Riding tall 73 years later
In long ago Wild West days, had a poker player been shot dead for having a hand of five aces, a sheriff might have gone out in the dusty street, gathered up a hodgepodge posse and sent them galloping after the guy who pulled the trigger.
Wild West days are long gone. Things have changed drastically since those days when the sheriff of Tombstone might have rounded up a posse.
Although not of the Wild West variety, Yamhill County does presently have a posse. Yamhill County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse has been in existence for 73 years. It does no actual law enforcement, but, rather, works in public relations, other duties as assigned, and helps as requested.
This Yamhill County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse is one of the oldest in the state, formed December 29, 1941, following Pearl Harbor. Sixteen charter members were deputized by then Yamhill County Sheriff George Manning as a “cog in the WW II home defense effort.”
Each member paid for his own uniform and side arm. Each had a horse — shod and at the ready — and means of transporting it.
What with gas rationing, mechanical failures, road difficulties and forbidding terrain, those mounted riders might be the answer.
And indeed they soon were. On May 18, 1942, the Western Defense Command sent directives to every Oregon county — a 12-hour rush order to put Japanese evacuation notices on all east and south roads entering the county, and on main streets in Newberg, McMinnville, and other conspicuous points.
The 16 posse members got the Yamhill County job done within two hours.
Next, in the war effort, they manned traffic control checks on lonely routes into McMinnville, under supervision of Civil Defense Command. One posse member could recall no watch night when it didn’t rain, snow or blow.
With war’s end, although they were “at the ready,” their role changed. Now they were thinking about what they could do for their community.
They supported the blood bank. They helped with traffic control when the Spruce Goose was moved from California to the McMinnville Evergreen Air Museum. The posse cleared fallen trees on Pacific Crest Trail under supervision by Jim Heiser, present board member and past captain.
Nowadays, Posse Captain Crystalin Christensen explains that one reason for their existence, and one of their goals, is to be a “positive asset to the community.” Second Lt. Carrie Brandt sees the value of the posse as a “public relations asset for the sheriff.” Herald Levy, board member, past captain more than once, and senior in length of membership, had “public service” in mind when he joined in 1972.
This public service has diverse forms, such as search and rescue. Four of the posse’s 2l active members are qualified for search and rescue. Others may be called in support.
Their activities are numerous, such as participation in the McMinnville’s Juliette’s House Kids’ Safety Fair, and the Newberg Kids’ Safety Fair. They assist in parking at the Lions Fly-In; helped at the statewide Special Olympics in Newberg, and presented colors at Yamhill County Fair.
When kids — and adults — see these posse members in their silver-bellied Western hats, their gold and brown uniforms — and wearing a star — they relate them to the law and it creates a bond of fellowship with law enforcement officers. These posse members are good guys who let kids — and adults — pet a horse — sometimes for the first time.
As Sheriff Jack Crabtree once said, “The posse is a great people resource.”
For several years, the posse staged its own event, the Shodeo. They built an outdoor arena and track on West Second Street. When this property was sold, the proceeds were combined with monies left them by charter member, Ellery DeLashmutt, and both amounts were matched with money from the racing fund, as approved by the Yamhill County Commissioners. The posse then built an indoor arena and meeting room at the fairgrounds on Lafayette Avenue and the Posse has a 99-year lease on the upper southeast corner of the building.
Posse members must be 18 years of age. Women now belong and Melanie Rummel was the first female officer and captain. Applications for membership may be made by filling out a form available at the sheriff’s office, and all prospective members must have background checks. A member pays for his uniform, must have a horse, as well as transportation for it, and be a “pretty good horseman.” It is not an inexpensive hobby and the price of a horse can “vary all over the place.”
It isn’t by chance that no member can recall when any of their group was thrown from his horse during a public appearance. Member horses and their riders must be “pre-qualified” for safety. The rider must demonstrate that his horse is properly trained — well trained — for public appearances. If a horse is acting up — that horse will not “appear” that day. Says First Lt. Andrea Murray, “We strive for the safety angle. We all train our horses for such.”
In those early war days, the Yamhill Posse trained under the U.S. Army Cavalry, a detachment of which was at McMinnville Station, now part of Yamhill County Fairgrounds. Dr. I. C. Robison was posse drillmaster and training officer. The fledgling posse was “whipped into shape” and began receiving invitations to present drills at shows in St. Paul, Lake Oswego, Prineville, Klamath Falls, Eugene, Grants Pass, Roseburg and Redmond. In drill competition at Pacific International Livestock Exposition in Portland, where competitors included Canadian Mounted Police from Calgary, the Yamhill County Posse won first place for best drill team in the Northwest.
As per their aim to be an asset to the community, the Posse opens DeLashmutt Arena for obstacle nights, three Friday nights and one Saturday per quarter of each year, at $10 per session. The upcoming schedule is mailed regularly to more than 200 interested riders, indicating considerable appreciation.
It is quite a feat that Yamhill County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse is still “at the ready” when needed — still is riding — riding despite 73 years of history — and still not saddle sore.
Elaine Rohse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.