John Taliaferro is an independent historian and former senior editor for Newsweek and Texas Monthly.
Charlie Russell, whose art combined documentation and romance, played a large part in establishing cowboy culture. Son of one of the leading families in St. Louis, he had dime-novel fantasies about the West. In 1880, aged 16, Russell left home for Montana Territory to be a cowboy. For the next 15 years, he led a devil-may-care existence as a wrangler, drinking heavily, womanizing, pleading for credit. Journalist Taliaferro brings the artist and the frontier to life in this sparkling biography. By 1887, Russell had gained local recognition for his art but was reluctant to push his career. All changed when he married a fiery young woman half his age in 1896. Wife Nancy became his promoter and business agent, arranging exhibitions and sales nationwide. By all accounts, Russell was a charmer; much of his success as a painter, says the author, must be attributed to his appealing personality. He died in 1926. This is an important book for Western buffs. (May)