Harold Dow Bugbee, Western painter and illustrator, was born on August 15, 1900, in Lexington, Massachusetts, son of Charles H. and Grace L. (Dow) Bugbee. The family moved to Texas and established a ranch near Clarendon in 1914. Bugbee exhibited an early talent for drawing and determined to record the old-time ranch life then passing into history. Following his graduation from Clarendon High School in 1917, he attended Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Texas A&M University) and Clarendon College. In 1919, acting upon the advice of Taos artist Bert Phillips, Bugbee enrolled in the Cumming School of Art in Des Moines, Iowa, where he studied for two years with portraitist Charles A. Cumming. From 1922 to the mid-1930s he honed his skills with annual visits to the Taos art colony, where he painted and sketched with W. Herbert Dunton, Ralph Meyers, Leon Gaspard, and Frank Hoffman, among others.
In 1921 Bugbee returned to West Texas. The owner of the Amarillo Hotel, Ernest O. Thompson, helped to launch his career by commissioning fourteen oils for the Longhorn Room and mounting Bugbee's first big show, which was held in the Amarillo Hotel in the mid-1920s. In 1942 Thompson had Bugbee paint eleven murals for the Tascosa Room of his Herring Hotel. Bugbee sold many of his paintings to ranchmen and collectors of western art, and he drew Christmas-card designs that were used internationally. In 1933 he began a career as an illustrator; he primarily did pen and ink sketches for books, pulp magazines (particularly Ranch Romances), historical editions of local and regional newspapers, trade publications such as The Shamrock, and thirty-four issues of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Review. Beginning with the publication of Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman (1936), Bugbee enjoyed a long-term collaboration with West Texas historian J. Evetts Haley. During this period Bugbee exhibited his work in Clarendon and other Texas cities, as well as at galleries in Kansas City, Chicago, Denver, and New York City. He was drafted into the armed forces in 1942, but was discharged due to health problems just one year later. He painted three murals for Amarillo Army Air Field in 1943; two of the three are in the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
In 1951 Bugbee became part-time curator of art for the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society. This position, which he held until his death, allowed him to devote much of his time to painting, and he sold or donated more than 230 of his paintings, drawings, and prints to the society's museum in Canyon. He completed twenty-two murals on Indian life and ranching for the museum, the most outstanding of which is The Cattleman (1934), painted under the Public Works of Art Project. An early trail-driving scene of cattleman R. B. Masterson that Bugbee painted on wood panels hangs in the Hall of State in Dallas. Having spent most of his life on the family ranch, Bugbee provided in his work an authentic insight into daily ranch routine in the Panhandle.
Bugbee's first marriage, to Katherine Patrick in 1935, ended in divorce. He later married Olive Vandruff, who survived him. He died in Clarendon on March 27, 1963. His work was featured in exhibitions at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in 1953, 1961, 1970, 1987, and 1994; in 1990 the museum installed a reconstruction of Bugbee's studio. Bugbee exhibits were presented at the Nita Stewart Haley Library at Midland in 1992 and the Cattleman's Museum at Fort Worth in 1993. He also exhibited at Dalhart (1929), Amarillo (1930, 1931, and 1938), Abilene (1931), the University Centennial Exposition in Austin (1936), the Fort Worth Frontier Exposition (1936), and the West Texas Art Exhibition at Fort Worth (1939).