Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
The Buffalo Hunt [No. 39], 1919
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Russell shared a long friendship with Will Rogers, the famed vaudeville performer, film star, and humorist. Charles and Nancy Russell began visiting California in 1920, when many entertainment figures and out-of-work cowboys were finding employment in the burgeoning western film industry. Although Russell wrote to his friends back home that Rogers took him to see the making of “outdoor pictures,” it was Rogers and others who were starstruck by the famous Montana artist’s presence. Rogers, no small talent when it came to telling a story, pronounced Russell the greatest storyteller he had ever heard. Rogers later filled his spacious home in Pacific Palisades (near Malibu) with prime examples of Russell’s art, including this magnificent painting of mounted Blackfoot Indians hunting buffalo. Throughout his life Russell painted more than fifty versions of the subject of the buffalo hunt, and both the artist and his wife, Nancy, regarded this particular example as one of his finest efforts. As in his earlier versions of the subject, Russell concentrated on the moment when the mounted Indian hunters overtake a stampeding band of buffalo from opposite directions, forcing the animals to tumble over each other in panic and allowing the warriors to close in and pick off the cows or calves. Russell arranged the figures in a tight composition that occupies center stage in the broad Sun River landscape, with the blue-shouldered outline of Square Butte in the background. A Blackfoot warrior, his face and arms decorated with red paint, drives his arrows into a cow that has just trampled her calf. The Indian’s white horse is brightly decorated; a feather has been tied to its tail as a talisman. According to some Indian sources of the day, the red handprint visible on the horse’s neck was an indication that the warrior had “ridden over an enemy” in battle.