Frederic Remington (1861-1909), the “father of cowboy sculpture,” was an American painter, illustrator, sculptor, and writer who specialized in depictions of the Old American West, specifically concentrating on late-19th century images of cowboys, American Indians, the United States Cavalry, and other frontier characters and scenes.
Employing a realistic style, his signature subject became the galloping horse, and he was among the first to portray its correct anatomical motion. In a career that spanned less than twenty-five years, the prolific artist produced more than 3,000 drawings and paintings, 25 bronze sculptures (his most famous work is “The Bronco Buster’), a novel, a Broadway play, and more than a hundred articles and stories.
Remington’s fundamental theme was the rugged individualist against a threatening world, an American West where survival is always at issue and the shadow of death always near. Even though he actually lived in the West for only a year, he inspired great love for this frontier and his work is credited with giving posterity its most enduring impression of the legendary American West.
Remington had a very dark side, however, which found expression in his open contempt for immigrant groups passing through Ellis Island, particularly Jews, whom he often depicted in the most unflattering light – for example in his paintings “Jew Smugglers and Refugees in the Hands of the Dragoons”and “Jewish Recruits in Russia.”
In an infamous letter to a fellow xenophobe (1893), he wrote proudly:
I’ve got some Winchesters, and when the massacring begins which you speak of, I can get my share of ‘em and what’s more, I will. Jews – injuns – Chinamen – Italians – Huns, the rubbish of the earth I hate.
Moreover, in the undated correspondence on his Ingleneuk letterhead pictured with this column, Remington writes to his friend, Howard Pyle, regarding his disdain for “Hebrew art dealers”:
Your letter about Dr. Lesinsky came here to my summer camp. I have met him – he has been to see me and he is probably just what he represents himself to be. I have had trouble with Hebrew art dealers of a small & cheap class. I don’t want them to handle my stuff at all. They are overreaching and get me into trouble. I have to know people pretty well, else I may foolishly suspect that they are going to use me in their business. If I am sure of my man I feel just as you do about giving them what are called “artist prices” – but I want to be sure they are going to treasure the work and put it on the market at a nice advance. This may not be the case of Dr. L. at all but since we both only know what he chooses to tell, why I reserve judgment. Should like to meet you once in a coon’s age.
Howard Pyle (1853-1911), the “dean of American illustrators” whose work regularly appeared in various magazines, including Harper’s Weekly, was particularly known for his illustrations of pirates. He is credited with creating what has become the modern stereotype for pirate dress employing a wholly fictional flamboyant style incorporating elements of Gypsy dress. He is also credited with creating an American school of illustration and art and for the revival of children’s illustrated books.
Jewish settlers, though small in number, made a strong impact on the economic growth of Arizona; prominent among them was Prussian-born Henry Lesinsky (1834-1924), one of the great Jewish machers in the American Southwest during the second half of the 19th century and a truly fascinating and dynamic character. Raised in a Jewish home and taught Hebrew as a child, he departed Poland to make his way in the world and, after relatively brief and unsuccessful stints in England and Australia, he arrived in California in 1858 to mine gold. Failing at that, he moved to New Mexico and ultimately built a mercantile empire, becoming a renowned wholesale merchant who, through H. Lesinsky & Co. and his stores in El Paso, Fort Bliss, and Ciudad Juarez, facilitated the purchase of American goods by Mexican merchants and supplied the Union during the Civil War.
Turning back to Remington, he was the illustrator for one of the vilest and most despicable anti-Semitic pieces of its time, “The Russian and His Jew” (Harper’s Weekly, April 1894), shown with this column, in which American journalist and author Poultney Bigelow examined the repressive regime of Russia’s Tsar Nicholas and concluded that the persecution of the Jews by the Russian authorities was the result of the Jews’ own behavior; they were, he argued, inherently greedy, manipulative, and deceitful.
Bigelow argued that nobody knew the Jews better than the Russians and that it was particularly telling that the broad Russian public overwhelmingly wanted to be rid of the Jews, who contributed nothing to Russia and lived “only for the sake of squeezing money out of everything.” He argued that opposition to the Czar’s anti-Jewish legislation was fueled by the newspapers and the banks, all of which, he believed, were owned and run by Jews.
Not surprisingly, Bigelow, who lived until 1954, was an admirer of Hitler and his article may have tainted Remington’s opinion of Jews, or perhaps flushed out his previously anti-Semitic inclinations. It is interesting to note that Remington also illustrated ‘The Evolution of the Cow Puncher” (Harper’s, September 1895), in which author Owen Wister writes, “It is not the dollars that played first fiddle with him, else our Hebrew friends would pioneer the whole of us.”
Remington, a loathsome racist who embraced the divine God-given right of whites to possess the land, relished the prospect of a race war, when he could finally act to massacre the non-white “undesirables” who had no place in America.
Throughout his life and in his art he fundamentally ignored the honorable struggles of Native Americans to preserve their land and their way of life and he characterized the white interlopers – soldiers, settlers, traders, and explorers, all new to the land – in grand, heroic terms. He thereby perverted actual historical events by portraying the evolving American West as a place where whites were savaged by Indians instead of the other way around – which, sadly and due in no small part to Remington’s work, became the generally prevailing view in American culture of the American conquest of the West.
Saul Jay Singer