Permanent Exhibitions


the bisonTHE BISON: American Icon, Heart of Plains Indian Culture


The buffalo was part of us, his flesh and blood being absorbed by us until it became our own flesh and blood. Our clothing, our tipis, everything we needed for life came from the buffalo’s body. It was hard to say where the animal ended and the man began.

   -John (Fire) Lame Deer, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, with Richard Erdoes, 1972

The Bison: American Icon, Heart of Plains Indian Culture features more than 1,000 Northern Plains Indian artifacts such as clothing, regalia, tools, and weapons, as well as works of art highlighting Northern Plains Indian culture. This comprehensive exhibition addresses the crucial historical and cultural role of the bison for all people in the Northern Plains between 1800 and 2008. It also examines the ways in which this impressive animal has emerged as an American cultural icon.

The bison is a critical part of the rich shared cultural heritage of Montana and the surrounding region. This exhibition examines the bison's importance, not only to the lives of Plains Indians, but also to a growing 19th-century national economy, leading to the animal's sudden decimation and eventual resurgence. With regard to the Northern Plains, the exhibition traces the bison's transformation from everyday resource to iconic symbol, a shift that began to gain strength during the early reservation period in the late 19th century. The exhibition follows a period of intense consumption of bison as a natural resource by new and growing populations, the development of a conservation movement, and the emergence of the bison as a symbol of North America.

Original Trigg Gallery


Charles Russell and Albert Trigg first met in Great Falls in 1891, when both were relative newcomers to the city. Trigg was an Englishman who had lived in Canada and Michigan before moving to Montana with his wife Margaret and daughter Josephine (1872–1951). He met Russell at the Brunswick Bar of which he was the proprietor, and allowed Russell to set up his studio in a back room of the bar in order to attempt to become a full-time painter. Russell did not settle in Great Falls at this time, but went back to the cattle range for two more years, spending the winters in various towns in north central Montana. He married Nancy Cooper in Cascade in 1896 and moved permanently to Great Falls in 1897. In 1900, they bought two lots on the same block as the Trigg family and built a modest frame house. The Trigg and Russell families maintained a close relationship with one another and were frequent visitors and even travel companions.

Josephine taught in the public schools and became children’s librarian at the Great Falls Public Library in 1911. An avid reader, interested in history, cultures and faraway places, she shared her interest and enthusiasm with Charlie, and occasionally read to him while he worked. She also contributed the beautiful calligraphy on his greetings and poems. Josephine was a devoted friend of Nancy's and Jack's godmother, and long after Charlie's death she and her mother regularly visited Nancy and Jack in California.

The Trigg collection was bequeathed to the Trigg-Russell Foundation, Inc., by Emma Josephine Trigg (1872-1951) in memory of her beloved parents, Albert J. and Margaret Trigg, and in memory of Charles M. Russell, her close friend and neighbor. This bequest provided the incentive which resulted in the public subscription of funds for the construction of the C.M. Russell Gallery which was completed in 1953. The collection is entirely composed of articles which Russell gave to Miss Trigg, her mother, and her father and letters he wrote to them in the course of personal correspondence. They were highly treasured by her as repeated expressions of his esteem and affection. She was, however, sufficiently perceptive to recognize that the collection had more than sentimental worth, since it not only constitutes an accurate and beautifully executed artistic record of a colorful period in the development of this western area, but also reveals much of the lovable character of an artist whose nostalgic sensitivity was tempered by a quietly sharp and appreciative sense of humor. Although in very modest financial circumstances during her declining years, Miss Trigg sacrificed comfort and security by refusing to sell her collection. She preferred to preserve it for display in the community in which Russell lived and in the country which inspired so much of his work.

This reinstallation in the original Trigg gallery will highlight the family’s collection of artwork that was accumulated over their lifetimes (majority of which was gifted by Chas. Russell), which includes drawings, poems, illustrated letters, watercolors, oils, and plaster and wax sculptures. A few additional objects and personal effects will also be included. The exhibition narrative will begin with an introduction to the collection, proceed to a brief history of the Trigg family, describe the relationship between the Russells and the Triggs, examine Josephine’s life, occupation and exchange of friendship and artwork between her and Chas., describe Josephine’s relationship with Nancy and life after Chas.’s death, and finally end with the creation of the CMRM complex and Trigg gallery.

Charles M. Russell: The Legacy of America's Cowboy Artist


Charles M. Russell (1864–1926), Breaking Camp, 1897, watercolor (C.M. Russell Museum, gift of Great Falls Businessmen)

Charles M. Russell: The Legacy of America’s Cowboy Artist, celebrates 64 years of the C.M. Russell Museum.  
The C.M. Russell Museum’s extensive permanent collection of Russell oil paintings, watercolors, bronzes, clay models, illustrated letters, pen-and-ink drawings, and published illustrations has been reinstalled in five galleries to showcase the astonishing depth and range of Charles M. Russell (1864–1926). Although it is not possible to display all 700 works in the Russell collection at one time, the art currently on view nonetheless demonstrates the remarkable artistic evolution of a largely self-taught genius.




Charles M. Russell (1864–1926), Meat for the Wagons, 1925, watercolor, (C.M. Russell Museum, gift of Frederick G. and Ginger Renner in memory of Graham D. Renner)

Arranged in roughly chronological order, the reinstallation begins with the primitive paintings and drawings of Russell’s boyhood and ends with the masterpieces he produced near the end of his life. The exhibition identifies and then expands upon the three major themes that occupied Russell throughout his career: vivid images of cowboy life, Indian life and customs, and wildlife of the Northern Plains. Through amazing leaps in artistic skill and ever-increasing sophistication, Russell’s accomplishments can be seen to grow in stature from folk art to American masterpieces.




The C.M. Russell Museum holds hundreds of paintings, sculptures, drawings, and illustrations that Charlie Russell (1864–1926) created from childhood to the end of his life. Displayed in five galleries, the works are arranged to show how the artist evolved, as well as to celebrate the culture of the American West. Charlie’s subjects were based on Western history and his very own personal experience, reflecting themes of cowboy life, Northern Plains Indian life, and wildlife. Through his art, we learn about his life history, first as a newcomer to Montana from St. Louis working for cattle outfits and then as a professional artist who created masterpieces such as The Exalted Ruler, The Jerkline, and The Fireboat. Memorabilia from the Russell family completes this one-of-a-kind collection. Get to know Charlie Russell, beloved icon of the American West.


browning guns cmrm collectionTHE BROWNING FIREARMS COLLECTION

John Moses Browning (1855–1926) was one of the world’s most important and innovative gun makers. The Russell Museum’s outstanding Browning Firearms Collection includes rifles, shotguns, and handguns that survey the significant developments made by Browning and the Colt and Winchester companies, with which he worked.


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