From Points West magazine
Originally published in Summer 1995
Clymer “Winchester” Paintings Reunited
By Howard Michael Madaus
Former Curator, Cody Firearms Museum
Contemporary western art sometimes comes from unexpected sources. In 1969, Olin Corporation, parent company of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, commissioned noted western artist, John Clymer (1907 – 1989) to create three large paintings that represented the lever-action Winchester rifles that the company’s advertising had described since the 1920s as the “guns that won the West”—the Henry repeating rifle, the Winchester M1866 rifle, and the Winchester M1873 rifle.
Clymer began preparations for the works in 1969 by visiting three western locales. For the depiction of the Henry rifle, Clymer chose Mosquito Pass in then-Colorado Territory, shortly after the 1859 gold rush. In The Gold Train, He painted a mounted column of gold-laden mules descending under the watchful guard armed with a Henry rifle.
The second locale chosen was near the Rawhide Creek crossing of the Platte River in then-Nebraska Territory during the last half decade of the 1860s. Sioux warriors confront a trail boss, armed with a Winchester M1866 rifle, as he leads a herd of Texas longhorns toward the Montana grazing pastures first exploited in 1866. Clymer titled this painting The Cattle Drive.
Clymer’s last western depiction represented the third wave of white expansion into the Rocky Mountain Northern Great Plains, the coming of the settler. Choosing the Big Horn Mountains near Sheridan in Wyoming Territory, Clymer represented in The Homesteaders, three generations of a family of settlers searching for a new life in the West. The family head leads with a Winchester M1873 rifle in one hand and the reins of a horse in the other.
All three paintings, each of which measures nearly five feet by ten feet, were completed during the winter of 1969-1970. In March 1970 they were dedicated at the famous “21” Club in New York City and placed in the care of Buffalo Bill Historical Center Board Member Peter Kriendler for transfer to the museum.
The paintings were first displayed in the area between the Buffalo Bill Museum and the Whitney Western Art Museum. Later they were moved to the south end of the Buffalo Bill Museum.
When the Plains Indian collection was moved from its former home below the Buffalo Bill Museum to the new Plains Indian Museum in 1979, that area was converted for the display of the Winchester Gun Museum’s collection, loaned to the Historical Center in 1978. Only one, however, was relocated to the entry of the new Winchester Arms Museum. When the Cody Firearms Museum was installed in 1991, the same Clymer painting was initially displayed.