Charles M. Russell ('the cowboy artist')

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Charles Marion Russell

Birthdate: (62)
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri, United States
Death: Died in Great Falls, Cascade, Montana, United States
Cause of death: heart attack
Place of Burial: Cascade, Montana, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Charles Silas Russell and Mary Elizabeth Russell
Husband of Nancy Bates Russell
Father of Jack Cooper Russell and Jack Russell
Brother of Susan Mead Portis; Silas Bent Russell; Wolfert E. Russell; Edward Mead Russell and Guy M. Russell

Managed by: Private User
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About Charles M. Russell ('the cowboy artist')

Charles Marion Russell (March 19, 1864 – October 24, 1926), also known as C. M. Russell, Charlie Russell, and "Kid" Russell, was an artist of the Old American West. Russell created more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes set in the Western United States and in Alberta, Canada, in addition to bronze sculptures. Known as 'the cowboy artist', Russell was also a storyteller and author. The C. M. Russell Museum Complex located in Great Falls, Montana houses more than 2,000 Russell artworks, personal objects, and artifacts.

Russell's mural titled Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians hangs in the state capitol building in Helena, Montana. Russell's 1918 painting Piegans sold for $5.6 million dollars at a 2005 auction.


Art was always a part of Russell's life. Growing up in Missouri, he drew sketches and made clay figures of animals. Russell had an intense interest in the wild west and would spend hours reading about it. Russell would watch explorers and fur traders who frequently came through Missouri. Russell learned to ride horses at Hazel Dell Farm near Jerseyville, Illinois on a famous Civil War horse called "Great Britain". Russell's instructor was Col. William H. Fulkerson who had married into the Russell family. At the age of sixteen, Russell left school and went to Montana to work on a sheep ranch.


Russell came to Montana in 1880 at the age of 16. After an unsuccessful stint working on a sheep ranch, he found work with a hunter and trapper turned rancher named Jake Hoover, who owned a ranch in the Judith Basin, and from whom Russell learned much about the ways of the west. The two men remained lifelong friends. After a brief visit to his family in 1882, he returned to Montana, where he remained for the rest of his life. He worked as a cowboy for a number of outfits, and documented the harsh winter of 1886-1887 in a number of watercolors. Russell was working on the O-H Ranch in the Judith Basin of Central Montana at the time, when the ranch foreman received a letter from the owner, asking how the cattle herd had weathered the winter. Instead of a letter, the ranch foreman sent a postcard-sized watercolor Russell had painted of gaunt steer being watched by wolves under a gray winter sky. The ranch owner showed the postcard to friends and business acquaintances and eventually displayed it in a shop window in Helena, Montana. After this, work began to come steadily to the artist. Russell's caption on the sketch, "Waiting for a Chinook", became the title of the drawing, and Russell later created a more detailed version which is one of his best-known works.

Beginning in 1888, Russell spent a period of time living with the Blood Indians, a branch of the Blackfeet nation. It is believed that much of his intimate knowledge of Native American culture came from this period.[6] Upon returning to white culture in 1889, he found the Judith Basin to be filling up with settlers, so worked in various more open places for a couple of years before settling in the area of Great Falls, Montana in 1892 in an attempt to make a living as a full-time artist.

In 1896, Russell married his wife Nancy. He was 32 and she was 18. In 1897, they moved from the small community of Cascade, Montana to the bustling county seat of Great Falls, where Russell spent the majority of his life from that point on. There, Russell continued with his art, becoming a local celebrity and gaining the acclaim of critics worldwide. As Russell was not skilled in marketing his work, Nancy is generally given credit in making Russell an internationally known artist. She set up many shows for Russell throughout the United States and in London creating many followers of Russell.

In 1913, Russell painted Wild Horse Hunters, which depicts riders capturing wild horses, each band of which is dominated by a stallion. He used as much color as an artist could on his mountain landscapes. Russell the artist arrived on the cultural scene at a time when the "wild west" was being chronicled and sold back to the public in many forms, ranging from the dime novel to the wild west show and soon evolving into motion picture shorts and features of the silent era, the westerns that have become a movie staple. Russell was fond of these popular art forms, and made many friends among the well-off collectors of his works, including actors and film makers such as William S. Hart, Harry Carey, Will Rogers and Douglas Fairbanks. Russell also kept up with other artists of his ilk, including fellow Old West painter Edgar Samuel Paxson, painter Edward "Ed" Borein and Will Crawford the illustrator.

On the day of Russell's funeral in 1926, all the children in Great Falls were released from school to watch the funeral procession. Russell's coffin was displayed in a glass sided coach, pulled by four black horses.

A collection of short stories called Trails Plowed Under was published a year after his death. Also, in 1929, Russell's wife, Nancy, published a collection of his letters in which was titled Good Medicine.


Many Russell paintings and bronze works are displayed in the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, along with the other most prominent western artist Frederic Remington. Additional major collections of Russell art can be found at the Montana Historical Society museum in Helena, Montana and the C.M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana.

Along with Jeannette Rankin, the first female member of the United States Congress, Russell represents Montana in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol.

In 1960, Charles M. Russell Elementary School was built in Missoula, Montana. In 1965, a high school was built on the north side of the Missouri River in Great Falls, Montana and named Charles M. Russell High School, in honor of Russell. Ian Tyson's 1987 album, Cowboyography, includes a song titled "The Gift" telling the story of Russell. Michael Nesmith, of Monkees fame, recorded a song titled "Laugh Kills Lonesome" which was inspired by, and describes the contents of, a well-known Russell painting of the same name. Native Blackfeet folk singer Jack Gladstone wrote a song dedicated to Russell titled "When the Land Belonged to God." The song describes Russell's painting of the same name.

In 1991, Russell was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Some of Russell's paintings were shown during the credits of the ABC television series How the West Was Won, starring James Arness.

The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is named for Russell, a World War II Liberty Ship, SS Charles M. Russell, was named in his honor and launched in 1943 in Portland, Oregon.

Auction success

Russell's Piegans sold in 2005 for $5.6 million, more than double the highest price his work had sold for a few years earlier. At auction in 2008, Russell's oil painting The Hold Up (20 Miles to Deadwood) sold for $5.2 million, and his bronze sculpture Buffalo Hunt (which depicted two Native Americans attacking a running bison) sold for $4.1 million. In July 2009, Russell's 1907 watercolor and gouache The Truce went for $2.03 million to an anonymous phone bidder. Russell's 1911 18 inches (460 mm) by 13 inches (330 mm) bronze sculpture, Bronc Twister, auctioned in 2008 for $805,000—far above the $300,000 pre-auction estimate.

In July 2011, the price of Russell's work soared again. His 1892 oil painting Water for Camp (depicting Native American women dipping pots into a stream) and his 1924 watercolor A Dangerous Sport (in which two cowboys lasso a mountain lion) sold for nearly $1.5 million each.

Notable works

See also: Paintings by Charles Marion Russell

Russell's works comprised a wide variety of topics, including major historical events and everyday life in the west. His work was noted for the frequency with which he portrayed well-known events from the point of view of Native American people instead of the white viewpoint. He was noted for a keen eye to the social undercurrents of society and the meticulous authenticity with which he portrayed the clothing and equipment of both cowboys and Native people.

His portrayals of women has drawn critiques and assessment from historians studying women in the west. The contrasting levels of sensuality in his depictions of white and native women is noted in his artistic transference of sexuality from white to Native women, so as to conform to the moral standards and perceptions of women in his time. Most of Russell's portrayals of white women are shown as "pure" and non-sexual, other than those paintings specifically depicting prostitutes. In contrast, his series of five "Keeoma" paintings and related images show a sensual native woman, with accompanying legends that Keeoma was a real person that Russell had loved. However, photographs show that the body model for these images was actually Russell's wife, Nancy, who in doing so, critics note, was able to express her sexuality in a way generally not allowed "decent" white women of the time.

Statues and major public works

1880 United States Federal Census about C. M. Russell Name: C. M. Russell Age: 17 Birth Year: abt 1863 Birthplace: Missouri Home in 1880: Saint Louis, St Louis (Independent City), Missouri Race: White Gender: Male Relation to Head of House: Son Marital Status: Single Father's Name: C. S. Russell Father's Birthplace: Missouri Mother's Name: May M. Russell Mother's Birthplace: Missouri Neighbors: View others on page Occupation: Mfg. Clerk Cannot read/write:


Deaf and dumb:

Otherwise disabled:

Idiotic or insane: View image Household Members: Name Age C. S. Russell 47 May M. Russell 45 S. M. Russell 21 S. P. Russell 19 C. M. Russell 17 E. M. Russell 14 G. Russell 11 W. E. Russell 8 E. Kendell 18 A. Ostermann 21 E. Mantle 19

1900 United States Federal Census about Charles Russell Name: Charles Russell [Charlie Russell] Age: 35 Birth Date: Mar 1865 Birthplace: Missouri Home in 1900: Great Falls, Cascade, Montana [Cascade] Race: White Gender: Male Relation to Head of House: Head Marital Status: Married Spouse's Name: Nancy Russell Marriage Year: 1896 Years Married: 4 Father's Birthplace: Missouri Mother's Birthplace: Missouri Occupation: View on Image Neighbors: View others on page Household Members: Name Age Charles Russell 35 Nancy Russell 22 Josephine Wright 15

1920 United States Federal Census about Charles M Russell Name: Charles M Russell Age: 55 Birth Year: abt 1865 Birthplace: Missouri Home in 1920: Great Falls Ward 4, Cascade, Montana Race: White Gender: Male Relation to Head of House: Head Marital Status: Married Spouse's Name: Nancy C Russell Father's Birthplace: Missouri Mother's Birthplace: Virginia Home owned: Own Able to Read: Yes Able to Write: Yes Neighbors: View others on page Household Members: Name Age Charles M Russell 55 Nancy C Russell 42 Jack C Russell 3 [3 4/12]

Charles Marion Russell Birth: Mar. 19, 1864 Death: Oct. 24, 1926

Painter. Charlie Russell was the "other" artist (besides Frederic Remington) who chronicled life in the Wild West. Unlike Remington, Russell settled permanently in the west (Montana) and wholeheartedly embraced everything life there had to offer. He was a "real" cowboy, lived with a mountain man and was an adopted brother of the Blackfoot tribe. His oils, watercolors and bronzes reflect an intimate knowledge of his subjects, and no one was more surprised than he when they began fetching high prices. When he died, he was so famous in Great Falls at that time and even children were dismissed from school to watch his funeral procession. (bio by: Bona Rae Villarta)

Family links:

 Nancy C Russell (1878 - 1940)*
  • Calculated relationship

Cause of death: Heart attack

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Burial: Highland Cemetery Great Falls Cascade County Montana, USA

Maintained by: Find A Grave Record added: Jan 01, 2001 Find A Grave Memorial# 2443

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Charles M. Russell ('the cowboy artist')'s Timeline

March 19, 1864
St. Louis, Missouri, United States
September 9, 1916
Age 52
October 24, 1926
Age 62
Great Falls, Cascade, Montana, United States
Cascade, Montana, United States