Briefly Noted: ‘Montana’s Charlie Russell’

It’s difficult to read about Montana without coming across Charlie Russell sooner or later. He’s the state’s most celebrated and most widely known artist. This book offers a view of Russell’s work in the collection of the Montana Historical Society in Helena. Nothing is better than seeing the paintings up close. If you can’t do that, this book is a fine introduction.

CharlieRussellFrom the Publisher: Montana’s Charlie Russell brings to life the Montana Historical Society’s world-class collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, bronzes, and illustrated letters by the Treasure State’s famed “Cowboy Artist.” Using advanced digital technology, each of the 230 pieces in the Society’s permanent collection has been meticulously photographed to bring to life, in vivid color, Russell’s artistic mastery. Carefully researched scholarship illuminates the stories behind each artwork. The result is a catalog of Russell’s art as you’ve never seen it before.

From the Montana Historical Society Press Release


“In 1952 the Montana Historical Society acquired the Malcolm Mackay family collection of the artwork of Charles M. Russell that became the heart of its unmatched assemblage of the famed Montana cowboy artist’s masterpieces, paintings, illustrated letters, sketches and sculpture.

“Since then, it has been the dream of many to reproduce the entire MHS Russell art collection in a high-quality book that would celebrate the artist’s vision of Montana and the breadth of his amazing career — that took him from cowboying in the Judith Gap to one of the best loved artists of the West…

“…K. Ross Toole, MHS director in 1952, said while raising funds to acquire the Mackay collection: ‘If Montana has contributed one thing to the heritage of the whole West, it is Charles M. Russell’s paintings …. It was Montana that inspired him; it was Montana that he painted.'”

With this book on your coffee table, you can turn off the TV for the Winter.


Seeker for promo 1Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Seeker,” a book about mountains, first loves and betrayal set partly in Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Book Note: ‘More Montana Moments,’ by Ellen Baumler

moremontanamomentsHistorian Ellen Baumler (“Montana Moments: History on the Go,” April 2012) returned six months later with another book of Montana vignettes originating from her “History on the Go” radio program in Helena, Montana. Published by Montana Historical Society in October 2012), the 220-page book is available on Kindle and in paperback is aptly titled More Montana Moments.

The cover art, “Laugh Kills Lonesome,” comes from Charlie Russell. The text is supplemented with illustrations.

From the Publisher

Forget dreary dates and boring facts. More Montana Moments serves up a fresh batch of the most funny, bizarre, and interesting stories from Montana’s history. Meet the colorful cast of the famous and not-so-famous desperadoes, vigilantes, madams, and darned good men and women (and a few critters) who made the state’s history. Best of all, each vignette takes about two minutes to read. So have fun exploring Montana—and enjoy a little history as you go.

From the Montana Historical Society Bookstore

When Evelyn Cameron first rode into Miles City in the dark blue divided riding skirt she had ordered from California, oh, the scandal it caused. Ellen Baumler tells that story and more in More Montana Moments, a collection of more of the most funny, bizarre, and interesting stories from Montana’s history.

From the Book

“Artist Charles Marion Russell carefully chose the subjects of his art based on personal experience. He, more than any other western artist, painted what he knew with great longing and nostalgia for the cowboy way of life he lived and loved so well. In 1925, a year before his death, Russell painted “Laugh Kills Lonesome,” a tribute to this vanishing cowboy lifestyle…He painted himself into the picture as an old cowpoke stoppping by the warm and friendly circle fo a cup of coffee by an a hearty laugh at the end of a long day in the saddle.”

You can keep up with Ellen Baumler at her Montana Moments site.


Set in Montana, Malcolm R. Campbell’s contemporary fantasies include “The Seeker.”

Review: ‘Buffaloed’ by Fairlee Winfield

Buffaloed Buffaloed by Fairlee Winfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When teenager Ovidia Odegard arrives in the United States in 1904, her first duty is to find suitable work so she can begin paying back her uncle for his out-of-pocket costs in sponsoring her immigration from Norway. Her dream, though is not only to be an American, but a Westerner, and that includes wearing a fancy buckskin jacket.

Providentially, Nancy Russell–the wife of the famed Montana cowboy artist Charles M. Russell–is looking for a housemaid at the couple’s home in Great Falls. When Ovida sees a copy of Russell’s pictorial “Studies of Western Life,” she can’t wait to board the train and head for the West she’s seen at the Nickelodeon.

When she arrives in Great Falls, she finds a dirty, modern city, and once she meets Charlie Russell, she begins discovering that the idealized West as it exists in books and movies is gone–if it ever existed. While Nancy Russell wants contracts and sales for Charlie’s art, Charlie would rather spend his time spinning yarns about the old days with his “bunch” down at the saloon. Not surprisingly, the house is a mess.

“Buffaloed” is Ovidia’s story as told to her grandson just before she died at 94, and it all begins when she mentions a secret she has never shared with anyone: the famous Charles M. Russell mural “Lewis and Clark Meeting the Indians at Ross’ Hole” at the Montana State House of Representatives” wasn’t really painted by Russell. It was a con, or so Ovidia claims.

Ovidia dangles this con before her grandson’s eyes throughout her remembrances because, as she sees it, he wouldn’t understand it if he didn’t know what happened in the Russell household from the moment she reported for work. What had she gotten herself into?

This well-researched book is just the kind of yarn that the master of tall tales, one Charles Marion Russell (1862-1926), would endorse without hesitation. The dialogue, the atmosphere, and the historical period in “Buffaloed” are superb. Fans of Russell and Montana history will discover that the book includes real events and places along with a supporting cast of historical personages.

In his book “Montana Adventure,” a friend and contemporary of Russell, Frank B. Linderman, writes that “Charlie Russell was the most lovable man I have ever known.” This is the Charlie Russell who emerges in Fairlee Winfield’s wonderful novel.

Now, if you live in Montana, mostly everything having to do with Charlie Russell is sacred, and that includes a lot of living and story telling that was also delightfully profane. Ovidia does have a confession to make in regard to that mural, but this is a novel, of course.

Winfield’s disclaimer at the beginning of the book reminds us that “Buffaloed” is a work of fiction. In addition to the standard reference books about Charles and Nancy Russell, Winfield also had a more personal resource for this story: her Norwegian grandmother did work in the artist’s home and had a lot of humorous and gritty stories to tell.

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Copyright (c) by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of “The Sun Singer” and “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire”