In an April 1995 memo, Bush invited his staff to come to his office to look at a painting. â€¦ The picture is a Western scene of a cowboy riding up a craggy hill, with two other riders following behind him. Bush told visitorsâ€”who often noted his resemblance to the rider in frontâ€”that it was called A Charge To Keep and that it was based on his favorite Methodist hymn of that title, written in the eighteenth century by Charles Wesley. As Bush noted in the memo, which he quoted in his autobiography of the same title: “I thought I would share with you a recent bit of Texas history which epitomizes our mission. 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.” Bush identified with the lead rider, whom he took to be a kind of Christian cowboy, an embodiment of indomitable vigor, courage, and moral clarity.
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. In the magazine, the illustration bears the caption: “Had His Start Been Fifteen Minutes Longer He Would Not Have Been Caught.”