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Response to "The Story of the Cowpuncher," by Charles M. Russell

Eli Redeker

For the last several years, Robert Stubblefield has invited me to talk about The Write Question with students in one of the classes he teaches at the University of Montana. We talk about specific programs, which, if students have done their homework assignments, they've listened to. Then I answer questions about the process of reading, interviewing, and creating programs for radio and the Web. I also invite each of them to send me an essay they've written in response to a writer they read during the semester.

The following essay, responding to "The Story of the Cowpuncher" by Charles M. Russell, was written by Eli Redeker.


An old print hung in the hall in our home, perplexing in its movement and beauty. It hung, next to concert posters and photographs of long-dead relatives. Out of place, yet still a commanding presence, dominating the wall on which it hung.

My father, the ultimate Kansan, with his thirty years of ranch-hand experience, would often look at the mess of hooves and horseflesh with longing for his youth. Sometimes he'd mutter to himself or to a guest, viewing the painting. “Pretty damn hairy situation, if you ask me.”

I regarded this with the usual disdain of the mid-western adolescent. I paid little mind to the print, or my father's obsession with it. It was just another thing hanging on the walls of our house.

When I was in the eighth grade, my father thrust into my hands a short story. He said nothing other than that the person who wrote this story also painted the print in the hallway.

It was "The Story of the Cowpuncher" by Charles M. Russell. Never had I read anything written in such a way. It was a written version of one of my father's stories, told by a narrator named Rawhide Rawlins. The great western dialect engulfs the reader in a sense of the west. It is a style of speaking still used by the old-timers in the Kansas hill country.

“I don't know what state or territory you hail from, but you've smelt sagebrush an' drank alkali. I heap savvy you.”

It is a powerful message of unity in the old west, written in a voice that the reader believes. Russell was using a territorial dialect in his writing long before John Steinbeck shocked readers with his colloquialisms. My family had once all talked like this, shouting things from horseback. They had done it for generations. Finally, I understood why my father looked at the print with tears in his eyes. It was a reminder of the way things once were. It was a powerful connection.


Born and raised in Kansas, Eli Redeker is a part time student, currently spending his first winter in Montana. He lives in Missoula, where he spends most of his time playing music and enjoying the outdoors.

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