After 1900, Remington's painting took on a renewed sense of purpose, including a greater concern with the effects of light and atmosphere, and a return to the nocturnal themes he had touched upon in prior years. Developing in earnest an oeuvre of night pictures, the success of his nocturnes was almost immediate, prompting one early reviewer to commend them as even more successful than his daylight images, and "the real thing, never for a moment of the stage." (P. H. Hassrick, Frederic Remington, The Masterworks, New York, 1988, p. 127).
In 1907, the prominent critic Royal Cortissoz wrote a review of Remington's art--taking special notice of his nocturnes. He wrote that the "study of moonlight appears to have reacted upon the very grain of his art, so that all along the line, in drawing, in brush work, in color, in atmosphere, he has achieved greater freedom and breadth." (as quoted in Frederic Remington, The Masterworks, p. 149) Tonalist images, the nocturnes stand in dramatic contrast to his earlier, brilliantly colored canvases. They exhibit a sense of dreamlike quiet and contemplation, prompting one writer to describe them as 'unique nocturnal poems in paint." (P. Hassrick, Frederic Remington, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1991, p. 11). In these years, Remington reached the peak of his abilities as an artist.
With Scare in a Pack Train, Remington reduces the scene to its basic elements, presenting a simple and powerful image featuring his "men with the bark on." The painting depicts a line of mules, laden with packs, barely discernable in the moonlight. Two stars glimmer above in a small triangle of sky visible through the trees. In the foreground, a cowboy sits silently in his saddle, and grips the handle of his holstered gun. A companion, almost obscured by the gloom, sits at the ready on his horse. All stand alert, listening. The effect is of a hushed, elusive, and unseen menace.
In 1908, at the debut of Scare in a Pack Train at Knoedler Gallery, New York, Mrs. James C. Greenway purchased the painting and subsequently corresponded with Remington about the work. The artist wrote back, discussing the subject matter, and adding: "I consider the Pack Train my best attempt so far at that very elusive thing moonlight and have great faith that the picture will help my reputation as a painter in time to come." (P. Hassrick, Frederic Remington, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, 1996, v. II, no. 2867, p. 824).
As with many of Remington's best paintings of his later years, the seeming simplicity of the composition is one of its strongest assets. "Big art is the process of elimination," Remington remarked just a few years before, "cut down and out--do your hardest work outside the picture, and let your audience take away something to think about--to imagine." (L. Ayers, et al, American Paintings, Selections from the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1986, p. 68).
At the time of his unexpected early death at 1909 at the age of 48, Remington may have been the most popular artist in America. Certainly he was the artist whose work the public most closely associated with the West. For two decades he had captured in paint and bronze the Wild West of the American imagination--the west of the Indian, the cowboy, and the cavalry. Had Remington lived, P. Hassrick suggests a direction where Remington's art might have taken him: "It is probably safe to conclude that, had he lived longer, these three truths would have continued at the heart of his expression. Light and mystery and mankind would have continued to flow forth from his facile brush and uncommon genius." (Frederic Remington, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings, p.167)