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Into the Archives: Joe De Yong

In just 11 short weeks, our very own Emily digitized and transcribed over 200 letters from the Joe De Yong Papers in the Dickinson Research Center. The work she did over her summer internship will help people find out more about Joe as an artist and consultant for Western films as well as all his famous friends. She wrote this blog to highlight her favorite parts of the project. Take it away, Emily!

As I’ve been working on transcribing letters from the museum’s Joe De Yong collection throughout the summer, I’ve enjoyed learning more about Joe’s life and his experiences. The insight into Joe’s life I’ve gained has been so interesting, and I hope to share a little bit of that here.

From artists to actors, Joe came to know many famous people in the west during the early to mid-1900s. His own life was remarkable, from a childhood case of cerebral meningitis that left him deaf for the rest of his life to forming a friendship with Charles M. Russell and working on movie sets with people such as Tom Mix and Cecil B. DeMille. Joe worked as a western artist himself, creating various forms of art throughout his life.

Joe was born in Webster Groves, Missouri, and lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma during his childhood. As a young adult, Joe moved around and visited various locations. He spent some time in Prescott, Arizona while working with Tom Mix on a few of Mix’s silent films.

His career working with actors and directors continued beyond his experiences with Tom Mix. In this photo, Joe is pictured on set alongside Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard, and Cecil B. DeMille. 

Joe spent a lot of time living and working with Charles Russell in Great Falls, Montana. While there, Joe would work on his own art as well as receive advice from Russell. In a letter written to his parents, Joe said, “Working on Eckfords picture now – brought out the main figure some + when Russell came from town the [other] night he took one look + said the best you’ve done! In addition to learning from Russell, Joe seemed to become a family friend in the time he spent there.  The west was the main focus of Joe’s own work, from portraits of cowboys to landscapes of his surroundings. Joe mentions in a letter from his time with the Russell family that he would have Mrs. Russell drop him off “some place along the road to paint” then pick him up on her way back. His art included sketches, paintings, and sculptures.  Joe did many things throughout his life, and I’ve been glad to have the opportunity to learn more about him. If you want to learn more about Joe, try checking out the Joe De Yong finding aid: De Yong – National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (  

About The Dickinson Research Center (DRC)

The Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center (DRC) houses the Museum’s archival and photographic collections, institutional records and library. It shares the Museum’s mission to preserve and interpret the evolving history and cultures of the American West through exhibitions, education, research, and publications.

The collections span centuries and include over 42,000 books; 700,000 photographs; dime novels, manuscripts, maps, film posters, movies and more. Not limited to the old West, they also cover the modern authors, directors and artists inspired by it. Main subject areas include general western history, rodeo history, Native American history, western popular culture, western art and ranching.


The Dickinson Research Center is open to the public by appointment from 10:00AM to 4:00PM, Monday through Friday. To schedule an appointment, contact us at

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