Russell’s painting visually records a story he heard about a group of Montana cowboys in 1881. Friends of Russell’s scheduled to leave the next day on a trail drive, the men spent their last night in Hoffman, drinking, gambling and generally creating havoc as they tried to take their horses into the saloon. Scattered cards, empty bottles and bullet holes all become part of the tales these men will repeat during long nights on the cattle trail. Russell knew each of these men and their clothing and gear are authentic to them. The scene proved so popular that a director of an early Tom Mix western is said to have staged a recreation of this scene for a movie.
In Lonesome Dove, the town of Fort Worth serves a similar purpose. It is the last town before the cattle drive north—a place to buy supplies, drink, gamble, socialize with ladies and let off a little steam.
In 1873, after a hard winter that depressed the local economy, Fort Worth obtained a city charter from the state. By 1876, the boom was on as the railroad arrived, and growth was so swift that an estimated 1,000 people were living in tents in the city limits.