As the world remembers Queen Elizabeth II, some Sheridan County residents recall her 1984 visit
Queen Elizabeth II was Britain's longest-reigning monarch and was a recognizable figure throughout the world for more than three quarters of a century. Her 70-year reign saw her travel to all parts of the world, which included the Cowboy State in 1984.
As she is set to be laid to rest at Westminster Abbey on Sept. 19, some Sheridan County residents are remembering her brief visit almost 40 years ago. On Oct. 13, 1984, students from the school in Big Horn lined up against a fence to witness a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"The car motorcade was going to drive by," said Janae Neeson, who was 10 years old at the time and a student at Big Horn Elementary School. "I think she was headed from town out to one of the ranches, so we just knew we were going to get like a short glimpse of her."
To mark the special occasion, she decided to create some artwork for it.
"I went home, and I drew, like, I made a flag to wave at her," she explained. "I drew the Union Jack, used up all my markers, at least used up all my blue marker[s], because they only went so far."
The wait for the motorcade soon ended as a series of black cars with dark windows approached.
"We saw a handful of cars and out the window popped her gloved hand and she waved at us," Neeson remembered. "I didn't really see her other than her gloved hand cause her car was all shaded black windows but she waved at us nonetheless and I was waving my little flag that I had drawn, and then she was gone. And we're like, 'Okay, well I guess that was cool, we got to see the Queen of England.'"
The Queen arrived in Sheridan County from Kentucky, where she had been visiting horse country and stayed for around three days. She stayed at Canyon Ranch, which has been owned and operated by the Wallop family for well over a century near Big Horn, south of Sheridan.
She wasn't the first royalty to stay there. In 1969, the Queen's husband, Prince Philip, spent time at Canyon Ranch as well. Since then, other royalty such as Princess Anne and her husband Timothy Laurence, have visited, as has a sister of the late Princess Diana. It turns out that the royalty's fondness for Canyon Ranch isn't that random. Paul Wallop, who owns and operates the ranch today, said his family has long-time connections to the royal family.
"The main connection there is my father's sister, my aunt, [Lady Porchester] married an Englishman and he was a childhood friend of the Queen's as well," Wallop said. "He became the Queen's racing manager, managing all her racehorses and that's where the friendship had come from."
Wallop wasn't in the area at the time but did have the opportunity to meet her on two separate occasions.
"She has a great energy, she just was very gracious and kind and was engaging in the conversation," he said.
She stayed at Canyon Ranch while her staff and attendants took up lodging at the Holiday Inn in Sheridan, according to an official itinerary from the time.
"It obviously was a really fun thing to have had happened and to be able to share the family ranch and family history goes back a long ways to England, and so that was kind of a big deal," Wallop added.
The timing of Her Majesty's visit, however, was cause for concern for her security detail. The beginning of hunting season had coincided with her arrival. Security officials noticed that countless vehicles had rifles inside them.
"They asked if they could postpone [the opening of hunting season] and [the county sheriff] had suggested that maybe that was not such a good idea in that if they did that, maybe the only thing left in season would be the queen," Wallop said. "It would make everybody so upset."
In addition to staying at the ranch, Wallop said she did some hiking and enjoyed the outdoors at the foot of the Bighorns. She visited the Brinton Museum and made a trip into Sheridan, walking on Main Street, which was closed off for her visit. A select few businesses were fortunate enough to have her stop in.
"It was an honor for my family to be one of the few businesses in town and my uncle and my dad built a good reputation in town for taking care of people and friendships and stuff, so, I mean, they were quite honored," said Sam Mavrakis, the son and nephew of the owners of a sporting goods store that she visited.
Mavrakis added the Queen purchased a fly rod for Prince Philip, who was an avid outdoorsman. She also gave them a photo of herself, which was displayed in the shop until it burned down. Upon hearing the news, she sent another photo to replace the one that had been burned.
Mavrakis said that the connections that the royal family has to the area speak to the uniqueness of the community.
"I think we're very lucky as a community to have that deep, rich history that we do have," he said. "It just adds another layer to why Sheridan's a special place."