There’s something enchanting about the old west that draws us in with the outlandishly true stories, like romance on the frontier and tales of the sheriff’s posse chasing down outlaws.
But not all of the Wild West is a fragment of the past. Believe it or not, Kern County still has a posse in action today; while retired from rounding up ruffians, it creates magic nonetheless—by enriching the lives of local children.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood explained that the idea of the modern mounted posse hails back to the 1870s and 1880s, around when Kern County was established. “The Sheriff collected taxes and provided for the safety of the people in the county, and of course this was all done by horseback. So when you had somebody that was wanted, the Sheriff would gather up members of the posse and go look for the person and as you can imagine some of those were very long trips.” He continued, “The difficulty of maintaining the peace, back when there were no vehicles to use, is just very difficult to imagine in a county of 8,100 square miles.”
While there is still a mounted force that does search and rescue from horseback when necessary, with the advent of cars there’s no longer a need for chasing down bandits with lassos, as exciting as that would be. Officially established in 1939, they are the single oldest existing working posse in the entire state—a pretty big accomplishment in what was once the far reaches of the wild and woolly west.
Today, the Kern County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse is made up entirely of local volunteers, not just those with careers in law enforcement, interested in enhancing the community. Members must be voted in and be over 21 years old, be employed in Kern County, and own a horse. Charged with representing the Sheriff’s Department, they work hard to be approachable, caring, and involved with the public.
“We raise money throughout the year to benefit the physically and mentally challenged children of Kern County,” detailed Craig Jackson, the posse’s 2017 president. Their fundraising activities include their spring festival and cow plop, where they recently raised over $10,000 for local kids. And you may be wondering what a cow plop is…surprisingly, it’s exactly what it sounds like. “One of our members has a miniature steer and they buy a ticket for the cow plop chance, we have only 100 squares and the cow walks around until he basically, well, “plops” in one of the squares and you can win up to $2,500. It makes for a real fun night.”
They also participate in parades and rodeos throughout the state, and have had the honor of being selected to ride in the Pasadena Tournament of the Roses Parade twice in the last 10 years. They don’t just ride for charity though, the members also get together for outings and camping trips in the spring and fall. “These rides are typically Friday through Sunday and attended by posse members and their families. The purpose of the trips [are] to promote the western way of life, bond as an organization and show appreciation for all the hard work that is put in during the year, at the various functions,” Jackson shared. On these trips members spend the day on horseback on ranches or in the wilderness and bond nightly over a campfire, enjoying good food and company as everyone tells stories about the good ol’ days.
Some of the causes they champion include sponsoring kids who have aged out of the foster care system to go to camp and putting together the Kern County Fair’s Special Friends Day. The Division of Special Education Kern County Superintendent of Schools has been in partnership with the sheriff’s posse for over 20 years, coordinating with them for the big day. “Special Friends Day at the fair gives students who may have special needs, different challenges whatever that may be, whether that is visual impairment, students who may be intellectually disabled or may have orthopedic impairments, that opportunity to participate in the fair and get that experience at the fair without having a very large crowd that it may have on a traditional day,” began Brian Cortez, administrator for the Division of Special Education Kern County Superintendent of Schools. The fair helps organize the half-day event, which is outside of their normal hours, allowing the kids to have fun without worrying about crowds. Easily accessible rides are opened just for them, and much of the fair is opened just for the event, like the turkey races, fine arts building, petting zoo, dance groups, concessions, and the livestock area. And it wouldn’t be a complete day without the giant BBQ that the posse puts on. Last year they served up over 3,000 hamburgers and 400 hot dogs just for the kids and their helpers. Along with local schools, Valley Achievement Center and the NAPD, among other agencies that serve students with disabilities turn out to participate.
Leading up to the event, students get to learn about a lot of the different things they will see, but learning in a classroom and experiencing the fair first hand are two different things.
“I think it’s always wonderful to see a child or a student who gets their first experience with an actual live animal…Some just light up and can’t wait to interact with the animals. Some of them say ‘wait a minute,’ they weren’t quite ready to interact,” he paused to laugh. “but I think that’s always fun to see. For us it illicites language from our students, gets them talking about all the different things they’ve been studying leading up to the event. I think that’s the best part of it.”
More than that, kids also gain valuable life skills, from experiencing a new environment to waiting in line and taking their turn. “Our students, as much as we try to teach them real life skills, you can only teach them so much in a classroom setting…Some of our students may have more difficulties with those types of atmospheres because of sensory needs or the crowds in general, so this special day allows kids to have a day in which they have their support from our staff [and] other volunteers, to visit the animals, to go through all of the centers where they have the exhibits to experience the foods, experience some of the rides, and all the other families and kids.” And there are some added benefits for the families, because it allows them, once they’ve had their child experience it, to take them back as a family because they already know what to expect. “That way students aren’t as overwhelmed the next time they go.”
Unsurprisingly, parents and teachers hear about the trips for weeks afterwards. It’s easy to see how big of a difference the day makes in their lives. Cortez added, “And the sheriff’s posse is huge in that because without them we wouldn’t be able to do this at all.”
To discover more about the posse and stay up to date on their many activities, visit their website, www.KCS-MP.com.