The Tangled Tales of Barbed Wire

Three of the often cited reasons for the closing of the frontier of the American West typically include the telegraph, the transcontinental railroad, and barbed wire.

Display of different types of barbed wire. Cattle Raisers Museum. Fort Worth, TX.

So you may be surprised to learn that large scale manufacturing of barbed wire began first in the Mid-West in central Illinois (1874-75) before expanding to the American West.

The invention of barbs also made its way into other preventative products, such as calf weaners, cattle yokes & pokes, and even into poison bottle designs.

Joel Horn Breachy Cattle Yoke

1890 Ad Hoosier Automatic Calf Weaner

Barbed wire was invented mostly for cattle, but was also a means to deter other animals and humans from crossing over or through the fencing. It was certainly effective. However, accounts of the harmful effects of barbed wire on livestock resulted in an outcry from not only agriculturalists and stockmen but the public at large, including local chapters of the early formation of the Humane Society. Stories spreading the cruel and inhumane nature of barbed wire fences circulated in the press. Some such stories included rather graphic accounts of cows & their calves or horses & their colts running into barbed fences.

Safety Barb Wire Advertisement Circa 1895

Cochliomyia hominivorax or screwworm fly

As production of barbed wire grew, so too did its opponents, who called for legislative action. States like Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Texas proposed bills to restrict or outlaw use of barbed wire. Court hearings recorded testimony of those for and against. Some farmers and their advocates claimed barbed fencing was “one of the greatest inventions of the age.” Many opponents of these anti-barbed wire bills argued that barbed wire fencing saved more animals than it hurt and would do “nothing more than scratch any stock.” However, there was growing evidence to the contrary in the Great Plains. In Texas, harmless scratches developed into nesting grounds for the screwworm fly, which embedded its eggs into the animal’s flesh, eating its tissue and sometimes resulting in death. The parasitic fly was native to the tropical Americas and appeared in the southwest US in the 1840s, eventually growing into an epidemic problem in the 20th century. Large herd loss was also a result of a combination of barbed wire fencing with severe storms & blizzards of the 1880s, as cattle trampled those trapped in the fencing during a drift or stampede.

In addition to court hearing accounts and other published stories, evidence of the rise in injuries as a result of animal and human contact with barbed wire fencing is seen in the upsurge of medicines designed specifically for barbed wire injuries, such as Silver Pine Healing Oil.

“Silver Pine Healing Oil, International Stock Food Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota,” DPLA Omeka, accessed November 10, 2017, https://dp.la/exhibitions/items/show/811815.

Despite these concerns, there was a drastic increase in the amount of barbed wire made, with 120 million pounds sold in 1881 and an estimated 250,000 miles of barbed wire fences across the country within the same year. Today there are over 115,000 miles of old, unused barbed wire fencing that kills over 92,500 animals annually due to collisions. Unfortunately, it is expensive and time consuming to track all of this fencing. However, technologies such as geographic information system (GIS) are helping. Just as researchers in Canada are using GIS to track black bears & wolves to determine where they intersect with roads, efforts to map all the old barbed wire fencing in the American West are being pursued. The good news is that in addition to regulations making new barbed wire fencing less harmful, where they are cutting down outdated and idle barbed fencing is helping to reduce the percentage of animal deaths.

Of course, there’s much more to the fascinating story of barbed wire. I recommend checking out the newly published book from Texas A&M Press, The Perfect Fence: Untangling the Meanings of Barbed Wire by Lyn Ellen Bennett and Scott Abbott.

Viva el vaquero!

From September 15 – October 15, as a nation we observe and celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. This time is an opportunity to recognize and honor the histories, cultures, and contributions of fellow Americans whose families and ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central & South America.

By Doerr & Jacobson — Photographer – Original source: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / Texas. / Stereoscopic views of San Antonio, Texas. (Approx. 72,000 stereoscopic views : 10 x 18 cm. or smaller.) digital record. This image is available from the New York Public Library’s Digital Library under the digital ID G92F039_034F: digitalgallery.nypl.org → digitalcollections.nypl.org Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10083425

In the American West, Hispanic culture, particularly the tradition of the vaquero, helped establish the foundation for much of cowboy life as we know it today. Working alongside the vaqueros, Anglo cowboys learned and adopted their tools and techniques. Adoption of the vaquero practices was so widespread, especially in the Lone Star state, that many of the terms used have become practically “Texan.”

Here’s just a handful of the Spanish words commonly used in Texas:

Armadillo (literally, “the little armed one”)

Bronco (means “wild” or “rough” or “rude”)

Burrito (literally “little donkey”)

Chaps (from Mexican Spanish chaparreras)

Hammock (from jamaca, Caribbean Spanish word)

Lariat (from la reata, braided rawhide rope)

Lasso (from lazo)

Mustang (from mesteñas, – a wild horse)

Patio (In Spanish, an inner garden or courtyard.)

Remuda (regionalism for a relay of horses)

Rodeo (roundup / show of skills – verb to encircle)

Sombrero (sombra, “shade,” – any kind of hat)

Wrangler (caballerano, one who grooms horses)

Frederic Remington | The Cow Puncher | 1901 | Oil (black & white) on canvas | 28 7/8 inches x 19 inches

Frederic Remington was well aware of the vaquero and its influence on the Anglo cowboys. He once chided his friend and Western writer Owen Wister for having claimed Anglo-Saxon origin of the cowboy in Wister’s article “The Evolution of the Cow-Puncher,” which appeared in Harper’s Monthly in 1895. In fact, Wister traced the genealogy of the Western cowboy to that of the knights of medieval Europe. In a letter to Wister, Remington corrected his friend, noting that the traditions of the cowboy were of Latin origin and evolved from the vaqueros of Mexico and Texas.

Not only did Remington witness the cowboy in action during his journeys out West, but the artist also traveled to Mexico in 1889 and later in 1893. He spent weeks sketching and photographing vaqueros and their horses, providing the artist with an array of firsthand material for his work.

Vaquero de Fort Worth | 2012 |Thomas Bustos and David Newton | Bronze | North Main Street and Central Avenue Plaza | Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Public Art

Fort Worth celebrates its own ties to the vaquero tradition, and in 2012 the city commemorated a part of its Hispanic history with the installation of Vaquero de Fort Worth. The artists David Newton and Tomas Bustos were sensitive to the importance of this piece and paid careful attention to the historical accuracy of each detail of the vaquero. Now a part of the city-wide public art collection, this bronze sculpture overlooks the historic Northside, which is home to the Fort Worth Stockyards district, an area that developed due the success of the cattle business.

Vaquero de Fort Worth, detail

The Unsolved (and Solved) Mysteries of Remington

This month marks the opening of our new focus exhibit from our “Guest of Honor” series entitled Frederic Remington: Altered States. This exhibit brings together a small grouping of Remington’s works, including two rarely seen paintings from the Museum’s permanent collection, as well as bronzes and books from private collections. Altered States not only highlight’s Remington’s career as an illustrator, but it also examines the various issues surrounding the authenticity of a work of art.

Let’s first look at alterations to artworks made by the artist’s hand. The exhibit features two versions of the same Remington bronze, The Rattlesnake. In this sculpture, Remington depicts a rider and his horse shying away from a rattlesnake on the ground. The scene is filled with unrestrained action. Three years and eleven castings after his first cast of The Rattlesnake, Remington reworked the design and the resulting bronze exhibited some different details. First there are the structural alterations, with the overall sculpture being 3 inches taller than the first version and with a smaller base. Changes to the model included tucking the horse’s forelegs and straightening his rear legs which increased the tension and thrusted the rider forward. While viewing the two bronzes displayed side by side in the gallery, make note of the alterations of the rider’s gear in the second version of the sculpture. Even the color of the patina of the bronze is different.

The Rattlesnake [first version] | Copyrighted January 18, 1905 | Roman Bronze Works cast #5, 1906 | Private Collection

The Rattlesnake | Copyrighted 1905 | Roman Bronze Works cast #19, 1910 | Private Collection

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | Oil on wood panel | 30 inches x 18 inches

Another example of alterations to an artwork by the artist himself is the SRM painting The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum. We explored the mystery surrounding this artwork in an earlier blog post. Fortunately, we have great detectives in the way of art conservators to help us. X-rays and infrared photography of the painting revealed the hidden third figure that Remington had over painted. Exactly why Remington chose to alter the composition from the published illustration remains a mystery.

X-ray of Remington’s Thunder Fighters with 3rd figure circled

Sometimes artists make changes to their artwork, but sometimes alterations are made by those other than the artist, which raises various questions about authenticity. Take for example the SRM painting He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade. Remington originally painted this work in black-and-white for an illustration that was published in his novel, The Way of an Indian (a copy of which is on display in the exhibit). The Museum has other black-and-white paintings in the collection by Remington as well. What makes this work stand out? At some point, someone painted over He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade, resulting in a vibrantly hued composition. But who did it? This sounds like another excellent case for art conservators, a.k.a. the detectives! An analysis at a research lab revealed that a layer of dirt separated two layers of paint, indicating that several years had passed between the applications. Furthermore, analysis of the top, colored layer determined that this paint was not produced until over two decades after Remington’s death. Ah ha! Twas not an alteration by the artist’s hand. Someone with fraudulent intentions has compromised the work.

He Rushed the Pony Right to the Barricade | ca. 1900 | Oil on canvas

The ultimate Remington mystery involves a small work on paper entitled The Way Post. The simple watercolor study could perhaps be a product of Remington’s first trip West in 1881, a brief period in which the young artist signed his works with his initials, “F.R,” though he rarely used it as his signature after that year. Despite those details, it is difficult to attribute this work to Remington with certainty.

The Way Post | attributed to Frederic Remington | ca. 1881 | Watercolor and gouache on paper

In fact, the work is reminiscent of another Western illustrator of the same era, William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922). The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK houses a collection of Cary’s works, including a watercolor sketch of comparable size, The Strong Cup.

William de la Montagne (1840-1922), A Strong Cup, Collection of the Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma

With so many questions circulating around an artwork like this, who are you going to call? The art conservators! Conservation staff at the Kimbell Art Museum conducted studies on the work from the Museum’s collection. While infrared reflectography (a non-invasive method of looking through paint layers) did not real any pentimenti, or artist changes, examination under the microscope revealed that the signature initials were painted with a bulkier, more granular white paint than the artist used for highlights in the rest of the work. Likewise, the initials appear raised from the surface, not integrated. All of this suggests that the signature was a later addition. Did Remington add his signature at a later date? Is The Way Post the work of another artist? Do we have a forgery on our hands? This mystery remains unsolved.

Detail of Remington’s signature, The Way Post

Remington’s artwork was in popular demand even during his lifetime, selling for high prices. With so much value attributed to a work by Remington, many have attempted to forge the artist’s signature or “enhance” a painting in order to increase the artwork’s market value. Remington scholar Peter Hassrick once speculated that there may be more Remington forgeries than of any other American painter. Whether altered by his own hands or at that of another, Remington’s artwork can sometimes leave us with more questions than answers.

Remington: The College Years

It’s August, and for students in Texas, that means the beginning of another school year. For some students, this month marks the beginning of their college years and will perhaps set the direction of their future careers. For many co-eds, college will be a time to discover their path, as was the case for SRM artist, Frederic Remington.

In the spring of 1878, Remington wrote to his Uncle Horace Sackrider, “I am going to try and get into Cornell College this coming June and if I succeed will be a Journalist. I mean to study for an artist anyhow, whether I ever make a success of it or not.” However, Cornell University did not have a journalism department at that time, so instead Remington enrolled in the newly created School of Fine Arts at Yale. He was one of 7 men, along with 30 other art students, in both the first art school at an American university and the first coeducational school at Yale.

Remington’s art instructors included J. Alden Weir and John Henry Niemeyer, both of whom had studied under French academic painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. Niemeyer, his drawing instructor, had come to Yale as a professor in 1871, just 2 years after the art school was founded and remained for over 30 years. Many considered Niemeyer a great teacher.

While at Yale, Remington successfully published his first illustration in one of the college newspapers, the Yale Courant. The sketch portrayed an injured football lineman recuperating in his room, his right foot elevated and his desk covered with bottles of liniment, or healing ointment. Could this be a self-portrait?

Frederic Remington, “College Riff-Raff,” cartoon, Yale Courant, November 2, 1878, p. 47.

Remington disliked the academic approach of his art school which followed the strict, classical training of the period, like sketching from plaster casts. Instead, Remington preferred to focus his attention on playing football. The young co-ed joined the Yale team as a rusher in the fall of 1879. The team did not fare so well during Remington’s sophomore year, losing the 1879 championships in what became one of the highlights of the Yale-Princeton rivalry.

Remington in the football uniform of the day, canvas jacket and flannel trousers. Internet Archive Book Images.

Yale football team, 1879. Remington front, lower right.

Unfortunately, Remington did not return to college after the holiday break that year due to the death of his father. Although college did not work out for Remington, it did not deter him from pursuing a career in the artist, first as a commercial illustrator, and later as a painter and sculptor, achieving success in all media.

Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My!

*Well, maybe more like antelope, bears, horses, and cattle. This year’s Summer Camp theme was Animals in the West!

This summer we hosted two weeks of Summer Camps: one for children between the ages of 6-9 years old and the other for tweens – children between the ages of 10-12 years old. What fun we had exploring the animals found within our collection and learning about other native animals of the West!

Each day campers began with a still life warm up to get their creative juices flowing. Campers then spent time with our collection participating in gallery activities and various animal themed tours with our talented docent team. Students asked themselves questions like, “What would the skunk say?” and asked our docents questions like, “How did he get that big bronze statue to stay glued together?!”

Following their time in the gallery, campers spent time in the studio art room creating their own masterpieces. Throughout the week our young artists worked with air dry clay, acrylic paints on canvas, watercolors, permanent markers, chalk pastels, colored pencils, and printmaking materials.

On the final day of each week-long camp, campers went through our Junior Docent Training….basically a crash course for kids, teaching them how to lead a tour for their friends and families. At the end of the last day, campers hosted their very own ART SHOW! Campers proudly took to their role as Junior Docents and led their friends and family on a tour of our galleries and then to the studio art room. While showing off their artworks they spent all week creating, campers enjoyed some Art Show refreshments. Bear cupcakes and animal cookies seemed totally appropriate!

What a delight it was to have each and every child participate in our Summer Art Camps! Campers impressed us with their creative thinking, intriguing questions, and unbelievable talent. Thank you to all of our campers and their families, our Summer Art Camp Intern (Aaron McBride), and our Docent Team! You brought the animals in our collection to life. We hope to see you again next summer!

*Written by Andrea Hassenteuffel, Director of School & Family Programs

Waffles in the Garden

Happy Summer Solstice! Summer is a time for fun and adventure…in the garden! Vegetable gardens are in full bloom this season. In Texas, gardeners have to remain diligent about watering and protecting their precious plants from the brutal heat. In the Southwest, where it’s dry and arid, people have developed techniques in order to adapt their gardens to the environment. One such technique is practiced by the Zuni (A:shiwi) called Latdekwi:we, or waffle gardening.

Timothy O’Sullivan. Gardens surrounding the Indian pueblo of Zuni, 1873. Stereograph. Source: Stereographs from geographical explorations and surveys west of the 100th meridian, expeditions of 1871, 1872, 1873, and 1874 – 1st. Lieut. Geo. M. Wheeler, Corps of Engineers, commanding. Courtesy Boston Public Library.

Charles Francis Browne, Nai-U-Chi: Chief Of The Bow, Zuni 1895, 1895, Oil on canvas, 18 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches

Members of the Zuni people, like Nai-U-Chi, felt a close connection with the environment and maintained a special relationship with the natural world for centuries. Through their keen observations, the Zuni adapted farming skills to the lands in which they lived. Because New Mexico receives very little rain, the Zuni developed a dry-farming method – Latdekwi:we. The technique earned the nickname waffle garden because from above, the layout of recessed beds resembles the delicious breakfast food.

A waffle garden is typically intended for a single or extended family, like a kitchen garden. Think of the waffle garden as the original “square foot garden.” The garden consists of a grid of squares with each square surrounded by berms, or raised mounds of dirt. The shape helps any water flow directly to the plants.

“Zuni gardens,” c. 1927, by Edward Curtis, via Library of Congress

The summer solstice holds an important place for many Native societies. For the Zuni, their spiritual practice is connected to the life cycle of all plants. Summer is a time for growth. During the summer solstice, the Zuni people perform ceremonies in hopes of a summer rainy season. The design of the waffle gardens help trap and retain what moisture the area does receive.

The Zuni people, along with other residents in arid regions, continue to practice the waffle gardening method today. By employing techniques that are specific to the environment, anyone can grow a healthy vegetable garden, even in the desert. Unfortunately, though, you can’t grow waffles.

Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) Summer Camp

Zuni WIC Community Garden

Gateway to the West

Named after Louis IX of France, St. Louis is a city filled with history. Now home to Anheuser-Busch and the Gateway Arch, St. Louis was once home to some of our SRM artists: Charles Russell, Oscar Berninghaus & Herbert Herget.

Downtown St. Louis. Image courtesy Timothy K Hamilton.

Born in St. Louis in 1864, Charles Marion Russell grew up in Oak Hill at his family’s manor-style house near present-day Tower Grove Park, a site of picnics and Sunday gatherings for the best families of St. Louis. For Russell, it was a great area in which to ride his horse. Once a rural plantation, Oak Hill was a suburb of St. Louis by the time Russell and his family moved to the area, welcoming the development around them. His father, Charles Silas Russell, was president of the local Parker-Russell Mining & Manufacturing company, a leading maker of industrial fire bricks. St. Louis was a city mostly made out of bricks, with over 80 brickyards in town by 1870. The Russells expected Charlie to join the family business or go to college. Instead, Charlie headed out west to Montana to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a cowboy.

Charles M. Russell, Cowpunching Sometimes Spells Trouble, 1889, Oil on canvas, 26 x 41 inches

Russell visited his family from time to time, which would have afforded him the opportunity to explore the exhibits at the 1904 World’s Fair hosted in St. Louis, where Russell had a few of his own paintings on display.

Russell was not the only SRM artist at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Oscar Berninghaus had two designs selected for the fair’s medal competition. Before he became one of the founding members of the Taos Society of Artists, Berninghaus spent his formal years in St. Louis, where he was born in 1874. Like Russell, Berninghaus began his art-making at a young age, sketching local scenes around town. He left school to become a lithographer, eventually working for Woodward & Tiernan, the city’s leading commercial printing firm. Berninghaus also completed illustrations for the local Anheuser-Busch Brewing company and painted several works for the Busch family throughout his career, many of which can be found today in the St. Louis Art Museum.

Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Image courtesy Katherine Johnson.

Oscar E. Berninghaus, The Forty-Niners, Before 1942, Oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 36 1/4 inches

Audiences may be less familiar with another artist in our collection, Herbert Herget. Herget was born in St. Louis in 1885. Like Russell and Berninghaus, Herget enjoyed making art at a young age, drawing inspiration from the reproductions of Frederic Remington’s paintings published in popular magazines of the day. After attending public schools in St. Louis, Herget spent six months studying sculpture before he decided to pursue painting. His first serious training as a painter took place at the Washington University School of Fine Art. Later, Herget spent several years serving as an apprentice and illustrator for the publishers Woodward & Tiernan, the very same printing firm at which Berninghaus began his commercial art career. Today, the historic Woodward & Tiernan building in St. Louis is transitioning into loft-style apartments.

Woodward and Tiernan Printing Company. Lithographic retouching department. Photograph by W.C. Persons, 1926. Missouri Historical Society Photographs and Prints Collections. NS 34596. Scan © 2006, Missouri Historical Society.

Workers in the Finishing Department at Woodward and Tiernan Printing Company, 1926. Photographer: W.C. Persons. Collection: Industrial Buildings. Image Courtesy of Missouri History Museum, St. Louis.

Who else at our museum has ties to St. Louis? Our museum director, Mary Burke! Having grown up in the Gateway City, Mary is familiar with many of these artists’ old haunts. For the past two decades, Mary has worked to preserve and share Sid’s legacy through the museum’s collection and education programming.

Orange You Glad It’s Western Art

Last week we took a group of our docent volunteers on a journey down to Orange, Texas. About a 6 hour drive from Fort Worth, Orange is a town nestled into southeast Texas, not far from the Louisiana border. Although Orange is small, it packs a lot of punch when it comes to its cultural attractions.

Sid Richardson Museum staff & docents at the Stark Museum of Art

The impetus for our trip was to visit the Stark Museum of Art, which houses one of the finest collections of art of the American West and Southwest. In addition to their fabulous permanent collection, the museum is currently the site for the traveling exhibit, Branding the American West: Paintings and Films, 1900 – 1950. The exhibition explores paintings and imagery of the American West as presented by Western artists like Frederic Remington, as well as members of the Taos Society of Artists and the California-based artist Maynard Dixon, and through films of the era.

Dr. Sarah Boehme, curator, welcomes our group to the Stark Museum of Art

Dr. Boehme guides our group through the exhibit, “Branding the American West.”

Near the Stark Museum of Art is the W.H. Stark House, a house museum and childhood home of H.J. Lutcher Stark, whose vision and collection grew into what is now the art museum. Like Sid Richardson, Lutcher Stark and his wife, Nelda, established a foundation to serve and enrich the lives in Southeast Texas through arts and education.

Another wonderful legacy of the Stark family is the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. Lutcher Stark created this beautiful oasis on some of his private land located along a bayou. Stark opened his private gardens to the public, and its beauty has touched the lives of many visitors since major restoration efforts in 2002.

Despite the brevity of the trip, the impressions of our experience in Orange are long-lasting. Should you find yourself in the far southeast reaches of the Lone Star state, take some time to visit these gems of Orange, Texas. You will not be disappointed!

What Makes Thunder?

Remington depicts “thunder fighters” of the Sioux Nation not only braving a storm, but braving their own fears to chase off the big black thunder bird whose beating wings filled the air with roaring. The painting was originally intended as an illustration in the 1892 edition of Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail.

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | Oil on wood panel | 30 inches x 18 inches

Francis Parkman (1823-1893) was born into a well-to-do Boston family. In April of 1846, just out of Harvard Law School at age 23, Parkman and his college friend and relative, Quincy Shaw, departed from Westport, Missouri on a journey of western travel and adventure. Despite being in poor health (dysentery, cramps and dizziness – oh my!) for much of the nearly 6-month journey, Parkman traveled 2,000 miles of prairies, deserts and mountains, coming into contact with emigrant trails. The Oregon Trail is the author’s reflection (and, in some cases, exaggeration) of his travels.

The first edition was published in 1849. For his 4th edition, Parkman asked Frederic Remington to illustrate its pages. Remington accepted.

My dear sir: As you know, I am to illustrate your “Oregon Trail.” You paint men very vividly with your words and I imagine I can almost see your people. I shall never be able to fill your mind’s eye but if I manage to symbolize the period, I shall be content. Trusting that I may hear from you shortly, I have the honor to be very respectfully yours, Frederic Remington.  (January 5, 1892)

Frederic Remington | The Thunder-Fighters Would Take Their Bows and Arrows, Their Guns, Their Magic Drum | 1892 | line engraving | Parkman, Francis. The Oregon Trail, 1892, p. 112

Remington’s image illustrates a scene described in Chapter 14, “The Ogillallah Village.” Parkman and his travel companion, Raymond, enter an Ogallala Sioux village, where the two men meet an acquaintance named Reynal, a French Indian trader. Reynal serves as interpreter between the two men and the members of the village. Parkman and Raymond, guests of the village, have been moving from lodge to lodge to taste the foods their hosts set before them. After a meal of boiled buffalo meat and other foods, a thunderstorm that had been threatening strikes, which spurs Parkman to ask:

“What is it?” said I, “that makes the thunder?”

“It’s my belief,” said Reynal, “that it’s a big stone rolling over the sky.”

“Very likely,” I replied; “but I want to know what the Indians think about it.”

So he interpreted my question, which produced some debate. There was a difference of opinion. At last old Mene-Seela, or Red-Water, who sat by himself at one side, looked up with his withered face, and said he had always known what the thunder was. It was a great black bird; and once he had seen it, in a dream, swooping down from the Black Hills, with its loud-roaring wings; and when it flapped them over a lake, they struck lightning from the water.

“The thunder is bad,” said another old man, who sat muffled in his buffalo-robe; “he killed my brother last summer.”

Reynal, at my request, asked for an explanation; but the old man remained doggedly silent and would not look up. Some time after, I learned how the accident occurred. The man who was killed belonged to an association which, among other mystic functions, claimed the exclusive power and privilege of fighting the thunder. Whenever a storm which they wished to avert was threatening, the thunder-fighters would take their bows and arrows, their guns, their magic drum, and a sort of whistle made out of the wing-bone of the war-eagle, and, thus equipped, run out and fire at the rising cloud, whooping, yelling, whistling, and beating their drum to frighten it down again. One afternoon a heavy black cloud was coming up, and they repaired to the top of a hill, where they brought all their magic artillery into play against it. But the undaunted thunder, refusing to be terrified, darted out a bright flash, which struck one of the party dead as he was in the very act of shaking his long iron-pointed lance against it. The rest scattered and ran, yelling in an ecstasy of superstitious terror, back to their lodges.

Compare the illustration with the painting as it exists today at the museum. Do you notice how they differ?

When you visit the painting in our galleries, you’ll see that Remington eliminated the figure in the background, softened the shadows and added a design on the drum, which resembles a drum in the Remington Studio Collection at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Crow Drum | ca. 1880 | pigment, wood, rawhide, lacing, string | Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming

The original painting showed the three figures shooting and beating the drum to frighten the cloud down to the earth. In the first version, Remington included a third man standing behind the other two discharged his musket into the sky. Later, as seen today, the artist painted over the third figure, simplifying the composition.

Nancy Russell: Wife & Business Manager

Today, Charles M. Russell is a household name among patrons of art of the American West. Who do art historians consistently credit for being the reason we have the beautiful Russell artworks that not only grace our galleries at the Sid Richardson Museum, but many public and private collections around the world? The artist’s wife, Nancy Cooper Russell.

Born in 1874 in Kentucky, Nancy Cooper moved with her family to Montana in 1890. Four years later, at the age of 16, Nancy was left to fend for herself and eventually found work as a live-in housekeeper for a couple in Cascade, Montana. It was at their home where Nancy first met Charlie. A year later, in 1896, they married. Charlie was 32. Nancy was 18.

“I married the only Charlie Russell in the world, and my life has been full of romance, which they like to make movies out of, only mine happens to be real.”     Nancy Russell, 1924

Charles M. Russell Research Collection (Britzman)
Charles M. Russell and Nancy C. Russell
Silver gelatin print
Overall: 8 × 10 in. (20.3 × 25.4 cm)
GM TU2009.39.5647a
Gilcrease Museum/University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Although Nancy was young and had little education, she possessed great motivation. Without Nancy’s direction and business savvy, Charlie could have easily continued his life as a cowboy, trading sketches for drinks at the nearby tavern rather than becoming one of the highest paid living artists of his time. Nancy was not only Charlie’s wife, companion, and supporter, but she quickly became the artist’s business manager and gifted public relations expert. She guided Charlie on his choice of subjects, size, and medium of his works in response to buyer preferences. Nancy was even known to have her husband touch up paintings to increase their appeal to collectors.

“My wife has been an inspiration to me in my work. Without her I would probably have never attempted to soar or reach any height, further than to make a few pictures for my friends and old acquaintances . . . I still love and long for the old west, but I would sacrifice it all for Mrs. Russell.”

                                                                     Charles M. Russell, 1919

 

The two were certainly opposites in many ways; Russell charismatic and playful, Nancy structured and driven. They complemented each other. Charlie referred to the two as partners. Like any marriage, theirs was not without its struggles. But in a letter Charlie wrote to Nancy, his “Mame,” in 1919, he described how he really felt about her:

Dear Mame it’s a week tonight you left and it seems like longer to me. I want you to stay til you get all rested. the longer you stay the glader IM be to see you … maybe I’v fallen in love the second time but it’s all right if its the same woman and it is.

And a week later:

Dear Mame Its two weeks tomorrow night you left and I hope your rest has made you ten years younger caus you’l need it to stand the hugs you’l get when you meet me. I’l admit it must seem funny after being married over twenty- two years [to] start writing love letters, but it dont seem like I ever wanted you like I do now .., well I guess I’l bed down. There is one girl I know that I wish was here. Your loving husband’

(CMR to Nancy Russell, February 6, February 12, 1919, Britzman Collection, Colorado Springs Fine Art Museum.)

Charles M. Russell Research Collection (Britzman)
Nancy C. Russell circa 1908
Silver gelatin print
Overall: 3 5/8 x 4 5/8 in. (9.2 x 11.7 cm)
GM TU2009.39.7654.21
Gilcrease Museum/University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma

A self-taught business woman, Nancy was certainly a woman before her time. She was an advocate for her husband, a steward of his art, and a liaison to his patrons and critics. With her ability to take charge, Nancy Cooper Russell’s influence on Charlie’s career cannot be overlooked. Charlie was a lucky man.