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Bob Mitchell: Sheriff’s Posse memories remain
It’s difficult to believe that one of the best representatives of Cassville and Barry County was formed nearly 60 years ago.
The Barry County Sheriff’s Posse, that lasted through three sheriffs and covered 18 years, was one of the best diplomats for this area that ever existed. Unfortunately, changes in lifestyle and interests of individuals and groups permitted the posse to fade out of the picture.
With this being their season to be most active, it’s a good time to take a look back at the group’s accomplishments.
Starting in 1956 about this time of the year, the group was the brainchild of then Barry County Sheriff Bill Hemphill and a newcomer to this area who was to become the drill director for their performances, Ollie Stimson. He came to this area from Texas and settled on some pastureland that bordered Highway 112 just south of Hilltop. He and Mrs. Stimson, Gladys, were active in many rural happenings, and he was especially interested in horses. It was Stimson’s shrill whistle that was the signal for the riders to change their formation as they would ride at different speeds around an arena.
Between Hemphill and Stimson, the 29 original members formed the center of a group that was to become the best-known horsemanship group in this part of the country.
The reputation of the Barry County Sheriff’s Posse was soon known throughout the area. Their fame reached the Kansas City area where the prestigious Saddle and Sirloin Club was headquartered. It was at Hemphill’s invitation that the Kansas City riding group made two or three trips to the Cassville Rodeo where they displayed their drilling techniques and added much to the local event.
During their stays in Cassville, they occupied the Group Camp at Roaring River State Park where they enjoyed all the amenities of the park and the Barry County Ozarks. A number of entertainment events were put together for their evenings at the park facility.
Their trips here were something to view for the local citizens, whether they were interested in horses or not. There was no expense spared in any of their equipment or trappings.
Local Posse activities provided a good travel opportunity for the members who made numerous trips to Arizona, Colorado, and other points of interest where western activities were being sponsored. They were always anxious to answer a call to communities and cities in Missouri in addition to their wide travel.
Like all such groups, their activities were not without expense, which didn’t seem to bother any of them. They either needed to own or have access to a good vehicle, trailer and other equipment that might be needed on an extended trip.
Then there was the planning for rest stops for both the members and their horses, which were of the highest type available.
Each member of the Posse was deputized by the sheriff in whose group they rode. After Hemphill served 16 years as sheriff, his successor Abe Dummit continued sponsorship of the group as did Jimmy Hopkins, Dummit’s successor.
While they were a good-time group, they had a serious side, often called out to act with the sheriff in times of emergencies in the county. They served as deputies of the sheriff before the time formal education was required before a commission could be issued.
A typical piece of their humor was to direct a happening at one of their members just before a trip. In one of these instances, two businessmen who were always at each other, Marion Wooten and Bill Smith, were involved in hiding Wooten’s saddle just before it was to be loaded for a trip west. The saddle never was made available to the one-time druggist until they reached their destination, just before he purchased another so he could participate in their activities.
The Posse operated until 1983 when a practice drill event resulted in a collision of two horses and one of the riders was killed. This was during a fast moving figure-eight maneuver, which usually finished their performance for that particular event.
In later years of the Posse’s operation, new members were added as some of the members began dropping out. There are still some members living who recall all the good times and many activities in which they participated over the history of the group.
Pieces of history
A couple of pieces of history remains of the Posse — their chuck wagon, which always accompanied them on trips, is stored at the Barry County Museum. The operator of the wagon, at least in later years, was Earl Hutchens, who was a non-rider member of the group, and the complete uniform of a longtime member, Donald Stumpff, has been in the charge of the his family for years.
The Barry County Sheriff’s Posse had about the normal life-span of groups or activities in this part of the world since it seems like a fact that a good activity or organization might last two or three decades at most before disappearing into history?
Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.