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

Chuckwagon: Fried Cakes

Fried CakesHere is a great treat whether you are a cowboy on a cattle drive; a member of a family on your way west; or spending the evening watching TV.  Obviously today you need to substitute an oil that builds less cholesterol than rendered beef fat.  Sprinkling the Fried Cakes with sugar can make them a great dessert.                                               

Fried Cakes

 Mix well with fork 1-½ cups of flour and 1 cup water.  With plenty of flour on hands and rolling surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness.  Cut into 2-inch squares.  Heat rendered beef fat in skillet, and add dough squares.  Brown on both sides.  Sprinkle fried cakes with salt.  Makes about 20 cakes.

*Courtesy of Chronicle of the Old West newspaper, for more click HERE.

Air Conditioning in the Old West – A Reader’s Question

Question:  It’s so hot in the West and the Southwest during much of the summer that even today with air-conditioning, it can get downright uncomfortable.  How did they beat the heat in the Old West?

Air Conditioning in the Old West Answer:  There were several things people on the frontier did to make the hot, dry summers more bearable.  In some cases they used ingenuity.  In others it came with the territory.  One that came with the territory was on the plains.  With no lumber for homes, but plenty of territory or sod, they cut it into one foot by two foot rectangles and used the sod to make their homes.  Although these “soddies” had a lot of drawbacks, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Those frontiersmen who settled in areas with available lumber, built homes with overhanging porches on all sides.  That way no matter where the sun was located, the overhang shaded the windows.  The porch also provided a shady place to take a Sunday afternoon rest in a rocking chair.  And on hot nights a sleeping bag thrown on the porch provided an area with a cool breeze and protection in case of a midnight shower.  Cowboys living in bunkhouses often slept outside under the stars during the summer.

Even businesses found ways to keep their customers cool.  Back in 1880’s the town of Florence, in southern Arizona, bragged of having the coolest tavern in the southwest.  In the rear of the regular saloon, a tunnel had been dug in the ground.  That cool cave was called the Tunnel Saloon.

Natural Gas is Giving Out

The Supply Cannot Be Depended Upon, and Must Be Abandoned

April 30, 1892, Bee, Sacramento, California – The days of natural gas are numbered.  There is surprising unanimity among the mining engineers on this point.  They agree that more gas can be found, and that wells may continue to flow to some extent, but they say that experience has proven that the supply cannot be depended upon for manufacturing or for heating purposes.  The amount of natural gas reached its maximum two years ago.  It has fallen off each year since, notwithstanding the large number of new wells bored.

natural gas drillingSaid a Pittsburg engineer:  “We have had a pretty bad time this winter in Pittsburg.  The flow has given out repeatedly just at the time, perhaps, when most needed.  People who had no coal in their houses have had the gas go out on them in some of the very coldest weather.  Manufacturers who depended on gas for fuel have had to shut down, business has been deranged, and home life has been made miserable.  Some people are still boring wells and trying to keep up a supply by tapping places, but with only partial success.  One after another the wells give out.  When they cease flowing the only thing to be done is to turn the valve and leave them alone.  Sometimes a well will start up again and flow gas after it has been idle for some time, but all the same to reach a state of exhaustion sooner or later.  Manufacturers are going back to coal again, and householders are agreeing that it will not do to depend upon natural gas.  One thing has been made certain, the theory that this manufacture of gas is going on fast enough to supply the flow is all wrong. It is a slow process.   We have already bored holes enough to overtask Nature.”

Newspapers Report on the Discovery of Gold

discovery of goldThe year was 1848. The headline was the discovery of gold. The West would never be the same.

The California and California Star newspapers were the first to run stories about the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. But they ceased reporting on the gold fields after a couple of months.

It was January of 1848 when James Marshall, working at John Sutter’s sawmill, discovered a couple of gold-colored rocks in the race that could be beaten into different shapes, but not broken. It was gold.

The first mention of the discovery of gold in a newspaper was on May 3. Admitting that the discovery was just a rumor, the Californian newspaper said that “Seven men with picks and spades could gather $1,600 worth of gold in fifteen days.” That’s the equivalent of more than $280,000 in today’s money.

Then, on May 6 Samuel Brannan, a reporter for the California Star, returned from the gold fields stating that the diggings had “full flowing streams, mighty timber, large crops, luxuriant clover, fragrant flowers, and gold and silver.” He concluded by saying, “Great country, this.”

By May 26, according to the Californian, “The whole country, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and from the seashore to the base of the Sierra Nevadas, resounds with the sordid cry of gold! Gold!! GOLD!!! While the field is left unplanted, the house half built, and everything neglected, but the manufacture of shovels and picks.”

That was the last report the Californian newspaper made on the gold field, because three days later the Californian closed its doors. All the employees, including editor Benjamin Beckelew, went to seek gold.

With great joy the California Star reported that their competitor was dead. And the verdict of the inquest was gold fever. But, the California Star didn’t have long to gloat, because in less than a month, the California Star’s editor, Edward Kemble, headed out to the gold fields and the California Star also folded.

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