By the time Cary was 20 years old, he was already an illustrator for Harper’s and Leslie’s magazines in New York City. In 1861, with two companions, he ventured into the American West, traveling by ox-cart, steamboat and stagecoach. Cary made many sketches along the way that provided him with the subject matter upon which he built his later career—western genre illustration. He made the sketches of the forts along the Missouri River before they were abandoned at the start of the Civil War. He worked in oil, watercolor, pen and ink, and black and white wash. Later in his career he did wood engraving illustrations for some of the popular books of the day.
He spent 30 years providing illustrations of the West for Harper’s Weekly, Leslie’s Weekly, and Scribner’s. He also made several paintings and an etching of Buffalo Bill Cody. Cary made at least one other trip to the West—in 1874 he was invited to accompany the U.S. Government’s survey of the Northern Boundary. With his great attention to detail, his illustrations came to be regarded as important historical documents, especially those of the Plains Indians dress, customs, and ceremonies. This fine illustration oil painting by Cary presents a satirical look at the historic United States presidential election of 1900 between Republican candidate and incumbent President William McKinley and his Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryan.