With the Frontierado Holiday coming up in just over a month and a half, Balladeer’s Blog decided to whet readers’ appetites with this look at a gritty cable western series based on the real-life gunslinger turned artist Kid Russell (Charles Marion Russell).
As always, Frontierado is about the myth of the American West, not the grinding reality. This ties it in with Balladeer’s Blog’s examinations of myth and folklore and the ways in which the human tendency toward embellishment crafts everything from religious lore to heroic legends.
Even in the 1800s the exploits of real-life gunslingers were being exaggerated in Dime Novels or overblown newspaper accounts to the degree that the surviving tales of Western figures often bear little resemblance to their actual lives. Television added another layer of distortion as the need for weekly stories saw Western shows presenting the likes of Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson and many others in adventures that dropped all pretense of being based on anything “real.”
Even a figure like Annie Oakley, who actually saw no action against outlaws, was depicted fighting crime out west in a weekly series. In that same spirit here’s my presentation of how the framework of fictional adventures can be used to familiarize modern audiences with occasional facts about the adventurers themselves.
KID RUSSELL (Cable Series) – “Before he made the art, he LIVED it!” would be the kind of eye-rolling advertising tagline that one could picture being used for a show like this. I’m not implying any disrespect to Kid Russell or his artistic legacy. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog are familiar with my regard for the man. (FOR MY LOOK AT THE KID RUSSELL LEGEND CLICK HERE )
I can’t help but speculate that the Kid’s fondness for “windies” would make him smile at the kind of concentrated embellishment I’m about to bring to his real-life adventures. Russell’s famously coy line about how he “… never said how law-abiding I was or wasn’t” made many of the wildest legends about the man seem like there might be more than a kernel or two of truth to them.
This television Kid Russell would be like a Spaghetti Western figure brought to life, and his later status as an artistic giant will enhance that image of a Florentine Master adrift in the violent, alcohol-fueled American West. His brooding, artistic sensitivity, conveyed via his voice-over narration, will always contrast with his amiable surface nature.
The audience will come to understand how Charles’ art strives to depict a charming West that didn’t exist even during his lifetime.
The action in the series would be as hyper-stylized as in any Spaghetti Western and the body count would be just as astronomically high, but the usual disclaimers in the closing credits would make it clear that the Kid did not really litter the landscape with dead foemen.
Title: KID RUSSELL
The Year: 1880
Synopsis: Sixteen year-old Charles Marion Russell once again carries out an “escape” from the Military School his parents sent him to back east. He will again make his way back to his well-to-do family’s home in Saint Louis, MO to spend time with his beloved horses and practicing his artwork.
Dialogue between Charley and his annoyed father will make it clear that our protagonist has been fighting family pressure to continue his schooling and he just wants to head out west to live the life of a Cowboy. It will also be mentioned that while the future Kid Russell’s grades weren’t the best, he DID excel at horsemanship and marksmanship.
Using family connections (on Charley’s mother’s side, for instance, he was related to THE Bent family as in Bent’s Fort) a spot will be secured for Charley working on a friend’s sheep ranch around Helena, Montana. Russell’s parents will tell each other that letting their son see the real, gritty west may discourage Charley’s dreams about it and maybe get him to settle down.
Russell arrives in Helena dressed in the buckskin outfit he bought for the occasion and thus becomes a bit of a joke at first, with the nickname “Kid Russell” initially being used sarcastically. The Kid proves inept at roping and other skills a Cowboy would need, so he gets assigned to night wrangling.
In this show’s context, Russell will learn that if a hand has a name for being awful at roping, etc he’s only kept on if he’s good with a gun and can keep the livestock and the ranch safe from rustlers and from violence enacted by resentful cattlemen against the sheep ranchers.
Plenty of lead will fly as Kid Russell takes the humor out of his nickname by blowing away would-be rustlers, stopping cattlemen’s hired gunmen from poisoning watering holes and all the usual hostile activities that went on during Cattle Ranchers vs Sheepmen feuds. As always the Cattlemen would be on top and the sheepers the underdogs.
On a few occasions Charley would get in trouble for spending too much time sketching the night-time Western landscape instead of tending to the sheep. Eventually it would get him fired and he’d spend a night blowing some of his final pay at one of the many saloons in Helena (where earlier in the episode he’d have “become a man” with a saloon girl). And yes, it would be THE Chicago Jo Airey’s saloon/ bordello.
Come morning the Kid would be nursing a hangover and – even worse – would learn that his closest friend in this episode (a fictionalized friend just to allow the widest possible dramatic usage) was among the men who got killed overnight at the sheep ranch where Charley had been working.
The shock would be a mildly sobering (as it were) experience and Kid Russell would end this episode having learned a lesson about taking his circumstances more seriously or HE could wind up dead himself.
FOR EPISODE TWO CLICK HERE
I’LL POST ANOTHER EPISODE SOON, SO KEEP CHECKING BACK.
FOR FOUR MORE NEGLECTED GUNSLINGERS – BOTH MALE AND FEMALE – CLICK HERE
FOR SIX MORE NEGLECTED WESTERN FIGURES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/06/18/six-neglected-wild-west-figures/
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