There would not be a CM Russell Museum were it not for Emma Josephine Trigg, the children’s librarian at the Great Falls Public Library more than 100 years ago. More than just a librarian, Josephine was instrumental in shaping the culture, education, and art of Great Falls.
Josephine’s early life in Great Falls, when her father Albert owned the Brunswick Saloon, exposed her to the grit, determination, and tenacity that permeates the city today. Charlie, a close friend of Albert’s, liked to drink at the Brunswick and as Charlie developed his craft, Albert provided Russell studio space in the bar as well. Once Charlie, with the help of Nancy, became financially successful, he built a studio and home next door to the Triggs’ house in Great Falls. Josephine, then a teenager, became a lifelong friend of the Russells and became instrumental in securing Charlie’s legacy after his passing in 1926.
Josephine Trigg became a leading voice in the fight for women’s suffrage in Montana in 1895. Only 24, she fought alongside community leaders in a hard-fought battle that would continue into the 20th century. By the time Montana women earned the right to vote in 1914, Josephine had established her career as the city’s most prominent librarian.
By the time Josephine died, she owned more than 150 Russell works. In her will she left all 150 to the city, with one stipulation. Great Falls had to build a museum to house them within two years. Nancy Russell had already left the city their home and Russell’s studio, and that’s where the museum was built. Opened in 1953 and the recipient many renovations, the museum’s collection now includes more than 700 Russell paintings.
Today, you can visit the Trigg Collection at the world-renowned CM Russell Museum that contains the best collection of Russell paintings, sculptures, illustrated letters, post cards and memorabilia. Now showing at the museum is CM Russell | The Women in His Life & Art highlights the influence of both Nancy Russell and Josephine Triggs, who were instrumental in securing Charlie’s legacy as America’s Cowboy Artist. Josephine was a passionate promoter of Art, Culture, and Education in Great Falls and today, you can experience her life as you walk through the Northside Historic District where she lived. To learn more about Josephine, plan on participating in the annual Waking the Dead tours, where Josephine’s ancestors will tell her story at Highland Cemetery.