According to Bush's perception, the painting portrays a Methodist (like Bush) preacher on his crusade of converting the masses in the 19th century. Here's how Bush explanationized its importance:
When you come into my office, please take a look at the beautiful painting of a horseman determinedly charging up what appears to be a steep and rough trail. This is us. What adds complete life to the painting for me is the message of Charles Wesley that we serve One greater than ourselves.
In another book entitled The Bush Tragedy, Jacob Weisberg, who did a little research on Bush's source of inspiration, reports that the painting is not at all as Bush describes.
You can read more of the Illustrated President on Harper's Magazine, and an earlier article (From Norman Rockwell to Abu Ghraib) on Salon.com.
[Bush] came to believe that the picture depicted the circuit-riders who spread Methodism across the Alleghenies in the nineteenth century. In other words, the cowboy who looked like Bush was a missionary of his own denomination.Only that is not the title, message, or meaning of the painting. The artist, W.H.D. Koerner, executed it to illustrate a Western short story entitled “The Slipper Tongue,” published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1916. The story is about a smooth-talking horse thief who is caught, and then escapes a lynch mob in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The illustration depicts the thief fleeing his captors.
Now, take a look at the Salon.com rendition above and answer the following question.
- What does it look like to you?
- (a) A man crusading/jihadding to do the work of God
(b) A smooth-talking horse thief on the run from justice
(c) Both of the above