BRENTWOOD -- Nonagenarian Hugh Kirkland has had the ride of his life as a motorcycle cop, mounted posse member and stage coach driver, and to celebrate his colorful 92 years of existence, he wanted to ride again.
If George H.W. Bush could parachute out of an airplane at the age of 85, said Kirkland, "I wanted to get back in the saddle."
Chuckling a bit, he added, "I used to be a good horseman -- I could ride before I could walk, I swear I could."
So for his 92nd birthday last week, his cousin built him a mounting box to help him get up on the horse and his friends arranged for him to saddle up and ride again at Rafter D Ranch on the outskirts of Brentwood.
"Between the two of us, the horse and I
Once on the horse, Kirkland said, "I felt like wonderful -- wonderful -- I'd like to head to the hills."
Sally Joaquin was one of those friends responsible for setting up this ride and was there to watch the magic unfold.
"Let me tell you something, this man sits a horse like he had never quit riding," said Joaquin. "It was amazing to see him on there yesterday -- it was so fantastic." Kirkland agreed, "I sit in a saddle quite well, 'cause' I've done it so much in my life. It's like riding a bicycle, once you've done it, you never forget."
The Brentwood resident is everything you'd imagine a cowboy to be -- tall, slim and quite spry. When he spoke, his voice had that perfect raspiness, like he had been out driving cattle all day.
And if his mannerism didn't give him away, his garb did -- from his boot soles to the top of his 10-gallon hat -- Kirkland's every day dress is snapped down and tied up in cowboy attire.
"I don't own a pair of shoes," Kirkland said. "I have about 20 pairs of boots (and) 20 to 30 pairs of western pants."
Kirkland was the youngest of 11 children born on a ranch in Sebastian County, Ark. In remembering back, he said back then, kids didn't start school until around age 6 or 7.
"We lived on the ranch and I would ride in 3 miles horseback, bareback, no bridle, no saddle -- I didn't own a saddle until I was 25 years old," recalled Kirkland of his rides to and from school.
In 1936 his family moved to Long Beach, where Kirkland finished off high school, then moved to the Bay Area to study criminology at UC-Berkeley.
By 1944, Kirkland joined the Oakland Police Department, becoming a sworn motorcycle officer in 1945.
"Oakland was a beautiful town when I came there," Kirkland said. "We had to deal with the Hells Angels and the Black Panthers, but we had a wonderful group of officers and we kept it under control."
It was while on the force that Kirkland befriended Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger.
"I became a friend of Sonny Barger's. They all respected us and we pretty much respected them," said Kirkland, then laughing he added. "Anything else I can't tell you on the record."
Barger was just one of many "known" names that Kirkland would meet throughout his life.
Kirkland also recalled meeting a young up-and-coming star while on the force.
"When I was a young motorcycle officer in Oakland, Clint Eastwood was going to Tech High on Broadway in Oakland. I met Clint then, he admired the bike ... I've known him ever since."
Kirkland said he's always been captivated by "The Rock" (Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary). He recalled his first glance at the "The Rock" in 1936, and said he was there on the docks in 1963 when it closed. But it was the behind door visits on the island that he remembers the most.
"I met Al Capone and I met Strauss the Bird Man of Alcatraz," Kirkland said.
Kirkland said his then-police chief Les Devine was instrumental in setting up the meet with Capone.
"Devine knew the warden quite well, so he arranged for us to go over there ... the warden brought Capone into his office, had the guards bring him," Kirkland said. "But they wouldn't let us get near him you know, they wouldn't do that, so he kind of sat across, and we sat across from him.
"He was pretty much out of his gourd in those days. So it was more a less a conversation between he and my brother because they knew each other from Chicago." Kirkland's brother was a police officer in Chicago and played pool with Capone back in the day.
Kirkland took an early retirement from the force due to a motorcycle injury on the job. After that he served as a sworn officer on both the Alameda and Contra Costa County mounted posse.
"In other words, out of the saddle of the Harley -- back into the saddle of the quarter horse," said Kirkland.
One of the many highlights of being on the mounted posse was competing as a drill team at the Rose Bowl Parade, Kirkland said.
He remembered being a teenager watching the Rose Bowl Parade for the first time. "We went to the (parade) and sat there on the sidewalk and watched all the horses go by, that was a big thing with me. Not the movie stars or so on."
Kirkland's experience with horses also landed him a job as the stage coach driver for Wells Fargo.
"(Dale Robertson) was a Wells Fargo agent, I met him in 1950 ... and he asked me to ride with him -- so I rode shotgun with him," said Kirkland.
"I enjoyed meeting him and working with him. We did it a few times, we went out of Bakersfield in the desert area, we rode in the stagecoach -- I drove most the time," he said, then chuckling added, "Of course, Dale, even though he was from Oklahoma, I don't think he was a real cowboy -- he's a ladies' man."
Kirkland contributes his longevity to "just being an Irishman full of hell, I've been that all my life. I will never grow old.
"I hope to hit 100, maybe I won't. Maybe I won't be here tomorrow, who knows -- but if I should leave today, I've had a wonderful full life. I'd never regret any part of it."