The Cowboy Artist

It’s that time of year again – the Fort Worth Stock Show. Festivities begin tomorrow, and to gear up for the event we’re taking a look back at the roundup years of cowboy artist Charles M. Russell.

MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-687, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Untitled, photographer unidentified, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-687, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

As a young boy, Charles Russell was fascinated by tales of the West – Indians, explorers, cowboys, and more. Young Charlie was an avid reader of dime novels and tales of the pioneering frontier. By the age of 16, his parents relented to their son’s request to work on a ranch in Montana Territory. Much to their chagrin, Russell became enamored with the Big Sky Country and resolved to make it his home.

In 1882, Russell began working as a night wrangler, or a nighthawk, for the Judith Basin roundup. His task was to tend to the herd of horses while the other cowboys slept. Despite not being a good roper or rider, he held his job and supported himself by working as wrangler for the next 11 years.

Untitled, unidentified photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 946-387, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Untitled (Russell third from the left), unidentified photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 946-387, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Charlie on his horse Monte, 1886, Towner and Runsten, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-688, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Charlie on his horse Monte, 1886, Towner and Runsten, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-688, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

With his sense of humor, the young cowboy made friends effortlessly and kept his crew entertained with tales by the campfire. As he told a story, Charlie would work bits of wax in his hands to create figures and other small sculpture. Likewise, the self-taught cowboy artist would spend his free time drawing and sketching. By 1893, Russell left his work on the range and pursued a full-time career as an artist, producing scenes of the West he witnessed during his cowboy days.

Charles M. Russell, A Bad One, 1912, Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper, 19 3/4 x 28 5/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, A Bad One, 1912, Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper, 19 3/4 x 28 5/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, The Bucker, 1904, Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper, 16 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches

Charles M. Russell, The Bucker, 1904, Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper, 16 1/4 x 12 1/4 inches

Kidd Russell poses with Wallace Stairley in 1887, R. H. Beckwith, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-729, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

Kidd Russell poses with Wallace Stairley in 1887, R. H. Beckwith, photographer, MHS Photograph Archives, Helena, 944-729, Courtesy of Montana’s Charlie Russell: Art in the Collection of the Montana Historical Society

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