ON HIS TRIPS WEST later in his life, Remington gravitated toward Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin, where his friend Buffalo Bill Cody had a ranch.
The Big Horn Basin, a windy, arid bowl surrounded by high peaks, was one of the last areas in the West to be tamed. Trail routes and the railroads passed it by to the north and south. The first homesteaders did not venture into the basin until the 1880s, a decade after Yellowstone National Park was established nearby.
Remington visited Yellowstone, but he seemed more intrigued with the jagged-rimmed rock formations in the basin, which he painted many times. The sky is open here, and colors are perceived with an unusual clarity—azure blue, deep purples and reds, and a sunny cadmium yellow that dominated Remington’s palette in his later years.
In 1908, on his last trip to the West, Remington went on a camping trip with George Beck, one of the founders of Cody, Wyoming. They were headed toward Bridger Lake, at the confluence of the Yellowstone River and Thorofare Creek, a four-day ride from Cody. Along the way, however, Remington became ill after gorging on half a dozen trout and stayed behind. Beck killed an elk for Remington to take back as a souvenir. But when he returned to Deer Creek, he found Remington had become restless in the stormy weather and had headed home.
“He loved the sun and was one of the most affable of men when it was pleasant and warm,” wrote Beck in his memoirs, “but when the weather was gloomy he was miserable.”
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THERE HAD BEEN a frost in the night, and when we awoke a mist lay over Bridger Lake and Yellowstone Meadows. We could hear the bells around the necks of some of our horses although we couldn’t see them. But most had taken off in the night to find better grazing.