone herd was estimated to be around 400. By 1902, the herd numbered around 25.

After he returned to New York from Yellowstone, Remington wrote to his friend the journalist Poultney Bigelow about the ride over the mountain with the 6th Cavalry, “One would not believe where a horse will go.” Scaling the mountain and in particular, coming down the steep slopes littered with fallen logs, must have made an impression on Remington as he dedicated four out of seven of the article’s illustrations to traversing the terrain. In Picking a Way Down, the carefully delineated pack mules stand in contrast against a dark, roughly painted forested mountain landscape. They are shown hopping over the logs as they make their way down the slope. In the printed page layout in Harper’s, the diagonally oriented drawing is paired with another illustration Working up the Divide. Paired with the cropped text, the images create a dynamic composition across the page, adding further visual interest to both word and image.

The American Tommy Atkins in a Montana Blizzard, Frederic Remington, Harper’s Weekly, August 13, 1892, p. 781, halftone, McCracken Research Library, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming