Local heroes: Meet the Pima County Sheriff Posse

Everybody’s happy to see the Pima County Sheriff’s Posse coming.

Capt. George Hegret on Willie; Charlotte Krebs-xx on River/Ryn Gargulinski

Capt. George Herget on Willie; Charlotte Krebs-Holtz on River/Ryn Gargulinski

Whether the posse is riding in the annual rodeo parade, visiting schools to give safety lessons or just doing a routine park patrol – as we were doing on Sunday – all folks who encounter the horseback rescue team break into a smile.

Well, illegal immigrants would not be grinning. They are not big on horses since they cannot hear them coming – especially when Border Patrol takes their horses out at night. But immigrant sightings are rare for the posse, although evidence of their passing through is not.

And even the hikers who were most likely out without a permit in the highly restricted area of Davidson Canyon met the posse with a wave.

“Thank you for all you do,” they said.

Sunday’s ride-along was in the company of posse Capt. George Herget on his horse Willie; Second Lt. Colleen Leon atop Othello; member Charlotte Krebs-Holtz on her horse River; and 21-year posse veteran and medical director Jerry Simmons, who was on Scooter, his mule in training.

I was in good hands – and on a good horse.

Leon on Chapo - which means SHORT, not fat/Ryn Gargulinski

Leon on Chapo - which means SHORT, not fat/Ryn Gargulinski

Chapo – which means short, by the way, not fat as I was duly misinformed – is Leon’s 10-year-old Tennessee Walker. The sweet equine put up with my inexperience as well as my distractions. I kept taking photos, notes and playing with video. Or at least trying to.

It’s not easy to do that on horseback, especially the note taking. But it still doesn’t top the time I tried to pen a poem while riding my bicycle.

The 35 posse members range in age from mid-30s to 76. The posse is one of five divisions under the Search and Rescue Council, Inc., or SARCI.  The other four include the foot crews, the divers, the air patrol and the rescue dogs.

The posse can go where others can’t, as well as move quicker and with more equipment. They are not authorized to give tickets or make arrests, but report back to sheriff deputies who can.

“We are the eyes and ears of the sheriff’s department,” Leon said.

Each ride contains supplies that include everything from flashlights to bandages, water to power bars, Tylenol to candies for diabetics, ropes to runner’s Goo. They even carry supplies to revive or treat their own horses.

“A patrol can turn into a rescue just around the bend,” Simmons said.

Simmons on Scooter/Ryn Gargulinski

Simmons on Scooter/Ryn Gargulinski

Sunday we spied lots of ATV tracks in areas where vehicles are forbidden, random garbage that included beer bottles, cans and an abandoned tire, a long lost shoe filled with debris and underwear stuck to a tree branch.

We also saw fresh, fat mountain lion tracks.

“Mountain lions and horses don’t have a good history together,” said Herget, who first joined the posse in 1999. “Be ready to run.”

I wasn’t sure if he meant be ready for Chapo to run or for me to run after I got bucked off a terrified horse. To prepare for either event, I put my video camera in its protective case.

We didn’t see the mountain lion. Nor did we encounter a rescue. The biggest hazards we met were a creek and helmet hair.

The latter was only a concern because, when I removed my required helmet and my hair looked like a fright wig, nobody noticed it was any different than before I put it on.

Herget asseses the mountain lion tracks/Ryn Gargulinski

Herget asseses the mountain lion tracks/Ryn Gargulinski

The creek was only hazard because Simmons’ mule-in-training didn’t want to cross it, although she’s crossed water before. She was also unhappy with the highway overpasses and the frequently passing train.

“That’s why we’re in training,” Simmons said. “It’s good to know these things now rather than when we’re out on a rescue.”

Posse members undergo their own rigorous training, which includes a detailed background check. We don’t need any felons patrolling our parks, after all.

They must learn outdoor first aid, CPR, radio training, tracking, GPS training and the National Incident Management System, which is the emergency response protocol introduced after Sept. 11.

Leon/Ryn Gargulinski

Leon/Ryn Gargulinski

Part of the training includes volunteer victims who are outfitted with fake wounds pumping artificial blood and thrift store clothing that gets cut off by the rescue teams.

Leon recalls her first stint as a volunteer victim and the trainees’ seemingly endless body surveys. Body surveys consist of pressing different points up and down the body to check for injuries.

“If I got felt up one more time, I would have needed a beer and a cigarette,” she joked.

Teamwork is key for the posse. Folks who want to be cowboys with their own set of rules never make it. Some never finish training while others are gently let go.  Teamwork counts not only with other posse members but also with their horses.

Herget and a smashed granola bar/Ryn Gargulinski

Herget and a smashed granola bar/Ryn Gargulinski

“The horse is a good as the rider a lot of the time,” Leon said. “A nervous, flitty person will have a nervous, flitty horse. If you put a calm horse with a nervous person, the horse is doomed.”

I stayed calm for Chapo, even after the mountain lion warning.

Perhaps equally as amazing as their skills, dedication and courage is their pay. It’s absolutely nothing. The members are all volunteers.

Rescue missions are funded by the state, but posse members foot all their own bills, save for mileage reimbursement. Some money comes from fundraisers – like a monthly Gymkhana –  but the rest is from their own pockets.

Requirements include owning their own horse, trailer, and a vehicle to tow them both to various locations. Posse members must be willing to risk their own lives – not to mention the lives of their animals.

They trek into Mexico, New Mexico, and all over Pima County.

They are also regularly called up to Maricopa County. A recent Maricopa call was after a woman’s two dogs came home playing with a piece of debris. The debris turned out to be a human head.

“It still had brain matter in it,” Leon noted.

Krebs-Holtz on River/Ryn Gargulinski

Krebs-Holtz on River/Ryn Gargulinski

The posse was called to perform a painstaking line search, walking back and forth along a grid coordinate at a specified location, but still never found the body or any other evidence that went with that head.

Evidence searches, equipment hauling, rescue missions and removing dead bodies are all part of their agenda.

The mission may take more than one day, requiring posse members to sleep outdoors overnight. Simmons recalled using his saddle as a pillow, as seen in the Westerns.

“It was the most miserable piece of crap I slept on in my life,” he said.

But the job is not crap, that’s for sure. Both the posse members and their horses – or mules – are beaming.

It’s hard to gauge who is happier – the folks who see the posse coming or the members doing their jobs.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Posse Series: Tales from the Posse

Krebs-Holtz, Leon and yours truly/Photo Jerry Simmons

Krebs-Holtz, Leon and yours truly/Photo Jerry Simmons

Leon on Othello, Herget in background/Ryn Gargulinski

Leon on Othello, Herget in background/Ryn Gargulinski


What do you think?

Have you ever gone off hiking and needed rescue?

Do you have a bond as strong with any animal?

Is the posse the coolest thing since sliced bread, or what?


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
This entry was posted in danger, death, environment, Heroes, life, notable folks, Police/fire/law and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Local heroes: Meet the Pima County Sheriff Posse

  1. radmax says:

    Yee-hah, ridin’ the range with Rynski! Mornin’! Nice to see you made it back intact, appears you were in good hands. Great way to see the countryside, from a perspective quite unlike any other. Did you get saddle sore? Horseback riding takes a little getting used to.
    PS-‘chapo’-affectionate slang Spanish term for short and fat. 🙂

    • Rynski says:

      hiya radmax!
      it was a soothingly beautiful way to see the countryside – and what an amazing experience. the posse folks, and their horses (and mule), were so full of positive energy.
      ride made me a bit sore, but not as bad as i thought i’d be.
      horesback riding is definitely a serene experience – provided you don’t run across any emergencies, of course – hahah.
      ps we had a big chapo = fat discussion and must pass along that horse owner and her husband do not agree – hahha. besides, chapo is not fat at all. he’s only 800 pounds.

      • radmax says:

        Haha! I bet they didn’t agree. 😉 That is one short pony Rynski, quite beautiful too, as are all the mounts from your pics. Did he try any ‘funny stuff’ with you? Horses are kinda like kids, some will try to get away with whatever you let them. Especially if they sense you are a greenhorn. 🙂

      • Rynski says:

        you bet there was a bit of funny stuff – nothing drastic, but testing nonetheless.
        how animals test your limits is today’s topic in sawyer says. click HERE to check it out.
        chapo’s a sweetheart.

  2. andrew says:

    Evan E. Farley, my Father got rescued by the Posse off of Horse Mesa and claimed it was his first copter ride in 82 years, those guys are the best. Gordo is fat, cebo is greasy. “washtubs Mr.”

    • Rynski says:

      wow-ee, andrew, on dad’s rescue – and his first helicopter ride in 82 years.
      i agree, posse folks are the best. thanks for mini-spanish lesson, too, washtubs Mr.

  3. Jennatoolz says:

    Heya Ryn! This was a wonderful article, of course, but I can’t stop going back to the part about the 2 dogs playing with a human head! How creepy would that be?? Yeesh!

    I miss the days when I was a kid and I had access to horses. Lots of good memories! 🙂

    • Rynski says:

      hiya jenna!
      thanks on article compliments – and glad i could imprint such a gorgeous image in your mind – hahahhahahha. i’ll have more rescue stories with a bit of gore coming up soon as i edit video.
      yeah, i think i’d be kind of freaked if sawyer and phoebe came home with a head. it was bad enough when sawyer chewed up a bird on my beige carpet (they always pick beige things when they make a mess – haha)>
      glad, too, you have happy horse memories!

  4. azmouse says:

    I like Ms. Leon’s comment about playing the victim and how that felt. LOL

    Thank goodness for all the folks in Tucson who volunteer so selflessly. I can only imagine how hard that job would be come July, or August. I’m melting just thinking about it.

    Ryn, you look like a natural on that horse!

    • Jennatoolz says:

      She does, doesn’t she?! Go Ryn!!

    • Rynski says:

      awww, thanks guys. i felt very confident because, as i mentioned, i was in very good hands!
      having a helmet on just in case didn’t hurt  hahha.
      i, too, had to laugh at colleen’s victim comment – all of the folks were very fun to talk to.
      i also agree that volunteers make the world go round. and they do melt in the summer – extra water water water is a major must!

  5. Ferraribubba says:

    I’ve never had to be rescued, but once I was called in on an unscheduled day to help look for a little special needs boy who had wandered off from a picnic in a large Ananeim Hills park on a cold rainy Saturday afternoon.
    We  had about a dozen officers looking for him, plus some Boy Scouts that we had rounded up, but after about 6 hours or so, he was still no where in sight.
    The Red Cross had set up a trailer at the Park parking lot with hot coffee for the search team and finally we had to call in a couple search dogs to help.
     They say that when lost and confused, people will most times head for the high ground and for some reason start removing their clothing, and you know, that’s what the boy did when the dogs found him, cold, shivering, and crying, about an hour after the dogs got there.
    Not one cop, Boy Scout, or Red Cross canteen worker had one thought of going home until we found that little lost boy. And I must admit that more than a few tears were shed when he was found and safely tucked back in his mother’s arms. Mine included.
    Just one of the few pluses that go along with some of the more seedier aspects of cop-life. It was one of those nights that, when I closed my eyes to  drift off to sleep, I could feel good about myself.
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

  6. Andrew Ulanowski says:

    Mornin’ Ryn! Howdy Mouse, Jenna, Radmax, Andrew
    I voted “No, I’m prepared for emergencies” and while that is generally true, I have almost needed rescuing hiking and of all the places in the world that has happened, it has happened twice in Tucson. The category that would have best suited me would be: “No, and only because of my good, dumb luck!”
    I hope you had a great time horseriding – it’s one of my favorite things to do and I haven’t done it in so long. My last ride was a week in Wyoming at the Bitterroot Ranch.
    Looking forward to part 2 – need to see more pics of you on yer mount Ryn!
    captcha = been unseat (seems about right for horse riding)

    • Rynski says:

      hiya andrew!
      hahahhah! i was going to put a “No, because I’m lucky” poll response…so glad you had the luck.
      i did have a glorious time on horseback. it was soooo relaxing. had to go home and take a nap. but then again, i usually go home and take a nap after whatever i’m doing – hahha (one of the side effects of getting up at 4 a.m….).
      horse riding makes you one with nature.
      i think that’s the only mount pic i got – i do have one failed self-portrait of me and chapo (horse heads are too big to fit in the arm’s-length camera position) – i can post that one with future write-up – hahhaha.

    • Jennatoolz says:

      Hi Andrew! I voted “No-I stay home under my bed.” I’ve built up a nice fort under there…keeps me nice and safe!! Hahaha kidding. I feel the same about horseriding… it was one of my favorite things to do too! The last time I went was when I was fresh out of high school and a friend of mine acquired a horse. She let me ride, but I got scared because the horse was a little bit unruly. I quickly dismounted and hid under my bed. 😉

      • Rynski says:


      • Andrew Ulanowski says:

        I like the idea of a fort under my bed. I have had my fair share of unruly horses. My favorite (NOT) was CJ who craned his neck around in an attempt to bite me and then when I wouldn’t let him do that, started to buck and attempted to scrape me off on a giant saguaro. Thank goodness for thick leather! Never been tossed yet but the day I do, I’m calling you Jenna for under-the-bed fort building plans!

    • radmax says:

      Howdy Andrew. I used to get ‘lost’ all the time deer hunting in my teens, or at least everybody else said I was lost. I knew exactly where I was the whole time. 🙂 Gotta go where the game goes…

      • Andrew Ulanowski says:

        Hola Radmax. I agree with you. I always know exactly where I am. I can see where I am now and therefore NOT lost! I love how that works.
        Have only ever ‘dear hunted’ and i’ll trust you to be the expert with the other.

      • radmax says:

        Haha! I like your style Andrew. I quit hunting the big stuff a long while back. If I don’t like the taste, they have nothing to fear from me.
        Gamble quail and blue grouse on the other hand threaten their misbehaving hatchlings with tales of radmax… 😉

  7. Andrew Ulanowski says:

    Grrrrr, Radmax approacheth! 🙂

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