P O W E L L, W y o. - Montana author John Clayton will bring some forgotten Park County history back to Powell Thursday, Oct. 11, when he talks about his newest book, "The Cowboy Girl," at 7:30 p.m. in Room 70 of the Fagerberg Building.
In his biographical work on Cody's Caroline Lockhart, Clayton makes use of archival materials not available to previous biographers. Lockhart left her brand on Park County in the early 1900s as a newspaper publisher in Cody and founder of the still-thriving Stampede rodeo. The author of seven bestselling novels, she gained even more fame when three of them were made into movies.
Even though she succeeded in numerous endeavors (including politics and ranching) as an unmarried and sexually liberated woman during "a time when to bare one's ankle could ruin a girl for life," Clayton said that Lockhart and details about her accomplishments have been curiously missing from the annals of history.
He suggests the reason might be traced to "her cantankerous crusades (she referred to novelist Zane Grey, for instance, as 'that tooth-pulling ass!') and indomitable will." Clayton believes Lockhart's contrariness made her a lot of enemies, "often among the sectors of society that might otherwise have championed her."
He first learned of the colorful but contrary woman when he stumbled across her old ranch homestead on the return leg of a canoe trip in the Dryhead region of Montana. He was "stunned" that he had never heard of her after he read in a pamphlet at the site that Lockhart had written seven best-selling novels. After tracking down and reading her out-of-print books, Clayton had a sense Lockhart's story was larger than one woman in a remote sagebrush corner of Montana.
"I saw her as a missing link between Old West cowboys and miners and the 20th century West," he said. "Lockhart's move west marked the beginning of a sort of quest in search of the independent cowboy spirit, which she refused to locate only in a nostalgic past. She always wanted to find the real cowboys today."
Clayton said Lockhart kept trying to recreate the Old West by becoming a cowboy herself, even choosing "The Cowboy Girl" as the original title for her most autobiographical novel.
Three years of research rewarded Clayton with the information needed to crack open a whole new chapter in Wyoming and Montana history, one that had been largely repressed or ignored, he believes, because of the out-of-place and out-of-time character that Lockhart was.
Clayton is an independent journalist and essayist based in Montana. His essays and articles on the changing Rocky Mountain West have been featured in High Country News, Montana Magazine, Horizon Air, and the Seattle Times, as well as dozens of regional newspapers through the Writers on the Range syndicate.
He authored the lifestyle advice book "Small Town Bound" and has contributed to several other books, ranging from "National Geographic's Guide to America's Outdoors: Southern Rockies" to "Eat our Words: The Montana Writers' Cookbook" and "The Harvard Business School Publishing Guide to Better Business Writing."
Clayton's lecture in Powell is sponsored by the Northwest College Writers Series and the Friends of the Powell Branch Library. Admission is free.