"Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flatheads in Ross Hole, September 4, 1805",
by Charles M. Russell.
Reproduced by permission of the Montana Historical Society.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1864, Charles M. ("Charlie") Russell arrived in Montana as a 16-year-old youth, intent on fulfilling his dream of becoming a real, working cowboy. He was just in time to witness the demise of the "Old West" during the 1880s and 90s – the final slaughter of the great buffalo herds, the destruction of natural grasslands, and the proliferation of plows and barbed wire. What is more, the federal reservation system was firmly in place; traditional Indian ways were gone, though not forgotten.
Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flatheads, painted in 1912, is Russell's largest work. Measuring 25 by 12 feet, it covers an entire wall of the chamber of the House of Representatives in the Montana State Capitol. Despite the artist's reputation for correctness of detail, there are some curious historical anachronisms in it.
But Russell was a gifted visual story-teller, and if we quibble over the facts we might miss the message.