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Joe De Yong

 (1894 - 1975)
Joe (Joseph) Franklin De Yong was active/lived in California, Montana, Missouri.  Joe De Yong is known for western painting and sculpture, illustration, etching.

Joe De Yong

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following is from Ray Castello, American Art Collection, Taos, New Mexico. He credits the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center Archives at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Joe De Yong was a protegee of Charles M. Russell, and was a western artist, illustrator, bronze caster, cinematic technical director, scenario research consultant and cartoonist.  In some ways his cartoon character Kid Currycomb reflects the desires of his creator.  Beyond the fact that De Yong's pseudonym as editor of the Eatons' Dude Ranch newsletter, Wranglin' Notes, was Kid Currycomb, De Yong always desired to be a cowboy.

This desire was revealed in a conversation with Will James, cowboy writer and artist, at Eatons' Ranch probably in 1927.   A 33-year old De Yong said he envied James for what he had seen and could do in terms of being a cowboy.  He wrote: "I'm laying all my cards down even tho I am ashamed to since none of this shows my natural gait - you see I got nipped in the bud at 18 and hadn't the chance to keep going at what I liked."

Cerebro-meningitis, which left him totally and irreparably deaf, was the disease that nipped De Yong's pursuit of a cherished lifestyle in January of 1913.  Reflecting about this time in his life, De Yong considered the event as a "definite trick of fate" which pushed him toward painting and modeling, "just to kill time!"

He wrote, "While I could always draw well enough as a kid to take the ability for granted. I had no particular idea of ever becoming an artist. In fact, handling young horses and range cattle were my main interests in life, and I wasn't looking for anything better!"

In the subsequent sixty years, De Yong spent a lot of time painting, modeling, and sculpting.  Along the way he befriended a number of famous personalities including Tom Mix, William "Bill" Gollings, Charles M. Russell, Ed Borein, Maynard Dixon, Will James, Will Rogers, William S. Hart, and Cecille B. DeMille.  This list reads like the Who's Who of Western Art and Entertainment of the period.

Joseph Franklin De Yong was born in Webster Grove, Missouri on March 12, 1894. He was the only child of Mary Ellen Burkett of Iowa and Adrian De Yong, Jr. of Missouri.  Mary (1873-1973) was the daughter of Elizabeth Matlock and Neander Keller Burkett.  Adrian (1872-1923) was the son of Eleanor McGowan and Adrian De Yong, Sr.  Joe A. Bartles, last hereditary chief of the Turtle clan of the Delawares, became De Yong's godfather and namesake.  Adrian befriended Bartles in a St. Louis military school and shared hunting trips into Indian Territory.  It was Bartles who successfully encouraged Adrian to move his family to Dewey in Indian Territory in 1899.

In 1895, Adrian had opened a general merchandise store in Dewey. "Uncle Joe," according to De Yong, was the first cowpuncher he had ever seen.

While Adrian established a home at Dewey, De Yong attended public schools in Webster Groves through 1905.  Between 1907 and 1912, he attended public schools in Dewey and Bartlesville.  When not in school, De Yong learned to ride and draw horses at the Bartles Bar B Ranch.  While not in school, he in 1907 at the tender age of 13 began working for Sherman Moore of Moore & Todd at the Horseshoe L Ranch.  This seasonal employment continued until 1913.

De Yong writes: "So it turned out that I did my first real cow work for him- a real cowman."  This apparent, almost defensive obsession with real cowboys took root early.  And, like Currycomb, De Yong wanted always to be counted among them. As a boy, the men De Yong emulated were top notch working-cow hands including Joe Knight, Jim Rider, Henry Grammar, Slickey Little, and Earl Woodard.  De Yong characterized these men in this way: "...some were better hands than others, some were better men, but anybody can read that list forward and back or right down the big middle, and it still means the same thing, they were all real ones."

In 1910, Tom Mix (1880-1940), former livestock foreman for the Miller 101 Ranch at Bliss, Oklahoma and husband to Dewey native, Olive Stokes, came to Dewey with Col. William Selig's Motion Picture Company of Chicago to make the movie, Ranch Life in the Great Southwest.  De Yong had a bit part in this movie which was filmed partly on the Moore's Horseshoe L Ranch where he handled the cattle. Upon seeing the film, the impressionable De Yong yearned to be a cowboy actor.  In January 1913 he joined Mix, as part of a supporting cast of real cow hands, and the Selig Company in Prescott, Arizona.  During the filming of The Law and the Outlaw, he contracted meningitis, which in his words left him "totally deaf, cross-eyed, and without any sense of balance."

"Outside of that" he explained in a typically understated manner, "I was all right." With his vision returned and his walking ability slightly regained, De Yong, accompanied by Earl Woodard, who was instrumental in his recovery, left Prescott in July and returned to Dewey by way of Colorado, Wyoming, and finally Webster Groves, Missouri by the end of that fateful year.  Sherman Moore offered him a job riding line, but De Yong turned him down reasoning that he did not like the idea of playing "second fiddle" to either the horses or the riders with whom he had worked. He was nineteen years old.

Options limited, De Yong renewed his interest in his innate ability to draw.  He had been influenced during his precocious childhood by the works of Frederic Remington's western subjects published in Collier's Weekly and by a billboard advertisement using Charles M. Russell's A Bad Hoss at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  But, it was not until mid-August of 1913 when his passion was rekindled.  On their way back to Dewey, he and Woodard attended the Cheyenne Frontier Days where De Yong saw a display of western art by Russell.  Consequently, he bought a folio of Russell's prints and the yearning to meet and be taught by Russell began.

By December 1913, De Yong began his quest to contact Russell.  Between complaining of chest pains and breathlessness (perhaps early undiagnosed symptoms of asthma) and urging his father to obtain every Russell item he could, De Yong sent Russell a set of sketches and a photograph of his first model.  In return he received words of encouragement from Russell, which reinforced his resolve to go to Montana.

In July 1914, De Yong visited Russell's studio in Great Falls, Montana for the first time.  By year's close, the De Yong family had moved to Big Timber and then finally to Choteau, Montana to accommodate their gifted son.  This accommodation was indicative of the closeness witnessed in the De Yong family, particularly the long supportive relationship between Joe and his mother, Mary.  As De Yong's father, Adrian, died from pernicious anemia in 1923, it is fair to say that Mary remained Joe's closest friend and confidant right up until her death in 1973 at the age of 100.

On January 3, 1916 De Yong began to work in Russell's studio.  Thus began a
teacher-student relationship, which would last through the next ten years until Russell's death in October of 1926.  Russell was 51 years old.  Nancy, his wife, was 38 years old.  De Yong was nearly 22 years old.

During this period, De Yong developed and refined his ability to communicate through sign language, "hand talking."  In this regard he learned a great deal from Russell, who was himself an accomplished hand talker.  Additionally, while De Yong could speak and not hear, much of the communication between the two was affected by handwritten conversation notes.  Regarding the origin of the numerous conversation notes written by Russell, De Yong explained that since he was totally deaf and because Russell "habitually spoke deep in his chest, and with little lip movement," it was necessary to either use Indian sign language or write.  Many of these notes are included in the De Yong's personal papers and provide an insight into this unique teacher-student relationship.

Russell also attempted to instill in the youthful De Yong a critical eye for authenticity and detail in art.  To this end De Yong accompanied Russell into the mountains of Montana and Wyoming, and to the Indian reservations of the Blackfeet, Gros Ventres, and Crow.  This eye for detail, especially regarding Indian materials, coupled with voluminous sketches and notes, would serve him well in future years.

During this Russell decade, De Yong met several contemporary western artists including Ed Borein, Will James, and Olaf Seltzer.  While in 1913 De Yong had illustrated a little book entitled Oklahoma Tales & Jingles, it was during this time he undertook illustration work in a major way.  One of De Yong's early promoters was Nancy Russell.  In a letter to R. E. Leppert, Art Manager for Funk & Wagnalls Company, she wrote, "There is a young fellow working in the studio with Mr. Russell these days, and he was just about finished an oil color of a Bucking Broncho which Chas. thinks is good.  It is a shape and size you can use for a cover on the Digest, if you care for anything as wild."

Within a month after Nancy's promotion, De Yong had sold his first magazine cover for $100.  However, the illustration was not used on a Literary Digest cover until March 28, 1925 issue.  In 1916, De Yong created the poster and program art promoting the Dewey Roundup for his godfather, Joe Bartles.  In the early 1920s he did the illustrations for Frank B. Linderman's books, Bunch-Grass and Blue-Joint and Lige Mounts, Free Trapper.

Concurrently, he had enrolled in a correspondence art education course through the Federal School of Illustrating and Cartooning.  Printed in the Federal School's publication, The Federal Illustrator in 1925, De Yong's story of adversity caused by a handicap served as both an inspiration for other would-be artists and as a promotional vehicle for the school.

By 1919, De Yong had met Howard Eaton, the founder of Eatons' Dude Ranch in Wolf, Wyoming.  Having become dude wrangler and semi-official artist at Eatons', De Yong made a trip through Glacier National Park in Montana with one of the Eaton parties.  That trip opened a fruitful market for his talents in sketching, modeling, and painting.  Throughout the 1920s, he continued to reap the benefits of this market through the guests at the ranch, where in addition he entertained them in his tipi with rope tricks.  Between 1923 and 1929, De Yong under the pseudonym of "Kid Currycomb" served as editor of Wranglin' Notes, a newsletter produced at the ranch.

For whatever reasons De Yong never married, although he had a number of romances with females.

In September 1926, De Yong moved to Santa Barbara, California ostensibly to learn bronze casting from Ed Borein.  On October 14, Russell died, and Joe would thereafter live in California.  While in California, he renewed his friendships with Will Rogers and Tom Mix.  Earlier he also met and befriended the western actor, William S. Hart.

But for several years following Russell's death, De Yong's career had its ups and downs.  He continued illustration work for covers and magazine articles.  He even designed and illustrated personalized Christmas cards.  The mid-1930s provided another variation on an art career theme for De Yong.  In 1934, he joined the annual ride of the Rancheros Visitadores, which included southern California businessmen, ranchers, stage, screen, radio, and political celebrities.  Each May the group covered 100 miles on horseback or stagecoach bunking at ranches along the way.

In 1936, through the Visitadores, De Yong met John Fisher, the business manager of Cecil B. DeMille, the motion picture director.  A seeker of realism and authenticity, DeMille had been looking for a technical advisor for his new motion picture, The Plainsman, starring Gary Cooper.  DeMille's search ended with De Yong, who was hired as costume designer and frontiersman/ Indian expert.  Thus, he embarked on a second career in the motion picture industry, that of scenario research consultant, which would continue through 1967.

De Yong's filmography includes Wells Fargo (1937), Union Pacific (1939), North West Mounted Police (1940), Tall in the Saddle (1944), Buffalo Bill (1944), The
Virginian (1946), The Big Sky (1952), and El Dorado (1967).

While his film-making career gave him considerable influence in terms of what the general public saw and how it perceived cowboys, it also provided an outlet for his compulsion for authenticity.  This compulsion might have been fueled by his repeated attempts between 1935 and 1938 to launch a comic strip called Kid Currycomb's Diary.  Kid Currycomb, as mentioned earlier, was a humorously, pitiful character who wanted to be a cowboy.  De Yong saw the strip as a highly marketable and lucrative concern in terms of book, novelty and toy rights.  Yet, his primary goal for the character was to have it animated. De Yong wrote, "There has never been a Western character in the animated field."

Shortly before his death, Will Rogers volunteered to show some of the comic strip materials to Walt Disney.  Later, turning to Irvin S. Cobb for assistance in this matter, De Yong obtained an appointment with the Disney Company.  But, all was not well with a potential collaboration between him and Disney.  De Yong characterized the situation in the following: "...I found I had to sign a release which not only freed Disney of any future responsibility concerning this material, but also freed any one in his employ! Well, everybody knows he pays most of his staff low wages and due to this I'd picked up a rumor that a group from all departments in his organization
were planning to resign and set up their own plant.  So on learning this I felt it would be poor business for me to submit anything and risk having some one go away from Disney's and make use of some part of my idea."

The saga continued.  In 1936 De Yong successfully attempted to obtain the support of Bob Burns of the Paramount Studio.  In 1938, Tex Austin asked De Yong to do the illustrations for his book on the authentic history of the cattle industry.  Aware of De Yong's preoccupation with Kid Currycomb and desirous of getting him to work for him, Austin offered to have Cyrus McCormick, a publisher of a weekly New Mexico paper with state-wide circulation, look at the strip.  Moreover, Austin suggested that McCormick's cousin, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, might be interested in these materials, but admonished De Yong saying that if he took the illustrating job he would have to have a more positive attitude going forward.  Yet, in spite of strong recommendations from Will Rogers, Ed Borein, and Will James, Kid Currycomb's Diary was never realized.  Kid Currycomb remained a part of De Yong only.

When World War II and gas rationing began, De Yong moved to Hollywood permanently.  He worked with John Wayne in Tall in the Saddle; with Bob Hope in The Paleface; and for George Stevens in Shane in 1951.  One of the final movies to which De Yong lent his expertise was Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo, which was released in the beginning of 1959.

During the fifties and sixties, De Yong devoted much of his time to writing memoirs, articles, and short stories.

William Gardner Bell, Will James' biographer, in summing up De Yong's career writes, "he was an accomplished painter, sketcher, sculptor, and etcher, but not a writer.

As he grew older, De Yong began to reflect and write about his life.  In one instance he perfectly summed up his life: "...due to a certain childish ability at drawing and painting - coupled with an inherited Irish imagination - if my daydreams were at any time hampered.  I was unaware of it.  Always old for my years, and spending most of my time among grown people, from choice - I now realize that I was not only a born observer but - a tireless student as well as ruthless critic concerning any subject or activity that interested me."

The creator of Kid Currycomb was one of the "real ones. "He was as William Gardner Bell writes one of a "handful of genuine cowboy artists from an authentic cowboy era."

Joseph Franklin De Yong died in April 1975 in a hospital in Los Angeles, California at the age of 81.  His remains were returned to Montana for burial at Choteau beside his parents.  With his passing an era in western art ended.

Biography from the Archives of askART
"My Years With Charles Russell" by Joe De Yong

While I could always draw well enough as a kid to take the ability for granted, I had no particular idea of ever becoming an artist. In fact, handling young hosses and "follerin after cattle" were my main interests in life! And I wasn't looking for anything better. Until just before my nineteenth birthday, a definite trick of fate in the form of cerebro-menengitis, which left totally deaf turned me to painting and modeling just to kill time.

Having been an admirer of the work of Charles Russell the cowboy artist of Montana ever since I was ten years old, I wrote to him for some pointers on methods and materials in modeling. To which I received one of his now-famous, illustrated letters in reply. From then on further encouragement by his kindly interest as expressed in a second letter I was hell-bent to go to Montana, a move that eventually led to my spending ten unbelievable years in Russell's studio. Not only did I work with him, but we often rode together and sometimes camped together in the high mountains and the unfenced Indian Reservations where I got to see his country and his people through his eyes.

Of course, there was a lot about those priceless years that I in my carefree, almost kid-like, way pretty much took for granted. Until... one beautiful, fall day, when the frost had turned the aspens to yellow and gold, he simply set out on his high-lonesome and, traveling slow and steady, - as was his way rode out of sight over the skyline. Always far better mounted as he was, I'd often found it hard to stay in sight of his dust (in art and in life!) so that, even though I steadily dogged his tracks, I could never catch up with him again. And while he wasn't the sort to just ride off and leave a friend on his own, that way, I finally realized that he was crowding a deadlinewith the end of his trail timed and measured. And now that I a good eight years older than he was at that never-to-be-forgotten time find myself following a steeper and steeper trail. I sometimes look forward to what may lie ahead beyond that high pass that is said to cut a notch in those snow-capped mountains that lie straight ahead. Will the colors of the far-country be as bright? Will the range still be unfenced, and none of the old trails plowed-under? Will the same old friends gather together at night? Sometimes, I can't help but wonder!

Joe De Yong Hollywood, California July 28, 1963
Submitted by California Western Gallery

Biography from the Archives of askART
A painter and sculptor of Indian and western subjects, Joe De Yong was born in Webster Grove, Missouri, and was raised in Indian territory.  As a teenager he learned fancy roping from Will Rogers and earned his living as a cowboy including working with Tom Mix in making westerns.

De Yong had deafness due to childhood spinal meningitis and became an expert at Indian sign language.  As an artist, he was primarily self taught, and his greatest influence was Charles Russell during the time he worked in Russell's studio from 1916 to 1926 in Montana.  Russell and his wife became very close to De Yong and treated him like a member of the family, and after Russell's death in 1926, De Yong became his "artistic heir and guardian of his creative legacy". (Hassrick, 146).

Through the Russells, De Yong became friends with Howard Eaton, whose family had ranches in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, and because of this connection De Yong spent much time painting in these locations, going first to Yellowstone in 1920.

He later moved to California where he worked as a technical advisor in the movie industry and lived in Pasadena and Santa Barbara.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in Webster Grove, MO on March 12, 1894,  Joe DeYong was raised in Indian territory and, as a teenager, learned fancy roping from Will Rogers, earned his living as a cowboy, and worked with Tom Mix in making westerns.  Due to spinal meningitis, he was deaf from an early age and  became an expert at Indian sign language. 

Primarily a self-taught painter, his greatest influence came during the period 1916-26 when he worked in the studio of Charles M. Russell in Montana.  After Russell's death, DeYong became nationally known for his Indian and western subjects.  He later moved to California and worked as a technical advisor in the movie industry with homes in Pasadena and Santa Barbara. 

He died in Los Angeles on April 16, 1975. 

Santa Barbara Public Library; Cowboy Hall of Fame (Oklahoma City); Gatesville (TX) Post Office. 

Edan Hughes, author of the book "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Sam; WWAA 1940; AAW.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Bozeman Trail Gallery
Joe DeYong was born in Missouri and at an early age moved to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. He worked as a cowboy and became good friends with Tom Mix who brought him into the movie business. While working on a movie in Prescott, AZ he contracted spinal meningitis and lost his hearing. DeYong's interest in art lead him to correspond with Charles M. Russell who invited him to come to Montana.

He lived with the Russells from 1916 to 1926, becoming Russell's only protege. During this period, Howard Eaton brought dude trips to Glacier Park and invited DeYong to join the ride where he painted plein-air landscapes of the Park for the dudes.

After Russell's death DeYong moved to California to do costume and set-design work for Cecil B. DeMille and others in the movie business. He was an accomplished artist in many mediums including oil, watercolor, charcoal or pencil, pen and ink, and etching.

He was good friends with Will Rogers, Ed Borein, and others who were involved with the Rancheros Vistadores and so you will find many items related to this renowned outfit with art done by DeYong with a leather burner.

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About  Joe De Yong

Born:  1894 - Webster Grove, Missouri
Died:   1975 - Los Angeles, California
Known for:  western painting and sculpture, illustration, etching

Essays referring to
Joe De Yong

Western Artists