Monday, June 11, 2012

Bill Stockton’s Chief Joseph

Bill Stockton was a sheepman and artist who returned to Montana after World War II to settle on his family ranch near Grass Range. Art and sheep seem an odd combination, but Stockton’s tender heart, love for his animals, and closeness to the land provided a lifetime of inspiration. His legacy includes writings, sketches, paintings, and sculpture. Stockton found the plight of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perces, who tried unsuccessfully to flee from the U.S. Army to sanctuary in Canada, extremely troubling. So in the 1950s he created a haunting metal sculpture known as Chief Joseph. It depicts a head with arms upraised in poignant recapitulation.  

Stockton sent the piece to an art retailer in Billings. Thieves broke into the business and stole the sculpture and several other pieces of Stockton’s work.A year later, a young Indian man allegedly committed suicide by jumping off a bridge into the Yellowstone River. As Yellowstone County officials dragged the river looking for him, they not only recovered the young man’s body, but they also discovered Stockton’s sculpture of Chief Joseph. It had been in the river for a year. It was as if the spirit of the young man aided in the recovery of the artwork. The sculpture later was entered in the Great Falls Russell Art Show and Auction where journalist Kay Hansen saw it. She knew she had to have the piece. With only nine dollars in her pocket, Hansen bid and acquired the sculpture, paying for it in monthly installments. She has recently donated it to the Montana Historical Society. It is one of Stockton’s most important creations.


  1. I have a metal sculpture by Bill Stockton, done in this same style. It is titled "Old Man That Cannot See". Do you have any information about it?

    1. Hi Anonymous, Yellowstone Art Museum is organizing a show of work by Bill Stockton and I would love to see an image of your sculpture. Please email me at Thank you!