Pictured is former Winona County Sheriff and current head of the Sheriff’s Mounted Posse Dave Brand and his horse Buddy during a search and rescue training exercise in Whitewater State Park on Saturday, May 12.
by BEN MCLEOD
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the Winona Sheriff’s Department has a posse. A mounted posse, to be specific. Organized in 2001 by then-sheriff Dave Brand, the all-volunteer group is on call 24 hours a day to search for missing people and ride down rustlers, although the latter hasn’t happened in quite a while. The mounted posse is made up entirely of volunteers who have completed training and have their own horses. And while the posse at one time had 24 members, that number has dropped to four. “People just don’t have time like they used to. People got older, had kids,” explained posse member Andy Burt.
Burt is the second-longest serving member at two years, and his wife Shiela joined last year. And while their children are not yet old enough to mount up for the county, they plan to. “My daughter has to wait three years, my son four, and my other daughter eight,” Andy Burt said. “My kids do clean-up detail. It’s a family thing for us. We all go. We all ride horse and bond that way.” Shiela Burt said, “They can’t legally be part of the posse but they help out as much as they can.”
Brand isn’t ready to stop riding, and he’s not done with law enforcement. He and his wife spend part of each year in Texas, where he rides as a volunteer with the Border Patrol and State Patrol. “I don’t want to make any more money than I’ve got,” Brand joked. “I’m retired. I’ve got time. That’s why I help out.”
On Saturday, May 12, Brand, the Burts, and Brianna Brown, the posse’s fourth member, all transported their gear and horses to Whitewater State Park, where they participated in a multi-agency, multi-state search and rescue training exercise. K-9 units and the Civil Air Patrol were among those assembled. But the mounted posse was very popular. Soldiers and officers from around the area were fascinated and more than one person wanted to be photographed with the horses and their riders. “This is my horse, Buddy. He’s my buddy,” said Brand, introducing his mount. “This [horse] doesn’t kiss me. The other one kisses me.”
Search and rescue is an enormous component of what the mounted posse does. “We do trainings where search and rescue are out looking for people,” Andy Burt explained. There are plenty of areas in Winona County and the rest of the region where someone may get lost or injured that are difficult or impossible to reach by patrol car or even by air, and that’s when the mounted posse is called in.
Fortunately, there are not a lot of those calls, which gives the posse time to do other things in the community. “We’ve done Steamboat Days, a lot of parades,” recalled Brand. Andy Burt added, “We work the County Fair every year. We helped with security details, parking and traffic control, like when the Freemont Store had their anniversary; we do the [Goodview] Lighted Parade, and we donate food goods for that. Any organization we can help, we try and help. The biggest thing is having them call us. We don’t know what people need help with. We’re very open to doing as much as we can. We don’t like to sit around and do nothing.”
Sometimes even a public appearance can turn into a job for the posse. “Two years ago we had to search for a guy at the Winona County Fair who was on the top of a camper. He was really intoxicated, in [overalls], no shirt, jumping on the camper, acting like a monkey,” said Andy Burt. He added that most years, they find at least one dog locked in a hot car in the parking lot of the County Fair and try to locate the owner.
Those public appearances, attended by small children and seniors, can be alarming for an inexperienced horse or rider. “Before you join you need to meet the horse qualifying guidelines. They can not get scared, buck, kick; there are strollers and balloons floating around,” explained Andy Burt. “You prove you can control the horse crossing bridges –– there is a big list of stuff.” Applicants go through a background check for criminal charges, and are not officially armed, but if they are licensed to carry a firearm they may do so. Andy Burt said, “Dave [Brand] does carry his sidearm. But if there is somebody with a gun, they don’t send people on horses. They’re too big of a target.”
While the posse is under the authority of the Winona County Sheriff’s Department, they make themselves available elsewhere. “Mostly we stay in Winona County but we will travel if someone needs us,” explained Andy Burt.
The posse members are insured through the Sheriff’s department, and it also provides matching yellow braided reins, reflective yellow leg bands, a blanket with “Winona County Sheriff” on it, and jackets and uniforms. Brand, as former county sheriff, has been the organizer and pointman for the posse, but as they search for new volunteers, the posse may need to learn to move forward without him. “We are trying to grow, to get more people in. We know Dave’s time is coming to a close –– complete retirement. He doesn’t plan on doing this much longer.”
Brand himself shows few outward signs of being ready for complete retirement. He agrees that the posse needs to add to its numbers. “You know, over the course of 20-some years people don’t stick around. They don’t have time, I guess.” Brand started with the Lewiston Police Department in 1970, and worked there for 14 years before coming to work for the county. “The responsibility of the sheriff is a big responsibility, because you’re the chief law enforcement officer,” recalled Brand. “What I miss is the people.” Brand continues to keep a hand in the business of law enforcement even in retirement, dedicating himself to solving Baby Angel, the infant found in the river in September 2011. “It really stuck with me. I’m still working on it,” said Brand.
And the posse will continue to ride. “This summer I’m building a wagon,” said a smiling Andy Burt, when asked about the posse’s summer plans for the parade season. “I’ve got a draft horse pulling the wagon with a jail cell. And the kids will be in the cell, dressed in orange jail uniforms.” Hopefully their time in lockup won’t be held against them when they apply for membership in the sheriff’s mounted posse.
Anyone interested in applying for membership in the Winona County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse may call the Sheriff’s non-emergency line at 457-6368.