30 November 2005

Charlie Russell and the Mysterious Photos

Charlie Russell and The Mysterious Photos

By Ken Robison

Published in The Fort Benton River Press of 23 Nov 2005

[This continues a series of frontier sketches by historians at the Joel F. Overholser Historical Research Center in the Schwinden Library & Archives in Fort Benton.]

Have you ever picked up an old photo and wished you knew the story behind it? Well, I did the other day when I received a phone call from historian and lecturer Joe Crosby of Oklahoma City. Joe had come across two real photo postcards, both marked “Photo by Dean Forsyth” and “At Fort Benton in 1904.” The first photo showed Charles M. Russell standing beside two Army officers, while the other depicted two six-mule wagon trains. So Joe’s question to me was, “What is the story behind these photos?”

[Mystery Photos—What are the stories behind these two 1904 photos? The top photo (from the Overholser Historical Research Center) shows Charles M. Russell with two Army officers, and the lower photo (from the Joe Crosby Collection) shows two six-mule wagon trains in Fort Benton. Researching the photos led Ken Robison to several interesting stories from the history of Fort Benton.]

I knew that Charlie Russell loved Fort Benton and visited his many friends here as often as he could. And, I knew that I had seen one of the photos, the one with Charlie and the two officers. In our Research Center photo archives, I found an original hand tinted enlarged [9x13 inch] print of this same image. But, we did not know the story behind either of the photos. Did the two photos relate? Who was Dean of Forsyth and why was he in Fort Benton? Why was Charlie standing with the two Army officers in Fort Benton in 1904? What was the occasion?

My first step was to find what I could about “Dean of Forsyth.” We knew nothing of a Mr. Dean working as a photographer in Fort Benton. The story began to fall in place when with a tip from Joe Crosby I found short biographic sketches for Walter B. Dean, Jr. of Forsyth in a Rosebud County history and in an article in Montana the Magazine of Western History. Walter Dean came to Fort Benton from Minnesota in 1904, worked a year as an apprentice in a jewelry store and then moved on to Forsyth in 1905. There he went into the jewelry business, soon became an agent for Eastman Kodak photographic supplies, and eventually became noted as a booster and photographer of Forsyth.

With this starting point, I turned to the Fort Benton River Press for 1904-05. The January 20, 1904 issue carried the first advertisement for newly arrived “Walter B. Dean, Jr. Graduate Optician. Scientific Fitting of Glasses a Specialty at Lockwood’s.” So, this confirmed that Walter Dean was in Fort Benton during 1904. Putting this together with Dean’s move the next year to Forsyth and his involvement with photography, it is reasonable to conclude that Walter Dean took the two photographs in Fort Benton in 1904 and later, after getting established in the photo supply business in Forsyth, printed them in several formats to be sold at his shore. These two prints are the very first photographs known to have been taken by Dean. It also begs the question whether any other photos were taken by budding photographer Dean during his year in Fort Benton. If you know, please let us know.

So, we now know about Dean of Forsyth, but what about Charlie and the Army officers. A close examination of the photograph shows that he and the two officers were standing on the sidewalk on Front Street in front of the Joseph Sullivan Saddlery. Interestingly, the D. G. Lockwood Drug Store was located next door. The uniforms of the Army officers indicate that they were cavalry officers, and we know that Fort Assiniboine was home to part of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in 1904. But were they 3rd Cavalry, and why were they with Charlie in Fort Benton in 1904? This time the River Press helped, but did not provide the full answer. I found that in September 1904 six troops of the 3rd Cavalry together with four companies of the 24th Infantry Regiment (black American “buffalo soldiers”) were in Fort Benton September 22nd.

With this promising lead from the weekly River Press, I searched the Great Falls Daily Leader and found a treasure trove of information. In addition, the Montana Historical Society Archives held the official Army report for an annual practice march from Fort Assiniboine to Great Falls via Fort Benton in September 1904. This detailed report, submitted by the commanding officer of the 3rd Cavalry, Lieutenant Colonel William H. Beck, was filed in the Fort Assinniboine Miscellaneous Copy Book. I now had details on the plans and movements.

On 19 September the 3rd Cavalry Band along with Troops A, B, I, K, L, and M of the Third Cavalry and Companies E, F, G, and H of the 24th Infantry, a total of some 450 men, departed Fort Assiniboine enroute Great Falls to attend the Cascade County Fair. Then in The Leader I found the nugget that I needed to prove the Charlie Russell connection, “Accompanying the soldiers on their trip across the country were B. B. Kelly, Vincent Fortune and C. M. Russell, who went up to the fort [Assiniboine] from this city [Great Falls] for the purpose of taking this novel trip.” Charles’s two companions were Berners B. Kelly, a fuel dealer, and Vincent Fortune, a real estate dealer.

The military troops with Charlie Russell and his friends marched the first day to Box Elder covering 17 miles, camping with a fair supply of water but scarce wood and grass owing to the extremely dry summer. The second day, the command proceeded on to Old Soldiers’ Camp, a distance of 23 miles. At this camp water was limited, but water kegs had been brought from Box Elder. The column went 15 miles the third day to the Marias River camping with ample water, wood, and grazing. On the 22nd of September, the command marched the remaining 11 miles to Fort Benton arriving in the afternoon, going into camp at the old fort. Here the horses were watered in the Missouri River while the troops were furnished water from town hydrants.

It had to have been during the afternoon of the 22nd, that Charlie Russell and the two Army officers, likely visiting Charlie’s old friend Joe Sullivan, were photographed by young Walter Dean in front of the Joe Sullivan Saddlery. One officer was identified on the photograph as Capt. F. H. Lawton while the other officer remains unidentified. Captain Frank Hall Lawton, from Iowa, joined the Army in 1891 and was promoted to Captain in 1901. During 1904, he was assigned to the Army Quartermaster Corps, and apparently detailed to Fort Assiniboine.

The second photograph taken by Walter Dean, that of the wagon trains, also is related to the Army expedition. The Great Falls Leader of September 23rd reported that the troops from Fort Assiniboine “have with them a pack train and several fine six-mule teams for the baggage and camp paraphernalia.” Dean’s photo shows two of the Army six-mule wagon trains in Fort Benton.

A dance was given at Green’s Hall in Fort Benton the evening of the 22nd in honor of the officers from Fort Assiniboine. Dancing to music furnished by the Third Cavalry band, the large crowd reported “having a good time that will be long remembered.”

The next day, the 23rd of September, the military expedition departed Fort Benton and marched to Nelson’s ranch, a distance of 22 miles, where little wood and grass was found, and the water was not potable. From Nelson’s ranch, the march covered the final 21 miles to Great Falls, and the command went into camp the afternoon of September 24th. Prior elaborate planning had called for the expedition to make a grand entrance to Great Falls via the First Avenue North wagon bridge with the troops marching grandly eastward up Central Avenue. These plans were shelved when the command arrived late in the afternoon, and marched directly over the Fifteenth street bridge into camp on vacant land south of the Royal mills, at Eighth Avenue North and Twenty-fifth Street. In less than two hours the military camp was fully organized, and hundreds of visitors began arriving, a preview of the thousands of citizens that would flood the camp during their six day visit. This encampment site proved ideal since it was adjacent to the county fair grounds at Black Eagle Park and along the street car line. Daily, the two Great Falls newspapers were filled with news of the military camp from the previous day and detailed plans for their events that day including the military General Orders with times and events from reveille at 5:30 a. m. to taps at 11:00.

The morning of the 26th of September the Cascade County Fair opened with a parade of the soldiers from Fort Assiniboine. The six troops and the band of Third Cavalry rode grandly down Fourth Avenue North to Park Drive, then over to Central Avenue and up the avenue to the excitement of large crowds. The Twenty-Fourth Infantry Regiment did not share the limelight simply marching down Fourth Avenue to Park Drive, and then turning back to the camp. During the afternoon in addition to the events at the military camp, the Cavalry conducted riding events and races at the fair grounds where an enormous sawdust ring, 300 yards long by 35 yards wide, had been constructed within the circle made by the race track. In this ring, the drills, sham battles, and special drills of the cavalry and infantry were performed. These events included: Roman races with riders each standing on two horses riding wildly around the track; Cossack hurdle races with stirrups crossed on the saddle and riders standing in the stirrups; rescue races where one rider throws his horse, takes shelter behind it, shoots an imaginary enemy and in turn is wounded and a second rider races to the side of his wounded comrade, lifts him to the saddle of his horse and races off to safety; hurdle races over a series of hurdles; and the most popular rough riding with about 35 riders a day racing across a ring 100 years in length and 30 yards across in front of the grand stand.

The 1904 Cascade County Fair closed on September 29th “in a blaze of glory.” The newspapers declared it “the greatest fair ever held in Cascade County,” and the soldiers from Fort Assiniboine had stolen the show. On September 30, Major Elias Chandler with his 2nd Battalion of the 24th Infantry Regiment departed Great Falls to return overland to Fort Assiniboine. In response to a request from the management of the State Fair, Lt. Col. Beck ordered the Third Cavalry, under Major E. P. Andrus, to proceed to Helena. At the Montana State Fair, the Cavalry received a warm reception, though without the overwhelming response of the citizens and newspapers they received in Great Falls. With the end of the State Fair October 8, the Cavalry began the long march back to Fort Assiniboine, stopping for the night October 15th at Fort Benton.

Isn’t it ironic that over one hundred years later, we are still solving the riddle of the “Dean of Forsyth” photographs. We now know and can enjoy the story behind the image of Charlie Russell and the Army officers taken in Fort Benton in 1904.

[Sources: Montana, the Magazine of Western History, Autumn 1985, pp. 68-77; They Came & Stayed Rosebud County History, pp. 67-8; FBRPW 20 Jan 1904; GFLD 14 Sep 1904; GFTD 19 Sep 1904; GFLD 22 Sep 1904; GFLD 23 Sep 1904; GFTD 25 Sep 1904; GFLD 26 Sep 1904; FBRPW 28 Sep 1904; GFLD 30 Sep 1904; Montana Daily Record 5 Oct 1904; FBRPW 19 oct 1904; MHS MC 46 Vol 13 Fort Assinniboine Miscellaneous Copy Book]


(1) Charlie and Two Cavalry Officers in Fort Benton in 1904 [Overholser Historical Research Center]

(2) Six-Mule Wagon Trains in Fort Benton in 1904 [Joe Crosby Collection]

(3) Ad for Walter Dean Graduate Optician [Fort Benton River Press 20 Jan 1904]