Cheyenne Frontier Days Legend Princess Blue Water Bowed To Nobody, Not Even The Queen

Cheyenne Frontier Days legend Princess Blue Water performed with Buffalo Bill Cody, was invited to Kennedy’s inauguration and refused to bow for England’s Queen Victoria, saying the Oglala Sioux bow to no one.

RJ
Renée Jean

February 25, 20247 min read

This Princess Blue Water sculpture will find a permanent home at Cheyenne Frontier Days. As part of her amazing life, she had a long and legendary relationship with CFD.
This Princess Blue Water sculpture will find a permanent home at Cheyenne Frontier Days. As part of her amazing life, she had a long and legendary relationship with CFD. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Family legends tell how a 7-year-old Princess Blue Water refused to bow for England’s Queen Victoria in 1887. She said her people, the Oglala Sioux, who count among their members Sitting Bull, would bow to no one.

Those legends also say that she may have even smacked a young Prince of Wales in the face when he disrespected Princess Blue Water’s elders, daring to laugh at them.

The tales are just a tiny part of the family legends that surround the South Dakota woman who was not only part of Buffalo Bills Wild West Show, but eventually became a legendary figure in Wyoming’s Cheyenne Frontier Days, as well as a strong advocate and leader for her people.

Princess Blue Water, whose real name was Rose Nelson Ecoffey, was well-known in Wyoming for bringing Native Americans to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Indian Village, where they would put on a spectacular show every year starting in the 1920s and continuing through the 1960s.

Over the decades, Princess Blue Water won many fans across Wyoming and, when celebrations were the order of the day, she was often there, in full regalia for the occasion.

In 1947, for example, during the world premiere of the movie “Cheyenne,” all the film’s leading stars were in Cheyenne making personal appearances at all three of the theaters that were going to show the film, as well as showing up at what was then billed as the world’s largest barbecue celebration.

Princess Blue Water was there in the frenzy and furor, standing alongside Cheyenne Frontier Days Queen Ann Dinneen Smith. The two led the big parade that followed Gov. Lester Hunt’s reception for the occasion.

Princess Blue Water was also among the Native American extras in the 1951 Clark Gable movie “Across the Wide Missouri,” and was among the dignitaries invited for President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration, as well as the dedication of Mount Rushmore, which was completed in 1941.

In 2002, when Cheyenne Frontier Days began its Hall of Fame, Princess Blue Water was one of its inaugural inductees, alongside the likes of Reba McEntire, famous cowgirl Dazee Bristol and legendary rodeo horse Steamboat, which very few cowboys ever rode, and who was the inspiration behind Wyoming’s official logo.

  • Princess Blue Water 62046386 10156080386176283 1312100143717154816 n 2 25 24
  • Princess Blue Water 61913418 10156080386051283 2593800113776230400 n 2 25 24
  • Princess Blue Water 61511041 10156080386286283 7082513861240160256 n 2 25 24

The Buffalo Bill Cody Connection

Cheyenne Resident Dan Morris is one of Ecoffey’s great-grandchildren and was an integral part of discussions around the bronze sculpture recently completed of Princess Blue Water. It’s now on display at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, along with the beaded dress and moccasins she often wore, which she made herself, stitching every one of the tens of thousands of beads by hand.

The statue will remain on display there, along with the recently completed Tom Horn statute, until the formal installation, which is planned for this summer.

Morris grew up on stories about his great-grandmother. When he looks at the statue of her, smiling the way she always smiled, he feels proud of the legacy it represents.

“Her Uncle was Red Cloud,” Morris told Cowboy State Daily. “So, there’s quite a bit of history within our family and lineage that takes us back to the very beginning of recorded history of the Oglala Sioux.”

The title Princess Blue Water was not something the tribe gave her, Morris added. It was given to her by Buffalo Bill Cody himself, while she and her family were on the boat ride that would take Ecoffey, her family and 1,200 other performers to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.

“She had a really natural charm, and our family — my present family excluded — but our family throughout history has been known as pretty good singers,” Morris said. “And so, she was known as being a beautiful Indian princess, and Buffalo Bill Cody gave her the name ‘Princess Blue Water,’ and that name stuck with her through her entire life.”

Cody was something of a marketing genius for his day, and he understood that giving his performers powerful stage names would increase the entertainment value of his shows, and thus the amount of money he took in.

“He wanted all the Indian maidens to be princesses,” Morris said, “And he wanted to glorify the Western life.”

While it was a money-making deal for Cody, Morris said the showman also “took pretty good care of everybody who worked for him, and a lot of our family stuck with him and his show.”

Ecoffey was able to meet many famous figures of the West while she and her family were part of the show, including Annie Oakley, who family members say was her babysitter from time to time.

Her Legacy As A Difference Maker Continues

Morris was not very old when his great-grandmother died.

“I was 5 years old when my she passed away, but I can remember just sensing her presence,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “When she spoke, everybody listened to what she had to say.”

Her descendants have inherited Ecoffey’s spirit and fire, Morris believes.

“When I think about my family’s history of my great-grandma, and my own grandma, and my mom, they were very — I would call them very powerful women,” he said. “They were opinionated. They were not afraid to speak their mind. And they were very intelligent, very well-spoken.”

Ecoffey used that fearless spirit, which allowed a 7-year-old to say no to a queen, to help others throughout her life.

Eventually, she became the first female judge on the Native American Tribal Court in 1940, and examples of her beadwork remain on display in museums in both Wyoming and Colorado.

“She was just an amazing woman, who really tried to stand up for people and do the right things,” Morris said. “She wasn’t afraid to raise her voice and go out there and try to make a difference for people, particularly her native tribe.”

The expectation that they, too, will be difference-makers is part of Ecoffey’s legacy that continues to this day. That expectation was passed down through generations of stories about her.

“My mom absolutely worshipped her grandma, and there was no one in this world who could make my mom’s eyes sparkle like talking about her grandma,” Morris said. “She had immense respect for her grandma, and told us stories all the time about her, and made sure we understood who she was.”

Those stories were never about how famous and influential Princess Blue Water was, however. They were about her character.

“My mom made sure we understood who she was, what she represented,” Morris said. “And now I have cousins who are fantastic artists and cousins who’ve done amazing things. And it’s all part of that lineage just being passed down that you are a leader and you’re a difference maker, and that you educate people.

“And Princess Blue Water was certainly that throughout her entire life.”

Renee Jean can be reached at: Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com

  • Obituary for Rose Nelson Ecoffey, aka Princess Blue Water.
    Obituary for Rose Nelson Ecoffey, aka Princess Blue Water. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Rose Nelson Ecoffey, aka Princess Blue Water, is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota.
    Rose Nelson Ecoffey, aka Princess Blue Water, is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)
  • A bronze sculpture of Princess Blue Water wears a smile and her intricate bead dress while Dan Morris, left, discusses the future location of the statue with artist Joey Bainer.
    A bronze sculpture of Princess Blue Water wears a smile and her intricate bead dress while Dan Morris, left, discusses the future location of the statue with artist Joey Bainer. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
Share this article

Authors

RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter