Lifetime Cheyenne Resident Reflects on Cheyenne Frontier Days Through the Decades

Paula Qualls and her family have generations of involvement with the celebration

Paula Qualls, 85, sits outside Pointe Frontier Retirement Community. Qualls is a lifelong Cheyenne resident, and she and her family have generations of involvement with Cheyenne Frontier Days. (Wyoming Truth photo by Kristine Galloway)

By Kristine Galloway

Special to the Wyoming Truth

CHEYENNE, Wyo.– Paula Qualls and Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD) go way back.

Qualls, 85, and her family have generations of history in Wyoming, especially Cheyenne.

“I’ve lived here all my life. In fact, I’m the fourth generation in Cheyenne,” Qualls said in an interview with the Wyoming Truth at Pointe Frontier Retirement Home. “And we have been involved in Frontier Days forever.”

Cheyenne Frontier Days, known as “The Daddy of ‘Em All,” is the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and western celebration. It began in 1897, and today starts its 127th edition with the annual carnival and midway and Frontier Nights concert featuring Eric Church and Paul Cauthen.

Qualls spent most of her life riding in the annual parades. She was a third-generation member of the Wyoming Pioneer Association and recruited other women to ride in the carriages for that association. She also served on the Laramie County Planning Commission for 14 years.

And Qualls didn’t just ride in the carriages. She once got stuck in a sheep wagon during a rainstorm with Marietta Dinneen, who was renowned for her carriage restoration work.

Qualls recalled that the storm came up quickly while they were preparing wagons for the parade during the centennial celebration in 1997. Qualls served on the centennial committee that year.

“[Marietta] said, ‘Come on, we’ll just jump right in here in the sheep wagon.’ So, I spent the storm in the sheep wagon,” Qualls said through laughter.

Qualls remembers much about CFD through the years, including times that she was an attendee, rather than a volunteer.

“The Indians were one of my very favorite things. Of course, Princess Blue Water – she was it as far as I was concerned,” Qualls said.

Princess Blue Water was the stage name of Rose Ecoffey, an Oglala Lakota Native American dancer from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She performed at CFD beginning in the 1920s and continuing for about 40 years.

Qualls said the Native American dancers performed in front of the Mayflower Café and at street dances held downtown during CFD before the parking garage went up on the block between Lincolnway, Carey Avenue, 17th Street and Pioneer Avenue.

Qualls said she, her friends and her first husband would get a drink at the Wigwam Bar in the Plains Hotel and then grab another at the Valencia Restaurant, located on West 17th Street, before heading to the Albany Bar.

It was a street party “and everyone just carried their drinks,” she said.

Qualls said the CFD pancake breakfast also took place in that empty lot before the city built the parking garage. It now takes place at the Cheyenne Depot Plaza.

Changes over the years

In many ways, CFD is different than it used to be, Qualls said.  She supports some—but not all—of the changes.

For example, Qualls doesn’t like that the slack rodeo events have become qualifying rounds leading up to the CFD event. She also doesn’t like that country musicians and rock bands have replaced night shows that, she said, were more interactive and featured various celebrities, like the stars of the long-running TV show “Bonanza.” And she is sad that the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will not be returning this year.

But Qualls especially does not like that the bucking horse roundup has replaced the cattle drive. 

“They used to have the cattle stored out on west Happy Jack [Road],” said Quall, who took her grandchildren to watch the cattle drive every year. “And then they would bring them on the cattle drive through Warren Air Force Base and back around to Frontier Park. And you could follow them in the car.”

So what changes does Qualls support? In particular, she likes the Park-n-Ride for how it helps people attend events.

Qualls acknowledges that everyone will have complaints about things and all places have their problems. But she strongly supports CFD regardless of the changes she wishes hadn’t happened. She still watches the rodeo on TV.

“I think (CFD is) fantastic,” Qualls said. “It’s bringing people here and showing them the good things about Cheyenne and Wyoming.”

Qualls’ family members are still heavily involved in CFD, as well. Her son, Pat Lewis, and his wife began providing photography and videography services, respectively, to CFD many years ago and still do today.

Looking at older generations, Qualls said her great-grandfather James F. Jenkins once served on the CFD General Committee, which underscores her family’s long-term ties to CFD.

But Jenkins is not the most historically significant member of Qualls’ family.

Cheyenne’s First Presbyterian Church recently gifted a bronze statue of Qualls’ great-grandmother, Therese Jenkins, to the City of Cheyenne. It sits at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and 22nd Street and commemorates Therese Jenkins’ contributions to women’s suffrage in Wyoming.

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