By J. Mark Powell, contributor • 3/8/17 7:00 AM
International Women's Day is the perfect time to recall women who've become lost in the past. This year, one woman especially comes to mind. Almost totally forgotten now, she was a celebrity, a big star in a vanished field of entertainment.
It was a simple idea: if Americans couldn't see the Wild West for themselves, the Wild West would come to them. So for the 30 years from 1883 to 1913, the region was celebrated in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. It combined the breathtaking adventures of a circus with a Smithsonian-level dedication to preserving the region's legacy.
Imitation, they say, is the most sincere form of flattery. And Buffalo Bill's show had many imitators. Some very good, like Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show, and many not so good.
And with that entertainment form forgotten today, it's no surprise folks also forgot the important role women played in those shows.
The best remembered are Annie Oakley, "Little Sure Shot" (thanks in no small part to the hit Broadway and movie musical "Annie Get Your Gun") and Calamity Jane, a true western character whose real-life stories were only outdone by those she made up (such as claiming to have married Wild Bill Hickok and had his child; she did neither).
Lulu Bell Parr was another big star. Almost unheard of now, she was widely popular in her time as the "Champion Lady Bucking Horse Rider of the World."
Lulu was born in 1876 in the very un-western Fort Wayne, Ind. Not much is known about her early years. It seems her parents died while she was young. She married at age 20 and was divorced three years later on grounds of "extreme cruelty."
Somewhere along the way she learned how to ride and shoot. She was a good trick rider and shooter. But she excelled at bronco riding. Lulu could handle an unbroken horse as good as any man. So it was only natural that at age 27 she headed west.
Lulu crossed paths with Pawnee Bill, who was so impressed by her riding and shooting that he offered her a job in his how.
In 1908 she joined Colonel Cummins' Wild West Tour and went to Europe, where she performed before King Edward in Liverpool, England.In 1909, she made it to the top of her profession: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Bill was blown away by her equestrian ability and gave her an ivory-handled Colt revolver in admiration.
Lulu returned to Pawnee Bill's show in 1916. But times were changing. Silent movies had arrived, and people were deserting show tents for the cheaper movie theaters.
It was a sad downward slide for Lulu from there. With Wild West attractions folding up, she kept going to smaller and smaller outfits before finally hanging up her spurs in 1929 at age 53.
Flat broke and alone, she moved to Ohio and lived with her brother and sister. Lulu was a favorite of neighborhood children who loved hearing her stories of famous western heroes and ogling the collection of colorful costumes she had worn over the years.
She had a stroke and passed away in 1955. Lulu Bell Parr was 78.Almost all that's left to memorialize the hundreds of thousands of people she thrilled with her bronco-riding feats is a lonely tombstone in Dayton, Ohio. It's a sad reminder of the truth in the ancient Latin saying, Sic transit gloria mundi - Worldly things are fleeting.