Tom Ringley is an emeritus member of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Board of Directors and a Sheridan County commissioner.
The Sheridan WYO Rodeo Queen program began in 1936 when Gladys Accola was selected as the first rodeo queen. In 1980, Teri Lilley was selected as queen and then the program was dormant for the next 28 years. In 2008, the program resumed with the selection of Allie Bass as queen, who was, incidentally, selected as Miss Rodeo Wyoming the following year.
The Queen Program has produced many stories over the years. Perhaps the one most often told is about when Lucy Yellow Mule was selected in 1951 to serve as queen in 1952. Yellow Mule’s story is important because she was the first girl of Indian blood (she had some white blood) to serve as queen of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. She was also the first one to be selected by popular applause. More importantly, Yellow Mule was instrumental in helping to bridge the cultural divide between whites and Indians in the Sheridan area. This effort led to the founding of All-American Indian Days in 1953.
Another story is rather humorous. One year the queen contestants were required to gallop full-tilt the length of the grandstand and regale the crowd with their “queen wave.” After a succession of candidates sped by in a high-speed gallop, one young woman began her run in front of the grandstand in what could best be described as a languid lope. The horse and rider were obviously not of the same caliber of those who had gone before. As the queen candidate began her slow-motion progress, the announcer intoned: “And now, at a more leisurely pace…”
Things could get western during the queen contest as well. In 1953, Yvonne Pence was competing for the 1954 queen position. She was mounted on a really spooky horse that got away from her during the contest and went crashing through the infield fence. Undaunted and determined, Pence got control of the horse and raced him back to the arena through the hole in the fence made on her unplanned exit. The crowd loved it. Pence was selected as rodeo queen.
Unfortunately, there is a tragic queen story as well. It occurred in 1956 when Jeanne McCormick, a 1957 queen candidate from Banner, Wyoming, was killed as a result of injuries received when her horse reared and fell on top of her.
Jack Ferren, a longtime rodeo committee member, had a vivid memory of the tragedy. He was mounted on horseback right beside her, but it happened so quickly and without warning that there was not even time for Ferren to grab the horse’s bridle or for McCormick to try and step off the side of the horse.
McCormick died at the hospital shortly after the accident. She was killed on Saturday, the second day of the rodeo. During the final performance on Sunday, there was a moment of silence in her memory.
It is a sad story, but part of the 90-year history of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. Perhaps it is fitting that we again pay homage to Jeanne McCormick who died 65 years ago while competing for the title of Sheridan WYO Rodeo queen.