Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
In Without Knocking, 1909
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Many of Russell’s paintings, like this one, were based on real events. The cowboys in this lively scene were the artist’s fellow riders in the Judith Basin roundup, who decided to enliven the atmosphere around Stanford, Montana, by riding their horses back into Hoffman’s saloon, where they had been drinking. Incidents like this were fairly common in the 1880s, and were duly noted in the local newspapers as incidents of minor mischief. These stories, repeated years afterward by Russell and his friends, seemed to get better with every retelling. The story in this painting became so well known that it was used during the filming of a Tom Mix cowboy epic in the 1920s. The saloon riding scene was reenacted in the movie, right down to the horse putting its hoof through the board sidewalk. As in all of his depictions of cowboy life, Russell includes a wealth of fascinating detail. The rider second from left wears a Montana short-brim peak hat, and his pants’ legs are cuffed because they were often sold as “one size fits all.” His finely tooled saddle has a cantle covered with a rattlesnake skin—a talisman originating in Texas and Mexico to ward off saddle sores. He forces his horse to ascend the board sidewalk by raking his spurs across the animal’s shoulder. The horses are wonderfully rendered, particularly the one that has just thrust its foreleg through the boards, losing its balance in the process. Its rider adroitly steps off the fallen animal so it can get back up. Playing cards, poker chips, and liquor bottles litter the ground, adding to the sense of disorder and confusion. The many holes in the saloon sign above the riders’ heads indicate that it has been used for target practice more than once in the past.