Charlie Russell

Born in St. Louis, Charlie Russell came to Montana in 1864, a dreamy 16 year-old in search of the Wild West.
He experienced it enormously, as a sheepherder, cowboy, writer and friend of the Native American whose heritage extended way beyond that of the newly arriving white man.

These experiences were preserved in poems, letters, drawings and paintings that Russell created with his witty and whimsical touch. Known for his knack at capturing action and authenticity, his art served as a documentary of the Old West.

This maverick cowboy was 32 years old before he settled down and married Nancy, who became the manager of his art career - and his personal life, his old friends would suggest.

He established a log cabin studio near their home in Great Falls and a maintained a strict routine to encourage a disciplined workday.

Trips to New York and Hollywood expanded his following and helped him become established as one of America's great Western artists.

Today he is an American folk hero and his work garners six figures at art auctions and sales.

Kootenai Lodge has its own unique collection with over a dozen etchings in the enchanting courtyard. Russell produced the images in wet cement during one of his frequent visits. A noble Native American chief adorned with headdress graces the double door on one side of the courtyard and a tipi adorns the entry on the other side.

Simpler figures such as salamander and turtle are scattered throughout the Moorish styled courtyard.

He also fashioned a miniature rawhide tipi that stands about two feet tall - a wonderful conversation piece on display in the Keresey Cabin.

An unfinished painting of "Kootenai Camp" is on display in Helena at the Montana Historical Society. The watercolor depicts the Kootenai Lodge property as the Native Americans may have seen it, with tipis nestled along the shore.

Russell was one of the early guests of the retreat established by Anaconda Copper Mining Company President Cornelius "Con" Kelley and Chief Counsel Lewis Orvis Evans when the retreat was more rustic and served as hunting and fishing camp for "the boys."

"But if all Kootenai Lodges are the same as this I'm hunting the Kootenai Camp," wrote Russell during a hunting and fishing trip to Kootenai Lodge in 1912 with a group of friends that included Flathead Valley pioneer, historian and statesman Frank B. Linderman.

Sprawled along the shores of Swan Lake and Swan River and buried in the deep wilderness of the Swan Valley, Kootenai Lodge possessed all the outstanding components of the frontier west that Russell loved.

It was the first of numerous trips Russell made to the magnificent Kootenai Lodge. Most of the construction of over 20 buildings was completed after Russell's visit in 1912. At that time the lodge was composed of a few homestead structures and a lodge shared by the Kelley and Evans family.

But Russell also enjoyed the lodge in its heyday when life was lived on a grand scale complete with formal dinners, limousines and games of Roulette.

A chronicle of the Kootenai Lodge hunting trip, written by Frank Linderman's brother-in-law Sam Johns, is sprinkled with references to Russell's memorable attendance. Johns wrote, "… We all gathered around the fireplace and the conversation was turned to story telling by Frank's asking Charlie about some experience he had in a certain old cow town. Having got Charlie loosened up for he was with a bunch to his liking, everyone at his ease and the smokes going, we listened for a couple of hours while Charlie told story after story of the old days in his easy slow drawling way, seldom smiling, but occasionally a chuckle would escape him over some amusing end."

After two weeks of hunting, fishing, storytelling and cavorting at the Kootenai Lodge, the group offered reluctant goodbyes.

Johns wrote, "When an outing is drawing to a close, one finds the time has passed too quickly and there is the desire to stay longer, and that evening our last in camp, the bunch all regretted their having to leave…"
Kootenai Lodge is like that. Once you've sat by a campfire under the black sky dotted with sparkly stars - you'll never want to leave.






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Charles M. "Charlie" Russell, western artist at Kootenai Lodge
Charlie Russell