An acclaimed art career was born out of desperation in Kansas City

A larger-than-life replica of Frederic Remington’s “Bronco Buster” stands on Barney Allis Plaza.
A larger-than-life replica of Frederic Remington’s “Bronco Buster” stands on Barney Allis Plaza. tljungblad@kcstar.com

While the larger-than-life replica of “Bronco Buster” has been on Barney Allis Plaza only since 1985, it’s an excellent reminder of a sheep-rancher-turned-saloon-owner who spent some time with us here.

We’re talking about Frederic Sackrider Remington, of course.

Like many Right Coasters with inherited money in their pockets, this dandy came out to look at the West — Montana, specifically — and had his life reordered.

In 1883, he bought a quarter share of a sheep operation down at Peabody, Kan. The problem was, as the sturdy youth quite willingly admitted, he was allergic. Not to wool, but to hard physical labor.

After he borrowed more from his mother, a hardware store in Kansas City came next. That failed. He then invested in a business that seemed likely to thrive in Kansas City. But just being a silent partner in Bishop and Christy’s Saloon at 119 W. Sixth St. meant domestic discord.

His new bride, Eva Caten, unhappy with her status as a saloon owner’s wife in the rough town, went home to New York.

Needing to improve his income and his spousal standing, Remington started applying the abbreviated art training he gained at Yale before dropping out. Some polite biographies say he had a studio here. Considering his finances, that was likely a table near a window at B&C’s, where the 23-year-old began to aim higher than just sketches of the sodden clientele.

He got an important break when William W. Findlay, a Kansas City “pictures merchant,” gave him up to $100 for some of his best pieces. Good thing. His saloon investment apparently evaporated with its move to 511 Delaware. In 1885, he returned to Eva and set up in Brooklyn.

Clear back in 1882, he’d sold a single drawing of a Wyoming horseman to Harper’s Weekly. Now his images were in huge demand by magazines in the cowboy-and-Indian-hungry East.

He also illustrated books by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and another New-Yorker/failed-rancher, Theodore Roosevelt, later a close friend. In fact, Bronco Buster — actually “Broncho Buster” — was drawn in 1888 for Roosevelt’s articles in Century Magazine

Cast in 1895 at 23 inches (others later at 32), the bronze was the beginning of Remington’s Western sculptures. Still popular today, they sold originally at Tiffany & Co. The Rough Riders presented one to their Col. Roosevelt. It’s not, however, the number seen in the Oval Office, a gift during the Carter administration.

The what-happens-next element is pure Remington storytelling: His mount still full of fury, the rider has lost a stirrup.

“When I die,” Remington told friends, “I want my epitaph to be: ‘He knew the horse.’ 

Don’t bother to look at his gravestone: Those words aren’t there. Remington, obese from lack of hard physical labor, bit the dust at age 48.