Frederic Remington, whose works have come to epitomize the Old West, enjoyed an extremely successful, although brief artistic career which began as an illustrator. As the star illustrator for one of the nation's most popular magazines, Harper's Weekly, Remington gained considerable acclaim which led to future assignments with important and influential political and military heroes.
After briefly attending Yale College School of Art, Remington made his first trip to the West in the summer of 1881, traveling through Montana. Working for Harper's, the artist was given his first formal assignment in 1886 to travel to Arizona to report on the campaign to capture Apache chief Geronimo, a pursuit and capture that drew significant news coverage at the time.
The present work was a feature illustration for an 1899 article in Harper's entitled "The Military Search for Belle McKeever." The work depicts a confident, poised and attractive young woman, Belle McKeever, beside cavalry officer, Lt. Edgar W. Wheelock, when the two originally met in September 1869. Wheelock had been assigned to escort the prominent McKeever family from Texas as they emigrated to California to establish a ranch. "'A most interesting young lady of striking beauty, well-educated and high spirited,' Belle McKeever charmed Wheelock during the four or five days of his escort detail." So taken with the young woman, Wheelock requested a transfer to Fort Yuma to greet the family again, only to learn that the wagon train had been ambushed and massacred by a group of Apaches. Only Belle McKeever and a family servant were rumored to have survived.
Wheelock immediately set out with a search party but within a few short days of harsh desert conditions the volunteer group disbanded. "Wheelock and one other man, Schwinke, were nearly dead from exposure and the lack of food and water. A third man, Swanson, was missing. Crazed from the excruciating desert experience, Schwinke declared that he and Wheelock has murdered Swanson...Actually, Swanson had deserted, taking the mule, food and large water canteens. He left one night because Wheelock refused to be diverted from his search for the stolen girl by Swanson's discovery of gold in a dry stream bed. Depressed at his mission's failure, exhausted from exposure, horrified by the ghastly accusation, and unable to remember clearly why Swanson had left, Wheelock was sympathetically allowed to resign his commission. Then he disappeared from Fort Yuma, still in search of Belle McKeever. At this unresolved point, the story ends in official army records."
According to un-published accounts, Wheelock would spend the next several years suffering in anguish, unable to locate the young woman whom he had taken responsibility for so many years before. Living among the Hualapia tribe in northern Arizona, Wheelock would eventually happen upon Belle McKeever, who had been purchased as a curiosity by another tribe. The two eventually married and returned to California to settle in Inyo County.
Belle McKeever and Lt. Edgar Wheelock poignantly reveals Remington's ability to capture the distinctive western landscape he knew so well while vividly bringing to life the narrative of two extraordinary lives to an appreciative public eager to view the drama and intrigue of the Old West.