Story emerges of long-lost cowboy hero

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 History is kind of my bag. I’ve always enjoyed writing about the cast of characters who left their mark on the annals of places such as the Flathead Valley.

So I was especially intrigued when a guy from Georgia recently emailed the Daily Inter Lake saying he’d stumbled upon a collection of scrapbooks and photographs documenting the life of C.R. “Charlie” Williams, a cowboy from Kalispell who made his mark in the 1920s as a bronc-riding champion during an era when cowboys were glamorized by Hollywood.

In fact, Williams apparently moved to Hollywood at a young age and acted in some Westerns, including one produced by Western megastar Tom Mix.

I immediately wanted to know more, so I called Ross Kapstein, a retired inner-city history teacher from Atlanta, Ga., who bought the scrapbook collection from Williams’ great-great-grandson.

A fan of cowboy lore, Kapstein learned about the scrapbooks through a friend who saw it advertised on Craigslist. He made arrangements to meet the great-great-grandson at an antique show and bought the entire collection, which includes belt buckles won by Williams and all kinds of cowboy memorabilia such as rodeo posters and unusual long, narrow photos about 40 inches wide.

 Kapstein quickly realized he had a gem and wasted no time in immortalizing Williams on YouTube.

He wrote a country-style song about the cowboy of yesteryear and combined it with historic photos on a DVD. Check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7FjVX-aKJA or simply Google “C.R. Williams” and “cowboy” and it will come up that way, too.

Now the retired teacher plans to write a book about Williams, or possibly put together a documentary, not so much for his own fame and fortune but to tell the story of a cowboy who may have been all but forgotten. The scrapbooks had languished in an old foot locker for decades and could have been tossed if there were no takers for the historic collection.

“It’s like [unleashing] a genie in a bottle,” Kapstein told me about his discovery. “C.R. Williams beat the best in the ’20s. This guy won some major events.”

In addition to his moxie as a bronc rider, Williams also was a silversmith and a gunsmith.

Kapstein hopes to travel to Kalispell at some point to continue his research on Williams. In particular he’s interested in finding out if Williams performed in the rodeo in Shelby that followed the Dempsey-Gibbons World Championship prize fight on July 4, 1923, an event that put Shelby on the map.

I told Kapstein I’d poke around in the local history books to see if I can come up with any additional information for him. I’m wondering if any Inter Lake readers have heard of C.R. “Charlie” Williams or know if there are any remaining relatives in the Kalispell area.

Give me a call if you can shed any light on the life of a once-great cowboy whose story thankfully won’t be forgotten.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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