National Geographic : 1986 Jan
songs, the homelessness, the rip and roar on rare trips to town. We sense that life even today, riding a he licopter over Charley Russell country in late winter. Beyond some cursive drifts, perpet ual wind has worn down one snowfield so a yellow, last-year stubble bristles through the white. Ice clogs the serpentine of streams just starting to thaw. Near a snug ranch house the haystack has dwindled. The chopper's noise quiets the world so a silent dog barks steam. Cows plod single file in their leader's tracks, and a straggling calf is running, tail outstretched, to find its mother. Toward the horizon dark roads lead T-square straight; fenced inden tations show us Air Force "rocket ranches," MUSEUM OFWESTERNART, DENVER C. M. Russell, Cowboy Artist as local folks call them. ("Not near danger ous as gopher holes," one cowboy said.) Our engine changes pitch. We climb, and the pilot points. Geese are flying north on their promissory course. We surprise two deer who leap in unison as on pogo sticks. At eye level we approach Russell Point, formidable stone namesake for our Charley; and, straight down, we see the back of a bald eagle in flight. A solitary view of a big, humanless land. Lonesome. CHARLEY GAVE UP the lonesome life in 1893 and moved to Great Falls, selling an occasional picture and earning enough to live sparely. The landmarks around Great Falls-like the sawed-off bulk of Square Butte and the ara besques of the Missouri River-found their way into Russell pictures. So did the land scape of Cascade, a bit upstream. "My father's ranch was seven miles from Cascade," notes Fred Renner. "And I've found the same spots Charley Russell paint ed there." He was as true to topography as to Indian beadwork. But Russell found more than scenery in Cascade. "Charley was wintering there when he met Nancy," notes Fred. Since Cascade had "maybe a hundred people and everyone knew everybody," Fred Renner's family knew them both. Blonde 17-year-old Nancy was living with the Robertses, helping out with household chores. Charley was 14 years her senior and had what he admitted was a fuzzy reputa tion. He courted her, then proposed mar riage, but she said no. It took him almost ayear to convince her. As an inducement, he gave her his favorite horse, Monty. They began married life with $75, as Nancy later recalled, and a one-room shack in Cascade. (It's still inhabited, enlarged a bit, equipped with a bathroom, but still only large enough for newlyweds.) They stayed "Whose Meat?", paintedin 1914, portraysa confrontationwhose outcome is left to the imagination.Not a hunter himself, Russell loved to join hunting expeditionsfor the vicariousthrill and the chance to observe wildlife. He had a specialfascinationwith bears,seen in many of his paintingsand sculptures.