Frank on the Prairie

Frank on the Prairie

by Harry Castlemon
Charles M. Russell Museum, 2017
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Reviewed in Out of the Past
Explore and discuss this title with the Outrider Reading Group

In 1903 the famed “Cowboy Artist,” Charles M. Russell, presented his nephew Austin with a copy of the boy’s adventure book Frank on the Prairie with some extraordinary enhancements. Actually, the volume already belonged to Austin, and his Uncle Charlie had borrowed it to add to its pages a series of original illustrations. This new facsimile edition of that copy, among the rarest of rare books, features little-known works of art by the artist.




The prolific author of the novel Frank on the Prairie, Charles Austin Fosdick (1842–1915), who went by the pen name Harry Castlemon, was one of Russell’s favorite storytellers. Castlemon’s book, which first appeared in 1868 as part of the Gunboat Series of Books for Boys, recounts the adventures of young Frank and his friend Archie as they travel across the Old West. Clearly inspired by the story line, Russell produced eleven watercolors for his nephew’s 1893 copy. They are beautifully reproduced here in full color, along with a single pencil sketch of mounted horsemen departing a fort.

As Montana art collector Thomas Minckler explains in his essay, the extra-illustrated Frank on the Prairie displays the full range of Russell’s signature subjects and themes: the regal American Indian, a pitched Indian battle of counting coup, the fur trader, an iconic buffalo hunt, the outlaw, a nighttime camp scene, a tomahawk peace pipe, and a herd of wild horses. All of these images, meticulously drawn and painted, are replicated in this facsimile version exactly as they first appeared in Austin’s personal copy of the book.


Frank on the Prairie
was only one of a handful of books to which Russell added illustrations during his career. It is one of even fewer to contain watercolors. Showcasing Russell’s artistry and his perspective on the American West, the volume is, in Minckler’s words, “one of Russell’s most personalized works of art.”



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