John Clayton:

Book Club Questions

The Cowboy Girl: The Life of Caroline Lockhart

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John Clayton's book is a narrative biography of the novelist, journalist, publisher, and rancher Caroline Lockhart (1871-1962).

If your book club is reading The Cowboy Girl, here are some questions to stimulate discussion:

Caroline Lockhart was sexually liberated by the standards of her time. But would you call her promiscuous? Why or why not?

As both publisher and rancher, Lockhart was an aggressive, tight-fisted businesswoman. Did this attitude help or hurt her? Did it arise more from her personality or her position as a woman in a macho environment?

One historian said of Lockhart "she was a snob plain and simple." What was snobbish about her behavior?

Memoirists such as Judy Blunt (Breaking Clean) and Mary Clearman Blew (All But the Waltz) have presented mid-century Montana ranches as especially difficult places for women. How and why does Lockhart's experience differ?

Though Lockhart craved the security of marriage, she could never settle on one. What were the key contributors to her never-married status? If she had married one of those men, would her life have been different?

When Lockhart and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney built the statue of Buffalo Bill in Cody, do you think the idea of two women creating such a symbol of a masculine West struck them as ironic? Do you think it should have?

Lockhart's Western novels featured humor, distinct sense of place, and strong female characters; this book argues that they were unjustly eclipsed by Zane Grey's gunfighter formula. Do you agree? What other factors might have come into play?

Do you accept this book's argument about the source of Lockhart's hatred for Dr. Frances Lane?

Lockhart defined the spirit of the West around horses, landscapes, and individual freedoms. But her rival L.L. Newton defined it as the "age-old urge to do things… to build roads and bridges and construct railroads." Who do you agree with?

When Pam Houston published Cowboys are my Weakness in 1993, reviewers commented on the uniqueness of these Western female heroines: they are "never fools for love; though vulnerable, they depend on themselves." How do Houston's characters compare to those in The Cowboy Girl?

When we think of classic Western heroes in the John Wayne mode, they are independent, honorable, taciturn, and prone to violence. How many of these characteristics fit Caroline Lockhart? How do those characteristics change when applied to a woman?

Even as Lockhart arrives in Cody in 1904, she writes about "cowboys" with a nostalgic sense of loss. Did that "cowboy west" she sought really ever exist? If so, how much of it still exists today?

In the book and movie Brokeback Mountain, small-town Wyomingites represent the height of gay-bashing bigotry. But in The Cowboy Girl, the Cody "honyockers" are supportive of Frances Lane and Marjory Ross. Can both depictions be true?

When Lockhart sought "the frontier" in 1926, she went to a remote part of Montana called "the Dryhead." If she were trying to do so today, where would she go?

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