Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Roman Bronze Works
American Cattle, ca. 1913
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
In his extensive history of the American bison published in 1889, William T. Hornaday observed that the animals were fond of rolling in dry dirt or mud during the fall and winter. “Bulls are much more given to rolling than the cows,” he wrote. “They stretch out at full length, rub their heads violently to and fro on the ground, in which the horn serves as the chief point of contact and slides over the ground like a sled runner. After thoroughly scratching one side on mother earth they roll over and treat the other in like manner.” Russell had the opportunity to witness these actions on a number of occasions, and he made sketches of the great beasts rubbing the ground to make a wallow. Russell was among those who observed that the old buffalo wallows, once so numerous on the plains, were now grass-grown since the animals were hunted nearly to extinction. This was the first of Russell’s many bronzes to have a function other than being purely decorative—in this case, as a bookend. The model was designed with a flat back to press against books, and one old mounted photograph from the Russell estate papers, which may have been used as a demonstration, shows a pair of the bronzes supporting several books laid on their fore edges. The early casts of the bronze are recorded in the Roman Bronze Works ledgers as part of an account with the Theodore B. Starr Company in New York, a rival jewelry firm to Tiffany’s that also sold bronzes by various artists. The retail cost for a pair of these bronzes was a very reasonable$40, and a number of pairs seem to have been sold. The bronze displayed here is one of three individual casts that remained in Nancy Russell’s estate at the time of her death.