ELLENSBURG RODEO POSSE
Inducted in 1998
Dr. J. P. Richardson founded the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse with five other prominent members in 1939. Richardson (father of Rodeo Princess Dorothy Vaughan and grandfather of Queen Heidi Vaughan) had admired San Francisco’s mounted Posse at the Cow Palace Rodeo and wanted to organize a similar group. The Ellensburg Rodeo Posse thus became the first mounted drill team in Washington State (Oregon boasted the Governor’s Mounted Guard). Original members included Robert McConnell, the President of Central Washington College of Education and other community professionals, businessmen, and stockmen. In 1940 they began riding in the rodeo and parade and by 1941 had become an integral part of the community team, which organized, promoted, and executed the Ellensburg Rodeo.
World War II pushed the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse into prominence. Posse men began service as a mounted search and rescue unit during the war. More importantly, as John Ludtka writes in his book The Tradition Lives On, it was the Posse that kept the rodeo tradition alive when governmental fuel rationing edicts forbade rodeo performances during the years 1942, ’43, and ’44. In 1943, the Rodeo Board turned to the Posse to help organize a “horse show” as a “USO Benefit” for airmen and soldiers stationed in or near Ellensburg. The result was a ‘rodeo without roughstock’—a 26-event show featuring trick riders, horse races, mounted drill teams, and even Army jeep rides up Craig’s Hill (for all who would purchase war bonds and stamps). When the war ended and the Ellensburg Rodeo returned, the Posse adapted their horse show format to create the “Posse Night Show,” an event which they stage to this day on Saturday evening of the Rodeo.
The Posse Night Show forms an important part of the Posse’ legacy to the Ellensburg Rodeo. For six decades the Posse has ridden and competed in the Night Show, the Rodeo Grand Entry and horserace, and helped to conduct the Rodeo. The Posse sponsors and conducts the Junior Rodeo and two open horse shows.
Moreover, throughout the year the Posse serves as the Ellensburg Rodeo’s official ambassadors in parades and rodeos– ranging from SeaFair to the Apple Blossom and Lilac Festivals to the Moses Lake and Yakima Fair and Rodeo Parades—throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The two oldest living posse members today [in 1998] are Lo Driver (88 years-old) and Rex Rice (86), both of whom have ridden with the Posse for over fifty years. Driver once took a special invitation to Congressman Hal Holmes for him to deliver to President Harry Truman, inviting him to the Ellensburg Rodeo. Lo rode his horse from Ellensburg over the old Wenas Trail to the Yakima airport to deliver the invitation. Both Driver and Rice rode with the Posse during its 1950s heyday. They remember well the Friday-night drills to the accompaniment of Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call” wafting over the loudspeaker and they remember the wild “broomstick polo” games that traditionally concluded each week’s drill. And they remember the annual “Posse House Party,” a lively affair on Saturday night of rodeo with a live band and generous Posse bartenders!
Just as in the old days, the Posse holds its weekly drill at the rodeo grounds. They practice their drill patterns as well as pole-bending, relay races, the cliff race, barrel-racing and, of course, the 1950s old favorite, “cowboy polo.” They also hold a business meeting. Saturday’s rodeo night show is still “Posse Night,” where Ellensburg competes against their fellow Posse riders from across the state in the above events. Each different posse team will compete in an event round as a tag team; the lowest combined team time wins the event. The drill competition requires precision horsemanship and a great deal of practices. Synchronizing that many horses into figure-eights and ‘threading the needle’ is no small feat.
The Ellensburg Rodeo Posse is a cornerstone of the Ellensburg Rodeo’s history and traditions. The Posse is a great way for men who love horses and people to represent Kittitas County and the Ellensburg Rodeo.