Based on the Posse Lodge History Written by Debe Braden for the Historical Building Application
Early photo of the Los Alamos Sheriff’s Posse Shack with Sheriff’s Posse members (date unknown).
It was 1948. The Manhattan Project had lived up to its expectations: The town of Los Alamos had been created. The scientific contribution as well as our nation’s security were deemed important and thus the mission to be furthered. Folks settled in and called this “military operation” home and commenced living their lives as normally as possible. “Normal” meant continuing with their interests and hobbies, which in some cases included raising and riding horses.
Horses have long occupied this Pajarito Plateau. From the Spanish conquest to farming, to the Boys Ranch School, then military mounts and security patrol to present-day equestrian enthusiasts for skill and pleasure, horses have been present and valued here. The Los Alamos Sheriff’s Posse was formed around 1948 to assist the Atomic Energy Commission/Zia Company’s mounted patrol in doing perimeter surveillance. They were never “called upon” for duty as such but they conducted security detail in large crowds and parking lots as an adjunct to the Sheriff. Perimeter security was conducted on “remount” horses which were a Thoroughbred mix, 16 hands high, Bay in color with small markings. There were no white socks or blazes on AEC horses.  Those would only be found in the Posse.
In the early days of the town, local equestrians purchased two lots of horses from the US Calvary and, to avoid conspicuous movement “up the hill” to Los Alamos, they brought the horses up the back side of the mountains over the Jemez passes. This was the beginning of the Sheriff’s Posse, Inc. of Los Alamos County and they were once tied to the Los Alamos Sheriff’s Department to be “called to service” as needed. They became an official, non-profit, independent organization in 1951.
As time passed, the need for policing duty diminished and the focus moved more to parades, horse shows, and trail rides into the Jemez Mountains and Pecos Wilderness. The very first “Cowboy Breakfasts” were held at the Guaje Point of Guaje Canyon by Spring Reservoir. The Posse would ride for about two hours to reach this destination. Families were now very much involved as the Jr. Posse and Ladies Auxiliary was formed as well. The original location used for stables is now the high school football practice field and the Catholic Church. The second stable space was at 35th and Diamond.
The Scientific Laboratory administration was interested in satisfying the desires of the workers in an effort to keep them happy and for recruiting, but they were very reluctant to set some kind of precedent for ownership of the individual stables. Subsequently, for people who wanted horses the best they could hope for was to rent stable lots from the AEC and later the county.
When private housing was contemplated, the AEC thought they could solve the problem by creating lots in the Pajarito Acres in White Rock. The townsite residents and AEC officials did not like what they considered eyesores and various attempts were made to get the equestrians to improve the visual images of the stables. Further attempts were made to clean them up by moving them to what is now Hawks Landing, then over to the South canyon rim of North Mesa (close to present-day Broadview development) and then finally to the current home of the stables on North Mesa.
The lease holders wanted to make some kind of gesture to appease the naysayers and to guarantee their permanency where they were now located. They decided to establish an attractive Posse Shack that would also serve as a meeting place. The first building was actually an old courthouse that was moved to North Mesa Road. The exact time of its tenure is unknown, but it was not there very long before the idea of building a nice place came to fruition.
The current Posse Lodge, a handsome log building, was built entirely by the ambitious members of the Los Alamos Sheriff’s Posse to provide a meeting place and social center for their organization and its auxiliary groups. The Posse membership included experts, both professionals and hobbyists, in every building craft. Construction talent was available in abundance, but funds were not copious and when they started out, there was $100 in the Posse Treasury. Three men, Bud Wingfield, Bill Frances, and Herb Hudson signed a $1000 note to get things started. It was never needed.
The dismantling of Technical Area 1 at the LA Scientific Laboratory was under way and Bob Waterman was one of the demolition contractors. He agreed to give the material needed if the Posse would help him take down Gamma building, “T” building, and the crosswalks between those buildings “A” and “B” in TA-1. All the lumber, doors, and windows needed were gleaned from this project.
The logs used for the trusses were beetle damaged trees near DP site and in Rendija Canyon as well as from what is now known as the practice range for the pro-force located on the Truck Route. A permit from AEC-Zia to cut the trees at no charge was obtained when Posse members peeled and burned the bark to prevent spread of the insects. Contractors R.E. McKee, Reynolds Electric, and Lowdermilk Brothers donated pine logs from their construction sites and loaned equipment to move the logs to the North Mesa building site.
A deal was struck with a floor tile contractor for the tile and he laid it at no charge. Ready-mix concrete was donated for the front porch. Posse members used their own pickups and trucks to haul materials and supplies. Jr. Posse boys helped excavate Bandelier tuff for the footers of the foundation. When heavy equipment was needed, it was rented from Zia Company on an hourly basis on weekends and holidays. It was a labor of love from the Sheriff’s Posse, Auxiliary, and Jr. Posse. The “Posse Shack” opened on Christmas Eve, 1958.
In 1961  the AEC gave a fifty-year lease to the property; but it was on the 13th day of September, 1968, that the building and the .92 acre lot it sits on were deeded to the Posse from ZIA/AEC. Lionel Brewer and Bud Wingfield were instrumental in making this happen. To this day members of the Posse own and care for the building and grounds.
Original pictures of the property have been few as in the early days cameras were checked at the front gate. If you did check your camera out, a plethora of paperwork had to be filed and all the pictures had to be non-descriptive as far as background and no general scenery could be photographed for fear of recognition of the “secret city.”
Many trophies, pictures, and artifacts present in the “Shack” attest to the memories of good times and days gone by.
Somewhere in the 90s the horsemen ventured off to form a Stable Owners Association and eventually became their own entity. Those souls of the Sheriff’s Posse have shifted faces several times trying to keep the building up and running. Around 2002, Carey Grzadzinski, took the reins as President to pump new life into the organization and started the 1st Sunday of the Month Cowboy Breakfasts. Profits derived are divided equally between the Posse and other non-profit organizations, i.e., the Alzheimer’s Society, Special Olympics, and Friends of the Shelter. The name has been changed from “Shack” to “Lodge” to present a better image; however, many in the community still know it as the Posse Shack. Leadership of the Posse has changed over the years as well. See the Board page on the Posse website for the current President and Board members.
In addition to Posse events, a robust rental program also exists for weddings, parties, meetings, sports events, retirements, birthdays, etc. This meeting space is also donated by the Posse to school meetings, ROTC meetings, non-profits, etc.
The Posse Lodge is also the location for the annual Dinner/Dance that coordinates with the Los Alamos County Rodeo and Fair held in August of each year. Posse members work hard to promote and preserve the Western Heritage that remains to this day. The townspeople look forward to this time of year.
The Los Alamos Sheriff’s Posse exists to restore and maintain this glorious building for posterity. It is more likely utilized today than in days past. Entertaining 10,000-12,000 county residents yearly, it has served this community for 54 years. It continues to assist in raising thousands for charity, helps create wonderful memories for many in the community, and stands to honor the history of this town as it was being built. It is one of only a few log buildings left here. This quaint old building still charms and invites those who enter to warm hospitality and memorable celebrations here in Los Alamos, NM.
Bibliography: Articles, Correspondence, Interviews
- Hillhouse Wilson, Jean, first Posse\Rodeo Queen in 1955, longtime resident of Los Alamos, NM. Interviewed June 6, 2012.
- Grzadzinski, Carey
- Hillhouse Wilson, Jean
- Holm, Dale, longtime resident and Posse member, letter printed 8/13/08, DVD compiled for 2008 50-year Anniversary of Lodge.
- Strickfadden, Georgia, historian and longtime member of Posse. Interviewed April 14, 2012.
- Wingfield, Bud, (charter builder) Letter to Red Jackson (longtime member of Posse.) Written September 18, 1999.
- Brewer, Ray
- Los Alamos Scientific LAB News, Vol 1, February 1959, pg. 7 “Posse Opens New Building”
- Los Alamos Scientific LAB News, September 21, 1961, pg. 8 “Hill Recreation Groups Sign Long Term Leases”
- Hillhouse Wilson, Jean
- Grzadzinski, Carey