Could you imagine finding your life’s calling on the battlefields of a world war? I know I couldn’t. The loud noises alone would send me into a crumpled heap, let alone the bloodshed and having to make the split-second decision to save lives or end them. But one man was able to find his talent and calling during the Italian and North African invasions of World War II.
Sergeant Brummett Echohawk served as a member of the 45th “Thunderbird” Division 179th Infantry Company B during WWII and found his calling in life as an artist. He was compelled to visually record what he was experiencing in war. Never having drawn anything before, he began with a pencil and whatever scraps of paper he could find and started to draw. He drew what he saw – soldiers in action, in devastation and in success. As the occupation carried on (July 1943 – May 1945) he began documenting whatever he could whenever he could, including allied and enemy soldiers in uniform, drawing out details few would ever see in person. He would sketch the same thing twice and give the soldiers copies to keep. He drew so quickly they called him “The Fastest Pencil in the West.” And his skill was God-given. His sketches were the first images published in the U.S. that depicted the true nature of the war. Though the scenes were shocking in some cases, people were thankful to see what the soldiers were really experiencing. Seeing some of his original sketches you could never know he had not had a drop of artistic training. They are in a word, remarkable.
I had the pleasure to see several of his original WWII sketches when I invited Mark Ellenbarger, retiree and historical director of The Brummett Echohawk Project, to visit our offices for an interview. It all started with a painting on the wall – a witty and timeless piece titled “First Cowboy in Orbit.” It was the cover art for the July 1962 issue of our own Western Horseman magazine. In my research to discover the artist I came across Ellenbarger’s website, www.brummettechohawkproject.com. Ellenbarger called Echohawk “Uncle.” Though not a blood relation, Ellenbarger’s mother grew up with Echohawk in Oklahoma. The families remained close throughout their lives.
“First Cowboy in Orbit’s” amusing depiction of a cowboy being launched into space by a bucking bronco was complimentary for the time when our country was well into the space race. Its timelessness is in the faces of the onlookers in the painting. Apart from a few minor details, this event could be happening today just up the road at some small-town rodeo. You can almost hear the gasp of the crowd and the whooshing sound as that cowboy flies up and out of the viewer’s plane of sight. Like most great art does, it tells an entertaining story.
And that was Echohawk’s goal as an artist, to tell stories and entertain.
“He wanted to make people laugh,” Ellenbarger told me.
Ellenbarger shared sketch after sketch of war scenes and soldiers of Allied forces in full uniform. Most of the sketches included a written word about who or what was being depicted. They were just the beginning of a long and exceptional artistic career.
Once the war ended, Echohawk returned to the states and attended art school in Detroit (1945) as well as the Art Institute of Chicago (1945-48). He also studied writing at the University of Tulsa. He fine-tuned his artistic abilities not only in painting, but in writing and acting, too. He was an artist in every sense of the word.
Echohawk became a contributing artist for Western Horseman from the 1960s well into the ’80s. I had a blast digging through the archives to see the other covers and read and article or two. The first Western Horseman gate cover, or pull-out style cover, was in December 1967 and featured an engaging holiday scene of a speeding stagecoach called “The Christmas Stage.” In studying some of his post-war pieces, I learned he liked using real people in his art. In this particular piece, the caption lists the names of the individuals, including Echohawk himself.
Echohawk was born a full-blood Pawnee Indian in Pawnee, Oklahoma, on March 3, 1922. He left this world just a few weeks short of his 84th birthday on Feb. 13, 2006. But it is the time in-between those two dates we should learn about, remember and cherish. His story is much bigger than this small blog entry allows. I only hope it serves as an entryway for people to learn more about Echohawk’s contribution to our country as a soldier and an artist. “Uncle Brummett” personally entrusted his nephew, Mark, to continue share the stories. To learn more, visit www.Brummettechohawkproject.com.