Equal Time for Men Who Rocked Cody’s World
In celebration of National Women’s History Month, last week I wrote about some of the many women who made their mark on Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country. Even though there is no National Men’s History Month, I am a fair-minded and magnanimous woman, and I believe that men should get equal time in the spotlight. Most of the time.
But where to start? Now 121 years old, Cody was a frontier town with the kinds of law-and-order challenges that lend a certain amount of credence to Hollywood’s vision of the Wild West. At one time, you could say something like “Whoa, take ‘er easy there, Pilgrim,” and not be laughed out of town. You didn’t even have to be John Wayne to pull it off.
Speaking of the Duke, John Wayne once served as Grand Marshal of the annual Cody Stampede Parade, one of the first of several events that comprise the five-day Cody Stampede Celebration. Every year, the announcement of the Grand Marshal is highly anticipated. Last year’s grand marshal was storyteller Red Steagall, and previous years the town has welcomed Steven Seagal, Chuck Yeager and Wilford Brimley.
Clarence Williams was the man behind the Cody Stampede, which has morphed into an annual five-day celebration marking the July 4 holiday that includes one of the top rodeo events in the country and secures Cody’s position as the “Rodeo Capitol of the World.”
Carly Downing was a Wild West Show performer, a job he clinched after competing with other candidates by performing equestrian tricks and demonstrating athletic skills in front of “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Those tryouts – held in what is now the Irma Hotel parking lot – became the framework for the Cody Nite Rodeo, which Carly Downing founded 21 years after Buffalo Bill Cody’s 1917 death. Back then, it was called the Pup Rodeo. The Cody Nite Rodeo, now in it’s 79th year, is the longest running nightly summer-season rodeo in the world.
Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow was a chief of the Crow Tribe as well as a renowned author and a leading expert on the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn. When he died last year at the age of 102 he was the last Plains Indian war chief. As a founding member of the 41-year-old Plains Indian Museum, one of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museums, he made great contributions to the preservation of the traditions and history of Plains Indians.
When Howard Eaton developed the Eaton Ranch, still in operation today, he began a Cody tradition – the dude ranch – that has been a staple of the American vacation experience for more than 130 years. Today, more than 100 working dude ranches, traditional dude ranches and resort dude ranches dot the landscape surrounding the town. Eaton was also one of the town’s early tour operators. He ran horse-packing trips to nearby Yellowstone National Park, creating a trail that bears his name. The Howard Eaton Trail runs roughly parallel to the Grand Loop inside the park, and it continues to be used by hikers, riders and cross country skiers.
The interiors of Cody’s dude and guest ranches as well as numerous other buildings throughout the country are a little more beautiful and functional because of Thomas Molesworth, an extraordinary furniture builder and founder of the Shoshone Furniture Company. Molesworth pieces combined the basic furniture designs used in ranch houses with elements such as leather, horsehide, elk antlers, Native American weavings, brass tacks and more. Molesworth’s legacy continues. By Western Hands is a collective of the region’s many furniture-makers and artists who strive to create authentic, functional art in the furniture style that would make Molesworth proud.
You’ll notice that I didn’t include the big guy himself in the list. Buffalo Bill Cody was of course the lead rocker in any lineup of men or women who rocked Cody’s world. The lead rockers are always in the spotlight, and the Colonel is sure to come up again in this space sometime soon.
Until then, I’m lovin’ life and appreciating men here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.