Family tradition protects Russell heritage

George Trask and his wife Dorothy stand behind his C.M. Russell Heritage Award mementos Friday morning at the Eagles Manor in Lewistown. The statue, a bronze by Greg Kelsey titled “Get ‘Er All Down,” depicts Russell trying to get down the character of the West before the culture changed.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Montana, from its mountains to its prairies, is dotted with wooden ghosts, houses and hovels whose stories are often as abandoned as the property itself. Near Utica, however, there’s a set of wooden bones with a heritage strong enough to flesh them out. This cabin, maintained for over a century, once housed Western artist Charlie Russell.

For preserving this cabin, and its story, Utica’s George Trask was given the C.M. Russell Heritage Award last month.

He may not have known of the award until this year, but George has always been familiar with the artist it promotes: C.M. Russell has been woven into four generations of the Trask family, and he can narrate every detail.

George’s great-grandfather, also named George Trask, started the family’s encounters with the artist. A cross-country horseback ride brought the patriarch from the East Coast to Central Montana. His search for a place to settle led him to a plot of land owned by Jake Hoover.

Hoover was a trapper by trade, and had previously played host to a young and jobless Russell. Hoover’s cabin, destined to become a preservation project for the Trasks, had been Russell’s home for several years. Hoover’s profession even helped teach the teenage artist learn animal anatomy.

When Great-Grandfather George bought Hoover’s land, he also bought the cabin. The sale’s closing, however, created another link to Russell.

“Part of the deal, when [Great-Grandfather George] bought it from Hoover, was that Hoover had to build another cabin he could move his wife and family into,” the younger George said. “That was the house I was born and raised in.”

Hoover built the cabin with the help of a young Charlie Russell.

An accident killed Great-Grandfather George, but his son, Bill Trask, continued the ranch his father had started. While the Trask family continued living in one Russell building, they worked on maintaining the other, and Bill started searching for resources.

“He tried in the early ‘30s to get the state to help, but they wouldn’t,” the younger George said of his father. “So it deteriorated and fell down.”

The collapse wasn’t permanent, though. After George left home, his father rebuilt the cabin, and when George took over the family ranch, he also took over the family’s preservation legacy. Since 1979, he has continued the maintenance of the building and the story.

George’s award comes from the C.M. Russell Museum, a non-profit he’s familiar with. George has paired with the museum before to host trail rides and tours featuring Russell’s cabin and Central Montana history.

While the partnership has increased the cabin’s reputation and introduced the Trasks to countless Russell enthusiasts, it’s also helped the family promote their goal, according to George’s wife Dorothy.

“Through the years we were up there, George’s dad would invite people to come and look at the cabin,” she said. “Anybody is welcome to come and see it. They always have been.”

The Trask’s invitation, along with the continued preservation work, is why Jim Peterson nominated George for the heritage award.

Buffalo-based Peterson has known about the cabin since he was young, but his membership on the Museum’s board of directors gave him the right tools to recognize the Trasks’ work. He thought George was a perfect fit the C.M. Russell Heritage Award, which honors efforts to preserve the life and legacy of the Western artist.

“My motivation to nominate George Trask was that for three generations, [the Trasks] have rebuilt and preserved that cabin to honor the legacy of Charlie Russell,” Peterson said.

George hopes the trend will continue in the fourth generation.

“Now I’ve turned it over to my son, Clint, for the purpose of rebuilding and maintaining the Russell story and the cabin,” he said.

While the legacy has been passed on, George is grateful for the chances it afforded him. Not only did he meet a variety of artists, historians and other Russell fans, he has mementos to remind him of his part in the legacy. George’s heritage award included a bronze of Russell and his horse, as well as a one-of-a-kind Russell print.

“I just have a sincere appreciation for the C.M. Russell Museum for all the things they’ve done and the help they’ve given,” he said.

“And all the great people, artists and such, we’ve met through them,” added Donna.

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