Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Bent's Fort on Arkansas River, 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. Most 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 and avidly read 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 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 dexterous lines create a vivid picture of truly historic events—elevating them to the power of epic and myth. Bent’s Fort on the Old Santa Fe Trail was the largest and most important fur-trading post on the Great Plains. The substantial adobe structure was built by the Bent family of St. Louis, pioneers in the Indian trade of the Far West. Russell was related to the Bent family through his mother, and he knew their history well from stories he had heard as a boy. This important trading post, built in 1833 by Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, was located on the north bank of the Arkansas River near its confluence with the Purgatoire River. The fort straddled the Santa Fe Trail and served the Platte River country; it thus became a center for the fur trade, stock raising, and commerce with the Indians. In 1849 Bent’s brother William offered to sell the adobe fort to the United States; but the government’s price was so low it angered him, and he ordered the fort blown up. Today, Bent’s Old Fort is a reconstructed National Historic Site.