Instead of a portrait of the vanishing frontier, a portrait of the artist as a young dreamer with a disparaging mother (""He's just wasting his time fooling around with paints; he'll never amount to anything"") and a steadfast wife. Equally to blame for the lost opportunity are the impoverished illustration -- less than a dozen paintings, none in color, many as small as 4 5/8 x 2 3/4 and consequently indistinct; the lack of correlation between pictures and text; and the trite fictionalized narrative that's meant to be young and sounds as old as Our Gal Sunday: ""'Nonsense. You're going to be a famous artist. I know it.' She smiled through her tears. 'I know it just as I knew I'd be your wife one day.'"" Meanwhile, back in 1870, ""he could riot take city life."" The encounters with cowboys, Indians and Army cavalry are too sparsely reported to score -- or have you heard enough?