Charles Marion Russell was born March 19, 1864 in Missouri.
Drawn to the wild west, at the age of 16 Russell quit school and went to Montana where he worked on a sheep ranch.
He soon got bored with the sheep ranch and found work with a hunter and trapper turned rancher named Jake Hoover, who owned a ranch in the Judith Basin.
Russell became known as “Kid” as the two men would remain lifelong friends.
After a brief visit to his family in 1882, Kid Russell returned to Montana, where he remained for the rest of his life.
He worked as a cowboy for a number of outfits, and documented the harsh winter of 1886-1887 in a number of watercolors.
Russell was working on the O-H Ranch in the Judith Basin of Central Montana at the time, when the ranch foreman received a letter from the owner, asking how the cattle herd had weathered the winter.
Instead of a letter, the ranch foreman sent a postcard-sized watercolor Russell had painted of gaunt steer being watched by wolves under a gray winter sky.
The ranch owner showed the postcard to friends and business acquaintances and eventually displayed it in a shop window in Helena, Montana.
Russell’s caption on that sketch, “Waiting for a Chinook”, became the title of the drawing, and Russell later created a more detailed version which is one of his best-known works.
After this, Russell began to work steadily as an artist.
Russell’s artwork comprised a wide variety of topics, including major historical events and everyday life in the west. His work was noted for the frequency with which he portrayed well-known events from the point of view of Native American people instead of the white viewpoint.
He was noted for a keen eye to the social undercurrents of society and the meticulous authenticity with which he portrayed the clothing and equipment of both cowboys and Native people.
Russell would create more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes set in the Western United States in addition to bronze sculptures.
Russell shared a long friendship with Will Rogers, the famed vaudeville performer, film star, and humorist. Russell and wife Nancy began visiting California in 1920, when many entertainment figures and out-of-work cowboys were finding employment in the burgeoning western film industry.
Although Russell wrote to his friends back home that Rogers took him to see the making of “outdoor pictures,” it was Rogers and others who were star struck by the famous Montana artist’s presence.
Rogers, no small talent when it came to telling a story, pronounced Russell the greatest storyteller he had ever heard.
Rogers later filled his spacious home in Pacific Palisades (near Malibu) with prime examples of Russell’s art, including this magnificent painting of mounted Blackfoot Indians hunting buffalo.
Charles Marion “Kid” Russell died October 24, 1926. On the day of his funeral, all the children in Great Falls were released from school to watch the funeral procession. Russell’s coffin was displayed in a glass sided coach, pulled by four black horses.
The C. M. Russell Museum Complex located in Great Falls, Montana houses more than 2,000 Russell artworks, personal objects, and artifacts.
Russell’s mural titled Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians hangs in the state capitol building in Helena, Montana.
Russell’s 1918 painting Piegans sold for $5.6 million dollars at a 2005 auction.
Now WE know em
- Russell watercolor sells for $550,000 at Great Falls auction (missoulian.com)
- About Cowboy Charlie (diges.wordpress.com)