"When the Land Belonged to God" by Charles M. Russell

Considered by many to be Russell's masterwork, 'When the Land Belonged to God' is set on the Missouri River at daybreak, a few miles downstream from the town of Fort Benton. Having just crossed the river, a small group of bison — with steaming backs and dripping fur — stand, momentarily paused, on a rocky knoll, filling the center of the image and dominating the painting's foreground. Behind them, a never-ending stream of buffalo trail down the far hills and cross the river in their wake. While such sights were at one time familiar on the Great Plains, by the time Russell arrived in Montana the immense wild herds were gone and the shaggy beasts were all but extinct. Russell would, of course, have heard many stories about the halcyon days of the buffalo from the old-timers who had seen such vast herds and were still living when he arrived in the territory. He was also an avid reader and would have been familiar with accounts like those recorded in the journals of Lewis and Clark. 'When the Land Belonged to God' was commissioned by Helena's famed Montana Club, a private gentleman's association that for many decades played a key role in both the social and political life of the Treasure State. When, in the mid-1970s, financial difficulties forced the club to sell the painting, the Historical Society began negotiations for its purchase.

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