One of Frederic Remington’s masterpieces, this painting depicts cowboys hiding in a waterhole, their source of survival in the arid desert and of protection from the pursuing Plains Indians. The manipulated perspective gives the scene a panoramic quality and introduces a large shadow to convey the idea of “passing”—the ever-present threat of death looming in the Western territories during the Indian Wars, as well as the passing of the West itself.
As an illustrator, painter, sculptor, and writer, Remington created a popular image of the American West as a heroic battleground for U.S. westward expansion. His knowledge of the West grew from his frequent trips there to make sketches, take photographs, and buy the artifacts of Native American cultures and Western frontier life. Back in his studio near New York City, he chronicled vanquished Native American cultures and created images that popularized the cowboy as a national folk hero.
Fight for the Waterhole was published in 1903 in Collier’s Weekly as part of Remington's four-year contract with the magazine to reproduce one painting each month. This alliance encouraged Remington to experiment with his technique, and as seen here, the results included looser brushwork, refined compositions, a bolder palette, and the development of psychological qualities in his art.