Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Russell moved to Helena, Montana, in 1880, when he was just sixteen, after giving up his studies and military training. There, he befriended the trapper Jake Hoover. From 1884 he worked as a "cowboy" and in his spare time he executed sketches and clay statuettes which he would later exchange for board and lodging. Due to his interest in American Indians, he spent the winter of 1887-1888 on the Canadian border, with the "blood" Indians, a group belonging to the "Blackfoot" tribe. In the last years of the 1880s and the beginning of the 1890s, Russell published his first drawings in magazines and journals such as Harper's, Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. In 1896 he married Nancy Cooper. With his wife's help, Russell abandoned his previous employment and concentrated exclusively on painting. In 1897 he established himself in Great Falls, where he opened his own studio in 1903. His merits were publicly acknowledged in 1911, the year of his first one-man exhibition in New York. From then on, he travelled frequently to New York, Florida, and the West Coast. In 1924-1925 he visited Europe for the first time, on the occasion of an exhibition of his works in London. Russell died in Great Falls (MT), on 24 October 1926.
Juan Á. López-Manzanares