“Nothing up my sleeve,” David “Huck” Henneberry jokes as he deals cards at the 49er Ball on Saturday evening at The Virginian Lodge. The ball is a Jackson tradition — the first was held in 1896 to celebrate the gold rush of 1849. Highlights included a live band, silent auction, gambling for donations, and dancing. See the Valley section for a story.
On a frigid night nearly 100 valley residents came to together at The Virginian Lodge to celebrate all things Jackson Hole. The theme for this year’s 49’er Ball — the oldest and longest running community event in Jackson — was “Act Like a Local.”
One could see people in the usual cowboy hats and boots, but also fly-fishing enthusiasts complete with rod and reel, and the always the showy salon and can-can girls with fishnet stockings.
Dating back to 1896, the event has morphed over the decades but one thing remains the same: A time to party and kick up your heels and let loose, all for a good cause.
“Riot Act inherited this beloved community event from the Lions Club, it’s always been handed down from nonprofit to nonprofit,” said Riot Act board President Lacey Lukas. “Since we inherited it a few years ago, I can report this is the best we’ve done so far, and it certainly helped we were back in person this year, after having to do it all online last year due to COVID.”
“It is long heralded as the oldest party in Jackson Hole,” Lukas said. “It’s 126 years old. It also marks Riot Act’s 20th anniversary, bringing live local productions to this community.”
The cast of characters for this reality show included Jackson Hole News&Guide’s own editor Johanna “Inky Fingers” Love, who ran away with the most votes to be swept into the upper echelons of long-standing 49’er royalty.
“Inky Fingers” dressed in an off-the-shoulder apropos newsprint fabric, haute couture dress that she sewed herself, after putting the community paper together last week.
Love will join the ranks of the 49’er royalty like the Queen Mum, Bonnie Budge, 91, whose reign and history is long. Budge ran the 49’er Ball for years, as she raised money for the Jackson Hole Ski Team back in the day.
Budge dressed like you’d expect of a queen mum, including a fur coat, a tiara, and a large faux diamond necklace proclaiming “Queen.”
“I’ve always enjoyed the 49’er Ball,” she said. “It’s a place where people, local people, can just be themselves and have fun. I love all the costumes. I’ve made so many over the years for family and friends, and I’m probably related to half the people here.”
Budge’s niece, Dawn Kent, a fourth generation Jacksonite, remembers trying to sneak into 49’er Balls in the past before she was of age, and being thrown out of the Wort Hotel, where the ball had been traditionally held for years.
Former 49’er Queen, circa 1986, Inga Parsons says she was trying to fit into her queen dress from 1986 but, “It was not happening,” she joked.
This is the first year the 49’er Ball was held in November, and Riot Act board member Macey Mott says it seems to be a good fit for the community to have it in the fall.
“The timing is good for Riot Act too, because usually in February or March we are still in production of one of our plays,” said Mott. “By having it in November, it gives us a lot more time and energy to focus on getting sponsors and making sure the event is successful.”