Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Attempted Massacre of Blackfeet Indians at Fort McKenzie, ca. 1922
Ink and graphite on paper
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
In the early 1920s a group of Charles M. Russell’s closest friends in Great Falls, Montana, were partners in the Montana Newspaper Association, a venture that published advertising supplements in the state’s daily newspapers. They hit upon the idea to publish a series of entertaining stories chronicling the history of the Old West, and they prevailed on Russell to provide pen-and-ink illustrations for each one. These stories appeared nearly every Sunday for a year, from March 5, 1922, through February 18, 1923. Nearly all of Montana’s 170 newspapers carried this popular series. For his part, Russell was glad to participate; he loved the history of the American West, avidly reading many books on the subject. Today these wonderfully narrative drawings stand apart from the articles they once accompanied. The original ink drawing pictured here was originally in the estate of the artist’s widow, Nancy C. Russell. It is part of a group that constitutes the largest selection of them to be found anywhere—almost half the number that the artist eventually produced for the series. In each of them, Russell’s fluid and dextrous lines create a vivid picture of truly historic events—elevating them to the power of epic and myth. In January 1842 a party of friendly Blackfeet were lured to the gates of Fort McKenzie, one of the most remote outposts on the upper Missouri frontier, by an offer to trade. Instead, the treacherous traders, Alexander Harvey and F. A. Chardon, opened fire on a delegation of chiefs and loosed a cannon into the Indians’ midst, killing several of their number. Knowing that they had started a bloody feud with the powerful Blackfeet, Harvey and Chardon abandoned Fort McKenzie, and burned it to the ground. This infamous incident almost wrecked the American Fur Company’s trade in the region and led to open warfare between the whites and Blackfeet for many years. Chardon died of scurvy in 1845, but Harvey lived until 1853 as something of an outcast, universally despised by the Blackfeet and whites alike.