Vibrant and colorful: Caroline Lockhart was White Woman Chief, Cattle Queen of the Dry Head
Caroline Lockhart was one of the most notorious and infamous characters to live in and around Big Horn County.
A vibrant and colorful woman ahead of her time, Caroline was an investigative reporter, journalist, editor, newspaper owner, novelist, promoter, activist, historian, horsewoman, rancher, homesteader and bootlegger. She was not afraid of getting her hands dirty, or of hard work. Although she never married, she had a string of lovers from across the continent and beyond.
Often, as is the case with history, others criticize non-fiction works written about a remarkable character, claiming the writing to be fiction. Pieces written about Caroline Lockhart are no exception. Caroline may have reveled in the attention, had she known, and either wittingly or unwittingly encouraged this type of contradiction. In her autobiography – which she started several times – Caroline admits she was careless about dates. In truth, several times she wrote of incidents as having happened on several different dates, and sometimes changing her writing to report about an event two or three different ways. Repeatedly, Caroline lied about her age and birth date, so even that is disputed.
Born in Illinois about 1870, Caroline Cameron Lockhart grew up in Kansas. Her father Joseph Lockhart, after serving three years in the Civil War, became a Kansas wheat farmer and cattle rancher. Caroline’s mother Sarah died when Caroline was a child. Although Caroline was willful and headstrong, she was her father’s favorite.
Despondent over his wife’s death, Joseph lost control of the girl. One day the town marshal informed Joseph he would have to do something drastic if Caroline didn’t stop riding her pony on the boardwalks and racing on Main Street. After being raised by relatives and servants for a time, Joseph married a woman Caroline referred to as “the family seamstress.” Caroline despised her stepmother, calling her “Steppy” and would race off across the Kansas plains on her pony to escape Steppy’s demands.
In Caroline Lockhart: Liberated Lady 1870 – 1962, Lucille Patrick Hicks wrote, “(Caroline) never seemed to have been fettered by conventions that other Victorian young ladies were bound by” and “by the time Caroline was a teenager, (she was) wild beyond anyone’s Victorian imagination…”
It was no wonder Caroline was sent away to boarding school, and then Bethany College in Kansas, and later a seminary for young ladies in Pennsylvania, but she never forgave her father for his desertion of her. She later attended school in Boston, Mass. and literally starved herself to buy nice clothes with her allowance. Ever the defiant beauty, Caroline told her father she was going to finishing school and enrolled in the Moses True Brown School of Acting and worked as a walk-on at the Boston Opera Company.
She later worked as an investigative reporter for the Boston Post, Philadelphia Bulletin and the Denver Post. Her assignments were fascinating to a young woman seeking excitement, and her adventuresome spirit became legendary. She was the first woman to dive to the bottom of Boston Harbor in a diving suit. She was one of the first people to jump into a fire safety net. She even crawled into a cage with a lion for an article. To get the story on “fallen women” she entered The Home for Intemperate Women posing as a drug addict. She got the scoop, but had a difficult time regaining her freedom. She was only released when her editor appeared, showed his credentials, swore Caroline worked for him and demanded her release. She then wrote a scathing front-page piece of how women in the institution were treated. She adopted the pen name “Suzette” and a cigar was named for her, “the Suzette.”
She was not impressed with Buffalo Bill during an interview on one of his tours, supposing he was “hung over, he certainly looked it.” The article was printed on the front page, and Buffalo Bill was so impressed he gave Caroline a horse as a gift. While later professing to be his good friend and admirer, she quietly wrote in her diary he was a “publicity seeker.”
She ventured West to do a story on the Blackfeet Indians, and eventually settled in Cody around 1904.
Caroline had always wanted to write novels, and in Cody she found her inspiration. Her first novel was Me Smith, followed in 1912 by The Lady Doc, and later Full of the Moon and others, as well as a number of short stories.
Caroline claimed The Lady Doc was fiction, but the thinly veiled characters were people she knew in Cody. Caroline discovered a local female doctor – a former friend of hers – was apparently grossly neglecting and mistreating patients in a company hospital. Caroline spent days pouring over court records and complaints, and interviewing anyone who would talk to her. The resulting novel split the town down the middle, but Caroline stated repeatedly it was fiction.
She wrote The Man from the Bitter Roots, which was made into a movie in 1916, and The Feminine Touch, made into the movie The Dude Wrangler in 1930. Later, Hollywood showed interest in her novels Me Smith and The Old West and The New.
Caroline wrote The Fighting Shepherdess about “The Sheep Queen of Wyoming,” Lucy Morrison Moore, which was made into a movie of the same name in 1920, starring Anita Stewart. The film broke record attendance when it premiered in Cody. Caroline found it offensive that country women were portrayed “(wearing) dowdyish, ill-hanging clothes with loud figures.” However, she hosted an “after-movie” party and dance for friends and out-of-town guests, including Frances Phelps Belden and her husband, famous Western photographer Charles Belden of the Pitchfork Ranch.
Caroline zealously campaigned against Prohibition and for the preservation of the ways of the Old West. In 1920, Caroline and partners purchased the Park County Enterprise. A year later Caroline bought out several of the partners and renamed it the Cody Enterprise. Ever the promoter, she utilized the paper to advance her anti-prohibition stance and to further the Cody Stampede. Caroline helped organize and publicize the Cody Stampede to preserve “some of the Old West that we love” and served as the first president.
Necah Stewart Furman writes in Caroline Lockhart: Her Life and Legacy, “To make sure all the essential elements were present (at the Cody Stampede), Caroline issued a special invitation to Indians from the Crow Reservation. Crow Chief Joseph Plenty Coups, his wife and friends were invited to stay in Caroline’s home as her personal guests… The visitors gave Caroline a special name “Its-Be-Che-Loti” (White Woman Chief)…”
In 1926 Caroline purchased a 160-acre ranch in the Dryhead Basin on the west side of the Big Horn River canyon with the Pryor Mountains to the west, facing the Bighorn Mountains across the canyon to the east. Caroline filed a homestead claim nearby, and got several others to do the same, with the agreement they’d sell the land to her when they proved up. She inherited from the previous owners a cabin, run-down sheds and a few acres of cultivated land.
The ranch stretched over rugged country, was difficult to get to in summer, and nearly impassable in winter. A few brave guests usually took the train to Kane, the nearest rail stop south, and ventured north on a twice-a-week stage. The area was so colonized with rattlesnakes, it is said Caroline kept a bull snake in her house to help ward off the rattlers.
Caroline named the place L Slash Heart Ranch. Over the next three decades, she increased the ranch to over 6,000 acres, adding numerous structures including a writing studio, corrals, fences and irrigation systems. She planted cottonwood trees, hollyhocks and iris, landscaped around the cabin and built stone pathways. Caroline raised cattle and horses, and in 1935 three loads of her steers topped the market in Omaha, Neb.
In 1952, Caroline, then in her 80s, moved back to Cody. Three years later she sold the ranch to Isaac Tippetts, who later granted the ranch to his son Ivan. By 1980 the National Park Service (NPS) acquired the property and is now restoring numerous structures.
Caroline Lockhart died in 1962, and her ashes were scattered over the L Slash Heart. Caroline’s house in Cody was moved to Yellowstone Avenue, and is now The Lockhart Inn Bed and Breakfast. Different versions of history may remember Caroline Lockhart in different ways, however, most historians would agree that Caroline had a vigorous imagination and a feisty spirit.
Echo Renner is field editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.