Charles M. RussellCharles M. Russell: Printed Rarities from Private Collections, Larry Len Peterson, Mountain Press Publishing Co., (800-234-5308),74 black-and-white images, 35 historical photographs, Index, Cloth $70, Paper $45.00.

This magnificent book, filled with dozens of Charles M. Russell Western images, tells the story of a modest man who came to be one of the most famous artists of the American West.

Charles Marion Russell was born March 19, 1864 in St. Louis Missouri.  The third of six children, Charlie’s early life was one of financial security.  He wanted for nothing, and his father expected the boy to become a businessman.  However, Charlie chose to spend his time riding horses, reading dime cowboy novels, and drawing pictures.  Determined to go “Out West”, Charlie convinced his father to send him to Montana on his sixteenth birthday.  The boy traveled by train, then stagecoach and wound up on a Montana sheep ranch owned by a family friend.  Charlie’s father was sure his son would sour quickly from this experience, but Charlie fooled him.  For the next fifteen years the young man worked at various ranches; horses and cattle became his way of life. Meanwhile, he continued sketching pictures of horses, cattle, Indians, and the wilderness around him.  He carried wax in his pockets, and when not sketching, he modeled little figurines he gave away to friends.

Charlie Russell admitted he was not a good businessman.  He wanted to earn his living as an artist, but he often gave his drawings away.  Too embarrassed to ask a fair price for his pictures, he barely eked out a living.

That all changed in 1896 when he married Nancy Cooper, a seventeen-year-old who had been abandoned by her stepfather.  When Nancy’s mother died in 1894 of tuberculosis, Nancy went to work as a housekeeper for a family in Cascade, Montana where Charlie rented a small artist’s studio.  Nancy was Charlie’s most loyal fan, determined that his artwork should bring a fair price. Nancy stood by her man, driving hard bargains, promoting Charlie’s artwork, and eventually hiring lawyers, if necessary, to draw up contracts and make important business deals.

They traveled, built a new home and artist studio, and took trips while Charlie enjoyed celebrity status during his lifetime.  The Russells had no children, but adopted a boy they named Jack whom they spoiled and adored.  During his lifetime, Charlie’s friends included such notables as screen star Harry Carey and political humorist Will Rogers with whom he spun many yarns.  Charlie Russell loved to tell funny stories, had a great sense of humor and while he did not drink alcohol, spent many an evening “swapping windies” with his old cowboy buddies at the local saloons.

In his old age he suffered from gout, together with breathing difficulties due to his years of chain smoking.  Charlie Russell died of heart failure on October 24, 1926 in Great Falls, Montana. The “Cowboy Artist” was buried at the Highland Cemetery in Great Falls on a day when all businesses and schools in that community closed in his honor.

His widow lived another fourteen years until dying of a heart attack in 1940.

Nancy spent all of her remaining fourteen years promoting Charlie’s work, and finalizing the disposition of his estate.  Much of his artwork including his sculptures are today found in museums throughout the United States.

This book contains images of famous paintings, as well as rare sketches commissioned to appear on advertising trays, phony money, menus, stationery, business flyers, Western novels, rodeo flyers and calendars.  Charlie Russell’s artwork is known for its authenticity depicting ornery broncs, marauding Indians, killer snow storms, bawling cattle, howling wolves and buffalo hunters.  This book makes a wonderful gift, or a treasured keepsake for your Old West library. You can get it HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of fourteen published books about the Old West including The Apache Kid, published by Western lore Press, P.O. Box 35305, Tucson, Arizona 85740

Filed under: Old West Book Reviews

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!