We all have that one friend. Or if we are supremely lucky, those handful of friends. Whatever you need, you can count on them, even if you don’t know you need it.
They are the ones who bring you homemade chicken soup when you are sick or teasingly bully you into doing another set of squats at the gym. They offer advice when asked and listen to your woes without judgment. And they always – always – defend and promote your honor.
Buffalo Bill Cody had one of those friends, and her name was Caroline.
Thing is, they weren’t particularly close.
Caroline Lockhart was a barrier-breaker just like the founder of the town where she chose to move. A successful novelist at a time when most women in the country didn’t even have the right to vote, the ambitious, talented and nationally famous Lockhart had produced several bestselling novels by the early 1900s. She was wry, quick-witted and an intuitive news-maker.
She also was notorious. She drank hard liquor at a time when many prominent citizens enthusiastically supported the coming Prohibition. She had many male friends, but she never married. She was also sentimental, and she loved the Old West. She celebrated with her pen and her civic leadership the traditions and quirks of the American West, including its legendary characters with colorful names like Sourdough Sam, Wild Bill Hickok…and Buffalo Bill Cody.
After Buffalo Bill’s 1917 death, Caroline Lockhart and six other prominent Cody citizens (all male) met at Lockhart’s home to discuss ways to promote the town’s Fourth of July celebration. By then, rodeo events had become increasingly popular, and the stagecoaches and railroads to nearby Yellowstone had given way to personal vehicles whose drivers marveled at the new “Road to Yellowstone” that began in the heart of town.
Cody had the potential to capture the attention of those passing tourists, and they had more than geography on their side. They had authenticity. After all, what could be more authentic than Buffalo Bill Cody, founder of the Wild West Show, legendary Pony Express rider, buffalo hunter and Army scout?
However indomitable, Lockhart and her companions could and would never know that the event they created to honor the legacy of Buffalo Bill Cody and promote the town he founded would endure for a century.
On July 4, 2019, Cody will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cody Stampede, a multi-day celebration of Western tradition that includes parades, festivals, music and rodeo every night. And fireworks, of course.
Lockhart personally steered the first several Cody Stampede celebrations as president of the Stampede Board. She went on to experience many other adventures, including ranching, but she retired back in Cody in 1950 and died in 1962.
Buffalo Bill Cody’s honor and contributions to the traditions of the American West are celebrated in small ways every day in Cody. But on July 4, 2019, I will be among the many lucky Cody Stampede fans who will witness a tradition has endured largely because Caroline Lockhart was determined to defend and promote the honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. I’d call that friendship.
Until next time, I’m cherishing my friends and loving life here in Cody Yellowstone.