A bluegrass great, ‘Rawhide’ made history in Bedford

EVERETT – In describing themselves, some say they could have lived in another decade. Bernard “Rawhide” Stufft could have lived in another century.

A bullwhip-wielding cop-turned-mayor, he worked for three Bedford County police departments more than four decades – all while traveling the country and hosting TV shows as a well-known bluegrass singer and guitarist.

Stufft, who most recently served as Everett’s mayor, died Saturday at the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home. He was 87.

“I remember being in his home – oh man, I was a rookie cop – and he was playing a mandolin. And man, that’s a difficult instrument to play,” said Bedford County Sheriff Charwin Reichelderfer, who served as Bedford Borough Police chief after Stufft’s tenure at the department. “If the breaks would’ve been there, he could have been a major TV celebrity, in Nashville or something.”

Stufft taught himself to play the guitar, mandolin and banjo, even making his own instruments to play on radio shows and in local bluegrass bands, his daughter, Debbie Stufft, said. A radio emcee at stations from Wheeling, W. Va., to Altoona, he was acquainted with country stars Hawkshaw Hawkins and Patsy Cline, she said.

“He had his own TV show on Channel 10. … That was when I was just a kid,” Reichelderfer said. Beginning in the late 1940s, Stufft hosted shows and performed with radio- and TV-based groups like the Bluegrass Gents.

And he did it all while serving as a Bedford police officer, from 1954-69.

Stufft earned his nickname, “Rawhide,” from the leather bullwhip he carried on patrol, Reichelderfer said. He knew how to use it, too: Stufft could place a small wooden stick between his daughter’s lips, then crack his whip and knock it out without touching her, she recalled.

“I still have the bullwhip,” she said.

In 1959, he and a fellow officer caught “Maryland’s top safe-cracker” red-handed at the Bedford Farm Bureau Co-op building, according to a contemporary article from the Cumberland Evening Times. The criminal, who was suspected in a series of western Maryland safe break-ins, was carrying an illegal handgun when “Rawhide” and Patrolman Charles Bingham found him at the scene.

Another article hinted at Stufft’s softer side: Responding to a scream outside the police station, he saw a cat attacking a baby rabbit. He snatched the rabbit, took it home and sewed its wounds shut with a needle and thread, the Bedford Gazette reported.

In the 1970s, while Stufft hosted the Country Music Jubilee on WFBG-TV, he took the helm of the Everett Borough Police.

“People liked him. He’d give them breaks,” Debbie Stufft said. “He’d say, ‘Take it out of town.'”

Beloved by children, Stufft put on comedy acts and played bluegrass at county schools. Always dressed in a suit, he even worked briefly as a fashion model for a now-closed Bedford department store.

He was an avid bear and deer hunter: Debbie Stufft said he once pulled into a hunting camp in his Cadillac, calmly entered a cabin and poured himself a cup of coffee, then opened a window and, adjusting his aim with “Kentucky windage,” shot a buck standing outside.

Stufft left the Everett chief’s position and served as Bedford County’s deputy sheriff until the 1990s, when he took a seat on the Everett Borough Council. Four years later, he was appointed mayor, a job he held until 2011.

He played country and bluegrass well into his 70s – “until he started to forget the words,” his daughter said.

The Pleasantville-born World War II combat veteran later moved to the Hollidaysburg Veterans Home. He is survived by three daughters, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Many of his exploits predate modern records, Reichelderfer said, and local radio employees said few people remain who’d remember his early work.

“He’s like the last of the old guys,” Reichelderfer said. “A piece of police history in this county just went by the wayside.”

Visitation is set for 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Timothy Berkebile Funeral Home in Bedford; funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Thursday at the funeral home.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.