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KING COUNTY POSSE

Inducted in 2005

king county possee“‘Silver Saddles and Golden Horses’ has become not only the King County Posse’s slogan, but its standard as well,” states an essayist honoring Washington State’s most colorful horsemen and women.

The King County Posse formed as the “King County Sheriff’s Posse” in 1941, led by Wilfred Hall of Auburn and Daniel Bekins of Seattle. The Posse emulated other groups that had arisen in the early twentieth century West. These horsemen aimed to keep alive the old nineteenth century “posse” traditions in a much tamer form, supporting local government and helping foster civic pride while participating the burgeoning professional rodeo scene.

Like other hobbyists across the West, King County Possemen were deputized lawmen holding honorary commissions and serving without wages. Their commissions came from the King County Sheriff; they wore official sheriff’s badges, carried sidearms, and assisted law enforcement officers in mounted “search and rescue” assignments.

Early King County Posse literature noted, “Each of us is a volunteer deputy sheriff obligated to render such service as he may be called upon to perform in case an emergency should arise.” The coming of World War II certainly loomed on Westerners’ minds as these words were written.

Ellensburg’s older Ellensburg Rodeo Posse (ERHOF Inductees 1998) advised and assisted the King County Posse from the beginning. Dr. J. P. Richardson had helped found the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse 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. King County joined them, and the two posses have been mounted comrades for nearly seven decades.

Since 1943, King County Posse riders have ridden in the Ellensburg Rodeo Parade and Grand Entry, and competed in the rodeo’s mounted racing events and the Sunday Posse Night Show’s drill and riding competitions. In addition, King County Posse families have often been the source of an Ellensburg Rodeo Princess representing King County on the royal court.

One King County Posse family—the Brown family—has for three generations been involved as posse riders and rodeo princesses in the Ellensburg Rodeo.

The King County Posse’s most famous job in the Ellensburg Rodeo is its crucial role in the rodeo’s introductory ritual. Following the Grand Entry, it is King County Posse riders who “post the American colors”—stationing flag-carrying horsemen at posts around the rodeo arena while the Star Spangled Banner is sung. Only then do Yakama Indians ride down Craig’s Hill into the arena to commence each rodeo performance.

The “Silver Saddles and Golden Horses” of flag-carrying King County Posse riders are visually stunning. Two decades ago a King County Posse rider estimated the cost of his saddle and tack at $2,000.00. He described their famous drill:

We gallop the horses and we lope ‘em through the maneuvers and this is where the practice and the timing come in. It’s colorful: Fourteen Palominos with sterling silver saddles and bridles. Guys all dressed in the same uniforms. And each man carries a four-foot-by-six-foot American flag. And when you use flags like these, you’re blind on one side and can’t see what’s coming at you. If you’ve ever seen us do the “thread the needle,” you’ll know it’s quite a challenge.

In addition to their annual trek to Ellensburg, King County riders stage their own horse shows, playdays, and get-togethers. They have served as the “lead unit” in the Portland Rose Parade. They also appear at Wenatchee Apple Blossom Festival, the King and Yakima County Fairs, Puyallup Fair, Seattle Seafair’s Grand Parade, and many other local and regional venues.

Over the years, the King County Posse has seen changes. Members deleted the term “Sheriff” from their title even though they remain honorary deputies. Recently, the King County Posse admitted its first female members, a move emulated by other posses and rodeo boards across the country.

But some things stay the same. Flag-carrying King County horsemen will no doubt continue their annual trek to Ellensburg, race the relays, and perform their precision drill. And of course they will continue to “post the colors” in the Ellensburg Rodeo’s Grand Entry for the foreseeable future.

When asked why he was a King County Posseman, Gary Lewis was quick to respond: “I get to ride nice horses. I get my exercise, with lots of nice guys. And there’s something about riding a nice horse and wearing a badge and carrying that American flag. I’m really proud of carrying that American flag when I’m riding a horse.”