LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — 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.”
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.
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.”