Harold Dow Bugbee was born in Lexington, Massachusetts on August 15, 1900 to Charles Herbert Bugbee (1866 – 1956) and Grace Louise Dow Bugbee (1877 – 1960). According to the 1910 federal census, the family of three was living in Massachusetts where Charles H. Bugbee worked as a farmer. By 1920 per the census they had moved to Clarendon in north Texas around 1914. Charles’ occupation was listed as a stockman. By 1930, Charles was no longer farming and ranching and was serving as Postmaster in Clarendon, having taken office in 1928. At that point, Harold had not yet married and was living in the same residence as Charles and Grace. He was a well known artist by that time and had also been featured in many exhibits.
The Bugbee family was quite interesting. Charles had not always been a farmer and rancher. In Massachusetts, he had worked in business and also had been a trained instrumentalist, playing the clarinet in various musical groups including an opera company in Boston. After his parents died, he inherited real estate which he operated for the family. He and Grace had married in 1897. Around that same time, they relocated to rural property near Lexington, Massachusetts where they lived until they moved to Texas. Likewise, Grace had studied fine arts and was well acquainted with painting.
Cousins of Charles had previously moved to north Texas and the Panhandle before the Charles Bugbee family decided to join them. T. S. Bugbee had established his ranch there a short time after Charles Goodnight. In 1883, T. S. Bugbee and another individual had established the Shoe Bar Ranch near Clarendon. T. S. Bugbee corresponded with the Charles Bugbee family about the area, leading them to decide to also move to Clarendon and build a large residence there. By then, Harold was a teenager and lived with his family on their 1,000 acre ranch known as the 3-B Ranch, or at their residence in town.
Harold graduated from Clarendon high school in 1917 after which he enrolled at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College to study architecture, also participating in the Corps of Cadets. After about two years there in College Station, he withdrew and returned to Clarendon College where he studied until about 1919. He then went to Taos, New Mexico intending to study under an artist there, but was encouraged instead to attend the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines, Iowa. He studied in Iowa for about the next two years before returning to Texas to launch his career as an artist and illustrator.
For the rest of his life, Harold Bugbee worked at his craft primarily in north and west Texas. He always kept up his acquaintance with other artists in and around Taos. His artistic influences are said to include Buck Dunton of Taos, Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. His rancher friends included T. S. Bugbee (1841 – 1925), Charles Goodnight (1835 – 1929) and others. The variety of his work is quite large and includes such varied projects as oil painting, murals, pen and ink sketches, illustrations for magazines, books, newspapers, trade publications, public art and the other media. He developed a close relationship with author J. Evetts Haley and was engaged to illustrate many books for him, including his biography of Charles Goodnight.
Bugbee was an established artist by 1930. The following year, a monument was in the planning stages to commemorate the cattle drive crossing at Doan’s. A key part of the monument was to be a bas relief sculpture of a drover pushing a herd across the Red River. Bugbee’s name was suggested to Bertha Doan Ross, the eldest daughter of C. F. and Lide Doan, for the artist to create the image for the work. Bugbee submitted his concept, which was accepted. The image was then sent to the Jamestown Bronze Works in Jamestown, New York where the sculpture was completed. The rest of the monument was made of granite quarried in Llano, Texas.
The ten foot tall monument was dedicated on October 20 – 21, 1931. The text below the sculpture now reads “In honor of the trail drivers who freed Texas from the yoke of debt and despair by their trails to the cattle markets of the far north, we dedicate this stone, symbol of their courage and fortitude, at the site of the old Doan’s Store, October 20-21, 1931. The Western Texas – Kansas Trail, 1876 – 1895. This monument was erected by Texans.” The text originally also included the words “the Longhorn Chisholm Trail” but this was changed in 1836 to the current wording. This is in reference to the controversy (not pertaining in any way to Bugbee) over associating the Chisholm Trail name with this route rather than the Great Western Trail or some other variation of the latter name.
The Wichita Daily Times (Wichita Falls, Texas) issue of October 21, 1931 described the ceremony. It was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the founding of Wilbarger County. Speakers included J. Frank Dobie from Austin who delivered the dedicatory address and George W. Saunders, president of the Old Trail Drivers Association who gave the response.
In 1935, Bugbee was married to Katherine Patrick, a distant cousin. Katherine was the granddaughter of T. S. Bugbee and her family was in the banking business in Clarendon. The couple later divorced and in 1961, Harold Bugbee married Olive Freda Vandruff, already a very well known artist.
The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum opened in Canyon in 1933 and is the oldest state museum in Texas. It is located on the campus of West Texas State Teacher’s College, now known as West Texas A&M. Bugbee became its part time curator of art in 1952 and remained in that position until his death in 1963. His wife Olive succeeded him as curator after his death. The museum includes many murals painted by Bugbee and many of his paintings and sketches.
Harold Bugbee passed away in March, 1963. His wife Olive survived him another forty years and both are buried in Citizens Cemetery in Clarendon. Several weeks after he died, the Wellington Leader, Wellington, Texas) printed this tribute. “The death of Harold Bugbee is a loss to all who love (the) Southwest. To those in Collingsworth who knew him, the death of Harold Bugbee was felt as a keen loss. Here was a man who from his studio in his Clarendon ranch home represented the old West to the American public. He knew and loved this part of the Panhandle and his work reveals it. When he painted sand along the banks of Salt Fork, or a horse or a long-horn steer, you knew that was just the way it was.”
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