The closing of the frontier

The Fall of the Cowboy

Frederic Remington, The Fall of the Cowboy, 1895, oil on canvas, 24 x 35-1/8 inches (Amon Carter Museum of American Art). Speakers: Sara Klein, Teacher and School Programs Manager, Amon Carter Museum of American Art and Steven Zucker

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Remington, Fall of the Cowboy

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Key points

  • In the late 19th century, the United States saw the closing of the frontier and the completion of westward expansion.
  • Cowboys played an essential role in the ranching industry by driving cattle across the open range in the mid-19th century, but the invention of barbed wire fencing, the increased privatization of land, and the growth of the railroad brought an end to the cowboys’ way of life.
  • Remington’s painting uses a monochromatic palette, quiet winter setting, and minimal movement to evoke nostalgia about the end of the era of the cowboy.
  • In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that settlement of the west had ended the frontier era in the United States.
  • As the 19th century came to a close, the image of the cowboy began to transform into a mythic persona that reflects a romanticized history of the U.S. frontier.

Go Deeper

Learn about this painting at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art

How did Frederic Remington become such a well known artist?

Where can I read Owen Wister’s 1895 essay “Evolution of the Cow-Puncher” ?

What events led to settlement in the west and the end of the frontier era?

What was it like to be a cowboy?

What factors contributed to the mythologizing of the American West?

What was Frederick Jackson Turner’s “frontier thesis” and why is it important to U.S. history?

More to think about

Santa Anito Rancho, California, c. 1895, 4 7/8 x 6 7/8 in. (California State Library)

Santa Anito Rancho, California, c. 1895, 4-7/8 x 6-7/8 inches (California State Library)

Remington’s depictions of cowboy combine details of close observation with idealizations of the American West. Compare this 1895 photograph to Remington’s painting. What is similar? What is different? How does the photograph present cowboys differently than the painting?

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

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