By Brad Reynolds
Paris Gibson was not “creative” in the artistic sense, but none could say that he was without imagination.
In 1881, at the Great Falls of the Missouri, he wrote, “This scenery, composed of valleys and rivers, flanked by smoothly rounded table lands, formed a picture never to be forgotten. I had looked upon this scene for a few moments only when I said to myself, here I will found a city.”
Gibson lost no time seeing this dream realized, standing proudly at Great Falls’ commencement in 1884.
“In 1883 I night hearded horses where this town stands,” wrote Charlie Russell in 1916.
Though the cowboy artist did not generally care for men who “civilized” the West, Russell had a soft spot for Gibson, going so far as to write him a letter on his 86th birthday.
“[T]alent like birth marks are gifts an no credit nor fault of those who ware them. It is onley men like you can claim credit,” reads one excerpt. “You my Friend was the camp finder and have all rights to be proud.”
Though they “rode different trails” west, Russell and Gibson shared a profound love for Montana and its people.
In the closing paragraph of his birthday letter to Gibson, Russell wrote, “A birthday is onley a place on the trail of life where the traveler stops to look back. Like the rest of us, you have rode some lame horses but the trail behind you will never be grass grone ore forggotten.”
For his friend, Russell included this poem:
There’s men that claim honor for notches—
Took nations with powder and lead,
They never done nothing for live ones,
But built up great cities of dead.
But I drink to one with no notch on his gun,
No knife or gun record to give,
But on a wind-swept ground, you built up a town
Where humans could come, grow and live.
So here’s hoping that health rides herd on your camp.
And sickness don’t locate your smoke,
For with health by your side—life’s a mighty smooth ride
And while he’s your friend—you’re not broke!
(In the postscript, Russell wrote, “With the sketch of my old friend and I, there’s some verses that I want to apologize for. I said that talent was a gift but I wasen’t there when they passed the poetry.”)
Four years later, Paris Gibson passed at the age of 90. In another six years, Russell followed.
The friends remain close, buried at the Highland Cemetery on the south side of Great Falls.