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Trail of the Iron Horse is recorded in the C. M. Russell Catalogue Raisonné as reference number CR.PC.365.

Discussing this painting, Russell historian Ginger K. Renner wrote, “The railroad played an important part in the life of Charley Russell. The cowboy artist thought the only really acceptable method of getting from one point to another was by horseback. He never approved of automobiles—calling them ‘White Man’s Skunk Wagons.’ But he accepted completely the transportation of the railroad. After all, he had first come West in the spring of 1880 on the Union Pacific from St. Louis to Ogden, Utah. There he took a short line to Monida Pass, just inside the Montana Territory line. A stagecoach took him to Helena, called at the time ‘Last Chance Gulch.’

“He used the railroad to go back to his St. Louis home many times, including two years after he first set foot in the Judith Basin. Coming back to Montana in the spring of ‘82 he very well might have taken part in the fall roundup that drove the great herd to Miles City to load for the markets in Chicago, only to find the railroad had not yet reached that town. The roundup ended up going all the way to Glendive to catch the railhead. Thereafter, it was always referred to as ‘the long drive.’

“In the years ahead Charley and Nancy traveled many, many times by railroad. It is doubtful Charley ever gave any thought to the enormous worth the railroads were to the country he loved.

“The historian, Albro Martin, said, ‘Railroads were the most important factor in the rapid settlement of North America.’ Truly, the history of the railroads pushing a mile a day from the Mississippi River to the Pacific was a glorious period in our country’s development. Men and mules, shovels and picks, and small amounts of nitroglycerin made it possible to span the broad mid-west plains, and formidable barriers of the Rocky Mountains and Sierras. Rowdy and riotous crews of Irish immigrants and the steady and industrious sojourners of Chinese workers made this possible by almost unbelievable labor. Tying the country together coast-to-coast, the railroad made possible an enormous expansion of the economy.

“And yet—the intrusion of the railroad onto the western plains spelled nothing but disaster for the Indians and the buffalo. These denizens of the vast western lands had roamed freely for eons. Charley Russell held that first and foremost in his mind and heart. In the two major paintings he did involving railroads, he obviously takes the side of the Indians in this invasion. Both paintings lack the sun-washed land one expects—rather darkness covers the scene, as though night were falling, not only over the land but over the Indians’ way of life. And we understand that the Indians into whose land this mechanical marvel was intruding were going to be overwhelmed by the power of this strange ‘Iron Horse.’”

PROVENANCE:
David B. Findlay Gallery, New York, New York
The Lola and Otha D. Wearin Collection, circa 1952
Private Collection, 2003

EXHIBITIONS:
Fort Worth Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, n.d.
C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana, September 1991-2002 (on loan)

LITERATURE:
Harold McCracken, Portrait of the Old West (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc., 1952), page 185, illustrated
The Magazine Antiques, Vol. 61, No. 3 (New York, NY: Strait Enterprises, March 1952), page 216, illustrated
Des Moines Sunday Register (March 8, 1953), illustrated
Belmont Faries, “Charles M. Russell, American Artist,” S.P.A. Journal, Vol. 26, No. 7 (March 1964), page 491, illustrated
Golden West magazine, Vol. 2, No. 5 (July 1966), front cover, illustrated
Wearin’s Holiday Life (Red Oak, IA: Red Oak Printing Corp., 1988), cover, illustrated
Russell’s West, The C. M. Russell Museum Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Great Falls, MT: C. M. Russell Museum, Summer 1999), front cover and page 8, illustrated

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