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Modern posse still depends on horses

Sheriff’s volunteers go where squad cars can’t for rescues

In this photo taken Sept. 7,  Bill Getz of the Wasco County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse stands in front of a mural of pioneers crossing the Columbia River.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
In this photo taken Sept. 7, Bill Getz of the Wasco County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse stands in front of a mural of pioneers crossing the Columbia River. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Sam Craig (The Dalles) Chronicle

THE DALLES, Ore. – Wasco County has a posse.

Unlike the old-timey posses that would gallop through miles of badlands on horseback hunting bank robbers, cattle rustlers and other fearsome ne’er-do-wells, Wasco County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse takes a different route.

They’re a volunteer arm of the Wasco County Sheriff’s Department, assisting in search and rescues, performing crowd control at public events and strutting their stuff at parades.

After retiring from construction work about seven years ago, Bill Getz, from The Dalles, became captain of the Wasco County Posse and leader of anywhere between 10 and 20 horsemen, depending on fluctuating membership. He also came to be in charge of posse horses from time to time.

Getz has earned his chaps as a rider in The Dalles. Involved with the Wasco County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse and spending 25 years with the Fort Dalles Riders Association – 16 of those as president of the organization – and the owner of four horses, Getz can easily call himself a horseman.

As a member of the posse, Getz is a part of a proud Oregon law enforcement tradition. While not a police officer himself, he and the other posse members work at the behest of the Wasco County sheriff.

“We go out at the request of Sheriff Rick Eisland,” Getz said. “Whatever he wants us to do. It’s mainly PR work and parades, and we help to do security at the rodeo and county fair. If he has a search he wants to call us on, we’ll go to that. He’s very supportive of us.”

Police auxiliary mounted posses have been around for years, and though the name has a rough-and-tumble reputation, they’re pretty darn law abiding, as well as a big help to police. Horses can go where squad cars and police motorcycles can’t, trekking through brush and down rocky hillsides, looking for accident victims.

In Wasco County, the posse is an extension of the sheriff’s office but not an official part of it. There’s a reason for that, Getz says.

“There’s been posses around for, I suppose, 50 years in Oregon,” he said. “Some of them are made up of full police reserves, search and rescues. Some are certified by the state of Oregon, some are not. We didn’t go with reserve status because we didn’t want to tote guns, and we didn’t have the time to become full-fledged reserves. But we go where we’re needed.”

Parades, rodeos, search and rescue aside, Getz likes to change perceptions of what can be done on horseback. A while back, he and his wife, Saundra Buchanan Getz, helped to start a new trend in both the equestrian and dance worlds.

“We went down to Portland, must have been 10 years ago, and there was a national square dance competition,” he said. “There were people from China, England, Germany, all of them were there. They did a few squares, then we did a performance for them on horseback. They were pretty impressed with the horseback square dancing.”

A caller would yell out moves from a tower above. Eventually, the horses got used to moving in tandem so close together, and a whole new dance craze was born.

“My wife and I were one of the very first couples,” Getz said. “There were probably six of us when we got started, then it grew to about 16 of us. But you’ve got to have a horse you can do tight things withtime.”

Though he’s an experienced equestrian, Getz says that horses aren’t toys, and they’re not necessarily gentle. Like any animal, they’ve all got their own personalities and temperaments, so you’ve got to play it safe, he said.

“Horsemanship can be a lot of fun, but there can be a lot of disasters,” Getz said. “A horse is like a big dog. They’re just a little bit bigger and it hurts a lot more when they run over you.”

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