Here, gathered in our beloved South Dakota, are a few members of our Williamson / Mattson Clan. Charles and Luella are to be blamed (be kind, they didn't know what they were doing). We're generally a happy bunch and somewhat intelligent (notwithstanding our tenuous grasp on reality). I'm also proud to say that most of us still have our teeth.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Vercellino Family History. Great Grandfather John Vercellino (Grandma Elda's dad) Passport Application to Return to the United States from South Africa.

Great Grandparents Marie and John Vercellion

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
     I spent several hours today researching the Vercellino family lines.  In the search I came across our Great Grandfather John Vercellino's passport application filled out in South Africa for his return trip to the United States where he eventually settled in Lead.  

     I found several interesting things worthy of more research.  First we note that John and Marie have one child, Raymond (Remi).  John and Marie took a trip to Italy where their son Raymond was born. They left Illinois and moved to Cape Town South Africa.  Great Grandfather John worked in a diamond mine.  His intention was to stay no longer than 2 years.  They didn't.       Now I can give the exact length of their stay. They arrived in Cape Town in February 1903 and returned to the United States in December 1903; a short stay of 10 months.
John Vercellino was a guard in the diamond mine. Only blacks could work in the mine because of the heat. His job as a guard was  to search the miners when they'd come up form the mine to be sure they weren't stealing diamonds. 
     Great Grandmother Marie was the primary cause for the move back to the United States according to family stories.  Marie was so frightened of the native South Africans that John bought her a pistol with these instructions, "When someone comes and knocks on the door, NEVER open the door. Look out the peephole first."  One night a black man knocked on the door. She was frightened wondering why a black man would be on her doorstep. She took her pistol, no questions asked, and shot him through the door. She looked again and saw him running away. This incident lead to a quick return to the United States on the St.Louis.  It is also interesting to note that Raymond's real name is Remeigo.
     They moved straight away to Lead, South Dakota where Grandma Elda was born in 1905.  John's brother Fred was already living in Lead and had been for several years. He owned the Christoforo Columbo Saloon and was known for his excellent homemade wines. The family stayed in Lead where both John and Marie died.    

Monday, July 23, 2018

From the Vercellino Line: Robert Hastie Our Distinguished World War II Bomber Pilot.

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
     Today I want to highlight the work of our cousin, Robert Hastie in World War II.  Robert was the son of Mabel Vercellino, daughter of Fidele Vercellion, Grandma Elda's uncle.  Fidele was the owner of the saloon / bar that we visit quite often in Lead.   

     First Lieutenant Robert B. Hastie was born in Lead, South Dakota Apr. 24, 1924 and moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet. During WWII, he served as a B-17 pilot in the 95th Bomb Group 334th Squadron flying 35 missions over occupied Europe, the only group in Eighth Air Force to earn three Distinguished Unit Citations.[3] He then transitioned into Mosquitos and flew reconnaissance with the 25th Bomb Group 654th Squadron.  He returned to the U.S. in 1945 on the Queen Mary.

Relationship Chart

After service in WWII, Hastie went to Northwestern University on the GI Bill and graduated with a degree in engineering and was in the Pi Tau Sigma International Mechanical Engineering Honor Society. He married the former Bette Lu Haake, also of Kenosha Wisconsin who was a registered nurse during the war. They moved to Dallas, Texas where he worked as a pipeline engineer for Atlantic Pipeline Co.
His High School Yearbook photo
In 1955 he flew to London with his wife and two children on a Stratocruiser to help rebuild Europe with the Joint Construction Agency. They returned to Texas where they had a third child. He continued in pipeline engineering with the Atlantic Pipeline compant as it merged and combined eventually becoming ARCO. His proudest work and most technically challenging position was designing and becoming Project Manager for the Trans Alaska Pipeline. He made many trips to Alaska to prepare and build the pipeline and insure it was operational, and became a Vice President of ARCO Transportation in Los Angles CA area, where he retired in 1985 and still resides.
In retirement, he flew light aircraft with friends on trips around the country and went sailing in Southern California and charters around the world.
Robert went to Horham, England, in 2005 to take one last flight over the home of the 95th BG(H) during the European Air Offensive of WWII. Friends in Horham provided flights for the air crews, including letting Robert take the controls of the aircraft for the symbolic flight.
Robert’s decorations include: Pilot Wings, European-Africa-ME Campaign Medal (with 5 Bronze Stars), Air Medal (with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), AAF Presidential Unit Citation (with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster), Russian Commemorative Medal (The 50th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War) 1994, Polish Uprising Cross 2004, Polish Merit for Warsaw 2004, and the French Knight of the Legion of Honor 2014. He resides with his wife in Huntington Beach, CA.
Military Service Details: USAAF WWII service 19 Nov 42 to 1 Nov 45; 30 Jan 1943 basic training at George Field, Illinois; 1 Mar 43 flight training; 20 Feb 44 Student Officer B-17s; 9 Apr 44 advanced crew training Rapid City, South Dakota Air Base Class of 44B RTU; 4 Jul 44 transferred overseas ETO, 8th AF [Kearney NB-Bangor, Maine-Gandor-Prestwick Scotland on 9 July 1944]; 11 Jul 44 95th BG(H) 334th Sqdn Horham, UK, 13th Combat Wing/ 3rd Air Division/ 8th AF (flew 35 combat missions over occupied Europe in B-17Gs thru 6 Jan 1945); 4 Feb 44 25th BG 654th Sqdn Watton UK (flew reconnaissance missions in B-26s and Mosquito MK IIIs); Jun 45/ 2 Aug 1945 returned to USA on Queen Mary; Reserve Status Camp McCoy 1 Nov 45 to Apr 53; honorably discharged
Campaigns: Air Offensive Europe, Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace
Operations: Frantic; Market Garden; Warsaw Uprising; Battle of the Bulge
From Wikipedia:
The 334th began strategic bombing operations in July and continued until flying its last operation on 20 April 1945. Its targets included harborsmarshalling yards and other industrial targets along with attacks on cities. The squadron received its first Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) during an attack on an aircraft factory at Regensburg, Germany on 17 August 1943 when it maintained its defensive formation despite severe attacks by enemy interceptor aircraft.[4]
B-17 "The Thomper" (BG-X) of the squadron under attack[a 2]
On 10 October, during an attack on marshalling yards at Münster, Germany, the squadron was subjected to concentrated fighter attacks on the approach to the target and intense flak over the objective.[4] Despite these obstacles, the formation's bombs were clustered close to the target.[9] It was awarded a second DUC for withstanding these attacks to bomb its objective. From 20 to 25 February 1944 the squadron participated in the Big Week offensive against the German aircraft manufacturing industry. A few days later, on 4 March, the squadron attacked Berlin despite adverse weather that led other units to either abandon the operation or attack secondary targets. Despite snowstorms and heavy cloud cover, the unit struck its target while under attack from enemy fighters,[4] although the cloud cover required the group to rely on a pathfinder from the 482d Bombardment Group to determine the release point.[10] It received its third DUC for this operation.[4] This mission was the first time any unit from Eighth Air Force had bombed Berlin.[3]
95th Bomb Group Boeing B-17Gs in combat formation
The squadron was diverted to bombing priority tactical targets during the preparation for and execution of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, attacking communications and coastal defenses. It hit enemy troop concentrations to facilitate the Allied breakout at Saint-Lô. The 334th attacked enemy troop concentrations during the Battle of the Bulge from December 1944 to January 1945 and bombed airfields to support Operation Varsity, the airborne assault across the Rhine in March.[4]
One of the unit's more unusual missions was flown on 18 September 1944, when the 95th group led the 13th Combat Bombardment Wing[11] to Warsaw to drop ammunition, food and medical supplies to Polish resistance forcesfighting against German occupation forces,[4] landing at bases in the Soviet Union. The squadron had previously participated in shuttle missions to the Soviet Union.[12]
The unit flew its last mission on 20 April 1945, when it attacked marshalling yards near Oranienburg. In the first week of May, it airdropped food to Dutch citizens in Operation Chow Hound. From V-E Day until departing the theater in June, it transported liberated prisoners of war and displaced persons.[4][13] The air echelon flew their planes back to Bradley Field, Connecticut, while the ground echelon sailed once more on the Queen Elizabeth.[3] The squadron was reunited at Sioux Falls Army Air Field, South Dakota, where it was inactivated on 28 August 1945.[4]

Monday, April 2, 2018

Charles Williamson's Home Movies: 1958-1959

Charles Williamson's Home Movies:  1958-1959

Monday, February 19, 2018

Luella Doesn't Like her DNA Results and Seeks Second Opinion on Her Sami Origins.

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Luella Williamson Doubts DNA Results from Ancestry and Seeks Second Opinion from 23andMe.

     "Can you help me with this?" Luella asked.  I had stopped by to say hello one evening. It was after another long day in the classroom and starship simulator. I was tired, grumpy and suffering from extreme teacher exhaustion; the kind that comes from eleven hours of non-stop talking. By this time of night I'm easily drawn to nausea from hearing my own voice or the voice of anyone else with a set of vocal cords. The cure is a simple supper in a quiet room illuminated by one heavily shaded 60 watt bulb enjoyed in the company of my 75 inch ultra wide screen Jupiter 5000 television with multiscan gadgets incorporated into micro circuits and diodes of some kind or another.  I knew I was in trouble when Luella asked her question. "Can you help me with this?" could be anything from screwing down her toilet seat which seems to have been 3D printed in North Korea to helping her understand her Dish Network remote.  I cringed as she reached down to retrieve something from under the brown skirting of her Komatsu power chair (advertised with atomic hydraulics for the lifting of the elderly from a relaxed reclined position into a proper upright stance for forward motion) would determine whether or not I was to enjoy my next hour or so.
     She held out a small white box with gray lettering which spelt "Welcome to You!"  "What is it?" I asked, genuinely curious.  
     "It's to test my DNA," she replied sheepishly knowing full well what my reaction would be. 
     "You've already done that?" I reminded her. "You and Dad did the Ancestry DNA test."  
     She settled herself for a protracted debate. "Well, I didn't think it was right.  I know I'm more Finnish than it said.  I feel the mystical call of my Sami ancestors calling to me across the eons of time, across the evergreen Lapland forests brushed by the northern lights.  So, I want another test." 

3 Sami Women. Luella feels strongly drawn to the one on the right

     I was speechless, which is unusual for me. "So let me get this straight, you're unhappy with your DNA test so you'd like to get a second opinion from 23andMe?  Am I summing this up properly?"
     "Well, the TV said this test is better because it looks at more of the DNA and sees more things."

Is it the clothing or a fondness for reindeer?

     I thought for a moment and came upon another course of action to meet her needs. "We could hire a hypnotist to come out and put you through a series of hypnotic regressions to find your Sami self from a previous life. That way you'd learn more than just a series of suggestions of migration patterns and percentages of ancestry."  

     She held out the box. "It's time to spit."

Luella gathering another load of precious Sami DNA 

She dribbles what little her 79 year old salivary glands can muster into the Tube of Dreams

Queasy with effort, feeling a brush of lightheadedness, she pauses to recharge.  It was dreadful to watch.

     I think I'll send a note and a $100 bill with the collection tube back to 23andMe asking them to fudge a bit on her results. "Please 23andMe, my 79 year old mother is on her second attempt to find her Finnish, Lapland, Sami roots.  Watching her fill another spittube is more than a Christian soul can bare.  Please take the money and do a faithful son a favor by adding several more dots to the map above the 65 Degree N. Latitude line running along the Swedish / Finnish border.  I'll be forever in your debt."


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Eve 1986 at the Family Homestead in South Dakota. Bitter Cold on the Outside, Kerosene Fumes on the Inside. Good Memories (At Least As Seen in the Rear View Mirror).

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
In today's digital reunion I'm going to repost several pictures from the family's Christmas Eve celebration circa 1986.  I rescanned the slides using a different scanner than the one I originally used when I first posted these photos in 2012.  Still, the photos are far from perfect, but it was the best I could do back in the day of film cameras and unreliable flashbulbs. 

I begin with a darling photo of my two grandmothers.  They found a bit of quiet for a nice gossip in our small kitchen at 2214 38th Street, Rapid City, South Dakota.  The kitchen was an add-on to the house built before we called it home in 1968.  Because it was added to the house, it had a natural gas wall heater of its own positioned behind Grandma Liessman. It was a miserly heater, keeping most of whatever heat it generated to itself.  The pilot light was ever a martyr to the slightest gust of wind.  

The living room carpet paid the ultimate price for our frigid kitchen.  Eight kids, freezing South Dakota dark winter morning and icebox kitchen; where would you eat your Malt O Meal cereal?  Precisely, in the living room as close to the one heating vent as possible. 

Grandma Mattson was always too warm.  We kept her internal temperature down by keeping her well supplied with cold tap water (on pain of death, we had to "let the water run" before filling the glass). For some reason, we didn't seem to know the purpose for making ice in the fridge. Why would you when the streets were covered with a foot or more of the stuff.  Grandma Leissman, on the other hand, was inexorably cold, as seen in the photo below.  Her sweaters added a bit of substance to her diminutive frame. She knew her son was a Scrooge when it came to burning money up the chimney.

Our Grandmas give Christmas its nostalgic charm; weren't they, after all, the same age as Santa? Perhaps they went to the same school. 

Just look at these two Grandams. How proud they would be of this American dynasty they forged!

Grandma's Mattson (Luella's mother) and Liessman (Charles' mother) in our small kitchen on Christmas Eve 1986. Two of a Kind. Both lovely ladies, even on their bad days.  You can tell it's Christmas by the spread. See the grapes?  Fresh fruit was a Christmas treat for us. Tinned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup was the norm for the rest of the year.  It was the poor man's fruit.

Two Of A Kind

From a Poem by  Julie B. Bradstreet

Two funny beautiful ladies
That mean so much to me
May be gone from the land of the living
But with me they will always be
Because my memory holds them dearly
And my pen recalls their ways
And most of all I love them
A love that always stays
It stays inside my memory
And is often on my mind
Because ladies like my grandmas
Are rare and hard to find.

Grandma Mattson at the Piano

Uncle Marvin (ghostified by my enthusiastic flash) with Grandma Mattson tickling the ivory on her old piano. still hear her singing.

That was the piano Kim and I learned to play on. It was grandma's piano from the ranch. Never in tune (I think it and the kitchen's heater were in a relationship), its innards held a collection of dead moths and forgotten tunes.  No one could coerce a singable melody from its strings like Grandma. It knew to behave when Violet stroked its keys.  Grandma's quivering voice singing those old Montana tunes gave our Christmas Eves a magic we only realize now that we're older.      

Luella with the Grandmas preparing the Christmas Eve party snacks

Meanwhile in the living room....
Luke Mattson with his dad Marvin Mattson, then Lisa Williamson and Cindy Mattson.
Baby Hallie Mattson plays on the floor.  Lisa is in her bare feet meaning she had no intention of entering the kitchen.  She, like dad, had her goodies served to her.  Annette did most of the waitressing if memory serves me correctly.

There, in the photo above, for the world to see is our kerosene portable heater (the blurry object in front of Luke).  We risked death, or at least brain damage, every time we used the thing.  It was Dad's way of keeping a lid on the gas bill. Why turn up the furnace when we could heat the house the old fashion way! It's a wonder any of us survived those winters without constant and reoccurring carbon monoxide poisoning :)
(Maybe we didn't.  The brain damage and memory loss we suspect in each other could well be the result of that heater!)

 Uncle Marvin Mattson with son Luke.  Marvin was my mother's youngest sibling
There is no doubt about it.  Luke and Hallie were the darlings of that Christmas Eve gathering. Lisa and Annette graciously surrendered the title after realizing believers always trump non-believers at Christmas time.
Cindy Mattson with daughter Hallie

Hallie and Luke.
Luke's had enough of all of us, and he wasn't the only one......
I'm wondering if the carpet came that way, or the result of eight kids and hundreds of meals?

Yes indeed, Grandma and Grandpa Liessman joined Luke in a short mid-party nap. It was
either Grandma Mattson's singing or the kerosene fumes that got to them.  I remember they did seem a bit loopy when it was time to wake them up and send them on to their motel.  I worried about Grandpa Leissman driving under the influence of Kerosene, but considering how he drove when he was sober, perhaps the fumes would help.  

Dad (Charles) with the youngest in the family and Grandpa Liessman. I may be mistaken, but there is definitely someone needing his two front teeth for Christmas 1986.  I think Annette was trying to get away while Dad was doing his best to keep her there.  She was acting as a buffer between himself and his stepfather.  We had strict orders NOT to leave him alone with Grandpa Leissman.  Grandpa had a way of droning on with the same stories year after year. It was amazing how long he could pontificate without coming up for air. With Annette between them, Dad could escape to the bathroom (he never went into the kitchen - another story for another time) the moment Grandpa's attention shifted to Annette.    

And so we bid farewell to Christmas Eve 1986.  I was home for the holiday enjoying some family time. It was my fourth year teaching at Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove, Utah. 

Are your grandparents still alive?  If so, never miss an opportunity to talk to them about their lives.  Ask about their childhood. All they want is a bit of your time.  It would mean so much to them.  I promise you won't regret it when you get older.  


Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Major Discovery in the Williamson Family Genealogy. The Story of Great, Great, Great Grandma Selina Williamson. A Mystery Solved.

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
One of the family's great mysteries on the Williamson line is what happened to our great, great, great grandparents Mathew and Selina?  This has pestered me for five years. Today I'm pleased to announce my latest findings which answer the question. What of dear Grandmother Selina?

Shall we begin with the Relationship Chart?

Discovering Mathew Williamson's parents was my major genealogical victory a few years back.  Discovering what happened to Mathew and Selina bothered me like a lingering toothache.  I knew from family folklore that Mathew died young.  According to my research, 24 years old (or thereabouts) to be exact.  That puts great grandmother Selina at the ripe young age of around twenty at his death.  She was a widow with a young child, our great great grandfather George Williamson - the one who settled in Rapid City around the turn of the twentieth century. 

I spent the last few years trying to find Selina in history.  What became of her and George?  Did she remarry? If so, to whom?  

Last week the mystery was solved with a review of the 1850 census. The illustration below makes it clear.   


There it is, Selena (Selina) living in Floyd, Virginia (right where she should be).  Look at the members of the household.  First, there is a correction. The last name is not Levis, it is Lewis. The census taker made an error as you'll see in later censuses.  

Living in the home is our Great Great Grandfather George Mathew Williamson putting his birth in 1835. All of that is correct.  Selina was found.  She had remarried a William Lewis of Floyd, Virginia.  Selina was the mother of four new children, half brothers and sisters to George.  Virginia Lewis was born in 1845.  I would venture to guess then that Selina remarried sometime between 1835 and 1844.   

My Theory Takes Shape. 
  • Matthew and Selina married between the 1831 and 1833.
  • Selina was 20 or 21 years old when their first child, George Mathew Williamson was born.
  • The family moved to Floyd County.
  • Our Great Great Great Grandfather Matthew died at a young age leaving Selina a widow with a young son. His death would be before the 1840 Census was taken or her would have been listed as a head of household.
  • Selena married William Lewis around 1845. Together they had four children.
Let's look at the 1840 Census

This is a page taken from the 1840 US Census. There she is! The Census records a certain Salina (her name was spelled several different ways on many different census records) living in the Charlotte, Virginia area. Charlotte is near Lynchburg. Also notice her middle name starts with "D". Our Great Grandmother's name was Selena Dandridge Jeffries.

This is the same Census record in text. Selena was the head of household in this Census. Notice her household consisted of 2 people, Selena and a young son listed at 5 or younger (George Matthew was born in 1834/35).

What did the Widow Williamson and her young son George do after the death of Matthew? We are looking at a gap of five or six years in the record before she remarries.

A mother and son, taken in the early 1840's. 

The Theory is modified:
  • Mathew Williamson died before 1840. His widow and young son moved to the Charlotte area. Why would they do that? To be close to family is my guess. Do I have evidence? Yes I do....

  • This is the actual page from the 1840 Census. Look at the other names. Notice the following: John Williamson, Cutberth Williamson, and Daniel Williamson also lived in the same community.
  • I believe William Lewis and Selina met each other in Charlotte and moved back to Floyd County where Mathew and Selena owned land. They farmed the land and raised a family. It was William and Selina that attended the wedding of George Matthew to Margaret Willis.

Let's Look at the 1860 Census

Here we see that William and Selina had five children.  George Mathew was 25 years old and gone from the home.  He had married four years earlier at the age of 21 to Margaret Ann Willis. The couple was living in Payson, Illinois.  

The 1870 census shows William gone.  I will assume Selina was a widow twice.  The children all grown except for Martha Agnes.  

The hunt is on.  My next goal is to track down all of Selina and Williams' children to learn what became of them.  We have half cousins out there waiting to be discovered.  


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Odds and Ends. Tidbits to Add to the Family Story. Williamson Line.

From the Fortress of Solitude
Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
Occasionally I come across interesting facts and stories about our American Dynasty.  Many of these wouldn't make for a unique blogpost, but should be shared regardless.  I'll post these items in Odds and Ends posts, this being the first of many.


The Wedding Registration of Whitty Victor and Nancy Morris.  November 7, 1845.  Indiana.  2nd Great Grandparents.

Relationship Tree:

The Religious Life of Thomas Williamson. St. John's Church. Henrico Parish, Virginia. 1737.
Thomas Williamson. Our 6th Great Uncle. The Church Built Upon his Plantation
From the Parish Register

John Williamson. 6th Great Uncle. An Officer of St. John's Church. Henrico County, Virginia.

 Patrick Henry Gave His Famous "Give me Liberty or Give Me Death" in St. John's Church. 1775. 

Cuthbert Williamson Jr. 5th Great Grandfather. Served in the American Revolutionary War.

Relationship Chart:


Cuthbert Williamson, 5th Great Grandfather's Will.  1811.  Our 4th Great Grandfather Mathew is Mentioned.  

Mathew Williamson. 4th Great Great Grandfather.  Mentioned in this Family History Document

Evidence that our 4th Great Grandfather Mathew Williamson Died Young.  Matches the other Records Found.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Famous Artist in Our American Dynasty. Meet Bob Coronato, Husband to Lisa Williamson, Daughter of Charles and Luella Williamson. A Very Talented Guy with a Cool Car.

From the Fortress of Solitude

Pleasant Grove

Hello All,
Bob Coronato is married to my sister Lisa.  That alone is worthy of a commendation and recognition and even a newspaper article in its own right.  But that is another story for another time.  Today's post celebrates Bob's talent as an artist.  This article comes from the Black Hills Pioneer, a local paper covering news of the Black Hills and its communities.  Bob is another example of why this family exemplifies the American spirit and why I call us an American Dynasty.

Let's begin with the Relationship Chart to help distant family members see how Bob fits into this Clan.

Relationship Chart

Bob and Lisa would love to meet you. Please stop by their Gallery in Hulett, Wyoming when you're in the Black Hills and say hello. 

Now, enjoy the article,

Selected by The Smithsonian

Bob Coronato has painting selected for permanent display in D.C.

Bob with his Pendleton Oregon Rodeo Poster
(What about Bob? To learn more about the artist, go to Artist with an American Heart)
Nestled in the center of the sleepy town of Hulett, Wyo. resides western artist Bob Coronato’s Rogues Gallery from which a painting of the famed American Indian Movement activist, Russell Means, was selected to reside alongside the nation’s greatest artists at The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Means (1939-2012) was a political activist, actor, writer, musician, and Oglala Lakota member who dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of American Indians. He became a prominent member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) after joining the organization in 1968, was active in international issues of indigenous peoples, including working with groups in Central and South America, and the United Nations, and helped organize notable events that attracted national and international media coverage.
In 1993, Coronato opened a studio/museum with his friend and fellow artist, Tom Waugh, who spoke of Russell Means, inspiring Coronato to embark upon a journey that would forever shape his artistic career.
Waugh was married to a Sioux woman, Coronato said, when Waugh was the chief of police in Hot Springs during the rise of AIM, infusing him with valuable insight into both sides of the conflicts and protests. Coronato said Waugh was the first law enforcement on the scene of the murder of a federal agent during one of the standoffs between law enforcement and AIM.
“So, he was always talking about the American Indian Movement, and I was always painting modern ranching, cowboying, and stuff in the area,” Coronato said.
Occasionally, the artist said, he would do paintings of the Crow Agency and Pine Ridge reservations, and during a conversation with Waugh, he suggested Coronato paint Means, saying, “He’s the most famous American Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”
The initial spark of inspiration stoked the flames of Coronato’s continued interest in the topic, prompting him to learn more about Means and the dramatic chapter in the history of the West.
AIM’s armed siege of Wounded Knee in 1973 is one section of Means’ history that particularly inspired Coronato. The artist said Means and several hundred others fought the U.S. government in an armed standoff, prepared to die as free people, just as their ancestors had.
“The firsthand resource was inspiring to me, and he (Waugh) encouraged me to follow my heart, research the subject, and paint about that time,” Coronato said.
As he traveled with Waugh throughout the Black Hills, Coronato met the local people and heard firsthand stories of those involved in the events of the 70s and AIM and felt driven to record in paint what he felt deserved a place in the history of the West.
“Russell Means is one of a group of people who really changed the way American Indians are treated,” he said.
Ten years later, in 2009, Coronato finally tracked Means down and shared in an email his desire to paint Means in a traditional manner as an important historical figure.
After several years of trying, Coronato was invited to Means’ Porcupine home on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and prepared for the portrait.
On the fated day, the pair spent hours talking about politics, reservation life, and Coronato’s vision for the portrait.
“We went back and forth because he wanted to make sure that I was on the right page,” Coronato said.
The artist said he thought for a considerable amount of time about how to make the portrait tell the story of the famed activist. While working on the piece later in his studio, Coronato said he would sit down and paint until the sun came up the next day, sleep, and wake up and do it all over again.

Between an entryway hinged with a jail cell door and a glass case filled with American Indian and frontiersmen artifacts in Coronato’s studio hangs a print of the Means painting, around 7 feet tall, nestled unassuming yet mightily upon a wall in the rear of the 100-year-old building. Wrapped in an upside-down American flag, an international signal of distress, a pair of long dark braids frame the powerful and piercing gaze perched upon Means’ rugged and worn face.
Coronato incorporated a traditional vest, hair pipe choker, paying homage to Means’ roots, and a black T-shirt and silver watch adorn Means’ wrist in an effort to portray him as the late 20th century American Indian that he was.
“I sat in front of it for probably six months straight,” Coronato said. “I knew that it was going to be controversial, and I didn’t want anyone to be able to criticize the art. You can criticize the subject if you want to, but I wanted the painting to be as perfect as possible.”
Because of the portrait’s sheer size, Coronato fashioned a three-foot-tall riser to sit his chair upon to work on the piece of art.
Following the grueling artistic process, Coronato displayed the Means portrait at the Autry Museum in Los Angeles, Calif.
The Autry’s Masters of the American West Fine Art Exhibition and Sale is considered the country’s premier Western art show where each year, more than 75 nationally recognized, contemporary Western artists, challenge themselves to create and exhibit their best work.
“It’s almost impossible to get in — you can’t buy your way in,” Coronato said. “I’d shown in a lot of shows, working my way up, and I eventually got the nod to submit.”
After showing the first year, one of the directors in charge of the show called Coronato personally and wanted to dictate what the artist painted for the show. Much to the chagrin of the art exhibitor, Coronato explained that wasn’t his style. The next year, Coronato said he had an inkling that he would be kicked out of the highly respected art show if he didn’t do what the director wanted.
“So, I thought, well, if I’m going to get kicked out, I’m going to get kicked out on my own terms,” Coronato said. “So I showed up with a seven-foot-tall painting of Russell Means ... and I got kicked out.”
The painting was shown at the museum for the length of the show, causing quite the stir.
Coronato said he got many compliments from fellow artists and magazines about the piece.
After the art show commenced, he said he got a call from the museum director who told him that while he couldn’t find fault with Coronato’s brush strokes, he found fault in Coronato’s subject matter.
Reflecting on the situation, Coronato said he now thinks that the director simply didn’t understand history.
“He didn’t know who it was,” he said. “Russell is wrapped in the American flag, and it’s upside down and in distress. So, it’s nothing to do with a protest. It was Russell Means being Russell Means. He’d done that all throughout the 70s and it sort of became the symbol of the American Indian Movement, and still today in Pine Ridge, the flag is upside down because they’re still in distress.”
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, Coronato said, he thought the director assumed it was an anti-American statement.
For Coronato, it was a highlight of his life and pinnacle of his career to meet, befriend, and paint a revolutionary in U.S. history.
“A true icon and leader, Russell Means is a person that history will hold in high regard,” he said.

The painting called Rogues Gallery home for seven years before American photographer Carol Highsmith was traveling and documenting the country and after hearing about Coronato’s gallery visited Hulett in 2015 and photographed him at his easel.
After suggesting Highsmith check out the Means portrait, she shot pictures of the painting and moved on to the next stop in her tour of the country.
Roughly one year later, Coronato got a call that The Smithsonian Institution was interested in showcasing his painting.
When asked how he felt about the honor of having a piece of his work displayed on a national level, he joked that he thought his career would be all downhill from there.
“Pretty hard to top that,” he said.
Initially, because of the painting’s significance in the Black Hills, Coronato said he would have preferred to keep it in his shop, saying that he had people drive halfway across the country to see it.
After pondering the idea, the artist decided that his aging gallery was a potential fire hazard and wanted the painting to be in a location where it could be protected and preserved.
So off Coronato went, personally driving the painting the nearly 2,000-mile distance last October to ensure it safely landed at its new home.
“I didn’t even want to take a chance shipping it,” Coronato laughed.
As a reward to himself, Coronato said he bought himself a 1930 Model A Ford in Virginia Beach, Va.
“So I thought, OK, I’ll go to The Smithsonian, drop the painting off, drop down to Virginia Beach, get the car, and then drive back,” he said. “But, I hit every thunderstorm between Rapid City and Washington, D.C.”
The difficult driving conditions slowed his trip, and he arrived at 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.
“So, of course, they’re (museum staff) not going to wait around for it, and I didn’t want to sit there and twiddle my thumbs in Washington for two days,” he said.
So, he called a friend in Virginia Beach and asked what he thought of Coronato swinging down, picking up the car, and together bringing the car and the painting back to Washington.
After measuring the car to verify both the vehicle and the painting would fit in the trailer Coronato was pulling for the transport, there was barely three-quarters of an inch between the painting, the trailer’s walls, and the car.
“So we decided, OK, lets take a chance,” he said.
Coronato said he drove down to Virginia Beach, loaded the painting in the trailer, and drove the car in behind it
“We literally had about three-quarters of an inch on either side,” he said.
Off the pair went, headed toward the nation’s capital, car and painting in tow.
When they arrived to deliver the painting, Coronato said, the gallery’s staff said, “We weren’t expecting a car.”
With the museum staff looking on, the artist crawled underneath the car to push the paining out, which, Coronato said, proved to be cringe-worthy for the gallery’s conservators.
The conservators, he said, were used to features showing up in archival conditioned packaging.
“And a couple of guys from Wyoming in cowboy boots and hats were pushing this painting out,” he laughed. “I’m sure that story is still circulating around the coffee table.”
As for Means, Coronato said, he loved the portrait and even tweeted about it before his 2012 death.
The method of creating the painting took a toll on the artist.
“When you’re working on a painting like this, let's say you start the face, you can’t stop until you’re done because if you stop, then eventually you’ll be able to see where you stopped and started,” he said. “You might not get the colors just right, or the next day you might change your mood and all of a sudden, it looks different. So, when I started an area, I had to completely finish that area before I went to bed. If that took two days, you’re locked in for two days.”
After completing the Means painting, Coronato said he wanted to do something that was less strenuous and began doing rodeo posters instead of painting portraits.
“That’s what I’ve been doing for the last nine years,” he said.
The museum, Coronato said, would hold an unveiling reception at a date to be determined.
Coronato considers the Means portrait a once-in-a-lifetime piece of work.
“I’m never going to ever get a chance to do something like that again,” Coronato said. “I don’t think I have it in me to sit that long ever again in front of a painting, so when I say my career is over, it pretty much is.”