Go West, young man…

By now, it’s no secret that I am partial to the history of the Old West. My interest, spurred first by stories of my ancestors, Mormon pioneers, crossing the plains and Rocky Mountains with handcarts, has never wavered. I love the stories of their determination, sacrifices and just plain grit in the face of hardships. I often wonder if I would have the courage to pick up, leave everything behind – friends, possessions, businesses – to start over in some desolate area, based solely on the belief that leaving was the right thing to do. Of course, in some cases, because of physical and emotional persecution, leaving was really the only thing to do.

Can you imagine spending days, weeks, months doing this?

Can you imagine spending days, weeks, months doing this?

I’m sure it helps that I was born in my grandparent’s log cabin, an unexpected twin, and my brothers and I spent years playing make believe with my grandfather’s rifle, saddle and even my grandmother’s treasured spinning wheel. Stored inside what we called the granary was a wonderland of strange treasures from the past, treasures that fueled my imagination and fascination with history.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

Learning about my grandfather, a blacksmith who left his native Sweden to journey to America and make his fortune, and then spent time in Deadwood, South Dakota back when it was a wild frontier town filled with legendary characters such as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, further encouraged my imagination. I wanted to be him, living adventurously, free from the constraints of modern society.

Always keep your back to the wall

Always keep your back to the wall

As an adult, I’ve spent much of my free time studying the history of our country, from its founding through the 20th century. However, most of my concentration has been on the life and times of the mountain men and their sometime allies, sometime enemies – the Indians. I admit, as I read of their times, life-style and adventures, I want to live them myself. And, in my mind I do, every time I research their lives, participate in living history, build a rifle, and create art documenting their story.

Saved by the Bull

“Protect especially the buffalo, for the buffalo will give you food and shelter. The hide of the buffalo will keep you from the cold, from the heat, and from the rain. As long as you have the buffalo, you will never need to suffer.”
From Yellowstone Valley and the Great Flood

“The chase on horseback, which goes by the name of ‘running,’ is the more violent and dashing mode of the two. Indeed, of all American wild sports, this is the wildest. Once among the buffalo, the hunter, unless long use has made him familiar with the situation, dashes forward in utter recklessness and self-abandonment. He thinks of nothing, cares for nothing but the game; his mind is stimulated to the highest pitch, yet intensely concentrated on one object.

The wounded buffalo springs at his enemy; the horse leaps violently aside; and then the hunter has need of a tenacious seat in the saddle, for if he is thrown to the ground there is no hope for him. When he sees his attack defeated the buffalo resumes his flight, but if the shot be well directed he soon stops; for a few moments he stands still, then totters and falls heavily upon the prairie.”
— Francis Parkman
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/buffalo.htm

Saved by the Bull

Saved by the Bull

Gale F. Trapp, 2012
Acrylic on board

The warrior has his prey in sight – the buffalo cow – tender and prized above all, until that fateful moment… the bull has turned. Now, all bets are off… not only did the warrior miss his prey, but in this moment the hunter has become the hunted.

So, did the bull turn intentionally, perhaps instinctively saving the cow and calf? Was that bull even aware of the rider beside him? Did that horse “leap violently aside”, saving the hunter and itself?

Would you have the courage to develop the skill it took to hunt buffalo on horseback?

The Cowboy Artist

“Talent, like birthmarks, are gifted an’ no credit nor fault of those who wear them.” – Charles M. Russell

Of all the Western artists, Charles Russell (the cowboy artist) is hands down my favorite; known not just for his art, but also for his intimate understanding of American Indians as well as cowboys and ranchers.

A Desperate Stand

A Desperate Stand

While he had definite talent, and his mother was actually a rather well known artist in Missouri, he never received a formal art education. Instead, he learned from life itself.

A Doubtful Handshake

A Doubtful Handshake

Working as a cowboy and living life on the range, Russell traveled from Montana to Canada spending a winter with the Blackfoot Indian tribe, learning about their religious ceremonies, arts, crafts, hunting methods, warfare methods and their tribal legends.

Lost in a Snowstorm We are now allies

Lost in a Snowstorm
We are now allies

He knew his subject intimately and it showed – his art wasn’t romanticized – instead it illustrated scenes from his memories.

Roping a Steer

Roping a Steer

With approximately 4,000 works of art credited to him, Charles Russell has kept alive a forgotten way of life.

In Without Knocking

In Without Knocking

Of all the “cowboy artists” Charles Russell is the one I study, learn from and most admire.

Jerked Down

Jerked Down

To learn more about him, check out these links
http://cmrussell.org/about/about-charles-m-russell
http://www.bbhc.org/explore/western-art/research/charles-m-russell/

So tell me, who is your favorite “cowboy artist”?