During his recovery, while traveling through the Rockies he attended Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming and saw an exhibit of Western art by the already legendary Charles M. Russell. From that moment on, De Yong’s life would never be the same. Over the next several years, Russell and De Yong would correspond. De Yong resolved to meet and study with Russell, and in 1916 he began what would be a 10-year adventure as Russell’s only protégé. Until Russell’s death in 1926, De Yong was a sponge. He absorbed Russell’s world and viewpoint about what they both perceived to be the vanishing West—a West that Russell, and now De Yong, would not allow to go quietly or without celebration or remembrance.
It was over those years with Russell that De Yong met other important players in his life, characters who held the same great respect for Russell’s critical eye for authenticity and detail. Among the Western talents he befriended were Ed Borein, Will James, Olaf Seltzer, Alexander Harmer, Charles Lummis and Maynard Dixon, to name a few. His friendship with Will Rogers was so significant that De Yong was given Rogers’ prize rope horse, Bootlegger, after Rogers’ death.
It was a time when the West’s best were around him and De Yong was in the thick of it. The only thing that made it better was the validation and promotion of his artwork by Russell’s widow, Nancy.
Just before Russell’s death, De Yong moved to Santa Barbara, California, and later joined the annual ride of the famous men’s riding group, Los Rancheros Visitadores. The group’s rides would cover more than 100 miles reenacting the days of the dons when ranchers rode from rancho to rancho visiting their neighbors.