Charles Russell, the Cowboy Artist of the West, arrived in Helena, Montana, in 1880 at the age of sixteen. He worked first as a ranch hand tending sheep, quickly moving on to an apprenticeship with a hunter and trapper, and then to cattle ranching. "Within a short time," notes his biographer, Peter Hassrick, "he found employment with some of the best outfits. He rode with the roundups and was ultimately one among a unique class of men." (Charles M. Russell, Norman, Oklahoma, 1999, p. 21).
He also began to make his mark as an artist. Naturally, his first images depicted ranching life, including several early watercolors and oils of round-ups. However, during the winter of 1888-89, Russell chose to live among the Blood Indians on their reservation in Alberta, Canada -- an experience that would profoundly impact the artist and his work. While among the Bloods, Russell gained an intimate understanding of the tribe's history and culture, a knowledge that intensified his sympathy and respect for what was even then recognized as a disappearing way of life.
Arthur Hoeber commented in 1911 of Russell: "He paints the West that has passed from an intimate knowledge of it; for he was there in the midst of it all, and he has the tang of its spirit in his blood. He has recorded something of the earlier days in the life of that country, of its people, of their curious ways and occupations, a life that has practically passed." (as quoted in P. Hassrick, Charles M. Russell, New York, 1989, p. 101).
Often, Russell painted his pictures from the Indians' point of view, as he does here with his Indian Scouting Party of 1897. In a freely sketched landscape, an advance guard of Indians solemnly scans the horizon -- who their unseen foe or quest may be, Russell does not indicate, choosing instead to show the Indians resolute, and apparently determined to press on. Behind them, a more distant group of Indians advances. Armed, the Indians are dressed in brilliantly colored clothes, and offer only expressions of outward calm. It is a masterful example of Russell's quiet storytelling in art. "He had shaped the Western Myth," writes Peter Hassrick, "provided its standards, and given birth to its popularity. His legacy is America's treasure." (Charles M. Russell, New York, p. 144).