In Texas, a Western art hub showcases Remington’s ‘Eastern’ art
Fort Worth is a “miserable little frontier town,” a famous out-of-town guest wrote, where the food is “something frightful.”
In an early version of a bad online review, the noted New York artist wrote home about sleeping in a “little hen coop” of a downtown hotel where “the mosquitoes like to have eaten me up.”
Today, the works of Frederic Remington are a centerpiece at two major Fort Worth museums.
But back in 1888, the 26-year-old artist could not wait to get out of town.
His letter complaining about Fort Worth is part of a Sid Richardson Museum exhibit on the famed Western artist’s personal life.
When Remington stopped here on a two-month trip out west to sketch ranch hands, soldiers and Comanches in Oklahoma, he had already drawn the original version of his famous “The Broncho Buster.”
It was June in Texas. With no air conditioning.
He stayed at the Ellis Hotel, at Throckmorton and Third streets where Sundance Square’s Cassidy Building and Istanbul Grill stand today.
The Ellis was no dump. It claimed a gourmet chef and had just hosted the state Democratic Party convention, where delegates supported incumbent President Grover Cleveland over eventual winner Benjamin Harrison.
But when Remington got to his next stagecoach stop at Henrietta, Texas, he wrote to his wife, Eva:
“My dear girl,” he began: “Here I am at last.
“ … Spent a day in Fort Worth with Hough” — apparently, Western writer Emerson Hough — “had a devil of a time.”
The mosquitoes were so bad, “there is not a square inch on my body that is not bitten,” he wrote, “ — and oh oh oh how hot it is here.
“ … I am dirty and look like the devil and feel worse,” he wrote: “There is no help for me.”
Mary Burke, director of the Richardson Museum, said the letter is not unusual for a frontier traveler.
“There’s no air conditioning and he’s just spent all these days traveling,” she said.
“And he’s writing to his wife. He’s lamenting about all these travails.”
The letter is on loan from the St. Lawrence University library in Canton, N.Y. Most of the other artworks and pieces in the Richardson exhibit, “Another Frontier: Frederic Remington’s East,” are loaned from the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, N.Y.
When Remington stopped in Fort Worth, he was already a failure as a sheep rancher in Peabody, Kansas, and as a hardware store owner in Kansas City, where he also was a partner in a saloon.
Back in New York, this time in Brooklyn, he relied on his Yale University art classes to do sketches and paintings of the West. By 1888, he was doing the art for a young Theodore Roosevelt’s Century Magazine series on ranch life.
In July 1888, Fort Worth was beginning to grow as a frontier town with 15 railroad lines in every direction, a stagecoach line to Arizona and a new regional ranching event that would become the Stock Show.
Only the year before, gambler Luke Short stood in Main Street out front of what is now the Richardson Museum when he gunned down detective and former sheriff “Longhair Jim” Courtright in a Wild West-style gunfight.
It would another decade before outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid visited Fort Worth on the trip that eventually gave the name to Sundance Square.
The June 30, 1888, Fort Worth Daily Gazette featured a giant ad at the top of Page One from B.C. Evans & Co.:
“In our Carpet Department this week you will find an excellent assortment of Mosquito Nets.”