The History Of The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse

In 1947, the newly elected Sheriff, Don Vars, had an idea and contacted Bill West Sr. about getting some of our County’s ranchers and horsemen together to provide a group of mounted riders to assist the Sheriff as needed in any possible crowd control or other post war incidents. His idea became a reality and the original members of this group consisted of eight men: Bill West Sr., Bill Warne, Babe McMahon, Joe Martin Sr., Miller Sardella, Bill Fahey, George Pitts and Marion Sanguinetti (all now de-ceased). These first members were inducted on January 12, 1948. Induction continued every other Monday in 1948 until the Posse reached 26 members. They were recruited to be a “working posse” for the Sheriff which eventually evolved into a dream of helping with many more community service events.

Incorporation was applied for in August 1948 and obtained in October 1948. In the early 1950s the Posse produced the “Days of Gold” parade for the merchants and the rodeo at the Mother Lode Fair. The Posse took pride in their mission of representing and promoting Tuolumne County and its western heritage. They used to practice horse mounted drills to perform when riding in parades and were seen parading in San Francisco’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, in Oakland, in Modesto, in Reno, Nevada and many other venues throughout California.

They were instrumental in putting on the “Swimbuck Rodeo” which generated the funds for the Sonora High School swimming pool. In 1958 the second part of the dream and mission became a reality … the Posse began producing, in partnership with our local merchants, the Mother Lode Round-Up Parade (the idea of Bill West, Sr.) and the Mother Lode Round-Up Rodeo on Mother’s Day. (Prior to World War II the rodeo had always been held on Mother’s Day at the old racetrack provided by Mrs. Crooks.)

Today the parade has grown into the second largest parade in California (second only to the Rose Parade) and the Rodeo has become one of the finest PRCA spring rodeos in the West. It attracts more than 350 professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls. The Round-Up now boasts one of the best rodeo queen pageants in California, a charity Calcutta, a western dance, a Mother’s Day Break-fast, kiddie rodeo, and plenty of fun, sun and pranks by Coyote Sam. The Mother’s Day weekend draws more than 50,000 visitors and is a traditional homecoming and hometown reunion for Tuolumne County families.

Over the years the Posse had held its meetings in the Jamestown Community Hall, but in the late 80s and early 90s they acquired and built their present clubhouse on Rawhide Road. They moved in and began meeting at their new location in 1991. It is now made available to youth groups and other organizations for social functions. It has a full kitchen and bar as well as meeting rooms. Come join us at the clubhouse for “The Great Steak Barbecue” every spring.
Today the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse has doz-ens of members including active, past active, honorary and associate. The Posse continues to parade throughout California promoting Tuolumne County. In addition, the Posse is a full community service organization providing volunteer time and labor year-round. It provides scholar-ships for our local high schools, sponsors and supports youth groups within our County such as Boy Scouts, Future Farmers of America and 4-H as well as providing access of our Posse Grounds and Arena for high school rodeos and other youth events. We have participated in Sober Grad, produced the Cancer Society Jail and Bail, helped the Visitors Bureau with The Wild West Festival and other community events, as well as donating dollars to youth and other charitable causes.

None of this would be possible without the support of Tuolumne County, the City of Sonora, the business community and all of you for making this happen. We tip our hats to you all.

Have a Fun and Safe Mother’s Day Weekend!