Each year the Autry Museum of the American West hosts one of the finest Western art shows in the nation… The Masters of the American West. This invitational event highlights cutting-edge work by the 70 top Western artists in the business. This is my 20th year at the Masters and it featured one of my most complex historical works, Stampede at Castle Gap, Oil, 40 x 60.
Here’s the background story on my painting, Stampede at Castle Gap:
Much of the history of the American West centers on and around the life of the cowboy. As early as the 1830’s large cattle ranches were springing up along the rivers and rich grassland in what was soon to become the Texas Republic. As the Civil War drew to a close the eastern market for beef began drying up. John Chisum had already begun marketing beef to military outposts in the West by delivering a small herd to Fort Stanton, NM in 1864. Goodnight and Loving also began looking for new markets in 1865 and were attracted to the western military outposts and reservations. However raiding Comanches were making a straight route to New Mexico nearly impossible. Goodnight suggested a plan to take a southern route through Texas and hookup to the old Butterfield Stage Route to deliver a herd of cattle to the Bosque Redondo Indian reservation near Ft. Sumner, NM. They would cross the Pecos River at Horse Head Crossing, a well-known Comanchero ford, and then take the cattle herd north along the Pecos entering New Mexico just south of modern day Carlsbad, NM. After crossing the Concho River on the fifth day what stood before them was some 80 miles of dry desert wasteland. In the hot merciless sun the cattle could only last three days without water and by the second night the cattle were so restless they determined to drive them straight through to the Pecos. About 2 am in the early hours of the third day the cattle picked up the sent of water as they passed through Castle Gap, about 12 miles from the Pecos River. Knowing they could never hold them Chisum, Goodnight and Loving let the wild-eyed herd run the final twelve miles and watched them dive headlong into the swollen river.
“Their ribs stood out like the bars of a grill, their flanks were drawn and gaunt, their tongues lolled far from their mouths, sometimes sweeping in the alkali dust, and their eyes sunk in their sockets with approaching death. Often a wild-eyed animal stopped, turned, and attempted to fight… About two o’clock in the morning they came to Castle Canon, from which a gentle, damp breeze was blowing. Thinking they smelled water, the cattle stampeded down it. Goodnight, riding wildly in the darkness ahead, succeeded in holding the leaders until the rest of herd came up… down to the river, twelve miles away… This was the third day the cattle had had no water and they became crazed and almost unmanageable… they became wild for water… ‘I was in the lead and as soon as they all cleared the river, I turned them back… they crossed in such volume and force that they impeded the current, and the water was halfway up the bank in a perfect flood.’”
The Lonesome Dove series by Larry McMurtry is loosely based on the historical account of this cattle drive. Charles Goodnight Cowman And Plainsman, by J. Evetts Haley.