A note from Robert E. Bonner.

Charles Schreyvogel was probably the most important artist whom Buffalo Bill patronized. Trained in the Munich Art Academy for three years in the late 1880s, he returned to America determined to paint in the West. He made his first trip west in 1893, where he began the lifelong quest for material. He took advantage of a rare opportunity when the Wild West set up in Brooklyn in 1894, where he met Cody and Nate Salsbury and had unlimited access to sketch in the camp. He set up a studio in Hoboken, New Jersey, where the Schreyvogel family lived hand-to-mouth until he quite unexpectedly won the Thomas B. Clarke prize at the National Academy of Design exhibition in 1899. My Bunkie, a 26" x 34" action-packed oil painting of a cavalryman lifting a comrade who had lost his horse in an Indian fight onto the back of his own horse, went on to win prizes at subsequent exhibitions and catapulted the artist overnight to great fame, if not great fortune. Frederic Remington, who must have felt rather eclipsed by this new arrival, inadvertently aided Schreyvogel's rise to eminence by attacking him in the newspapers in 1903 for trivial "errors" in the composition of a major painting of the Southwestern Indian wars titled Custer's Demand. Reviewers up to and including President Theodore Roosevelt sided with Schreyvogel. He seemed to have caught a national mood of pride in the accomplishments of the American soldier; he certainly caught the attention of Buffalo Bill, the foremost supporter of the American frontier army. [1]

Custer's Demand, 1903
Charles Schreyvogel | Black and White Prints (platinum)
Buffalo Bill Center of the West

By 1902 Cody had established a firm relationship with Schreyvogel; the family had the run of the show grounds, and took rides in the show arena in the Deadwood stage. In that year the painter inscribed a 16" x 20" platinum print of a painting, Even Chances, portraying a duel between a scout and a native warrior, "to Col. William F. Cody, compliments of Chas. Schreyvogel." Schreyvogel reproduced twenty-eight of his paintings as platinum prints, including My Bunkie, Custer's Demand, and other critically-acclaimed works, increasing distribution as well as his popular reputation and income. Cody acquired eight of these prints, and purchased a set of 20 for his daughter Irma and her husband, Lt. C. A. Stott, in 1907. In this way, Cody offered his patronage to Schreyvogel, but the artist's fame was such by 1907 that Cody surely gained as much as he gave in the relationship. [2]

Schreyvogel's artistic commitment to realistic figure painting, to authentic detail, and to the glory of combat made him the artist who most fully embodied Bill Cody's idea of art. Even his portrayal of Indians&nash;fierce fighters but worthy of respect as opponents–mirrored the stance that Buffalo Bill took in the Wild West and in public commentary. Though Schreyvogel spent summers in the west making sketches and taking photographs, he painted all his pictures in his Hoboken studio, using local models. He and Cody shared a particular love of horses. One of Schreyvogel's most popular paintings was The Last Drop, painted in 1900, in which a cavalryman fills his hat with the last of his water and gives it to his horse. He later produced a bronze sculpture of the painting. Buffalo Bill reproduced that tableau of The Last Drop in Wild West performances. It is probably not too much to say that if Bill Cody could have been a painter, he would have been Charles Schreyvogel. [3]

The Last Drop, 1903
Charles Schreyvogel | Bronze
Buffalo Bill Center of the West

It was, then, a natural step that led Cody to commission Schreyvogel, in the spring of 1907, to paint a scene that was at the center of his frontier image of himself. In May Cody wrote to R. Farrington Elwell back in Wyoming that "Schreyvogel is making studies & is going to paint the battle of Summit Springs. Say, Elwell, Summit Springs is the greatest Indian fight ever produced. Custer battle not in it." For whatever we may think of the comparison between the battles of Summit Springs and the Little Bighorn, Cody was far away when Custer fell, and he played at best a marginal role in the combat at Summit Springs, Colorado, in 1869. He did guide the Fifth Cavalry into position so they could attack a Cheyenne village camped at Summit Springs, where they managed to rescue alive one of the two white women captive in the camp. It was a strikingly successful military event (in contrast to the Custer fight), but Cody did not take part in the rescue. Louis Warren suggests that the incorporation of the Battle of Summit Springs into the Wild West production in 1907 was part of an effort to refurbish Buffalo Bill's image, badly damaged by his failed efforts to force a divorce on his wife, Louisa, in 1905. It could be that a dramatic painting showing him leading the rescue, which was essentially what the Wild West arena displayed, was an element in that same campaign. [4]

Schreyvogel's painting, titled Rescue at Summit Springs (1908), filled a large canvas, 48" x 66", with light, color, and action centered upon Buffalo Bill. Nothing could have suited him better. The painting locates Buffalo Bill in one of the oldest traditions of American literature and art: the captivity narrative. Appearing as the man who saves a white woman from "a fate a thousand times worse than death," he enacts a classic white American male role, one that may have had a particular resonance around the turn of the century. Other Schreyvogel works, such as Protecting the Emigrants (1906), show Schreyvogel's familiarity with this trope, but no other of his paintings was as explicitly devoted to the captivity theme. He worked strictly to instructions from Cody, and followed the Wild West presentation closely. Rescue at Summit Springs responded less to the dictates of history than to the needs of Bill Cody's dramatic self-presentation. Cody proudly took it home and hung it in the Irma Hotel. [5]

Rescue at Summit Springs, 1908
Charles Schreyvogel | Oil on Canvas
Buffalo Bill Center of the West

The Colonel was very appreciative of his painter. He invited Schreyvogel to come along on his 1908 hunt, but the artist declined the invitation. Cody gave Schreyvogel a newly-made Sioux tepee in the summer of 1907, perhaps partly in payment for the painting, although Cody said he would send it "with my compliments." He also gave the artist ten shares in the Cody-Dyer Arizona Mining and Milling Co., valued at $100 per share, as part of the payment. And he offered his patronage in addition to these payments. The State of Michigan had appropriated $25,000 for an equestrian statue of General George Armstrong Custer, to be installed in his home town of Monroe. Cody had been writing to Mrs. Elizabeth Custer, and had told her of Schreyvogel's painting of the Battle at Summit Springs. She had apparently said complimentary things about Schreyvogel's work (she had taken his side in the dust-up with Remington over Custer's Demand), and had asked Cody who he thought should do the Custer statue. Cody put the question to Schreyvogel, "Would you like to do it? It's a $25,000 job," almost as if the job were his to award. The painter must have replied in the negative–he only produced three bronzes, and they were small–and nothing more was said of it. [6]

Buffalo Bill told Schreyvogel in the summer of 1907 that he wanted him "to paint some other fights I was in." As his financial resources began to shrink, nothing more was heard of this proposition. Schreyvogel continued as a friend, though by then rather too important a painter to look to Buffalo Bill for patronage. He often still traveled with the Wild West, even as late as September, 1911, when he joined Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill (the "Two Bills Show") as they performed across Kansas. But only two months later he contracted blood poisoning, and died in January 1912, at the age of fifty-one. Cody left no record of his feelings about this early death of a friend. It was not a long friendship, nor did their artistic collaboration result in any significant painting after Rescue at Summit Springs. That was, however, the most significant painting in Cody's collection when he died. At its most recent formal valuation, in 1987, it was judged to be worth a million dollars. Schreyvogel's painting for Buffalo Bill was entirely a matter of promoting his legacy, but their relationship over the course of a decade surely helped to give Cody some credibility as a patron of the arts. [7]

[1] James D. Horan, The Life and Art of Charles Schreyvogel, painter-historian of the Indian-fighting army of the American West (New York, 1969), 15-34.

[2] Horan, The Life and Art of Charles Schreyvogel, 45-47; Whitney Gallery object report, object ID 89.69 (Schreyvogel Prints); Cody to Schreyvogel, May 3, 1907, Charles Schreyvogel Papers, Box 1, folder 5, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK. The Whitney Gallery object report says the prints were given to Irma and her husband as a wedding present in 1902, but the 1907 letter is an order for a full set to be sent to her.

[3] Horan, The Life and Art of Charles Schreyvogel, 9, 15-34, 40-47; Patricia Broder, Bronzes of the American West, 205. Schreyvogel's small bronze of The Last Drop is part of the Whitney Gallery collection today. Cody himself did not purchase it; it only entered the BBCW collection in 1972.

[4] Cody to Elwell, May 19, 1907, box 1, folder 23, MS6; "Battle of Summit Springs," internal BBCW memorandum providing a consensus of observers on Cody's participation, March 6, 1981, Schreyvogel correspondence file, Whitney Gallery; Don Russell, The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill (Norman, OK, 1960), 129-148; Warren, Buffalo Bill's America, 109-112, 525. Reading Russell and Warren side-by-side will demonstrate just how hard it is to know anything for certain of Buffalo Bill's exploits.

[5] There is an interesting discussion of this and similar paintings from that period in Alex Nemerov, Frederic Remington and Turn-of-the-Century America (New Haven, 1995), 114-120.

[6] Cody to Schreyvogel, June 21, 1907, and Aug. 21, 1907, Schreyvogel Papers, box 1, folder 5; Horan, Life and Art of Charles Schreyvogel, 46, 56. Although the shares surely cost Cody much less than $1000 in cash, and were worthless a few years later, in 1908 they could have been accepted as good faith payment.

[7] Cody to Schreyvogel, June 21, 1907, Schreyvogel Papers, box 1, folder 5; Schreyvogel to Dr. William Fisher, Sept. 10, 1911, and Louise Schreyvogel Feldman to Harold McCracken, March 2, 1951, Schreyvogel Artist File, McCracken Library; Schreyvogel correspondence file, Whitney Gallery, BBCW.