As promised last week, let’s take a brief look at another artist of the plains, Charles Marion Russell. Born in Missouri, Russell traveled to Montana as a young man in the late 1800s. He worked as a ranch hand through the brutal winter of 1886-87. His first recognition as an artist came from the trials of that winter in which he painted a small watercolor scene showing a starved cow surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves. The painting is titled, Waiting for a Chinook. The link here also tells an interesting story about the painting (with sound effects)!
Russell kept painting and began to get a reputation, and by the early 1900s, he was exhibiting at galleries in New York and London. Fame and wealth followed, and he became known as Montana’s “cowboy artist.” The settings for his paintings are typically open, Great Plains like places. The people, the animals, and the land seem to be given equal stature as they all vie for your attention.
Though he was famous and well off, Charles M. Russell maintained a simple existence filled with simple pleasures. He spent his summers relaxing with his wife, and writing stories in a cabin on Lake McDonald in what would later become part of Glacier National Park.
One of the goals of the Great Plains Trail is to achieve the kind of balance between people, wildlife and landscape that Charles M. Russell achieved in his paintings, but within the context of a long-distance trail. It is perhaps fitting that the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in north central Montana is on the list of places that the Great Plains Trail will pass through.