Charles Marion Russell

March 19 (1864) is the birthday of renowned American West painter and bronze sculptor Charles M. Russell. 

He grew up in Missouri and Illinois but went to Montana in 1880 and stayed there except for a brief trip back to Illinois to visit family in 1882. He worked on cattle and sheep ranches and spent about a year with the Blood Indians.  

He had always had an interest in art and by the early 1890s he had moved to Great Falls, Montana to try making a living as a full-time artist. 

In 1896 he married his wife Nancy; he was 32 and she was 18. She has been credited with making him famous because he was poor at marketing. 

His huge painting “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians”, 1912, hangs behind the speaker’s chair in the Montana House of Representatives.   

His log cabin studio has been preserved. It stands next to his home in Great Falls. Both are part of the C.M. Russell Museum. I’ve been there several times. 

Today his paintings sell for millions of dollars. A statue of him is one of the two from Montana in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. Schools have been named after him, as well as a wildlife refuge and a WWII liberty ship. 

The second picture in this post is of his painting called “Laughter Kills Lonesome”. I have a large print of this hanging prominently in the kitchen of my ranch house. It is quite appropriate for a place that favors campfires so much. It is said that Russell put himself in the painting. He is supposedly the man standing in the background on the left; he looks like he is wearing a red sash, which Russell affected. But I tend to think it’s the man standing on the right because of the jaunty hat. 

I also have a print of his “A Tight Dally and a Loose Latigo” hanging in the living room and a print of his “Bronc To Breakfast” hanging in the kitchen. I’m sure I will be getting others. 

He died October 24, 1926. Schools closed in Great Falls so pupils could watch the funeral procession. He insisted that his coffin be carried in a glass-sided hearse and drawn by four black horses – not in some damned motorized vehicle. He was always a cowboy at heart.

This is a tribute by Charles Russell to writers of Westerns:

     The west is dead, my Friend,
     But writers hold the seed,
     And what they saw....
     Will live and grow
     Again to those who read.

Check out my list of some Western authors at:

I feature the poem at the top of the list and also include the most famous lines in any Western, from Owen Wister's The Virginian.