CODY — Though it was a day early, things already felt like the Fourth of July on Saturday for spectators lining Sheridan Avenue to watch the second of three parades that the town stages July 2-4 to celebrate America’s birthday.

“I love it, I absolutely love it,” said Wendy Klinghoffer, a chamber of commerce executive from Philadelphia who was watching the parade with friends.

“I love the whole western style, and the small-town atmosphere. And there are so many horses, it’s just great,” she said, as her friends snapped pictures of leather-clad outlaws on horseback.

If the Fourth of July in Cody seems like a well-rehearsed spectacle, it’s because small armies of local volunteers here have been organizing parades, rodeos, fireworks shows and other events every Independence Day for almost a century.

The happy blend of patriotic pride and calculated commercialism draws visitors and locals alike throughout Stampede Week, which sees a flurry of large-scale activities starting July 1 each year.

“Cody is a very patriotic town, and so many people get involved and work hard to make the Fourth of July a special holiday here,” said Sam Krone, a Cody City Council member and longtime parade announcer.

“I think the visitors also love seeing our western way of life on display here, too,” he said.

Some visitors even get in on the act, with parade participants hailing from California and Texas. The only mounted color guard in the U.S. Marine Corps, from Barstow, Calif., helped lead the parade. Members of the Deadwood-Cheyenne Stage reenactors group, including a Buffalo Bill Cody look-alike, came from Bandera, Texas.

Gorieu Nadia and her family were visiting the U.S. from France, and stopped in Cody to watch the parade after a week in Yellowstone National Park.

Klinghoffer said she was amazed that participants would parade down Cody’s main street on July 3 only to get up the next day and do it again.

“How much bigger is tomorrow’s parade,” she asked?

“How much bigger do you want it?” someone joked.

Though some participants skip July 3 and appear only in the Fourth of July parade, many locals also turn out to watch the early parade, finding it less crowded. Some Cody residents attend both days.

Allen and Virginia Gee rode bikes from their nearby house to the parade route, toting four folding chairs and three of their four daughters, including Amelia, 6, and Alannah, 9.

The Gee girls said that horses and Shriners driving turtle cars were among their favorite parade entries, and they planned to attend today’s parade as well.

Tom Fitzsimmons, a Cody oil and gas executive, said he would also attend parades both days to see marching bands, a bagpipe and drum group and other musical performers.

Powell rancher Jim Hillberry said he could recall watching the parade as a young boy from his aunt’s house on Sheridan Avenue, near 10th Street.

Though he remembers grand parades from that era, “they’ve really expanded it, and today’s parade is really fabulous,” Hillberry said.

Local retailers depend on Stampede Week parades, rodeos and other events to draw crowds of revelers to fill hotels, restaurants, bars and gift shops.

So far, despite the floundering economy, the crowds have been good, said John Darby, owner of the Irma Hotel.

Visitor traffic has been erratic, Darby said, with “a lot of ups and downs, but on average, damn good.”

 

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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