Date posted:  January 27, 2016

It is my belief that Will Rogers admired Charlie Russell more than he did almost any other public figure.  They first met in 1904. “Charlie Russell was trying to sell a few paintings and I was trying to sell a few jokes when I first met him years ago,” he once wrote. “We met in the East. Neither of us had much more than carfare… He went up the ladder of fame a lot faster than I did.”

“I always wanted to have Russell pictures,” he wrote another time, “but his prices rose faster than my salary. I couldn’t catch him.” There is considerable truth to this. Only after Russell’s death and the coming of the talkies did Will Rogers acquire a small collection. When we first moved to Beverly Hills, Charlie Russell and his wife, Nancy, came several times to visit us. My father was never in doubt as to Russell’s genius, as the following will show.   I was about seven or eight years old and we were at a picnic at Harry Carey’s ranch near Saugus. William S. Hart, Tom Mix and other western stars were there.  After the meal Charlie Russell came over to entertain the children. There were several sets of us, and I am sure we had been raising a general cain. My father came over with him and leaned down to talk to me.

“Son, I want you to remember this man. He is a very famous man.  Remember that you have seen him. Pay attention and remember what he says.” As a result, I can still see a short figure in cowboy boots and hat standing up before a sandy hill, holding us spellbound as he told a story in the Indian sign language. I know it was effective, because for years after, we children used these signs. We met many famous people, but never, either before or since, did my father ever single one out to us as he did Charlie Russell. The two men were amazingly similar. Both true western cowboys, both brilliant story tellers, both great lovers of people. Their admiration was not of just one talent for another. It was deep and man to man. One of the most touching things Will Rogers ever wrote was a foreword to one of Russell’s books. In another place he said, “He is the only painter of western pictures in the world that the cowpunchers can’t criticize. Every little piece of leather or rope is just where it should be. So you see, in these times of scandal, it is a pleasure to point out to you someone who has gained fame and still remains pure.” The odd use of that last word in italics hints at the deep emotion Will Rogers always felt concerning Charlie Russell.