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Charles M. Russell photograph collection

 Collection — Folder: 1
Identifier: MSS P 748

Scope and Contents note

These eight photographs--with one possible exception--apparently were once part of Russell's personal photograph collection. All are original prints except for two, which appear to be copies of prints.


  • 1864-1926


Conditions Governing Access note

Opne for public research. The copyright resides with the heirs and family of Charles M. Russell, as well as with the various photographers who took the pictures. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Law, it is the responsibility of the user to determine copyright prior to publishing any item in the collection in its entirety.

Conditions Governing Use note

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

Permission to publish material from the Charles M. Russell photograph collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Charles Marion Russell (1862-1926) was a cowboy known for his drawings.

Russell, Charles Marion, artist, cowboy (March 19, 1864-October 24, 1926). Born at St. Louis, he was related to the Bents of fur trade fame. He made his first trip west in 1880, the same year Remington toured the wild country. Russell visited Helena and the Judith Basin, 200 miles distant, stopping briefly at a sheep ranch, then joined up with Jake Hoover, a back country prospector and hunter. He stayed with Hoover two years, roaming the wilderness and observing, learning and remembering. He returned to St. Louis in 1882, but came back to Montana in March, obtaining a job as a night-hawk in April for the 12 Z & V ranch. He took part in the 1882 Judith roundup, one of the biggest in Montana until that time, eventually becoming a full-fledged cowboy. Indians, Blackfeet mostly, roamed the country and Russell came to know them, seeing too the last of the buffalo and other integral components of the harsh northern wilderness.

He established a small place of his own in Pigeye Gulch, out of Utica. For about 11 years he drifted as a cowboy, hunter, and keen-eyed observor through the cow-and-Indian country, becoming locally famed as an artist of sorts, in watercolors and clay modeling. The summer of 1886 was very dry, the following winter a disastrous time with blizzards following one another, all but destroying the range industry. Russell worked with Jesse Phelps that winter. When the owner in Helena asked in early spring for a report on his stock, Charles sent his famous sketch of the lone steer surrounded by coyotes, with the legend, "Waiting for a Chinook." Someone added the line, "Last of the 5,000," and Russell's reputation was assured. The tiny picture has been preserved and is owned by the Historical Society of Montana at Helena. Russell wintered with the Bloods of Canada in 1888-89, then returned to Montana with a wagon freighting outfit. Harper's Weekly had published his "Caught in the Act" in 1888, and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper on May 18, 1889, printed a full page of his drawings. A portfolio came out in 1890, and an article about him appeared in New York in 1891. His fame grew steadily from then forward, although for years his pictures were traded for drinks, given to friends, or sold for pittances. Some of them were ribald, but all were good-natured, filled with enthusiasm and life and zest.

He married Nancy Cooper of Kentucky, 14 years his junior, September 9, 1896, and the following year moved from Cascade to Great Falls, where he established the studio where he would work the remainder of his life. Nancy quickly came to appreciate his unique talent. She persuaded him to reduce his drinking and by 1908 to end it, and with a sharp eye quickly caused him to place more value upon his work. After two trips to New York he was established as a major artist, if unique and specialized, and he held his first one-man show on Fifth Avenue in 1911. By 1920 he had reached the peak. He produced more than 2,600 pieces of preserved art work in all. His first Rawhide Rawlins book was published in 1921.

He died of a heart attack following a goiter operation, and his body was conveyed to the cemetery in a hearse drawn by two black horses, as he had wished, driven by Ed Vance, an old-time stagecoach driver. Will Rogers remarked, "He wasn't just 'Another Artist.' He wasn't 'just another' anything...." [This biographical sketch taken from Dan L. Thrapp, Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Spokane, Washington: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1990, Vol. 3, p. 1250.] Other brief biographical sketches are available in The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography, New York: McGraw Hill, 1973, and in Howard R. Lamar, ed., The Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1977, p. 1052. The latter includes a partial list of holders of major collections of Russell's art work. Useful books about Russell include the following: Ramon F. Adams and Homer E. Britzman, Charles M. Russell, the Cowboy Artist: a Biography (1948); Harold McCracken, The Charles M. Russell Book (1957); Paul Rossi and David C. Hunt, The Art of the Old West (1971); and Karl Yost and Frederic G. Renner, compilers, A Bibliography of the Published Works of Charles M. Russell (1971).


1 folder (0.1 linear ft.)




These eight photographs, with one possible exception, were apparently once part of Russell's personal photograph collection. All are original prints except for two, which appear to be copies of prints.

Other Finding Aids note

A more detailed finding aid is available in print in the repository.

Other Finding Aids

Item-level inventory available online.

Custodial History note

The Charles M. Russell photograph collection was part of a larger collection of Russell memorabilia (see MSS 1651). Both were obtained from Fred Rosenstock, along with other numerous small accessions that came to the BYU Library over many years. These kinds of materials were accumulated by Rosenstock in the course of his work as a book and art dealer. This collection was acquired by the BYU Library in 1982 (Accession #A82-131).

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Purchased; Fred Rosenstock; 1982.

Appraisal note

Photographs (Photograph Archives).

Processing Information note

Processed; Susan Corrigan and Dennis Rowley; July 1992.
Register of the Charles M. Russell photograph collection
Susan Corrigan and Dennis Rowley
July 1992
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States