In honor of Women’s History Month, let’s explore the life and times of one Caroline Lockhart! Caroline Lockhart, born February 24, 1871, is just one of Wyoming’s many famous women. She moved to Cody, Wyoming, in 1904 and remained there for much of her life – owning the daily newspaper, cattle ranching in the area, and founding the famous “Cody Stampede.” Over the course of her life Caroline was a newspaper publisher, journalist, a western novelist, rancher, and rodeo sponsor. Lockhart also never married, instead she made a name for herself in the West and juggled many boyfriends while doing so! Caroline was not a typical lady- not only was she never married but she enjoyed her alcohol and was not a part of the three-quarters of town that voted for prohibition. Lockhart had wit, passion, gumption, and money enough to see things done!
Ms. Lockhart lived a life full of adventure and ambition. She was one of the most famous people in Cody, and after the death of the towns’ namesake, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, she was the most famous person in town. Her fame reached its peak in 1920, when two of her novels had been turned into movies, and she had traveled to Hollywood to discuss the movie future for a third film. At the same time, Caroline was also writing for the Denver Post.
The year 1920 was also when Lockhart got together with five other prominent figures in Cody to organize a new celebration; something bigger and grander than Cody had seen before. The goal was to draw tourists from the road to Yellowstone Park towards Cody and its local dude ranches. They created and named the Cody Stampede. There was a second goal behind Lockhart’s desire to create the Cody Stampede. She wished to draw attention to the “Old West” and the “Wild West” both of which were dying out in the face of 20th century modernization, even somewhere as remote as Wyoming.
Caroline’s friends on this planning committee included: Ernest J. Goppert, Sr., an ambitious young attorney; Irving H. “Larry” Larom, the Princeton-educated owner of a prominent dude ranch; Sid Eldred, editor of the Park County Enterprise, and Clarence Williams and William Loewer, who helped run the town’s small Fourth of July celebrations. These men elected Caroline as president of the organization and set out to raise the needed funds for their celebration, as well as attract rodeo contestant such as one of Lockhart’s many boyfriends Pinky Gist. They created a fundraising ball that turned out to be a great success, especially when Lockhart invited some members of the Crow Nation to appear in battle dress. The ball is still held every fall.
A week after being made the president of this new organization, Caroline made her move and hosted another meeting that changed her life – she took control of the Park County Enterprise and began to use it to generate interest in the Stampede. This was a lucrative move for both Caroline and her Stampede which grew quickly in its early years and only increased in popularity during the 1920s, a decade that proved to be a difficult time economically for Wyoming. Suddenly, Lockhart and her friends’ passion for the state’s cowboy heritage didn’t seem so crazy. She and others were fighting against unfettered development in Wyoming, such as what was happening elsewhere in the West, and instead put their focus on the state’s cowboy past with an eye towards capitalizing on it for their future.
Caroline Lockhart was a Wyoming woman unafraid to showcase her passions, in any way she deemed necessary, whether that be drinking whiskey with the best of the boys or taking over the town newspaper and creating a legacy for Cody, the state of Wyoming, and even Buffalo Bill. It was Caroline Lockhart who suggested the creation of a statue in his honor, and her who convinced a prominent eastern sculptor to take on both the job and the fundraising for it which led to much of William Cody’s early posthumous fame.
You can learn more about Caroline Lockhart by visiting the American Heritage Center to view the Caroline Lockhart papers.
Post contributed by Brittany Heye, American Heritage Center Archives Aile.