Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
A Tight Dally and a Loose Latigo, 1920
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
When a cowboy throws a lariat loop and rapidly winds the other end around the saddle horn to anchor the rope to the horse, it is called “taking a dally.” The “give” in a dallied rope eliminates a sudden stop and is easier on the horse and cow. The latigo is a leather strap fastened at one end to the rigging ring, and at the other to the cinch ring, holding the saddle cinch tight under the belly of the horse. As the title of this painting indicates, problems with a dally or a latigo could easily put the cowboy into quite a predicament. Russell’s wife Nancy Russell, who owned this painting for many years, left a careful description of the subject. She noted that the cowboy’s horse was newly broken—hence the hackamore on its head—and is thus inexperienced. A big yearling has run into the taut rope, forcing the horse into a side pull and turning the saddle over. “The stirrups of the turned saddle are hitting this bronc on the hind legs,” Mrs. Russell observed. “He is starting to buck and the rider will have to get off or be thrown. All cowpunchers hate to be ’unloaded,’ so he is staying on just as long as possible and has hooked his spur back of the cantle, throwing all of his weight in the left stirrup, trying to get the saddle back in the middle of his horse. If he does not succeed, he will have to get off. Then, the rider that is coming up, swinging his loop, will catch the horse to prevent him from ruining the saddle, which will be hanging under his belly.” In his early days as a horse wrangler, Russell doubtless witnessed such predicaments and heard stories about many others. He relished telling his own yarns about hapless cowboys who found themselves suddenly on the ground, becoming the object of taunts by their fellow cowpunchers. As for Russell himself, he said there was more than one occasion when his horse began to buck and he soon found himself with “a view the terrapin gets.”