At the same time Charles M. Russell was painting the West, Charles E. Morris was capturing it with photographs. Orphaned around fifteen, Morris went north to Wyoming and worked as a cowboy. He taught himself the art of photography and attended business school in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where he met his future wife, Helen. The young couple moved to Big Sandy for a time before settling in Chinook. There they set up their first studio, housed in a tent that also served as their first home.
Morris photographed Montana life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. On film, he captured cowboys, reservation life, forts, ranching, and old homesteads. Much of Morris’ work was sent on postcards (mostly reproduced in Germany).
After ten years in Chinook, the Morrises moved to Great Falls where they opened a stationery store.
While in Great Falls, Morris befriended Charlie Russell. Though Russell was twelve years older, the two men had many striking similarities. Both were self-taught artists. Both had a strong appreciation of the West. Both of their wives played an integral part in their respective successes, and, of course, they had the same first name. Even the nickname “Kid” was shared among them.
Russell helped Morris’ career by convincing him to visit St. Louis. There, Morris entered a photograph in the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exhibition. The piece, titled Cowboy on a Bucking Bronco, took first prize, confirming Morris’ exceptional skill as a photographer. Morris returned Russell’s favor, taking pictures of Russell’s paintings and marketing them on postcards. Of these paintings, Last of the 5000 (also known as Waiting for a Chinook) was incredibly popular as a postcard and helped kickstart Russell’s rise to fame.
Both Charlies had a significant impact on the other’s career and both significantly impacted the art world. Their dedication to record a vanishing lifestyle made for some of the greatest Western art in history, and their works are still highly regarded to this day.