2017-08-09 / Front Page

Saddle up!

Sanilac Sheriff’s posse celebrates 50 years
BY STEVEN KOVAC
810-452-2684 • skovac@mihomepaper.com


A portion of the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Posse gather for a ride in front of the new Miracle of Life building at the fairgrounds in Sandusky. 
Photo by Wendy McBride A portion of the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Posse gather for a ride in front of the new Miracle of Life building at the fairgrounds in Sandusky. Photo by Wendy McBride Though it sounds like something straight out of an old “Spaghetti Western,” Sanilac County really does have a thriving mounted Sheriff’s posse.

In fact, on Sunday, Aug. 13, the 28-member equestrian group will mark its 50th anniversary.

The posse was created in 1967 through the sponsorship of then Sheriff Ross Dundas. The founding group consisted of Dundas and 20 charter members.

At the time, the stated purpose of the posse was to assist the sheriff in maintaining law and order and to help the community.

Long-time Sandusky businessman Duane Ritchie, the posse’s third president, and one of only three surviving original members, recalls that the founding by-laws set a limit on the number of members at somewhere around 45.


Fifty-year charter members of the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Posse, left to right, Ed Rich, Duane Ritchie and John Allan, may not ride much anymore, but they remain faithful to the organization by helping with special events and participating in the group’s regular monthly meetings. 
Photo by Debbie Burgess Fifty-year charter members of the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Posse, left to right, Ed Rich, Duane Ritchie and John Allan, may not ride much anymore, but they remain faithful to the organization by helping with special events and participating in the group’s regular monthly meetings. Photo by Debbie Burgess The other two surviving charter members are Ed Rich of Deckerville and John Allan of Marlette.

The posse’s first president was Rex Taylor of Marlette.

The current president is Jay Stull of Peck.

“In 50 years,” said the 87-year-old Ritchie, “we’ve had eight presidents and 170 people involved in the posse for varying lengths of time. When we started out it was all men. Now it’s 50 percent female.

“I remember the day in 1967 when Don Chamberlain came out to my barn, where I was doing chores, to invite me to the courthouse for a meeting to organize the posse. He said its purpose was to help the community.”


Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki, right, accepts a resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the sheriff’s posse. County Commissioner John Hoffmann, left, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, presents the resolution adopted on Aug. 1. 
Photo by Eric Levine Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki, right, accepts a resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the sheriff’s posse. County Commissioner John Hoffmann, left, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, presents the resolution adopted on Aug. 1. Photo by Eric Levine Ritchie says that’s exactly what the posse has done in various ways for the last 50 years; from helping to park cars at the county fair and the Croswell fair and assisting in missing person searches, to helping cordon off the roads leading to the Nichols’ farm right after the Oklahoma City bombing.

“I can’t tell you how many stray cattle we were called in to chase down over the years,” laughed Ritchie. “That was in the days before all of these four-wheelers,”

Still preferring four hooves to four wheels, Ritchie tells of a situation when an elderly Peck man came up missing. “The four-wheelers searched all day long until nightfall and couldn’t find him. The next morning the posse was called in and we found him in half an hour.”

Ritchie continued, “The posse is also a great way to represent the sheriff’s office at parades and other special community events.

“I remember once when my horse Duke and I were called upon to move a large crowd off the race track in Croswell. In the crowd control maneuver, the horse turns sideways and starts nudging. Nothing moves people like a horse’s big behind. Old Duke walked right into the crowd. He knew what he was doing. He’d even nip at some who wouldn’t get out of the way. Duke and I had them moved in ten minutes.”

One of the many fun activities the posse engaged in was what Ritchie called, “Carry the Mail.”

“It was a relay of horses and riders carrying mailbags just like the Pony Express,” said Ritchie. “The letters were postmarked ‘Pony Express.’ They made great souvenirs.”

Ritchie reminisced, “Then there was our fall get away, when we’d all trailer up to Minden City Swamp and camp out. After that, we started going up to Baldwin. From there you can ride trails east and west all the way across Michigan and north to Mackinaw.

“We’d eat good, too. I saw to that. I cooked for the group for 45 years,” he said.

A life-long lover of horses, Ritchie did not let a childhood bout with polio stop him from riding. He still rides occasionally with the posse, and has three true black Tennessee Walkers.

Reverend John Allan, 81, of Marlette is a faithful, though now, non-riding member of the posse.

“I rode in the posse until four or five years ago when I got my artificial hip,” said Allan. “I still love horses. I had them until three years ago. I’ve been interested in them all my life. I got my first one when I was 14.

“I remember I had just started as the minister at Croswell Methodist Church. As soon as I heard about a bunch of guys with horses wanting to get together, I was all in. Before I knew it, we were a posse, I signed up on August 13, 1967,” said Allan.

“We determined to be available for anything. To look for lost people, park cars at fairs and events, and ride in parades,” he said.

“I went through about a half-dozen horses in my years with the posse. I’ve had a lot of good ones in my life, but the best one I ever had was a Palomino Quarter Horse. A stallion named Sparky Joe Bailey.”

Allan said that the year before he joined the posse, he rode Sparky Joe Bailey from Monroe, Michigan to Baltimore Maryland, a trek of some 800 miles. “It took us from March 21 to April 21. The horse held up well,” said Allan.

The third surviving original member of the posse is 86-year-old Ed Rich of Deckerville.

Rich says he’s always been around horses.

“My dad had work horses. I’ve had horses all my life. I’ve got three in the barn now. Two are 24 years-old, and one is a two-year-old. I’ve been riding until just recently, when I got bucked off and broke some ribs. Then I needed a hip-replacement. Pretty tough to saddle up and mount a horse with a hip-replacement,” said Rich.

Rich extolled the effectiveness of the posse in locating missing persons.

“When you are riding, your horse is aware of and sees everything around you. When the horse sees something, you can tell by the way his ears perk up and how he picks his head up. I credit the horses for finding a woman with Alzheimer’s that got lost in a big cornfield near the swamp east of Sandusky some years ago. The horses spotted her,” said Rich.

In 2001, Rich says he was the victim of a modern-day horse thief. “I went out of town, and someone came and walked a horse out of my barn. You could see their tracks where they led him a good distance across a field and loaded him up. Law enforcement never found him,” said Rich.

Sanilac County Sheriff Garry Biniecki is a big believer in the posse, calling its service “invaluable.”

“It’s been a long-standing tradition in this country for over 200 years. The sheriff appointing a posse to help him round up the bad guys,” he said.

Biniecki remembers a time when the posse was loaned out to Tuscola County to help capture an inmate that had escaped from their county jail.

“There are numerous advantages to mounted searchers. The rider sits high up and can see far away, and the horses are very alert,” said Biniecki.

“Once, some years back, when a herd of buffalo got loose down by Brown City, they were scattered everywhere, just as wild as can be. They brought out the ATVs to go after them, which did nothing but spook them, just making matters worse.

“When the posse arrived on the scene, they started rounding them up, and in a short time one of the riders cut the lead cow out of the herd, and 40 buffalo followed her back to the pen. You can’t do that with a machine.”

When asked if he was an accomplished horseman, Biniecki laughed, “I know how to clean stalls.”

In 2008 the posse became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

The posse has raised money for many good causes over the years, including Eva’s Place and Monica’s Angels.

The group raises money through its semi-annual Horse and Tack Sale, and also its popular yearly trail ride, which has become the main fundraiser.

This year’s ride is being billed as the Sanilac County Sheriff’s Posse 50th Anniversary Trail Ride.

It will again be held on the Carsonville area farm of Sanilac County Drain Commissioner Greg Alexander, who has hosted the event for the past 14 years.

The farm is at 2646 Washington Road.

The event will be held on Sunday, Aug. 13 with riders taking off at 10:30 a.m.

Alexander said, “It will be a ten to twelve-mile ride, with two of the miles being on mowed trails through the woods. The route will be clearly marked with signs. The cost is $25 per rider ($5 for children under 14), which includes a catered meal. For those not riding, the cost of the meal is $15. The first hundred riders will receive a free T-shirt.”

According to Alexander, funds raised this year will be used to upgrade the posse’s tack and other equipment.

For an accurate headcount for the meal, participants are asked to register in advance by calling or texting 989-392-3290.

The Sanilac County Sheriff’s Posse meets at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of every fair-weather month at the Sanilac County Fairgrounds in Sandusky. In winter, the group meets at McKenzie Health System in Sandusky.

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