Eleanor Donnelly Erdman, Pasadena, California and Big Horn, Wyoming
R.H. Donnelly Erdman, Boston, Massachusetts
Private Collection, New Jersey
Kennedy Galleries, New York
The Taggart Trust, Las Vegas, Nevada
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1984
Patricia Janis Broder, Bronzes of the American West, New York, 1974, illustration of another example p. 165
Rick Stewart, Charles M. Russell: Sculptor, Fort Worth, Texas, 1994, pp.78, 83, 131, 239, illustrations of other examples pp. 234-238
Charles Marion Russell exhibited an aptitude for sculpture at an early age. When he was young, his sister would often make wax flowers for her friends and relatives and Charlie would make small animals out of the scraps of wax she left behind. Russell's father took notice of his son's budding talent and began supplying the young boy with beeswax. In school, Russell was distracted, constantly drawing or modeling shapes. His preoccupations followed him when he eventually went out west and found employment in Montana. Russell continued to mold wax and clay, and even constructed a rude kiln for himself. Paying more attention to his art than his work cost him at least one job, but his days on the range afforded him time to study the abundant wildlife and record his myriad observations in his sketchbooks. By 1893, Russell decided to quit the cowboy life to pursue a full-time career as an artist and illustrator. Though never formally trained as a sculptor, Russell eventually began working the shapes he had once molded in wax and plaster into bronze sculptures.
One of approximately fifteen casts, Where the Best of Riders Quit depicts a scene Russell witnessed as a cowboy, the taming of the wild horse. Here the horse has attempted to throw the rider off, and in the process has nearly toppled himself over backwards. At this point, the rider knows that even a hero must immediately bail out so as to not get crushed by the horse. Russell once wrote of the bronco rider, "An Injun once told me that bravery came from the hart not the head. If my red brother is right Bronk riders and bull dogers are all hart above the wast band but it's a good bet theres nothing under there hat but hair" (quoted in Patricia Janis Broder, Bronzes of the American West, p. 160).
In describing Where the Best of Riders Quit, Nancy Russell, the artist's wife, observed: "The old-time cowpuncher knew his horse and it was often a battle of wits when he was 'breaking' him to ride. This horse is making a fight and is figuring on landing on his rider. This rider, being of the best, is thinking, too. As he steps off his fighting horse he will be standing beside him when he lands and, having ahold of the cheek piece of the hackamore, will help the horse bump his head a little harder when he hits the ground. As the horse comes up the cowpuncher will grasp the horn and will be in the saddle when he gets on his feet again. ... Most horses think twice before they throw themselves a second time."
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