The Women Who Rocked Cody’s World
March is a significant month. It comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and about mid-month, the entire population of Cody, Wyoming, like the rest of the country, discovers its Irish ancestry, develops a craving for corned beef and rediscovers the verdant clothing items in the back of their closets. March is also the month when certain segments of the population celebrate Extraterrestrial Abductions Day (March 20), Ear Muff Day (March 13) and National Goof Off Day (March 22).
While I’m all for goofing off while eating gooey Reubens, adjusting my head gear and watching the skies for spaceships, the main reason I find the month so significant is because it is also National Women’s History Month. Being a woman with a history myself, I couldn’t be more thrilled.
Women have played a huge role throughout the 121-year history of Cody, and there are countless examples women of the city who helped soften a fledgling frontier town’s rough edges and improved its cultural and artistic bonafides. Here are a few of those women:
Nancy-Carroll Draper was a dedicated benefactor and supporter of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and she played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Draper Museum of Natural History. Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the Draper is the 100-year-old Center’s newest museum. Draper believed that the Center could and should integrate the natural sciences with humanities to provide visitors to the museum with a broader perspective on the American West.
Estelle Ishigo was a Caucasian woman who chose to remain at her Japanese-American husband’s side when he was imprisoned at the Heart Mountain Confinement Site during World War II. The camp was one of ten throughout the West where 120,000 incarcerated men, women and children were imprisoned post-Pearl Harbor after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 depriving Americans of Japanese descent of their liberty. A talented artist, Ishigo chronicled the day-to-day lives of the 14,000 camp residents with sketches, drawings and watercolors depicting the brutal conditions of the camp and camp life.
Cassie Waters might have been the CEO of any major company today or at least the president of the Chamber of Commerce, but in 1912 when options were more limited, she founded one of the town’s most successful houses of prostitution. Although many in the town frowned upon the establishment, they appreciated her generosity when it came time for contributions for schools and charitable organizations.
Caroline Lockhart was the editor and publisher of the Cody Enterprise as well as a best-selling novelist with a penchant for fraternizing with Hollywood and society types. One of those was Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, a famed sculptress. It was Lockhart who persuaded Vanderbilt Whitney to create “The Scout,” the regal sculpture of Buffalo Bill Cody that greets visitors to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Mary Jester Allen was Buffalo Bill Cody’s niece, and she also played an important and lasting role in the history of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Thanks to her tireless cajoling, nagging and elegant persuasion, numerous members of the Cody family supported the establishment of the museum by donating their personal Buffalo Bill objects.
These are just a few of the many skillful, relentless women who helped make our town what it is today. To all of them and to the thousands of unrecognized women who work to make the world a better place, I say “thank you.”
Until next time, I’m celebrating my history and loving life here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.