A group of men deputized by The Sheriff
or U.S. Marshal
to assist in the pursuit of justice, such as capturing fugitives.
The word comes from the Latin phrase "posse comitatus
", roughly "to have the right to an armed retinue." In the old days, it would sometimes be necessary for a sheriff to get a lot of manpower very quickly to deal with a crisis. To this end, he could essentially draft any man handy (with certain restrictions) into a posse to handle the situation. The process will often include the line "I hereby deputise you."
After 1878, it was illegal to use military personnel in a posse. In more modern times, many jurisdictions have banned the formation of posses, but sheriffs seldom have need of them due to improved communications and manpower.
Note that if it is not legally convened by a sheriff or marshal, the group of men is not
a "posse", even if they call themselves that. They're just a mob or gang.
In modern slang, a "posse" is just a group of people who hang out with each other all the time; see Girl Posse
and Production Posse
for examples of this sort of "posse."
- The Italian western comic Tex features one of the most epic uses of the trope, as the posse gathered at the end of the story arc Navajo Blood is composed by Tex, his pards and over one hundred pissed Navajos, who showed up to make sure the Corrupt Hicks who murdered four Navajo boys For the Evulz are arrested and unable to bribe their way out of trouble again. The posse is so formidable that the Mooks of the villains run away after being told of it, and the villains end up killing each other as they fight over the only available horse to run away.
- Posse was a 1993 movie by Mario Van Peebles that has a gang formed up of black Civil War veterans returning home to right wrongs. Unfortunately, they can't be a legal posse as The Sheriff is one of the bad guys.
- Subverted in the Gary Cooper film, High Noon—Marshal Kane tries to gather a posse to take down revenge-seeking outlaw Frank Miller, but he's forced to fight alone when none of the eligible townsfolk will help him. Some refuse to join him out of cowardice, others because they sympathize with Miller. The only people who would be willing to help him are an one-eyed old drunk and a 14-year-old boy; Kane sends them away, as they'd be more of a hindrance.
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
- The town marshal tries to get a posse together to pursue the Hole in the Wall gang after a train robbery, but his lack of charisma, the gang's lethal reputation and the intervention of a
Snake Oil Salesman bicycle salesman foil him.
- During the second train robbery, the gang is attacked by a expert posse specially formed by "Mr. E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad" to hunt down Butch and the Sundance Kid. This pursuit eventually drives Our Heroes to Bolivia, and their doom.
- In Young Guns, loosely based on the Real Life adventures of Billy the Kid, Billy and the other "Regulators" are deputized as a posse through political influence, but quickly lose that status when they abuse their power. The sequel, Young Guns II, has a legitimate posse formed by Sheriff Pat Garrett to pursue Billy's gang.
- Django Unchained: After Dr. King Schultz shoots Sheriff Bill Sharp, Marshall Tatum deputizes the townsfolk to corner him and demand his surrender.
- Parodied in Rango. After discovering the town's water supply has been stolen, Rango decides (with some prompting from the mayor) it's time to "farm a possum" and ride out. Then the posse is forced to sheepishly ride back in to town when Rango realizes he has no idea where they're supposed to be going.
- The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, a book later turned into a movie, has a posse illegally drafted by a deputy sheriff. By the end, the sheriff forms a genuine posse.
- In Edgar Pangborn's short story "Tiger Boy", which is set in the same post-holocaust world as his novel Davy, some villagers form a posse (legal status unclear) to apprehend the title character whom they consider to be a demon with an animal familiar. Actually he's just some kid who wanders around with a half-tame tiger looking for a friend, and he finds one in the form of an intelligent but mute village boy. The two of them plan to run away together, but with the posse on their trail it can't end well.
- In Star Wars: Kenobi, the group of settlers who participate in the Settlers' Call refer to themselves as a posse, and there isn't a legal authority in rural Tatooine to contest the designation. Settlers who buy in to the Call have a loudspeaker mounted on their property in case of a raid by the Sand People; when it's activated, it broadcasts a krayt dragon roar to scare the Tuskens off, then transitions into a siren (and also a radio transmission) that calls the posse to the location, ready to drive the Tuskens away or hunt them down in retaliation.
- Bonanza had a posse formed at least three times a season. With 15 seasons, that's a lot of posse forming.
- Supernatural has a Wild West themed episode that involves the formation of a posse. Dean is very happy about that. He loves the posse. He's a posse magnet.
- Twin Peaks has the Bookhouse Boys, townsfolk recruited by the Sheriff to help in some....slightly less than legal law enforcement operations.
- The song "One Hour Ahead of the Posse" by Burl Ives, which told the story of a murderer trying to reach the Rio Grande river and sanctuary in Mexico.
- One The Far Side cartoon shows why the sheriff should be the one doing this. 'A posse is something you have to organize.'
- You can form or join posses in Red Dead Redemption's multiplayer. You can also incur the wrath of some NPC posses if you're sufficiently villainous or have a big enough bounty on your head. You'll also join Marshal Leigh Johnson's posse in the course of the story campaign. One comprised of the US Army comes for you at the end of the game when your Bureau handler turns on you. There's no running from them, and no surviving their overwhelming ambush. Just take out as many as you can.