Williamson County Sheriff's Posse

Organization marks 69 years of service

Laura Sue Smith remembers square dancing on a raised platform in the arena at the Williamson County Sheriff's Posse's Georgetown Rodeo when she was in high school in the 1940s. She was a member of the San Gabriel Teenagers, a group that performed between events at the rodeo.

In years past, the Sheriff's Posse facilitated Western Week, which included a parade, barbecue, cookoffs and a cowboy breakfast, and culminated in the rodeo. She said the whole town participated, and anyone not wearing western attire on the Square could be thrown into a makeshift "jail" until someone came to bail them out.

"[Western Week] was the center of the summer," Smith said. "It was the most exciting thing, and everyone had a part in making it a wonderful event."

The event stemmed from Williamson County's farming and ranching heritage, Smith said.

"Originally, it was just a bunch of cowboys that came to town on Sunday afternoons and went down to the [San Gabriel] park," she said.

Terry Svehlak, WCSP secretary, said the community created by the informal gatherings led to the creation of the Williamson County Fair and Rodeo Association, which was organized in 1938.

The organization was renamed the Williamson County Sheriff's Posse in 1943. Under the leadership of Williamson County Sheriff Robert Davis, members of the WCSP could be deputized and called on to assist law enforcement.

WCSP Captain Rob Hardy said during World War II, the WCSP supplemented the sheriff's office.

"A lot of the men would have to leave town to fight [in the war]," he said, noting that the members of the WCSP who remained played a vital role in supporting law enforcement in the case of events such as jailbreaks, missing persons and natural disasters.

The WCSP has continued to assist with events in more recent history, such as the Jarrell tornado in 1997 and the search for Rachel Cooke who went missing in 2002.

In the late 1940s, the arena that the WCSP used in San Gabriel Park collapsed, so Posse members raised $20,000 and borrowed another $20,000 from Buck Steiner, a prominent rancher and founder of Capitol Saddlery in Austin, to rebuild the arena as it stands today. Smith said her late husband, Coop Smith, helped get the poles that held the lights throughout the arena.

In its beginning years, the WCSP was an all-male organization, but in the 1980s, Ann Barton Smith and Bonnie Schaefer, the wife of Dr. Stephen Schaefer, were some of the first women to join, Smith said.

For many years, the rodeo had a WCSP Sweetheart, a woman who had a family member in the sheriff's posse, as well as the WCSP Queen, who won the title by getting the most pennies in jars that were distributed in businesses throughout the Square.

The WCSP also operates a drill team that practices weekly in the arena and performs at parades and the rodeo. Hardy said membership on the drill team, like the WCSP, is open to anyone and costs $20 per year.

The 2012 Georgetown Rodeo runs June 29–30 and features traditional rodeo events such as bull riding, team roping and barrel racing.

Williamson County Sheriff's Posse Arena, 415 E. Morrow St., 639-4444, www.georgetownrodeo.com