Thursday, March 7, 2013

We Struck Some Boggy Ground, by Frederic Remington

Here is a stunning black and white piece by artist Frederic Remington (1861-1909), depicting an actual event some 40 years after the fact for an article he wrote about it in Harper’s Weekly.  (He did rely upon the testimony of eyewitnesses.)
Remington’s story, How the Law Got Into the Chaparral, was published in December, 1896.  In the story, Remington relates the tale as told by Texas Ranger Colonel “Rip” Ford.  John Salmon “Rip” Ford intermittently led Ranger companies against Indians throughout the 1850s and dealt with Mexican rebellion on the Rio Grande in 1859-60.  His most notable exploit was the Battle of Antelope Hills, May 12, 1858, in which Texas Rangers surprised and destroyed the Comanche village of Iron Jacket.

For a full description of the engagement, here is a passage from Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers, a magisterial history by Robert M. Utley that comes highly recommended: By March 1858, Ford was advancing toward the northwestern frontier, combing a broad swatch of country in four columns.  He felt himself too weak, however, to mount an offensive into the Comanche homeland.  The Rangers called up under the Pease administration had reached the end of their terms and were being replaced.  That left Ford with only a few more than a hundred men, including his seventy-three-year-old father.  At the Brazos Agency, however, Agent Shapley Ross solved Ford’s problem: more than a hundred Caddos, Anadarkos, Tawakonis, and Tonkawas placed themselves under Ross’s command to take the warpath with Ford’s Rangers.
Striking northwest from is base near Fort Belknap, Ford crossed Red River and bore north into the Comanche ranges west of the Wichita Mountains.  The Indian auxiliaries not only doubled Ford’s firepower but proved their worth as guides and trackers.  The Rangers were superior fighters, well drilled by Ford.  All they needed was to find the elusive Comanches, which they achieved by falling on a broad trail that led to the Canadian River opposite the landmark Antelope Hills.

Early on May 12, 1858, the Rangers and their allies splashed across the Canadian and raced headlong toward the village of the Comanche chief Iron Jacket.  The Brazos Indians took the lead, bore to the left, between the village and the river, and poured a deadly fire into surprised warriors bolting from their lodges.  Iron Jacket, brightly painted and armored in a coat of Spanish mail, mounted and charged the Brazos line.  “The sharp crack of five or six rifles brought his horse to the ground,” recalled Ford, “and in a few moments the Chief fell riddled with balls.”  The auxiliaries shot down all the Comanches attacking toward the river.  Meanwhile, in two wings the Rangers stormed into the village itself.  The fight then became a free-for-all, with knots of Rangers and their allies chasing fleeing Comanches.  Here and there warriors paused to make a stand and give their families time to escape.  But the Rangers, their six-shooters pooping, broke up every such attempt.  Shortly after noon, the winded pursuers returned to the village.  Warriors from another camp a few miles up the Canadian attempted a counterattack, but were driven off.
(Watch these pages for a review of Lone Star Justice, along with other books by master historian Robert M. Utley.)

This stunning gouache picture in grisaille measures 29.4x20, and also shows an interesting insight into Remington’s views on Indians.  In his story, Remington writes about the “screaming of the women and the children,” and in his illustration also shows how viciously outnumbered, out-gunned and out maneuvered the Indians were in this encounter.
The Rangers ride magnificent horses and brandish guns – by focusing on the rear of the animals and moving them uphill, Remington underscores their size and power.  The sheer size of the Rangers in the picture is impressive: they dwarf the Indian encampment in the background, which seems to have no martial contingent ready at-hand.

Telling, too, is the dead Indian in the foreground.  His proximity to the horses show the Indians ridden over by the tide of history.  A fascinating bit of Remingtonana.

More Remington tomorrow!


No comments: