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But near Globe, Ariz., outside the San Carlos Reservation, the Copper Hill Motel offers you a view of a squared-off mountain of tailings. An insectlike crane inches along the crest, building a mountain bucketful by bucketful. Junked cars cascade down nearby hillsides. Remington wrote, in an unpublished manuscript, "The Americans have gashed this country up so horribly with their axes, hammers, scrapers and plows that I always like to see a place they have overlooked."
It is as a chronicler and historian of the end of an era that Remington is famous, but he was also an easygoing illustrator of the beginning of one. Remington played in the first football game to capture national attention, Yale vs. Princeton in 1879; he played a part in transforming football from a privileged Eastern pastime to a national preoccupation. He saw harness racing develop from a county fair free-for-all to an organized metropolitan sport; he was on hand to sketch the opening of the Sheepshead Bay track, which gave flat racing a fashionable backdrop. Remington painted football games, jockeys, polo players, horse shows, ice fishing, steeplechasing, fox hunting, tarpon fishing, duck shooting, moose hunting, deer stalking, canoeing, bicycle racing, quail shooting, bullfighting, rodeos, a grizzly hunt. If he had not become famous as a Western artist, he might have been remembered as a pioneer illustrator of the outdoors and the rise of amateur sport.
Remington began to sketch in 1876, when a student at Highland Military Academy in Worcester, Mass. He was 15 years old and under house arrest for some horseplay in the armory. While he was confined to quarters his roommate got a letter from a boy who was taking drawing lessons and who added sketches to his letter. Remington admired the sketches and wrote to the friend, volunteering to become a pen pal. "I don't amount to anything in particular," Remington wrote. "I don't swear much.... I never smoke—only when I get treated...." He offered to exchange sketches.
Remington's offer was accepted, and he started drawing school scenes, cartoons, self-portraits; eventually he did a painting of an irritated barbarian captured by a mean-looking Roman soldier.
Remington's father was the collector of customs at Ogdensburg, N.Y., a port of entry from Canada on the St. Lawrence River, but he was also a horseman, racing trotters and pacers. A track and fairgrounds had been built near the Remington home, and during vacations Frederic exercised and groomed his father's horses, learned to drive a sulky and sketched horses. Some of these early drawings have been preserved, along with a number of his school sketches. They are lively, often amusing, but Remington was not a prodigy.
His mother's family, the Sackriders, well-to-do conservative folk in Canton, N.Y., regarded Frederic's artistic aspirations indulgently. They regarded almost everything he did indulgently. Opposition came from his father's brother, Lamartine Z. Remington, who was "opposed to having any men artists in the family." Lamartine, chief clerk in the New York State Department of Public Instruction in Albany, wanted Frederic to have a political career. Thomas Piatt, the Republican boss of New York State, was a family friend, and ultimately Frederic's father would become the political boss of St. Lawrence County.
But Frederic planned to go to Cornell and become a journalist who illustrated his pieces. Instead, in the fall of 1878, he wound up at Yale, Boss Platt's old school. The newly formed art department put Remington to work in a basement classroom copying a plaster cast of a faun. During his sophomore year Remington was a forward on the football team; Walter Camp, then a senior, was the captain.
Remington's first published drawing appeared on Nov. 2, 1878, in The Yale Courant. It depicted a battered player in his room, bandaged leg propped on a table amid bottles of liniment, saying, "The doctor says I'll be all right by Thanksgiving and that's all I care for now." The publication of the cartoon was an important occasion in Remington's life, for the Courant was edited by Poultney Bigelow, a rich boy who was Remington's companion in drawing class and who thereafter claimed credit for launching Remington's career.
Early in the 1879 Yale-Princeton game Remington was buried in a midfield pileup for at least 10 minutes, during which the ball did not move 10 feet in either direction. In those days the lines met in mass-collision plays, power and weight assaults, in which yardage—or inchage—was slowly ground out. In an illustration in Harper's Weekly, Remington's earnest, honest face is clearly visible in a pyramid of struggling players near the Princeton goal. The artist had plenty of time to get his likeness: the Princeton line held for another 10 straining minutes without giving up more than two feet. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, and Remington came out of it a hero—or one of the lesser heroes, for Walter Camp was the star.
In August 1881 Remington took off for Montana. All his life Remington had a tendency to lose things; now, alone in the Montana wilderness, age 19, he managed to lose his horse. Ever after, in Remington's books and paintings, a man in the West without a horse was his ultimate image of desperation. "I by good luck made the camp-fire of an old wagon freighter who shared his bacon and coffee with me," he reported. During his long life he had followed the receding frontier, always further and further west. "And now," he said, "there is no more West...." That was the night Remington began to think about the long Forever that lay beyond the wild riders and the vacant lands. "Without knowing exactly how to do it," he wrote, "I began to try to record some facts around me."