Dakota Datebook

Remington Goes Hunting: part 2

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Yesterday we talked about a hunting trip taken by the great western artist, Frederic Remington, in the late 1890s. Remington was new to hunting and was having a few misadventures.

After several days of hunting prairie chickens near Valley City, the hunting party was moving north to Devil’s Lake. Remington wrote, “We were driven some sixteen miles to a spur of the lake, there we found a settler. There were hundreds of teal in the water back of his cabin, and as we took position well up the wind and fired, they got up in clouds, and we had five minutes of shooting, which was gluttony. We gave the ‘bag’ to the old settler, and the Doctor admonished him to ‘fry them,’ which I have no doubt he did.”

They moved on six miles to a pond for an evening shoot, where they met up with the other two wagons in their hunting party. Remington wrote, “The shallow water was long and deeply fringed with rank marsh grass. Having no wading boots can make no difference to a sportsman whose soul is great, so I foundered in and got comfortably wet. After shooting two or three mud hens, under the impression that they were ducks, the Doctor came along, and with a pained expression he carefully explained what became of people who did not know a teal from a mud hen, and said, further, that he would let it pass this time.”

Remington let the marsh swallow him, squatting down in the black water to his waist. It was then that he started to understand the connection between his weapon and the bird. “This I did,” he said, “and after a time got my first birds. The air was now full of flying birds—mallards, spoon-bills, pintails, re-heads, butter-balls, gadwalls, widgeon and canvas-backs—and the shooting was fast and furious.”

The sun was setting, “Yet I sit in the water and mud and indulge this pleasurable taste for gore, wondering why it is so ecstatic… Only darkness can end the miseries of the poor little teal coming home to their marsh, and yet with all my sentimental emotions of sympathy, I deplore a miss.”

As their day came to an end, Remington wrote,” The fortunates change their wet clothes, while those who have no change sit on the seat knee-deep in dead birds and shiver while we rattle homeward. Our driver gets himself lost, and we bring up against a wire fence. Very late at night we struck the railroad and counted telegraph poles and traveled east until the lights of the town twinkled through the gloom. Once in our (railroad) car, we find the creature comforts which reconciles one to life, and we vote the day a red-letter one.

The men considered their hunt for prairie chickens a few days before. “The chicken shooting is not laborious,” he wrote, “since one rides in a wagon, and a one-lunged, wooden-legged man is as good as a four mile athlete at it. He must know setter-dogs, who are nearly as complicated as women in their temper and ways… he can keep statistics if he desires, but his first few experiences behind the dogs will not tempt him to do that unless hid modestly is highly developed.”

Finally, the weary hunters went to bed. “The car was to be attached to an express train bound west that night, to my intense satisfaction,” he wrote, “and I crawled into the upper berth to dream of Badlands, elk, soldiers, cowboys…”

The story of Remington’s North Dakota trip was published by Harper’s magazine in August, 1894.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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