LARAMIE, Wyo. — Morgan Wallace was vacationing in June 2016 in the mountains when her mother called with devastating news about a friend and fellow rodeo queen.
“Normally, my phone conversations with my mom are pretty upbeat,” said Wallace, who, in addition to being Miss Laramie Jubilee, was crowned Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2018 on Oct. 14. “But when I picked up the phone this time, there was just this silence.”
Previously, Wallace’s longtime friend, Ashley Doolittle, was reported missing June 9, 2016. At first, Wallace said she didn’t think much of the news, because authorities speculated Doolittle might have just snuck out for a night with her friends.
But when Wallace’s mother called, everything changed.
“When my mother finally spoke, she said, ‘She’s gone,'” Wallace remembered. “‘He killed her.'”
The news shocked her, but it wasn’t long before she decided to turn her sadness into a message.
“That whole time after it happened, I was warmed by the response of the rodeo community,” the 20-year-old said. “People from across the nation wanted to honor Ashley, and I realized I could do something to keep this from happening again.”
Wallace made domestic violence prevention her platform, a move she said was uncommon among rodeo queens.
“In the rodeo queen world, it’s not something we usually do,” Wallace said as she straightened her back and folded her manicured hands in her lap. “In the Miss America pageant, a contestant always has a platform she is passionate about. But rodeo queening is a little different, because our platform is the sport of rodeo.”
But domestic violence affects everyone, including the rodeo community, she said.
“I’ve tried to take the sport of rodeo and the Western way of life and attach it back to what I’m passionate about,” Wallace explained. “The Miss Rodeo Wyoming Association is looking to promote strong, competent women, and I whole-heartedly believe a strong, competent woman will believe in herself.”
Stacy Berger, Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2008, met Wallace about two years ago, when Wallace was the Miss Laramie Jubilee Days Lady-in-Waiting. Berger said they’ve formed a close friendship in the years since.
“(Wallace’s) desire to educate people about (domestic violence) has really shaped her,” she said. “I don’t think it’s just a platform for her. I think she’s going to take it beyond her title as Miss Rodeo Wyoming.”
When the two first met, Wallace’s sincerity and kind nature were immediately apparent, Berger said.
So, too, was Wallace’s broken arm.
“Her horse had bucked her off, and she broke her arm,” Berger said. “It was in a cast and she asked me for some tips about riding. Rodeo queen horsemanship is unlike any other kind of riding out there. We just got to talking about horsemanship and really hit it off.”
When Wallace announced she would compete for Miss Rodeo Wyoming, Berger said she knew it would be a good fit.
“(Wallace) had a servant’s heart and wanted to help anyone she could — I knew she was the whole package,” she said. “She is very determined. She knows what she wants, and is willing to do what needs to done to get it.”
Raised near Fort Collins, Colorado, Wallace said she always wanted to attend the University of Wyoming.
“My dad prints the tickets for rodeos including Laramie Jubilee Days — that’s how I discovered Laramie,” she said as a practiced yet genuine smile spread across her face. “We would always stop at the Chuckwagon Restaurant on our way out of town. I don’t know why there, but that was just our thing.”
Her father also rode saddle broncs for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, giving Wallace a wealth of rodeo experience from an early age.
Although her family didn’t own a ranch or farm, Wallace spent most of her time in the agriculture community through 4-H, rodeos and competitive target rifle shooting.
“I started shooting when I was young — maybe 7,” she said. “I really fell in love with competitive shooting and ended up attending the national (4-H) competition three years in a row.”
Through most of the competitions, she said she used .22 caliber rifles or pellet rifles, but she explored other firearms as well.
“I dabbled in muzzle-loading for a while,” she said. “It was one of my favorites.”
Entering pageantry in Colorado at 17 years old, Wallace said she discovered community among the rodeo crowd as well as a goal for the future.
“Being a rodeo queen taught me what career I wanted to pursue,” she said. “(I attended) a Farm Bureau meeting where they talked about the problem we have with a lack of water in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. So, I decided I wanted to become a water lawyer.”
Currently, Wallace is studying agriculture communications at the University of Wyoming, but after competing for Miss Rodeo America in 2019, she said she plans to return to Laramie and attend the UW College of Law. Crossing the Spur Ridge Equestrian Center arena, Wallace’s slender frame belied her strength as she casually toted her polished saddle under one arm.
“This is Cookie Monster — he’s kind of the star of the show,” she said patting a chocolate brown American quarter horse. “All queens have to ride. It’s our talent.”
An abscess in the horse’s hoof caused him to limp slightly as she cooed in his ear and led him outside.
“I chose him mainly for his personality,” she said, adding with a giggle, “He’s a very sweet boy, but he’s also kind of lazy. I like that, because I’m kind of lazy, too.”
Assuming her role as Miss Rodeo Wyoming in January, Wallace said she planned to spend 2018 touring schools and rodeo events to promote the sport and raise domestic violence awareness.
“If I could just make a difference in a few people’s lives by teaching them the signs of domestic violence, then I will be a success,” she said. “As far as rodeo queening, I plan to compete for Miss Rodeo America 2019, because I’d like to bring the title back to Wyoming. But after that, I think I will just want to focus on school.”
Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com