Joe De Yong (1894-1975)

August 30, 2023 2 min read

Joseph Franklin De Yong was born in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. He had an immediate attraction to the cowboy way of life and when he was not at school he would help out a local ranches. If he wasn’t riding he was sketching the subjects he loved the most – cowboys and horses. At 13 years of age, he started working a local ranch when he heard a movie was being made in the area and they need cowboys. He jumped at the chance and met the silent-screen’s ultimate cowboy of the day, Tom Mix. Joe was hit with the idea of acting in moving pictures and followed the film company to Arizona in 1913. Somehow he came down with what was called at the time “cerebral meningitis” which would leave him totally deaf.

Undeterred and further focused on his love of the cowboy ways, De Yong recuperated by traveling the West - including seeing in an exhibit in Wyoming of the works of the renowned artist, Charles M. Russell. The exhibit stopped young Joe in his tracks and he started writing to Russell resulting in Joe’s opportunity to move to Great Falls, Montana in late 1914 to work with Russell in his studio. De Yong would be the first and only protégé of Russell’s staying with him - and his wife Nancy Russell - until CM Russell’s death in 1926. De Yong moved to Santa Barbara, CA at the urging of Russell and his mutual friend, artist Edward Borein. Borein would introduce De Yong to people in his circle that led to a meeting with film producer Cecil B. DeMille. De Yong would go on to a diverse career in the movie business, writing and creating artwork until his death in 1975. Joe De Yong contributed much to the fabric of the cultural West and most importantly brought people together to understand and appreciate the need for authenticity and detail in the representation of the pre-1900, American West. A West that both he and Russell knew was rapidly disappearing. After Russell’s death, De Yong dedicated his life to making sure the West he and Russell loved would not be forgotten.

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.