How The West Was Drawn: the Art of Charles Marion Russell in the National Archives at Denver

Today’s post is written by Cody White, an archivist at the National Archives at Denver. 

Strolling the two Western American Art galleries at the Denver Art Museum one can see several examples of famed western artist Charles Marion Russell’s depictions, in both paint and bronze, of the American West, but Russell’s work can also be seen in our collection as evidenced by two recent and otherwise unrelated finds.

In 1941 the Office of Price Administration (OPA) was created to control prices and rents while the country was at war. The OPA had the authority to place ceilings on the prices of goods, except agricultural commodities, and to ration supplies of other items such as tires, cars, nylon, gasoline, and foods such as meat and sugar.  Record Group 188, Records of the Office of Price Administration, is comprised of case files, correspondence, and other administrative documents that helped the field offices ensure compliance with price regulations.  Along with the formal documents, however, is ephemera sent along to the agency as evidence, and it is in one such instance where we see several examples of Charles Russell’s sketches. The Rainbow Hotel in Great Falls, Montana, where Russell’s studio and home were located, used various Russell drawings along with a short biographical note on their lunch and dinner menus. The three examples seen in this blog entry were sent to the OPA on April 5, 1946.

The Park Saddle Horse Company, at one time the sole horse and outfitting concessioner at Glacier National Park, didn’t survive the lean WWII war years and folded shortly after, but their vibrant company letterhead survives in our collection today. With a grand western motif typical for many companies here in our region at the time, the Park Saddle Horse Company adorned their letterhead with not only a western image but one drawn by Charles Russell. This letter can be found in Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was sent to the Flathead Indian Agency concerning payment of leases. According to a 2006 book Russell designed this letterhead himself for the Park Saddle Horse Company and shortly thereafter the company’s president, G.W. Noffsinger, used the very first copy to write a thank you letter to Russell. He opened with “My dear Charley: Well here it is and isn’t it a winner” and went on in his post script to note how he felt the poem went with the drawing so well but didn’t know if Russell had written it.

Image Sources:

Record Group 188, Records of the Office of Price Administration, “Helena District Office Case Files, 1943-1946” Box 66, Series NAID 1104455

Record Group 75, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Flathead Indian Agency “Subject Files, 1907-1945,” Box 106, Series NAID 583581