Dakota Datebook

Remington Goes Hunting

Monday, November 24, 2003

In the late 1890s, the great western artist, Frederic Remington, came to Northern Dakota on a hunting expedition. Later he wrote an article about his adventure for a Harper’s Monthly magazine, which he called Stubble ad Slough in Dakota.

A New Yorker by birth, Frederic Remington’s career as one of our most important Western artists was launched because the father of his prospective bride refused to let his daughter marry an aritist. Reminton headed west to try his luck as a cowboy and a gold miner. He honed his artistic skills, but lost his shirt, so he headed back to New York where he got a job as a writer and illustrator for Harper’s.

But Remington had come to love the west, so when he was invited to travel to North Dakota with a group to shoot ducks and prairie-chickens, he readily agreed, even though he had never hunted before. He wrote, “Like the obliging person who was asked if he played the violin, I said to myself, “I don’t know, but I’ll try’.”

When the hunting party got off the train in Valley City, they were itching to get going. He wrote, “The poor dogs leaped in delirious joy when let out from their boxes, in which they had traveled all the way from Chicago.”

Three wagons picked up the men and drove them into the surrounding countryside to look for birds. Remington was impressed by what he saw, writing, “The immensity of the wheat fields in Dakota is astonishing to a stranger. They begin on the edge of town, and we drive all day and are never out of them, and on either side they stretch away as far as one’s eye can travel… The farm houses are far apart, and, indeed, not often in sight, but as the threshing was in progress, we saw many groups of men and horses, and the great steam-threshers blowing clouds of black smoke, and the flying straw as it was belched from the bowels of the monsters.”

As the party moved across the stubble fields, the dogs suddenly stopped and pointed. The men jumped out of the wagon, but one of them—the Doctor—said, “No hurry, the dogs will stay there a month. And don’t fire over (them).”

Two chickens flew up, the Doctor hit one, and Remington missed the other. After again missing despite an entire covey in the air, Remington wrote, “As the great sportsman Mr. Soapy Sponge used to say, ‘I’m a good shooter, but a bad hitter’.”

Toward evening, Remington noticed the third man, the Captain, clawing at himself and yelling that he was being eaten alive. Remington wrote, “Sure enough he was, for in Dakota there is a little insect which is like a winged ant, and they go in swarms, and their bite is sharp and painful. I attempted his rescue, and was attacked in turn, so that we ended by a precipitous retreat, leaving the covey of chickens and their protectors, the ants, on the field.”

As they walked away through a slough, a grouse flushed up right in front of the Captain. He yelled, “Don’t shoot!” and dropped to the ground. Remington said, “It was a well-considered thing to do, since a flying bird looks bigger than a man to an excited and enthusiastic sportsman.”

Tune in tomorrow to hear what happened when the hunting party moved up to Devil’s Lake three days later…

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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