Caylor, Harvey Wallace (1867–1932)

By: Joe Pickle

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: July 28, 2020

Harvey Wallace Caylor, frontier painter, son of Henry I. and Nancy Ann (Rambo) Caylor, was born at Noblesville, Indiana, on February 20, 1867. He achieved a degree of prominence as a self-taught artist, particularly among ranch families. He had little formal education, academically or artistically. He left home at the age of twelve or fourteen and, when he ran out of money in Kansas, became a cowboy. He worked his way as a cowhand to California and back to Indiana, all the while sketching scenes and characters. He had studied briefly as a child under Frank Finch, a local artist; he was later taught by Jacob Cox of Indianapolis, who had instructed the portraitist William Chase. While staying with an aunt in Parsons, Kansas, Caylor did black-and-white portraits. On July 1, 1889, he married one of his subjects, Florence Nephler, "a frowzy-headed girl from New Orleans." Though they had no children, she was his perfect complement, his traveling companion on the range and in rugged mountains, and the driving force of his art.

In 1890, after a few years as an itinerant artist, Caylor and his wife settled in the frontier railroad town of Big Spring, Texas, where his sister lived. Probably because of his frail health, they spent a year in the open country on the Fore Ranch in northern Sterling County, living in a rigid-topped hack with roll-down canvas sides, while Caylor sketched feverishly. He began painting in oils seriously in 1894, and during the next decade he exhibited his paintings where he could. He won prizes at San Antonio and Dallas. He also did commissioned works for such ranchers as C. C. Slaughter and George T. Reynolds. Ranch families still own most of his paintings, though the Heritage Museum in Big Spring has a substantial collection.

Caylor's favorite subjects included stampedes and trail herds. He depicted the latter in Coming Up the Trail, which hangs in the Kansas City stockyard headquarters. His Prayer for Rain (privately owned), depicting a rancher with bowed head beside his horse, reflects something of Caylor's faith, although he rarely attended his (Presbyterian) church. Caylor caught West Texas at the moment of transition from open range to barbed wire fences and painted it realistically and without extravagance. He was variously illustrator, landscapist, portrait painter, and even sculptor. Although he acknowledged that Caylor was not comparable to Charles Russell or Frederic Remington, J. Frank Dobie stated that Caylor's "deep appeal to men who drove up the trail, faced blizzards, loved horses and regarded longhorns as a symbol for Texas itself...marks him as important, significant and genuine." Edward G. Eisenlohr, widely known Dallas artist in the 1920s, thought that Caylor ranked among the great artists of the West.

Caylor started acquiring land in 1898 and by around 1906 had a showplace on his four-section ranch sixteen miles south of Big Spring. But ranching cut into his painting and his health. He devoted his talent only to painting after 1916 and moved into town in 1918. With a severe drought, the demand for his paintings declined. He died of nephritis, heavily in debt, at his cottage in Big Spring on Christmas Eve, 1932. His tombstone bears the inscription, "Harvey Wallace Caylor, `The Artist.'"

Dallas News, December 15, 1932. Dallas Morning News, March 11, 1940. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, October 1, 1972. Joe Pickle, comp., H. W. Caylor, Frontier Artist (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981).

  • Visual Arts
  • Painting

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Joe Pickle, “Caylor, Harvey Wallace,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

July 28, 2020