Charlie did have halfbreed cousinsone of them an outlaw with a price on his head a great uncle who was a squawman, and two other uncles who got scalped. Two cen- turies earlier a third member of the family had been scalped. These were Charlie's ancestors, the Bents. After this Peter Bent returned to England but his family remained in America.
Louis, and became Charlie Russell's grandmother. In the book of the Bent genealogy Lucy's husband is called Joseph Russell, but this is a misprint: Louis was as far west as Lucy went, but her brothers, the Bent boys went farther and fared worse. Their story is tragic, and much too long to give here it is given in detail in Bent's Fort by David Lavender but what happened to them and their children had such an effect on their St.
Louis nephew, Charlie Russell, that to tell his story it is necessary to tell theirs. And that affected his art: A list of dates tells the main story: These were the days when the famous Hudson Bay Co. The Bents, small fry, were soon driven, south. Mexico freed itself from Spain. Lucy Bent married James Russell in St. Louis, and that same year her brothers, Charles, George, William, and Robert Bent, built their first trading post in what was then Kansas but is now Colorado. They founded Bent's Fort on the Arkansaw River, which was for years the largest and most important trading post in the U.
It had 'dobe walls four feet thick and fifteen high, two thirty-foot watch-towers with cannon, and over the main gate a square belfry with a small telescope. It had also a big walled corral for horses and oxen. The Bents were the first to use freight-wagons instead of pack trains you don't have to unload a freight-wagon every night as you do a pack-horse.
Besides the people who lived at the Post, the Bents employed one hundred trappers. Kit Carson ran one of their wagon-trains. It was from Fort Bent that the U. While they were building the post, the Mexican peons brought the smallpox. William caught it but lived through- pockmarked for life and warned the Cheyenne Indians away. He had already great influence with the tribe, and, later, he helped to keep them out of the Civil War. For a time he was Indian Agent. Her sister Josefa was Kit Carson's wife.
I don't know whether they were the same family, but a Spaniard, Captain Jaramillo, wrote the memoirs of Coronado's Kansas expedition in Charles Bent was imprisoned by Mexicans. Ignacia dug up seven thousand dollars from the 'dobe floor and ran- somed him. The Bents' own partner, Ceran St. Vrain, was another Frenchman. In those days St. Louis Frenchmen were all over the place, like you know what.
Robert, youngest of the Bent brothers, left the wagon train to shoot a buffalo for meat and was scalped by the Comanches. This was just after we seized the country and, naturally, the Mexicans didn't like us, On his new job, Charles Bent made three refusals, and the third was fatal. First, though warned Taos was dangerous, he refused a military escort and went there with his family.
Second, he refused to free some Mexicans who were being held for trial. Instead he asked through the door: His ten-year-old son, Alfredo, kept saying, "Let's fight them, Papa! Charles pulled three arrows out of his face and crawled through after them. He died there of his wounds. The insur- rectos did not kill Ignacia and the children but they scalped her brother, Pablo Jaramillo.
When at last the soldiers came, George Bent was fore- man of the jury. Sixteen were hanged in Taos: William Bent and his squaw Owl Woman had four halfbreed children: Mary, Robert, George, and Charles, To keep them from growing up as tribal savages they were educated in St. Louis and lived there with their aunt, Dorcas Bent Carr. Her grandaughter, Anne Eliot Clen- denin, later married Charlie Russell's elder brother, the engineer. Louis and gave Carr Park to the City and rode horseback all the way to Washington to get a charter for the first public school lived in southern splendor with slaves and blooded racehorses-but Judge Carr freed his slaves long before Lincoln.
A splendor which must have been hard on little halfbreed cousins raw from the wilds of the Arkansaw, and 22 How Three Ancestors Got Scalped may have had something to do with turning Charles-the youngest into an outlaw, Mary, the eldest, grew up to marry a saloon keeper. Later a still younger half-sister, Julia, mar- ried another halfbreed and went back and lived with the Indians. Tribal life had its charms. Meanwhile their father, William Bent, and his brothers and their partner, Ceran St.
Vrain, prospered mightily; their wagon trains and their pack trains and their traders and store- keepersfor they built more than one trading post covered a territory which now includes seven states. The adobe empire David Lavender calls it. They had also enormous land grants. Owl Woman had died in giving birth to Charles, Jr. She would not be the only one of the family to turn Indian.
A bad year for the Bents. Cholera, brought by the Forty-niner gold rash, killed half of William's people, the Southern Cheyenne, among them Owl Woman's mother, old White Thunder's wife. She too was buried in a tree scaffold grave. Why he burned the Fort is a mystery, Later, , he built a large stone fort at Big Timbers. William's son, George Bent 2nd, said the old Bent's Fort was burned the same year, Mary Bent, the eldest daughter, married R. Moore and bore William's first grandchild. William Bent was loyal during the Civil War. Charlie Russell, the artist, born in St.
Alfredo's children and his sisters Estafina and Teresina sold their share of the land-grant for eighteen thousand dollars. It was soon resold for six hundred and fifty thousand, and, almost immediately, resold again to an English Syndicate for twice that. See halfbreed Robert Bent's account of what he saw soldiers do to Indian women and children.
Two soldiers dug her out and shot her. There were also some fancy mutilations and rippings up. Three children who had somehow escaped being killed were exhibited in a cage at a Denver carnival. This was a bit too raw and the U. Kit Carson, by then a brigadier general, told the army that Col. Bent knew more about the Indians than he did. William offered to guarantee with his life that he could get all the tribes at peace within three months. Halfbreed George Bent quit his younger brother Charles the outlaw and helped to gather the tribes for another vain treaty.
Vain because the whites broke it. Louis as a white man, had also been initiated into a tribal secret society, The Dog Soldiers, and now, after the army made a particularly brutal massacre of Cheyenne women and children, he repudiated the whites and turned Indian. Though only nineteen years old-according to the Bent genealogy he may have been only seventeenCharles Bent was already a leader and led the Dog Soldiers in a raid on Downer's Stage Station and tortured and mutilated and killed. A contemporary called him, "The worst desperado the plains have ever seen.
His father disowned him. Mary, his elder sister, still put a candle in the window to signal Charles: An issue of Harpers Magazine, in gives William's account of it, "My daughter saw something that looked like an Indian's head sticking up over the bank of the irrigating ditch.
I was off in New Mexico she asked the durn'd scoundrel to come to the house. That's the last we've seen of him. Charles was wounded in a tribal battle with the Pawnees, The wound did not heal and he died it is said of malaria in camp. With his influence over the Indians he was evidently a much more dangerous person than the famous Billy the Kid; but who ever heard of Charley Bent the Breed? Custer massacred the Cheyennes on the Washita River some of the tribe, joining the Sioux, were to help kill Custer at the Little Big Horn and shortly after, William Bent, leading one of his wagon-trains, fell sick.
Mary, Ms eldest daughter, was with him. Bent County, Colorado, still bears his name. Charlie Russell, the future artist, was then five years old. You might think that hearing these things about his Bent cousins would discourage Charlie's desire to go west, but it didn't Note well that none of the above killings were caused by Indians going into white man's country: It would take a Faulkner to write it.
For most, though not all, of the above, see Bent's Fort by David Lavender. It contains an immense amount of in- formation and is well indexed.
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He too had dealt with Indians in the Seminole War. He resigned his Commission at the start of the Civil War but did not fight for the South. The other side of the family had also dealt with Indians way back in colonial days. As recently as , marauders from the Lone Star State stole by night into Potosi, Missouri, and tried to dig up Moses and move his bones to Texas; but the Missourians awoke just in time and chased the Longhoms home.
When the Christian Colonists shipped their Indian captives down to Cuba to sell them into slavery where the climate soon killed them in the sugar cane fields only two men in the whole colony protested. One of them was John Eliot. So much for ancestors. He drank whiskey three times daily, and ate whatever he pleased as long as he lived. I remember, when he was old and lived with us. He also, when necessary, whipped the assembled off- spring with a canvas-backed razor-strop without inducing any complexes, neuroses, or other modern improvements.
Charlie's mother, Mary Mead Russell we have her picture, taken the year she married, and if it doesn't flatter her she was a beauty was, after the fashion of the time, kept busy having babies two died too young to be christened but as she died when I was a child I don't remember much about her. Charles senior survived a full generation and married again. Though not wealthy, the four families were comfortably off. In the Civil War they were Southern sympathizers but never owned any slaves.
They had an immense tract of land in what is now South St. Louis, nine streets are still named after different members a cousin, Anne Russell Allen, gave 28 Boyhood Cultural Influences her name to three streets arranged in that order and had they shown foresight, they should, with the steadily in- creasing demand for fireclay, have become rich, as the Evans and Howards and Christies and Walshes and other competitors did.
But the Russells preferred to live right now and not worry about the future. This preference was influenced by one of the uncles, Trumbull Gustine Russell. All the children were afraid of Ms eagle eye and his gray goatee and the important way he cleared his throat; he declared he couldn't live on chips and whetstones, so he lived on the company till. The others protested but joined him.
Richard Bird Baker (Author of Cowboy Poetry from a Short-Horn Tenderfoot)
For years they went along swimmingly, declaring a dividend every time they got a nice order and not setting up anything for depreciation or even for replacement and repairs. Why should they as long as the farm produced both coal and fireclay the famous Chelten- ham clay which made St. Louis known wherever men used firebrick? But Uncle John played the organ and chewed tobacco.
He had a small pipe-organ installed in the house and played it, preferably after midnight when the family had gone to bed, leaning over at intervals to spill tobacco juice back of the pipes. In the end he waterlogged the organ. When you pressed the foot pedal, the treble pipes gurgled, oogle, oogle, and gave a liquid note. All the family, what's left of them, deny thisthey say Charlie invented it. However there certainly was an organ, and Uncle John did chew. It's only Indians who swallow tobacco juice; the white man has to spill. When Charlie's brother Bent grew up and married and had a house of his ownhe was a civil engineer and worked for the Water Department he kept in the front hall an ornamental bronze turtle, You stepped on the head, the cara- pace rose up, and there was a spittoon.
Bent was my f ather, the turtle's name was Ee-sop and I used to play with him when mother wasn't looking. As civilization slowly overtook us, mother suppressed Ee-sop. But all this, of course, came a generation later. In Charlie's boyhood people did more visiting than they do now, whole families staying with their relatives for months, and though there was not much drunkenness the men drank whiskey every day just as the ladies drank coffee, When they built the transcontinental railroad the contract stated that part of the men's pay would be in whiskey.
Every country house had in front of it a circular bed of mint. Every sideboard had a brass or silver tray and on it two matched vessels with long necks and glass stoppers a "caraff" for water and a decanter. I don't know why they decanted the whiskey. Perhaps they were ashamed of the brand. Or maybe it hadn't paid taxes. Every visitor was given a drink.
The whiskey in those days was fiery stuff. You'd throw half a glassful down your neckwithout touching lips or tongue and then, quick, before your liver burst into flames, grab for the water. For five minutes after taking a drink nobody said any- thingthey couldn't. They just stood there and goggled at each other. After a couple of drinks like that you could go out and really cope with the world.
Some of the family did some high- grade coping which is why we are now nearly extinct. At least that's how Charlie told it afterward, but he may have exaggerated. The kids, of course, got no whiskey, only in summertime an occasional mint julep mostly cracked ice and sugar. Charlie could remember his first white sugar. Before that it was brown and juicy stuff which came in big hunks and had quite a different taste. It also had embedded in it enormous 30 Boyhood Cultural Influences cockroaches the American equivalent of flies in amber.
Americans always do everything bigger: Baseball does not seem to have been popular at Oak Hill. Rugby was unknown but they played a primitive kind of soccer, mostly a shin-kicking contest; the kid who could take it, and keep taking it, right on the shin, won the game. More often they played Settlers and Indians, cutting the sweat-band out of an old hat and sticking it full of feathers.
Also they hunted; crows, rabbits, squirrels, foxes anything that ran or jumped or flew. Between times they went around getting in trouble. My father Bent, for instance, Charlie's elder brother, the gadget engineer, was wandering through the "works" one Sunday morning and it occurred to him that he had never climbed down the mine chain in the shaft.
Which he proceeded to do. He climbed down all right and after poking around in the dark and discovering that there was too much mysterious dripping in the sumps, and much too many echoes, he decided to climb up again; but couldn't. He'd get within ten feet of the top and then his arms would give out and he had to get down again, quick, or fall. He stayed down all day, accompanied by the echoes, and it wasn't till late afternoon that the yard boss, cutting across through the property, heard his yells and wound him up on the chain.
Net result, broken blisters on his palms, the knees rubbed out of his Sunday pants, and an enthusiastic seance with the strop.
Corral Dust from Across the Big Divide: More Ghost Writings of Charles M. Russell
Public too, lest the smaller kids go and do likewise. But they aU learned to climb. Hay baling machines were new then, and Bent, fooling around the hay bam, climbed ten or twelve feet up the glossy yellow cliff of the stacked bales and then climbed down again, dusting his long and skinny hands as if he had really done something, The smaller kids admired and prepared to imitate, but a fat and rather elderly riverside bum who was working on the 31 CHARLIE RUSSELL, Cowboy Artist farm for a few days, said, "Here's how to do it!
It looked easy the way he did it, just like a squirrel scam- pering up a tree, but when you tried you found that if you slowed up before you reached the top, or if your hand slipped, or your arms gave out, you slid, face-front, down the bales, polishing your nose the wrong wayand hay cuts like glassand got a back-busting fall. A fall with sound effects from the younger brethren. As soon as they were big enough to be trusted with a gun or, as their mothers thought, much sooner they began hunting. Bent, as the eldest, had a gun of his own, a muzzle- loader, but the small fry hunted in packs one gun to a whole bunch of boys.
They had strict orders to stay back of the gun. Though the Americans had already exterminated the famous wild pigeons which once in their migrations darkened the sky and eclipsed the sun, there was still no closed season, no game was protected. One of the boys' favorite songs was a rigarnarole iden- tifying the different species by their caudal appendages: The raccoon's tail has rings all around, The possum's tail hit drags the ground, The rabbit's tail hit is so short He has no tail a-tall. But it was only on special occasions, and under grown- up guidance, that they went coon hunting with lanterns.
Mostly they shot birds, doves, blue jays, red headed woodpeckers anything that flew. Crows were plentiful but just as cagey as they are now- hard to get within range and almost impossible to get a sec- ond shot at. You had to kill with the first. One bright morning before breakfast Bent heard the whole flock down at the far end of the corn field, cawing and croaking and hollering, ganging a hawk they had cor- 32 Boyhood Cultural Influences nered in a tree.
Knowing he would get no second shot, Bent took only the charge in his gun, stalked them through the corn, and actually got within range. He winged the biggest and blackest and brought it down just at the edge of the corn but the crow was only wounded, fluttering and flapping and jumping and squawking to heaven, trying to fly with one wing. His brethern heard him and instead of taking flight the whole flock circled about the fallen leader, yelling and raising cain and acting as if they were going to knock Bent's eyes out.
All his life he never forgot his regret that he hadn't brought along a second charge; he could have killed half a dozen. Here is Charlie's description written forty years after of one of his hunts: We had one gun this weapon was the old time muzzel loading musket there was but one boy in the party long enough to lode her without the aid of a stump so of corse he packed the am- munition an done most of the loding.
When he loded for me I remember how the rod jumped clear of the barel [i. My game was crows. I climbed to the top of a rail fence to get cleane range. Trigg of Great Falls when Charlie visited St. The drawing shows autumn woods, a bursting cloud of smoke, the dogs running away, the small boys crouching be- hind a tree, the big boy laughing, and Charlie being kicked backward off a high rail fence, Charlie, who seems to have been his father s favorite, had a pony of his own named Gyp, but all the boys learned to ride. Later, at the time of the St. Louis Meads and had dinner at our house.
The Russells, of course, were not the only big land- owners on the Diggins; the Binghams had a large "plantation" along Bingham Avenue, as did the Christy family and others. Here are some notes from outside the family record: Louis which used to be known as the Old Gravois Coal Diggins. Yet my parents told me that it was the Diggins that enticed my Scotch grandfather, who had located in Albany, on his arrival from Scotland, and my English grandfather, who had located in Cleveland, to Missouri.
Both grandfathers hoped to get rich at coal mining. In addition to coal on the 34 Boyhood Cultural Influences Diggins, there was fireclay. And a few miles south of St. Louis there was lead. The second Oak Hill school was on Tholozan Avenue near Holy Innocents Church, which, according to old records, was built as a memorial to a daughter of the Parkers.
The second school had two rooms, one downstairs, the other up. One store was kept by a widow named Woodruff her son John became manager of the Company Store with his brother William as assistant. As Beck's business grew he added more rooms to the place. He built a big brick building on the corner of Beck Avenue and Morganford Road, had himself made postmaster, and changed the name of the Gravois Coal Diggins to Beckville. After the war a man named Grimm started the first blacksmith shop on the Diggins.
There was a pavilion for dancing, seats and tables and, of course, a bar. The women and girls wore calico dresses for the dances. Bert Morris, the Superintendent, also began at twelve years old by off- bearing handmade brick on a wooden pallet. You off -bear brick on a pallet each brick seven and a half poundsfor a ten-hour day and you'll earn your living. In the evening after supper the other boys played ball and tag in the street, but Bert just sat on the front steps; he was too tired to play. When I knew them they were all elderly, and all had worked all their lives for the Company. Woodruff remembered Charlie as a wild, crazy kind of kid who never said much but was always very active.
Charlie's boyhood was only three generations ago: How did he think? Much as small boys do now but with this difference there were almost no gadgets. For instance, there were no elevators: There were no electric lights, not even arc-lights, no flashlights, no telephones. No movies, no radio, no television. The explosive engine had not been invented, so there were no flying machines except the gas balloon of the County Fair and the paper hot-air balloon of the Fourth of July.
There were no autos, no trucks, no motor buses, no speedboats. Because there were no motors, gasoline was so worthless that they poured it down the sewer. One problem was, what to do with the tar? Tar was used for roofing and caulking and that's about all. There were no tar products, no plastics, not even celluloid, no synthetic flavors, no aspirin, and no vitamins. There was no major league ball, no professional football or hockey, no spectator sports of any kind except boxing, wrestling, cock-fighting, horse races and horse shows.
The County Fair and the State Fair were the big events of the year. Louis the big event was the Veiled Prophet's Parade. There was very little imported food. At Christmas each child got one orange. It looked like an orange it wasn't dyed. Most men chewed tobacco in the Ozarks both men and women chewed snuff but nobody chewed gum; there wasn't any.
And no ice cream. To offset all this there was still a Frontier. It played an enormous part in Charlie's thought. Even as a child he couldn't help knowing that the thousands of strangers pour- ing through St. Louis were all of them heading west. At Oak Hill when Charlie climbed out a top window onto the roof to look at the sunset, he was looking at the Frontier. Louis, on the west bank of the Mississippi, was the jumping-off place: During its short life, the Pony Express started from the other edge of the state at Rubidoux Landing.
Even as a man he didn't put such stuff into words: But the climax and catastrophe of Charlie's boyhood was the great conspiracy to gang the teacher. The big boys got it up, the tough kids from the Diggins Bent and the elder cousins being then old enough to go to school in St. Louis but Charlie, young, small, bold, and inexperienced, was the one who took the plot most seriously. He really meant it. It was agreed that the next time the teacher started to whip the biggest boy the whole school would rise in fury.
When the great hour came the school did rise but only to see the better. Charlie alone started forward, a small blonde bulldog being one of the littlest he sat in the front row and got what he should have expected. As he expressed it, right from the jump it was the teacher's fight the first round closed with Charlie bottom up and on the receiving end of the biggest whipping the school had ever seen. Charlie did he really should have known better mother told father and after supper Charlie received again.
More- over he took back with him next morning an open letter tell- ing the teacher to go as far as he liked. It all came under the head of education after this no more conspiring. On the rare occasions when Charlie had to fight he did it on his own. He never did much fighting; he made friends too easily, and he wasn't the type that people pick on very much not that type. Twenty years later, visiting the family in St. Louis, Charlie rode one evening on the back platform of the street car, and all the way uptown a drunk, a total stranger, in- sisted on talking to him, the stupid, noisy, repetitious talk 38 Boyhood Cultural Influences of the tiresome souse.
To which Charlie listened very patiently, laughing at jokes with no laugh in them and answering yes and no. Finally a second drunk hitherto silent and also a stranger leaned over and tapped Charlie's shoulder and said earnestly, "Mister, if I was as hard looking as you are, I wouldn't let anybody talk to me! Long after I repeated this to Bent my father. He denied it flatly, couldn't remember any such quotation; and I am sure that even as a boy he would never have said "Arouse. Did Bent really say something of the kind and then forget it utterly, or did Charlie's uncon- scious just invent the whole thing and attribute it to his big brother?
Perhaps it was a tribal or racial memory, a dim echo of something that happened in a former life, a preview Bent waking a preview brother long before Charlie was Charlie. Bent and most of the others had been born at Oak Hill but Charlie was born in the city on the corner of 16th and Olive. In the course of time the house was torn down but after Charlie's death the Junior Chamber of Commerce set up a bronze marker. Bronze can be melted and sold over again, so the marker was stolen sic semper gloria in the Middle West. Louis was then the largest fur center in the world.
Except for the new art museum there was not much art there, but on the steep east edge of town where the streets sloped down to the levee with its endless row of paddle- wheel steamers, was the old St. Louis Court House, where, before the Civil War, they sold slaves at public auction, standing them up on a block to be fingered and felt over; and this Court House had and still has richly colored murals by Carl Wimar, the first St. They were really good work and Charlie admired them intensely though he remarked that the excessively woolly buffalos had no necks and couldn't graze unless they got down flat, like an alligator.
He liked especially The Captive Charger, Indians leading off a cavalry horse with sabre 40 Early Art Influences still slung from saddle. Later, when he had lived among the Indians, Charlie realized that the Indian wouldn't be leading the horsehe'd ride it. The Museum must have been quite small and I don't know where it was located in Charlie's boyhood, but a generation later, when I went to school at 19th and Wash- ington, it was only a couple of blocks off and we kids used to infest it on Free Day.
One enterprising youth discovered that on certain classical bronzes the fig leaves evidently an afterthought were hinged and could be propped up with a match. We left them propped like an awning and the guards ran us out. At this same boys' school, at that same time, was the now famous T. Though he early shook the Middle West off his shoes and went to England, he was never able to shake it out of his blood and it bore fruit in The Waste Land Westland?
It looks as if the richer the country from which he comes, the more pessimistic the writer. But this has nothing to do with Charlie. Unless indeed you explain it by saying that Charlie went west and stayed hopeful, whereas Eliot, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and the rest went east, saw Europe, and were embittered for life. It is possible that Europeans might reject this explanation. Psuedo-classical bronzes did not interest Charlie, but his last winter in St. Louis he was sent to art school. Where he was set to drawing still life models, cones and cubes and so forth which wasn't at all what he wanted to draw.
Which Charlie imagined as an endless Mayne Reid prairie, covered, like the Kansas prairie, with waist-deep grass through which galloped herds of buffalo hunted by Indians-in war-bonnets-and the Indians hunted by blueclad, yellow-striped cavalry. He had no idea how the Montana prairie really looked with sage and bunch-grass and in the background flat-topped buttes and fantastic bad-lands. Those were the days of the last Indian Wars when the U.
The Indians, of course, had no chance against disciplined soldiers. It wasn't the red man's skill but the white man's recklessness that caused the Custer massacre on the Little Big Horn. Charlie's great-uncle, William Bent of Bent's Port- though two of his halfbreed sons were in the Southern array- played a great part in keeping the Indians out of the Civil War. When the chiefs came to him for advice he told them to lay low, stay on their own range and keep clear of the ruckus. And keep their young men home; among the tribes it was always the young men who made trouble.
Boys, too, make trouble. As Charlie grew bigger, he got harder to control, and in his early teens but they didn't talk about teen-agers then he and his friend Archie Douglas played hookey for nearly two months before they got caught. Finally they ran away from home. Having very little money they started early and set out afoot across Missouri, getting lifts on farm wagons and intending to work their way to Montana Territory.
By night they were in parts quite new to them and stopped at a farmhouse and asked for work. The farmer sized them up and fed them and gave them work plenty of it and after 42 Early Art Influences a couple of days Archie weakened or perhaps he was just more intelligent and went home. Charlie, more resolute, stuck it out for weeks, and when at last he returned to Oak Hill, the family acted as if he hadn't been away. His father had heard from the farmer and knew all the time where he was. Foreseeing that Charlie would certainly run away again, Charles Senior sent him to military school at Burl- ington, New Jersey.
Military school was the place you sent boys you couldn't control at home. The school might or might not impart an education but it did control. The tougher the kid, the tougher the treatment. Charlie, not bad but in his own way intractable, spent hours walking guard the regulation penalty for inattention and was cured, permanently, of any ambition to be a soldier. Finding he couldn't buck the faculty, he got his class- work done, especially arithmetic, by getting other boys to do it for him, bribing them with little figures of Indians and animals and caricatures of the teacher in unedifying poses.
Under this system Charlie's mouth got more stubborn still and his eyes fiercer, but he learned some of the hard facts of life and came home determined not to go back to school. His father saw and made the big decision and took the big risk. Said he, "Charles, how would you like to go West? A friend of mine, Mr. Pike Miller, has a sheep ranch out in the Montana Territory and is willing to teach you the busi- ness.
Remember, you'll be a long ways from home much further than you were at school! But perhaps a few weeks' real hardship will make you more ready to get an education. He was not the first of the family to go there. Instead of taking a steamboat up the Missouri, as Charlie had always expected, he and Pike went by way of the Utah Northern Railroad to Red Rock, and thence by stagecoach overland to Last Chance Gulch, or, as they now call it, Helena, the largest town in the whole Montana Territory.
It was from a train window that Charlie got his first look at the great plains and saw the mountains come up over the edge real mountains such as he had never seen: But it was from the driver's seat of the stagecoach that he began to see things in close detail a troop of booted cavalry, blueclad, with Civil War sabres; a coyote watching them from up on a benchland; and a bunch of pronghorns antelope skimming away, like dust, in the distance.
At the top of a rise the stage stopped to blow the horses, and the passengers got down to stretch their legs; and there, back from the road and under a clump of bunch- grass, Charlie found his first buffalo skull, bleached chalk white and with the nose bones split but the horns still on. Of course, he had seen cow skulls in Missouri but they were not magic like this.
You figure him as a sturdy tow-headed kid in city clothes but he had already got rid of his necktie as un- 45 CHARLIE RUSSELL, Cowboy Artist sentimental looking a person as it is possible to imagine- considering the skull and its deep eye-sockets, turning it over with his foot, and stooping and rubbing it with his thumb to see if the white came off. He didn't make any poor Yorick oration. The early Greeks saved the skulls of the sacrificial cattle and boiled them clean and nailed them up on the walls of their wooden temples. Where they were so im- pressive with their dark eye socketsthe emptiness and uttemess of deaththat when the Greeks learned to build in stone they carved the skulls in marble hung with garlands; and architects have been using them ever since mostly all out of proportion.
Charlie knew little and cared less about the early Greeks, but afterward when he became an artist he took the buffalo skull for his trademark. The Bull's Head, he called it. At the time he thought little about it there was too much to see. Much that you can't see now. Montana did not look as it does today. The gang-plow had not yet broken the prairie sod, packed hard and thick for thousands of years by the migrating buffalo. There were no fences, no wheat, no sugar beets, no rutabagas; no dandelions along the right of way; no trees except willows and cottonwoods along the river.
No tumbleweed that modern substitute for the stampeding buffalo rolling across the open before the wind. The tumbleweed came in with the first wheat. No English sparrowsbrought to America, like the English dandelion, because they were so cute. There were no foreigners, almost no Negroes, but plenty of French Canadians, mostly halfbreeds.
Besides the tribes already rounded up and herded on reservations, there were still quite a few Indians on the loose. Except for squaws and prostitutes there were very few women. In spring, boatloads of girls came up the Missouri to Fort Benton to summer in Montana; and in fall went back down river to winter in St.
Some didn't go back they got married. Except small local herds, there were no cattle. The first Texas longhorns were driven north to Montana two years after Charlie got there. Not shipped in cattle-cars but trail- driven overland across the unf enced prairie, fording creeks and swimming rivers, and being months on the way. Helena with its mountain right behind it was a revelation to Charlie a long street of plank shacks, mostly one-story but some with false fronts to suggest a second floor, wooden sidewalks, already in bad shape, and a dirt street always either rolling with dust or kneedeep in mud except when it was frozen hard in winter.
Every fourth or fifth house was a saloon. Almost everybody wore a belt and a gun; some wore two. The street was lined with freight outfits, two or three huge covered wagons chained end to end and drawn by twelve or even fourteen span of horses or, sometimes, by the famous Missouri mules.
The nigh-wheelernext to the front wagon was saddled. The jerk-line man rode him, jerking the line that led to the lead span. Beside the jerk- line man there were bull-whackers and mule-skinners snapping whips with sixteen-foot lashes that popped like a rifle report. They boasted they could snap a horsefly off the leader's eyelashes without making him wink.
They could also lay a mule's back open with one cut. The skinner's talk was as hide-blistering as his whip, and the team, especially the mules, understood profanity and answered in kind with snorts and squeals and bawls of defiance, kicking and biting like stallions. And a mule can bite like a bear-trap and kick with both ends. It was a U. The aw-ee-ing, Kicking, jawing, Bucking, biting, Swearing, fighting, Rat-tailed, piebald, Glistening eye-balled, Missouri army mule.
And, of course, besides mule teams and horse teams, there were bull-teamsreally oxen, not bulls as slow as the grace of God. In the southwestern deserts the U. The British army used thousands of camels. But there were no camels in Helena. Charlie, not saying much and secretly a bit cowed, looked the confusion over and knew, without needing to say so, that this was his country; here was where he belonged.
He knew right then that he was going to stay. And he was going to get clothes to suit the country. Especially when he saw a whole family of French Canuck halfbreeds ride single file down the street, dressed more or less like Indians, with moccasins, sashes, and blanket capotes a, sort of bathrobe overcoat made of a white Hudson Bay blanket with three or four red bands at the edge to show the thickness of the weave but wearing broad- brimmed hats and each with a covered rifle across in front of him.
There were Indians too it was ration time for the red men standing around on the edge of the confusion or 48 Charlie Russell Meets His Totem riding through it in their quiet way, all wearing skin leggings and robes. Buffalo robes, mostly, stripped of hair ana chewed soft by the squaws. The Indian woman made arrows the same way: If you don't break the pith it will dry crooked and warp the shaft. Want to be sure it's a real Indian arrow?
Look for the tooth marks on it, the lady's bite. The Indians on their pinto ponies, riding through Helena to get the government ration, said even less than Charlie, In- deed said nothing except an occasional long-drawn "Ho-ho- hay-eeeeel" The Ho-ho, deep and guttural; the hay expressing surprise. They were surprised at the white man's ways who wouldn't be? Long afterwards, when I knew him, Charlie declared that in his whole life he had never heard an Indian say "Ugh! After months of cooking over a chip fire you get so used to the ammonia flavor that home cooking seems sort of tasteless. They outfitted in Helena, Pike buying a wagon and four horses, and Charlie paying for two of them.
These were not Indian ponies but big work horses and one of Charlie's was a mare. Charlie also bought a buckskin shirt and a big hat with a fancy band on it and a Hudson Bay sash, nine foot long and colored red, blue, yellow, green, and purplewhich Pike considered damn foolishness. But Charlie just shut his mouthhardand went ahead and bought 'em: That's how he got his first nickname Buckskin Kid.
Loading up with grub, they pulled out for Judith Gap, the pass into the Basin. There was no road, only a very rough wagon trail, and they had a hard time crossing the Crazy Mountains, where one of their horses gave out. They finally got across but Charlie was off wagon travel for life. Thenceforth he stuck to pack and saddle horses, which can go almost anywhere that a man can go.
He was soon off the sheep too. The shepherd is a roman- tic figure in poetry, but in Montana, ah how different! In India they have a brain-fever bird which in the hot weather repeats one note over and over until the white man goes crazy. You listen to a herd of sheep, blot , blot, blot, blot, blat, for twenty-four hours and you won't need any brain-fever bird. And you can't get away from it you can hear it for miles.
And they're such nasty, dirty looking beasts. Wherever they go they leave a desert; they graze the grass down to the roots. Charlie, who always knew what he didn't like, stood it a few weeks, and then he and Pike had an argument 50 Charlie Russell Meets His Totem and split up, and Charlie took his two horses and quit the ranch, The ranchers didn't act as if they were going to miss him very much, as Pike and everybody around there con- sidered the Russell kid pretty ornery. By which they probably meant that he was stubborn and wouldn't let them boss him. Charlie knew that a stage station down the valley needed a stock-herder, but when he asked for the job he found that his eloquent explanation of just what he thought about sheep and sheep-herders, had got there ahead of him, and they were afraid to trust him with their horses: This was a blow he hadn't expected.
He had no food and mighty little money, and no place to go, and no friends or even acquaintances except at the Miller ranch. And home and St. Louis were a long ways off. Too proud and still too ignorant of western ways to say he was hungry if he had they would certainly have fed him and staked him to some grub he set out for the Judith River, leading his pack horse loaded with nothing except a very light bed. Bed-roll the westerners called it a blanket or two rolled up inside a tarpy or a slicker. By then it was late afternoon. Of course, this wasn't much of an adventure compared to what he had read in Mayne Reid and Frank on the Prairie and other boys' books, but still, when you're sixteen and have never been alone before, it's kind of scary to see the shadows lengthen and blue dusk come oozing down the coulies, and not a sign of a ranch or a road or town, or anything except the empty open.
And over there, in plain sight and still lit by the sun which no longer lit the prairie were the Crazies, so-called because of their queer, unnatural-looking peaks. They do look crazy and desolate. Indians call them the Ghost Mountains. Do you know what the sign-language word is for ghost? Just at dark he came to the river and picketed his horses and made camp-which is to say built a fire and unrolled his bed. He didn't enjoy the prospect of lying down and not knowing what was sneaking up on him, and running water- noiseless by day-does a lot of whispering and conspiring at night, and every little while it gives a nasty sort of chuckle as if to say, "In just a few minutes well grab him!
I've got a lot of elk meat and beans and coffee. My name's Jake Hoover. His way of life so suited the boy that they became partners and worked together two years. Jake told Charlie to get rid of his big team horses, especially the mare, saying, "This is no place for a lady boss -if she gets the notion she'll quit the country and take every cayuse in the basin with her. Later one of her colts, a stallion, takes the lead and bosses his harem around.
It's remarkable how in only two centuries the plains Indianswho had never domesticated any animal except the dog all got horses. And the same thing happened in lower South America, where the pampas tribes who had always gone afoot became a race of horsemen. The horse changed the Indian's whole way of life and began a new culture. Tribes which had farmed stopped farming and took to hunting on horseback. Riding horses is much more interesting than cutting sprouts also easier.
It was a real culture: But for the white man's coming it could have gone on indefinitely, slowly compli- cating and perfecting itself. It might have produced con- querors. Do you know that the three greatest conquerors were all nomads and all colored? But the Indians came late: Of course, horses on the loose increase quite rapidly. On the prairie they have no enemy except the wolf and he can't do much unless he catches a horse bogged down in mud or snow.
The mare has a colt every year till she's eighteen or twenty, and just a couple of hours after birth the colt can run almost as fast as his mother. In other ways, too, the mare is well able to take care of herself. In the hardest blizzard, when the prairie is glazed with ice, she can paw through it and get at the grass beneath. Come to think of it, the Indian pony has as good a pedigree as any thoroughbred.
Thence they spread west across the whole width of Africa, conquering the Moors; and the Moors in turn crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered Spain, and brought their Arab horses with them. The modern Spaniards inherited both a lot of Moorish blood and Moorish horses and took them to the Americas where they became in time the Indian pony.
First cousin, though he doesn't know it, to the race horse. For it was from the Godolphin Arabian, brought from Arabia to England, that all the modern thoroughbreds descend. Charlie, though as stubborn as a blue mule, knew good advice when he got it. In just a few days they met a bunch of Pay-gan Indians that's the tribal name; it doesn't mean pagan or heathen, though these were both.
This was Charlie's first encounter with the red men. He couldn't talk to them at all but Jake couldmostly in sign language and they traded the two big work-horses for two smaller but more serviceable Indian ponies. One of them was a pinto pinto means "painted" spotted white and bay and brown with black legs and mane and tail. Charlie named him "Monte" after the Mexican card game. When they thus met, Charlie and Monte were both young; when Monte died of old age in , Charlie had ridden and packed him thousands of miles. Everybody who knew Kid Russell knew Monte. A water color dated and called "When I was a kid," shows Charlie and Monte crossing the mountains: Monte walking daintily downhill among sloping boulders, picking his way; and Charlie being a kid looking as fierce as possible in a beaded buckskin shirt and leggings, with a big sheath-knife in his sash, and a covered Winchester across the horn in front of him.
He is smoking a cigaret and looking tough exactly the same expression that you can see today on the corner hep-cats, punks and so forth in L. Behind him, winding single-file among the 54 Charlie Russell Meets His Totem rocks, come the pack horses, and behind them up on the sky-lineJake Hoover, not looking tough, just looking what he was a mountain-man on his way to a good time in town. Jake and Charlie had six horses a saddle horse apiece and four packs. They hunted and trapped, selling bear, deer, and elk-meat to the settlers who were trickling into the country, and sending furs and skins to the big trading post at Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri.
An ideal life for Charlie. Later, when he began whoring around and drinking and gambling he had, perhaps, more fun or at least more noisy fun but never again the perfection of that first year in the foothills, up in the mountains, and out on the plains. Never again the thrill when for the first time he and Jake and the packs went clattering into town. You're young only once. Charlie was young the right way and look what it did for him.
When he was old and tired, he always said that no matter what happened, "I'm glad I lived when I did not twenty years later. And Jake, though he seemed old, or at least elderly, was really only thirty. It's new eyes that make a new world. Jake had a log cabin and what he called a ranch up in the edge of the foothills and was so far civilized that he kept a few hens and a rooster.
The latter, having no competition and supposing himself the only rooster in the universe, got very cocky and bossed the hens around and even talked tough to Jake, Once when Jake was in town raising hell, Charlie came back to the ranch to feed the stock and stayed there alone several days and amused himself by making passes at the rooster every time he entered the corral; but he was careful always to give the rooster the fight, that is to run away and 55 CHARLIE RUSSELL, Cowboy Artist leave him in possession of the field.
The rooster began to think himself invincible. Jake came home at last, broke and a bit shaky from his diversions, and shed his boots and went out, barefoot, with a frying-pan full of scraps to feed the chickens. The hens knew him and came cluttering about his feet to get their rations but the rooster, swollen up like a turkey-cock with self-importance, stayed aloof for the moment, working up a swell rage and enjoying it.
Then, just as Jake stooped over to talk to the hens, the rooster ran up behind and jumped him and jabbed both spurs into Jake's bare ankle. Compiled and brought to the reader in the true spirit of that era, with its cowboy slang and some poor grammar mixed in, the tales keep you reading. In another one of the yarns, the narrator explains the existence of Bear Butte a plateau and how it grew from a small mound to what it is now. He tells of an Indian girl that married a young Indian Brave and how the legend of Maheo came true for the young squaw.
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When she prayed for help from Maheo, she was saved from death because the mound she stood on suddenly turned into a plateau. The story is really much more interesting than just the highlights that I mentioned but that is enough to whet an appetite. I was not a real fan of Western lore but this book changed all that and showed me that the tales told by grizzly old cowboys can be very compelling and keep you entertained for hours.
It will appeal to all that enjoy the Wild West and cowboy tales.