I love Frederic Remington’s paintings. He and Charles Russell are two of my famous painters. They both create pictures that tell a story and the stories that they tell are of the American west. One of my favorite Remington paintings, pictured below, is Through the Smoke Sprang the Daring Soldier. Painted in 1897, this work resides today, as part of the collection of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, TX. I liked the painting as soon as I saw it, being full of action and all that, but when I read its back story, I fell in loved with it. The following text is this painting’s story, again courtesy of Amon Carter.
At the time his artistic career was flourishing, Remington continued to develop his skills as a writer. Drawing on his personal contacts and his own observation, he created his stories as vehicles for his illustrations. This painting is an example of this. It appeared in the pages of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in August 1897 to accompany a story by Remington titled “A Sergeant of the Orphan Troop.” The story centered on one of the artist’s old friends, Sergeant Carter Johnson, who had related the exploits of his army career to the artist during an assignment with the Tenth Cavalry in New Mexico in 1888. In the story, Johnson relates an incident that occurred near Fort Robinson, Nebraska, when his unit fought a number of skirmishes with a band of Northern Cheyenne led by a chief named Dull Knife. “It was January; the snow lay deep on the ground, and the cold was knife like as it thrust at the fingers and toes,” Remington wrote. “For ten days the troops surrounded the Indians by day, and stood guard in the snow by night, but coming day found the ghostly warriors gone and the rifle pits empty.”
Finally the remaining Cheyenne retreated to well-fortified bluffs for a last stand. “Within nine feet of the pits was a rim-rock ledge over which the Indian bullets swept, and here the charge was stopped,” Remington wrote. “It now became a duel. Every time a head showed on either side, it drew fire like a flue hole.” Suddenly, Sergeant Johnson “sprang on the ledge, and like a trill on a piano poured a six-shooter into the entrenchment, and dropped back.” He soon found himself in a duel with a warrior named White Antelope, who answered the sergeant volley for volley, until “through the smoke sprang the daring soldier” to deliver the fatal bullets to his worthy adversary. Remington considered Johnson’s bravery the high point of the bloody conflict and immortalized it in this painting, but his story also goes on to record Johnson’s disgust at a victory over an embattled, outnumbered enemy that included many helpless victims. He was repelled by the many bodies laying “writhed and twisted on the packed snow, among them many women and children, cut and furrowed with lead.”