The timeline below presents a selection of major events in the life of Charles M. Russell, including the people he knew, the places he frequented, and the institutions where he worked, showed his art, and viewed works by other artists. Russell’s life has been chronicled in detail in John Taliaferro’s 2003 biography of the artist, Charles M. Russell: The Life and Legend of America’s Cowboy Artist; the Carter’s previous Remington-Russell Timeline; and the Carter’s numerous publications on the artist, which include Charles M. Russell: Sculptor (1994); Charles M. Russell, Word Painter: Letters 1887–1926; and Romance Maker: The Watercolors of Charles M. Russell (2011). Unless otherwise noted, the information cited in this chronology is based on these sources.
1860s and '70s
Charles Marion Russell is born on March 19 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Charles Silas Russell (1833–1917) and Mary Mead Russell (1835–1895).
Enrolls in a life-drawing class at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
Begins school at the Burlington Military Academy in Burlington, New Jersey; he stays less than three months.
Russell travels west to Montana. He is joined by a fellow Missourian named Wallis “Pike” Miller; they travel via railway to Omaha and then transfer to a Union Pacific train bound for San Francisco, getting off in Ogden, Utah. From Utah, Russell and Miller make their way via stagecoach to Helena, Montana, and then on to the Judith River Basin, where Russell works briefly on a sheep ranch. He dislikes the work and is soon fired.jump to citation[x]
- ↵ John Taliaferro, Charles M. Russell: The Life and Legend of America’s Cowboy Artist (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1996), 29–36.
In Helena, Russell meets Jake Hoover, a prospector, hunter, and trapper who supplies meat to local ranchers and miners. Russell befriends Hoover and accompanies him on hunting excursions near the Pig Eye Basin. Russell later reflects that Jake Hoover “knew the ways and habits of all the wild creatures in the mountains” and that “riding by Jake’s side through a country like this seemed like a chapter from one of my favorite romances of the Rocky Mountains.”jump to citation[x]
- ↵ Charles M. Russell, “A Slice of My Early Life,” in Montana The Magazine of Western History, 8 no. 4 (Autumn, 1958), 14–15.
In spring, Russell returns to Montana with his cousin Jim Fulkerson, who tragically dies of mountain fever two weeks after arriving in Billings. After Fulkerson’s death, Russell joins up with a local cattle outfit, where he works as a “nighthawk,” supervising horses at night.jump to citation[x]
Russell “nighthawks” on the cattle roundup on the Judith Basin. For the next 11 years, he works on Montana roundups in the spring, summer, and fall.jump to citation[x]
James Shelton, a Utica, Montana, saloon owner, commissions Russell to paint a picture to hang behind the bar; since Russell does not have a studio, Shelton allows him to paint in the back of a saloon.jump to citation[x]
Russell paints one of his first oil paintings, Breaking Camp. The picture was originally owned by one of Russell’s bosses, Jesse Phelps, a co-owner of the O-H Ranch in the Judith Basin.
- ↵ Taliaferro, Charles M. Russell, 59.
Breaking Camp is exhibited in the “Amateur Department” at the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall Association Third Annual Exhibition.jump to citation[x]
- ↵ Catalogue of the Art Collection of the St. Louis Exposition and Music Hall Association, Third Annual Exhibition (Saint Louis, MO: Saint Louis Exposition and Music Hall Association, 1886), 56.
Russell winters at the O-H Ranch on the Judith River. Winter conditions are very severe; fierce blizzards in January and February spell disaster for the herds. Later, Russell produces Waiting for a Chinook, which depicts a gaunt steer surrounded by stalking wolves—a reference to this brutal winter. The work helps establish his early reputation.
On May 26, the Helena Weekly Herald publishes a biographical sketch on Russell titled “A Diamond in the Rough,” which notes that “without a master, never having taken a lesson in drawing or painting, with nothing to guide his pencil but the genius within him, C. M. Russell became celebrated in the neighborhood as a painter.”jump to citation[x]
Jesse Phelps, the owner of Breaking Camp, exhibits the picture at Hundley & Pruitt’s general store in Helena, Montana, in July.
Russell exhibits several works at Calkins & Featherly in Helena. The Helena Daily Independent comments on the show, declaring that “Russell has chosen a line of business that, with a little more training in his art, and with so wonderful a conception of the odd and peculiar glimpses of life in the west, places a fortune in his hands.”jump to citation[x]
- ↵ “A Diamond in the Rough,” Helena Weekly Herald (May 26, 1887), 7.
- ↵ Taliaferro, Charles M. Russell, 70 and “Life on the Range,” Helena Daily Independent (July 1, 1887), quoted in Charlie Russell Roundup: Essays on America’s Favorite Cowboy Artist, ed. Brian W. Dippie (Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 1999), 41.
Paints a bawdy series of four watercolors—Just a Little Sunshine, Just a Little Rain, Just a Little Pleasure, Just a Little Pain—about an unfortunate encounter with a prostitute.
Publishes his illustration Caught in the Act in Harper’s Weekly on May 12.jump to citation[x] Russell may have been inspired to submit the illustration, which depicts a group of Crow Indians butchering a range cow in winter, after seeing Frederic Remington’s illustrations of a Blackfoot reservation, which appeared in Harper’s during the fall and winter of 1877–78.jump to citation[x]
On May 16, travels to the vicinity of the High River in Alberta, Canada, where his friend Phil Weinard has a ranch job. Russell spends about three months in Alberta, and reportedly spends time with local Blood (Kainai) Indians.jump to citation[x]
Arrives back in Helena in September.
On May 18, publishes a group of illustrations in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper titled Ranch Life in the North-West — Bronco Ponies and Their Uses — How They Are Trained and Broken.jump to citation[x]
In October, Russell’s cousin, Chiles Carr, who recently purchased a homestead claim on 160 acres along the Judith River, is thrown from a horse and killed.jump to citation[x]
Russell’s youngest brother, Wolfert E. Russell, dies of typhoid fever on December 29.jump to citation[x]