Monday, April 28, 2014

The BLM: Scourge of "Lesser Breeds Without the Law"

Newe Segobia: The Western Shoshone flag flies over Mercury, Nevada.

The conflict between the BLM and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy has laid bare evidence of deeply entrenched institutional racism.

No, I’m not referring Mr. Bundy’s awkward but earnest effort to encourage people of all ethnic backgrounds to seek an end to the suffocating embrace of government paternalism. I’m talking about the fact that the Bureau of Land Management is an enforcement arm of a Regime that continues to treat American Indians as “heathens” and “savages” with no rights worthy of official recognition.

Like Cliven Bundy, Raymond Yowell operated a small cattle ranch in Nevada, and refused to pay the federal government grazing fees to which they are neither morally nor legally entitled.  In May 2002, the BLM mounted a paramilitary operation to confiscate Yowell’s 132-head cattle herd for refusal to pay grazing fees. The rustlers then billed the rancher $180,000, and began to garnish his monthly Social Security check when he declined to honor their impudent demand. 

Yowell, 84, is a former chief of the Te-Moak Band of the Western Shoshone tribe. His ancestors were among the signatories of the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty with the federal government, which recognized the tribe’s sovereignty over a 24 million acre swath of western lands the Shonshone called Newe Segobia – “The Land of the People of Mother Earth.” 

As is the case with every such agreement, the federal government acted in cynical bad faith, using the treaty to secure a foothold within a territory slated for assimilation into the continent-straddling behemoth being constructed through Manifest Destiny. 

While demanding that the Shoshone refrain from interfering with telegraph lines and stagecoach routes, the Feds did nothing to discourage or deter illegal settlements on Shoshone land. In 1962 – one year shy of the centennial of the Ruby Valley Treaty – the federal Indian Claims Commission proclaimed that this pattern of federally abetted “gradual encroachment” by Euro-American settlers and speculators had “extinguished” all Shoshone claims to their lands.

In the fashion of a rapist who offers to buy his victim breakfast in order to re-fashion his crime into a “date,” the Feds offered to “compensate” the Shoshones through a settlement amounting to fifteen cents an acre. This figure was based on a valuation of the lands conducted in 1872 – long before the discovery of significant mineral wealth on the property, which included the Carlin Trend, which contain North America’s largest gold deposits. 

The Shoshones refused to accept the federal proposal. Those in charge of the land grab bureaucracy replied with a “Sucks to be you shrug” and “paid” the money to itself, insisting that this bookkeeping feint somehow made the “transaction” legally binding.
At this point it’s worth remembering this pious utterance by Commissar Harry Reid: “We can’t have an American people that [sic] violate the law and then just walk away from it.” This is precisely how the purulent Regime Reid serves acquired its supposedly legal claim to lands in the state he supposedly represents. 

The BLM was correctly described as part of a criminal syndicate in a federal court ruling last year in the case of Nevada rancher Wayne Hage. The agency displayed its irrepressible criminal nature in its dealings with Raymond Yowell, conducting an officially licensed rustling operation in defiance of a federal injunction that the Shoshone chief won through a pro se appeal. But the foundational assumption of federal Indian policy is that Indians have no standing to assert their property rights. So Yowell’s legal victories did nothing to restrain official lawlessness.

“I looked at it as an illegal seizure,” Yowell said of the 2002 confiscation of his herd. “They took cattle without a court order. Now they are taking from my Social Security check.”
Yowell (2nd from r.) and ranchers petition their sheriff.
Before the BLM laid siege to his property, Yowell – like Bundy – made a futile appeal to his local sheriff for protection. For several years after the BLM stole his livestock and deprived him of his livelihood, the elderly rancher continued to petition the agency for relief.

“I kept writing letters to them saying I didn’t have a debt with them, that I never signed a contract,” Yowell observed in an AP interview three years ago. “But they just ignored it. There’s no use talking to them.”

Yowell has filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court. The US Solicitor General’s Office is scheduled to file its response – most likely a motion to dismiss the petition -- on June 4. 

The Regime has the luxury of time: It can continue mulcting the octogenarian victim’s Social Security checks while waiting for him to expire, along with the residual legal claims made by the surviving Shoshones.  

From the Regime’s point of view, all of this is a justified exercise of “plenary” authority over Indian lands obtained through conquest of an inferior race.
In the 1823 case Johnson and Gram’s Lessee v. William McIntosh, the U.S. Supreme Court held that while Indians “were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it,” they were denied clear title to their property – that is, the “power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased.” 

Ownership of the land on which the Indians lived was supposedly transferred from them to the newly arrived Europeans through royal grants issued by monarchs acting on authority derived from the Pope. According to the Court, those decrees by distant kings of whom the Indians had never heard were sufficient to “convey the soil as well as the right of dominion to the grantees.”

Henry Wheaton, who was the reporter for the Supreme Court at the time of that ruling, later wrote that the Indians tribes, as “heathens,” were “the lawful spoil and prey of their civilized conquerors” and that it was a “maxim of policy and of law, that the right of the native Indians was subordinate to that of the first Christian discoverer.” Arch-nationalist legal commentator Joseph Story elaborated on this idea, describing the Indians as “infidels, heathens, and savages [who] were not allowed to possess the prerogatives belonging to absolute, sovereign and independent nations.”

A brief filed on Yowell’s behalf observed that while cases subsequent to the 1823 Johnson decision “tended to omit explicit reference” to this doctrine of Christian conquest, its core precepts did occasionally bob to the surface. Thus in the 1877 Beecher v. Weatherby case, the Court decreed that Indians should be dealt with in a fashion appropriate to “an ignorant and dependent race.” In 1946 – the year Congress created the Indian Claims Commission to dispose of Indian land claims – Justice Stanley Reed batted away a suit filed by the Alcea Band of Oregon’s Tilamook tribe by breezily stating that “discovery by Christian nations gave them sovereignty over and title to the lands discovered.”

Nothing in the US Constitution justifies the institutionalized assumption that the federal government had the right to act as “trustee” on behalf of its so-called Indian “wards.” 

The Supreme Court struggled to find constitutional warrant for that belief in the 1886 case United States v. Kagama. When the text refused to yield the desired outcome, Justice Samuel Miller (a Lincoln appointee, natch) threw up his hands and concluded that the plenary authority to regulate Indian affairs grew out of “the ownership of the country … and the right of exclusive sovereignty which must exist in the National Government, and can be found nowhere else.”

That ruling, one commentator wryly observed, introduced the “`it-must-be-somewhere’ doctrine of Constitutional interpretation.” Presumably the power to treat Indians as dispossessed wards, like authorization for Obamacare, resides within the Constitution’s vast but inaccessible “Good and Welfare Clause.”  

The “finders keepers” or “might makes right” approach to Indian affairs “has never been repudiated,” notes Yowell’s brief. “It is the continuing basis for all aspects of federal Indian law.” The federal government insists that it is acting on “well-settled” legal principles. The brief ripostes that “slavery and racial segregation were considered `well-settled’ law, and were nonetheless subject to challenge as fundamentally incompatible with the Constitution and the principles of respect for human rights.”

About two years ago, the custodians of acceptable opinion held an orgy of outrage over a monumentally foolish essay published by Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, in which the author defended the subjugation of the Indians as a legitimate exercise of “the right of conquest” by European settlers.

“The Native American tribes at the time of the European settlement and founding of the United States were, virtually without exception, steeped in the basest forms of superstition, had been guilty of savagery in warfare for hundreds of years, and practiced the most debased forms of sexuality,” Fischer opined. Since Indians, on Fischer’s proudly ignorant reading of the relevant history, “resisted the appeal of Christian Europeans to leave behind their superstition … for the light of Christianity and civilization,” their dispossession by the federal government was not only defensible, but morally necessary.

Many of the same bien-pensants and self-appointed watchdogs who performed cadenzas of indignation over Fischer’s foolish little screed are prominent defenders of the BLM in its confrontation with Cliven Bundy, as the agency -- following the same premises as those endorsed by Fischer -- seeks to do to Bundy what it has done to Raymond Yowell, the Dann family, and other members of the Western Shoshone nation who have sought to defend their lands. 

The BLM is an indispensable element of the apparatus of dispossession that invokes a medieval doctrine of racial superiority and religious conquest to justify denial of Indian property rights. It continues to scourge people officially designated as “lesser breeds without the law.” And it enjoys the unqualified support of the same Progressives who have dishonestly made Cliven Bundy a totem of intolerance


Dum spiro, pugno!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bunkerville Was Not the BLM's First Rustler's Roundup

The raiders arrived at dawn. Contract cowboys backed by BLM rangers and other heavily armed law enforcement personnel fanned out across the desolate but alluring Nevada countryside to confiscate livestock owned by a family who – under a controversial claim of sovereignty -- had allowed them to graze on public lands without paying fees to the federal government.

“They have been overgrazing and damaging the land for years,”  asserted BLM spokesman Mike Brown, who also pointed out that the family – the last holdouts in the region – had been fined millions of dollars for trespassing on public land. In defiance of federal judicial rulings and the “consensus” of their representatives, the family persisted in claiming that they had a right to graze cattle on land their ancestors had settled many decades ago. The dispute had been going on for decades, and the institutional patience of the federal government had been exhausted.

A previous roundup nearly resulted in tragedy when a member of the family doused himself in gasoline and threatened to set himself on fire. The 59-year-old man, who had no previous criminal record, was tackled, beaten by law enforcement officers, arrested, and prosecuted on terrorism-related charges. 

After spending several years in prison, that supposed terrorist, Clifford Dann, was allowed to return to the tiny, ramshackle homestead he shares with his 82-year-old sister, Carrie, who is the same age their elder sister Mary was when she died in an accident while repairing a fence in 2005.

Like the Cliven Bundy family, their distant Nevada neighbors, the Dann family spent two decades fighting in federal courts to defend their property against the depredations of the federal government. As members of the Western Shoshone nation, the Dann family had inherited land that was protected by the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley and the U.S. Constitution – parchment barricades against aggression that were quickly reduced to ashes by the flame of elite ambitions.

Rustlers' roundup: The BLM seizes the Dann family's horses.

The promises made to statehood advocates proved to be as ephemeral as assurances of marriage and strict fidelity offered to a reluctant young woman confronted by an irrepressibly libidinous suitor. Washington's treatment of the Western Shoshone was immeasurably worse.

Although the territory that would become Nevada was included in the cession made through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico never had a permanent presence there, and the Shoshone, quite understandably, never considered themselves to be Mexican subjects. The territory acquired huge strategic significance after the war began, owing to its abundance of silver and its location astride transportation and communication routes from California to the East. This is why Article 2 of the Ruby Valley Treaty specified that in exchange for leaving travel routes “forever free, and unobstructed,” and for allowing stage and telegraph routes to continue “without hindrance, molestation, or injury,” the US Government promised that the then-extant boundaries of the Shoshone bands would remain inviolate.

The Ruby Valley Treaty, like all such measures, acknowledged the supposed authority of the US President to consign the Indians to reservations when he considered it “expedient for them to abandon the roaming life, which they now lead, and become herdsmen or agriculturalists....” Those reservations were to exist within the boundaries of their ancestral lands, which once again were promised to them in perpetuity. The Shoshone were likewise promised annuities from the United States, and “compensation and equivalent for the loss of game and the rights and privileges hereby conceded.”

Those promises, like all others extended to American Indians, may as well have been written on the wind in disappearing ink.
The late Mary Dann (left) with her sister, Carrie.
“The Shoshone kept their end of the bargain,” recalled Western Shoshone National Council Chairman Raymond Yowell. “The United States did not. As more and more emigrants settled on ourlandsd, he promise of peace wasn't enough for the United States. Instead of dealing with us as a sovereign nation, the United States implemented a scheme to acquire title unlawfully.”

In 1946, the Regime in Washington created a pseudo-judicial body called the Indian Claims Commission (ICC), the purpose of which was to dispose of outstanding land claims. The 1946 act permitted that Commission (it is axiomatic that any body called a “Commission” was created to facilitate fraud) to recognize as authoritative tribal spokesman any “identifiable group” within a given tribe, no matter how unrepresentative it might be.

In 1951, one tiny Shoshone band, the Te-Moaks (descended from a signatory of the 1863 treaty) filed an ICC claim on behalf of the entire nation. Eleven years later the ICC settled that claim by ruling that the Shoshone claims had been extinguished through “gradual encroachment” of American settlers. Furthermore, the Commission ruled that the “taking” had occurred on July 1, 1872 – a date used to establish the value of the land, long before discovery of gold and other valuable minerals had occurred. In 1979, the Commission offered the Shoshone a $26 million settlement – an amount equivalent to about fifteen cents an acre for the same land commanding $2.50 an acre when purchased by gold mining interests.

When the Shoshones refused to accept the settlement – which had been reached ex parte – the Department of the Interior paid that money to itself, absorbing it into an Indian trusteeship bureaucracy that was riddle with corruption and fraud.

About a decade ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sponsored a measure that would have “settled” the longstanding dispute with a one-time payment of $26,000 to each member of the Shoshone tribe. That bill was never enacted, and the money remained unpaid – which suited the Dann family just fine. They had never agreed to surrender their land, had never signed any documents, and insisted on exercising their right to raise livestock on land that had been peacefully and productively used by their family for generations.

In 1974, the US Government sued the Dann family, claiming that they had committed “trespassing” by grazing their horses and cattle on land that legally belonged to them. Successive rulings by federal judges upheld the Government's claims. 

The Supreme Court declined to hear the Dann family's appeal, insisting that the matter was closed when the federal government paid itself $26 million to consummate the theft of the Shoshone lands. The Feds would eventually claim that the impoverished Indian family owed nearly $5 million in grazing fees and interest.

The BLM staged its first cattle rustling raid against the Danns in April 1992. At about 4:30 in the morning, the ranch lands were invaded by a column of vehicles that decanted a platoon of BLM Brownshirts. Not intimidated by the bullying display, Carrie plowed through the picket line and cast herself into a cattle chute to prevent hireling cowboys from loading her stolen cattle onto a truck.

“My land has never been for sale,” Carrie told Eureka County Sheriff Ken Jones, who rather than defending his constituent's rights was aligned with the invaders. “It's not for sale now, it's not for sale tomorrow, either. And that's the way it is, Mr. Jones.”
BLM Brownshirt during seizure of Dann family livestock.
As would happen more than twenty years later at Bunkerville, the BLM backed down and withdrew, restoring the stolen cattle to their rightful owners. But this gesture was purely a public relations ploy.

When the raiders returned the following November, Clifford used a vehicle to block a road, cutting off a convoy of BLM trucks carrying the family's livestock. Sitting down in the bed of his pickup, Clifford immersed himself with gasoline and threatened to set himself on fire unless the federally licensed rustlers relinquished the stolen animals.

Feigning sympathy with the Dann family's plight, Sheriff Jones told Clifford that the cattle weren't being confiscated and invited him to see for himself. When Clifford stepped down from his truck, he was surrounded by a thugscrum of BLM Brownshirts, some of him sprayed him with fire extinguishers, others surrounding the 59-year-old man and assaulting him.

“Get him down! Get him down!” exclaimed Sheriff Jones. “Break his f**king arm if you have to!”

Carrie ran to help her brother, only to be seized from behind by a BLM agent.

“You're hurting me – I've got a bad shoulder!” cried Carrie.

“Then be a good old lady and quit struggling,” sneered BLM special agent Terry Somers, his voice dripping scornful condescension.

The stolen livestock escaped – but Clifford did not. Beaten and bloodied, he was taken into custody. Four months later he was sentenced to nine years in prison for “assaulting an officer with gasoline” – that is, for being seized and beaten by BLM agents after he had poured gasoline on his own body. As he pronounced sentence, Federal Judge John McKibben pointedly said that the severity of his ruling was intended “to send a message to journalists, activists, and the Western Shoshone.”

Defending her rights: Carrie Dann.
With their brother behind bars, and their supporters understandably intimidated, the Dann sisters weren't able to resist as several subsequent federal raids systematically deprived them of their stock, much of which was left to die of neglect by the BLM.

For decades the BLM had accused the Danns of damaging the delicate Crescent Valley ecosystem by “overgrazing” their herds – even though BLM commissar Somers admitted in 1994 that there was no evidence to sustain that charge. Once their grazing lands had been denuded of cattle and horses, the BLM leased it to a Canadian conglomerate that gouged huge open-pit mines out of the landscape and left the countryside contaminated with lead, mercury, and cyanide.

It should be recalled that the Department of the Interior placed the value of the Shoshone lands at fifteen cents an acre. It charged gold mining companies up to $2.50 an acre for leasing the lands that had been stolen from the Dann family. Gold mining is a worthy undertaking – when it is carried out through honest, mutually beneficial commerce, rather than government-abetted theft.
The Dann family and the Western Shoshone, acting out of desperation, made a futile effort at redress by filing a grievance with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations, an organization that is utterly worthless when it isn't being aggressively harmful. In the meantime, the BLM directed its malevolent attention at non-Indian ranchers in Nevada.
The remains of horses seized by BLM from the Dann family.
In 2001, BLM hired contractors to steal the cattle of Nevada ranchers Ben Colvin and Jack Vogt, whose argument against paying grazing feeds was similar to that made by the Danns, to wit: The US Government had no legal and constitutional authority to claim ownership of the range land. 

The BLM and Forest Service likewise pilfered cows belonging to rancher Wayne Hage, who like the Danns spent decades fighting the Feds in court. Last year, in what must be regarded as little short of an epoch-shattering miracle, a federal judge ruled that those agencies had conducted a criminal conspiracy against Hage and recommended that their administrators face criminal prosecution.

Unlike the Bundys, who are materially comfortable but not opulently wealthy, the Danns -- like many American Indians -- are desperately poor. Their ancestral claim to the land is stronger than that of the Bundy family, but this didn't prevent the Feds from stealing their livestock and leaving them destitute.

Despite the significant differences separating the Bundys from the Danns, both families are involved in what can accurately be described – without the unfortunate ideological baggage – as an anti-colonialist struggle. The US Government had no legal right to ratify the theft of Western Shoshone lands, nor does it have the constitutional authority to occupy and claim to own more than eighty percent of Nevada's territory.

Cliven Bundy and his family were hardly the first Nevada ranchers to confront federally licensed cattle rustlers who operated under the protection of militarized law enforcement agents. They were, however, the first to fight back.

Dum spiro, pugno!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ranchers vs. Regulators: The Clark County Range War

Truth, Justus, and the American Way: Cliven Bundy invites a five-year-old to try on a cowboy hat.

Bunkerville, Nevada

War came to the Western Range that April, a conflict pitting the forces of order and respectability against a restive band of extremists accused of cheating the government of what it was due. The prohibitively stronger side consisted of regulatory agencies allied with powerful non-governmental organizations determined to control the land and expel small private interests who made productive use of it. The unyielding demands of the political elite were met with the unflinching defiance of rural ranchers, leading to talk of a “range war.”

Eventually the ranchers exhausted the patience of the government, which deployed dozens of heavily armed Regulators to the county under orders to put down the rebellion. This would mean arresting – or shooting – anybody who resisted. Rather than submitting, the rebels – with the support of the county sheriff and the aid of several veterans of the most recent war – mobilized to confront the threat. Citizens coalesced into a militia and rode out on horseback to confront the invaders at their staging area.

To the consternation of the government and the respectable media, the rebels held their ground, forcing the Regulators to retreat. 


This, in broad outline, is the story that unfolded at an overpass outside Bunkerville, Nevada on April 12, when hundreds of citizens – confronting paramilitary Regulators who were prepared to gun them down – compelled the BLM to return hundreds of cows the agency had stolen from the family of rancher Cliven Bundy to punish him for failing to pay grazing fees the agency had imposed on him without legitimate authority. 

This act of government-licensed cattle rustling was carried out by "contact cowboys"* who were aided by a paramilitary force of roughly 200 people from the Bureau of Land Management, which is, from a constitutional perspective, a bastard agency. 

(All Bunkerville photo credits: Scott Watson.)
Through what must be considered an act of Providence, no lives were lost on April 12. 

A bloodier version of the same story played out on the same day 122 years ago in Wyoming's Johnson County: Hundreds of citizens surrounded the TA Ranch, which was the base of operations for dozens of gunmen who had been deputized by the state government, provided with a roster of troublesome local ranchers, and ordered to execute every man whose name was inscribed on the kill list.

In both cases, the aggressors – the BLM and federal comrades in Bunkerville, a corporatist clique called the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in Johnson County – claimed to be acting in the name of the law, which for them was digested to a single arrogant claim: “The land is ours because we say it is.”

Human lives were lost in Wyoming's Johnson County War. So far there have been no human casualties in the BLM's range war against the family and property of rancher Cliven Bundy. To this point, the invaders have had to be content with one assault with a deadly weapon (the Taser attack on Ammon Bundy), an act of aggravated assault on a pregnant woman, and the slaughter of a still-unknown number of the Bundy family's cattle coupled with extensive damage to their property.

I have certain rights there – range improvements and so forth,” Cliven Bundy told me during an interview near the site of the April 12 standoff. 

Although the grazing areas are considered public lands, he continued, “I did have private property there, and there was damage. What the law would do here – they [the Feds] have four Metro [police] officers out there twenty-four hours a day protecting their `property.' A few days ago, though, I had almost 400 cattle out there [under BLM control] and they didn't give a damn about that property.”

At least one bull was shot while securely penned, and an unspecified number of other cattle were killed. In addition, Cliven pointed out, “They tore up water lines and cut water tanks in two.”

The damage is very extensive,” Cliven's son Ryan told me, holding a complaint he was filing with the Clark County Sheriff's Office. “There were 200 BLM people out there, and they all had off-road vehicles, in addition to the contract cowboys [hired by the Feds to confiscate the cattle] and they have just tromped this ground. Roads meant nothing to them. First they widened the roads with heavy equipment, and then they didn't stay on the roads. They would expect a normal person never to overturn a stone, but these guys have just ravished this land.”

In addition to wrecking the range improvements that the Bundy family was legally entitled to make, the BLM Regulators didn't spare the abode of the incomparably precious desert tortoise, whose preservation was the stated rationale for driving cattle ranching into near-oblivion in Clark County.

We found several places where their trucks have caved in tortoise dens,” Ryan Bundy told me, his voice laden with weary disgust. “Talk about hypocrisy.”

The BLM was forced to withdraw its armed Regulators without firing a shot on April 12. But the agency has made clear its intention to continue its efforts to drive Bundy – the last of Clark County, Nevada's cattle ranchers – from range land the federal government illegally claims as its own.

Well, it's not over,” insisted Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who working in concert with his son Rory (a Clark County Commissioner and quondam gubernatorial candidate) and former Reid land-use adviser Neil Kornze (who was approved as BLM director on April 8) has played a central role in the effort to uproot the Bundy family from their land. “We can't have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it.”

We believe in a country in which we are subject to laws and you can't just ignore the laws we don't like,” sniffed Rory Reid. “I think clearly if state and local prosecutors look at this more closely, they're going to find that he broke the law and he should be prosecuted.”

After the retreat on April 12, the BLM sent four ominous-looking certified letters to the Bundy home.

Hereditary commissar Rory Reid.
I've not opened them,” Cliven Bundy explained to me, a subtle smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Reports have been put in circulation that the BLM – under the influence of the Reid dynasty – may eventually induce the Sheriff's Office to raid the Bundy family's home. 

Cliven has said that if the Sheriff is issued a warrant signed by judge of appropriate jurisdiction, he will turn himself in. 

Volunteers acting as private peace officers stationed along checkpoints leading to the Bundy home told me that if the Sheriff's office presents a valid warrant, they will do nothing to interfere – but that a SWAT-style raid would lead to trouble.

Cliven isn't burdened with any illusions about the kind of people who are seeking to shut down his ranch.

When Cliven and his sons went out to inspect the damage to the range land, they found “a pit – about fifty feet long, thirty feet wide, and ten feet deep. About a third of it was full of something. We know there were [cattle] body parts sticking out of it.”

It was a mass grave,” concluded Cliven, grimly. “Let me tell you something – if they hadn't backed off [on April 12] they would have had mass human bodies.”

No lives were lost in the Battle of Bunkerville, but the Feds and their allies clearly see the withdrawal as a tactical retreat, and the wary peace that currently prevails as a fermata, rather than a coda, in the conflict. The Johnson County War of 1892 illustrates what could happen if the federal campaign against the Bundys becomes a literal range war.

The first victim in the elite's onslaught against homesteaders and ranchers in Wyoming was a reformed prostitute named Ellen Watson, more commonly known as as “Cattle Kate.” Amid murky accusations of cattle rustling, Watson and her husband, James Averill, were lynched in 1889, three years before open warfare erupted along the Powder River.  

Buffalo, Wyoming, circa 1890.
At the time, a growing segment of the Wyoming population sought alterations to the state's range laws, which had been written by, and on behalf of, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. The Association, for its part, was trying to minimize its losses following the collapse of a speculative bubble in the cattle industry during the 1880s.

In the decade leading up to the invasion of Johnson County, wrote Asa Shinn Mercer in his turn-of-the- 20th Century expose The Banditti of the Plains, “a craze for cattle company investments was created in the East and also in the British Isles. Soon the bulk of holding passed into the hands of corporations and high-salaried officials took charge of the business, living luxuriously in club house in the various towns and trusting the real management of herds and ranches to subordinates … frequently without practical experience.”

The lure of supposedly easy profits in the cattle industry proved irresistible to pampered children of privilege, whose dreams of empire-building in the American West were fueled by such works as Cattle Raising on the Plains of North America by Prussian nobleman and Colorado cattle mogul Baron Walter von Richthofen. “There is not the slightest amount of uncertainty in cattle raising,” the Baron assured his fellow elitists

The parvenus and dilettantes who overran Wyoming included “the black sheep sons of European noblemen and wealthy youngish adventurers from New York, businessmen from Paris and Edinburgh, Scotland,” observes historian Hal Herring. “The Anglo-Beef conglomerate, one of the world's largest cattle companies, was formed in an office in foggy London, its investors toasting the vast profits to coming from an unimaginably raw land across the Atlantic.”

One inevitable result of the elite onslaught was a culture clash between the Europeans steeped in feudal conceits and traditions and the incorrigibly individualistic knights of the plains.

The English referred to cowboys as `cow servants,'” Herring points out, “and the classic Western tale was born of the English lord, a newly arrived landowner, who rode up to a neighboring ranch and asked the ranch foreman if his `master' was at home.”

The son-of-a bitch hasn't been born yet,” came the cowboy's laconic and thoroughly unamused reply.

Until the late 1880s, the elitists who were represented in the Wyoming Stock Growers Association – and who controlled the state government – were content to allow actual cowboys to do the work, while they harvested the profits. During the boom, a growing number of cowboys acquired sufficient capital to obtain herds and homestead unapportioned land within what historian Helena Huntington Smith described as “an empty paradise of waving grass – a cowman's paradise with the Indians out but the cowmen not yet in.”

This arrangement worked “very well while the markets ruled high,” Asa Mercer wrote in his memoir of the period. However, some of the well-connected eastern cattle companies began to undermine the market by rounding up “culls” and elderly steers that were “unfit for beef” and selling them to feeders at inflated prices, an arrangement that “tickled the avarice of the Eastern or foreign shareholders and prevented a careful investigation of the methods employed.” Mercer described this as “wholesale robbery.”

The speculative cattle bubble likewise led to the over-crowding of available grazing land, which left “the ranges crowded and the grass eaten until the winter food was too short to carry the stock through the cold weather.”

Depletion of grazing areas accelerated during the drought of 1886, which was immediately followed by an abnormally severe winter. This “caused an excessive mortality among all classes of cattle and reduced the calf crop to fully one half” in Wyoming herds, Mercer recalled. To meet contracts, the elite-operated companies expanded the practice of “robbing the herd” by sending inferior quality beef cattle to Chicago. This likewise had predictable consequences: Beef prices plummeted more than half – partially because a correction in inflated prices was overdue, but also because of “the generally poor condition of the range shipments in consequence of overstocking and the resulting scarcity of feed.”

At this point in the classic boom-to-bust cycle, the correct approach would be to allow over-grown, inefficient cattle corporations to fail and allow smaller producers to rebuild the cattle market.

This was precisely what the entrenched interests responsible for that catastrophe wanted to avoid. Accordingly, aided by the mercenary press, the establishment cattle cartel generated a propaganda campaign blaming that collapse on “rustlers,” whose alleged depredations were aided and protected by an incorrigible public. Johnson County was depicted as a hotbed of rustler activity.

The cartel had become entrenched immediately after Wyoming was given territorial status in 1868. Representatives of “Eastern and foreign cattle syndicates” dominated the legislature, Mercer insisted, and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association “virtually shaped the territorial policy.... Legislative enactments first assumed form the the executive councils of the association and through its social prestige were popularized with the masses, even before adoption of laws.”

In 1891, the cartel-dominated legislature passed a measure creating the “Board of Livestock Commissioners” with a broad mandate to “protect the livestock interests of the state from theft and disease.” To that end the commissioners were instructed to appoint “stock inspectors” authorized to impose fines and to conduct both seizures and arrests. This most likely led to the assassination-style killings of ranchers John Tisdale and Orley Jones by a secretive squad of "inspectors." 

Rancher Nate Champion, a redoubtable and widely respected man, offered eyewitness testimony that the murderer was an inspector named Joe Elliott, who was indicted and bound over for trial.

This exercise of legitimate judicial authority against the Stock Growers Association's interests prompted the oligarchy to escalate its campaign to annihilate its opposition.  The cartel began a concerted press campaign through major newspapers in eastern cities “to make their readers believe that a reign of terror existed in half a dozen counties in the state that could only be overcome by a resort to arms....”

It was for that purpose that the Commission recruited a group of “Regulators” who arrived in Cheyenne on April 2, 1892, in a Pullman train car – its windows blacked out. Their mission, as described to them by their commander, Major Frank Wolcott, was to execute warrants calling for the summary execution of cattle rustlers, whose names were inscribed on a “kill list.” Each lethal “warrant service” would earn the trigger-puller a $50 commission to supplement their salary of $5 a day – a very lucrative arrangement at a time when the standard ranch hand's wage was $25 a month.

Their wagons groaning beneath a supply of ammunition sufficient “to kill every inhabitant of Wyoming,” the death squad -- numbering roughly 50 men -- lit out for the KC Ranch to cross the first two names from their list – Nick Ray and Nate Champion, the latter having earned his spot by testifying against Elliott. After taking the ranch's cook and a visiting cowboy prisoner, the Regulators laid siege to the ranch, killing Ray immediately.

Champion sold himself dearly, holding off dozens of heavily armed, ruthless men for an entire day.

They are shooting at the house now,” a preternaturally composed Champion recorded in a journal that should be regarded as a masterpiece of stoic literature. “[T]hey have just got through shelling the house again like hail. I heard them splitting wood. I guess they are going to fire the house tonight. I think I will make a break when night comes, if alive.”

As Champion predicted, the The Regulators eventually employed what would now be called the “Waco Protocol.”

The house is all fired,” wrote Champion in his terse, fatalistic final entry. “Goodbye, boys, if I never see you again.”

Shortly before 9:00 on evening of April 8, the invaders flushed Champion from his burning home and gunned him down. They proceeded to the next target, a homestead known as the TA Ranch.

Champion had noted in his journal that “If I had a pair of glasses I believe I would know” some of the invaders who eventually murdered him. His neighbor, a journalist named Jack Flagg, had a similar thought when he rode by the ranch during the siege. Flagg wasn't aware that his name was on the kill list. That fact was abruptly made known to him when one of the Regulators sent rounds in his direction. Flagg hastened to the nearby town of Buffalo, where he told Johnson County Sheriff Red Angus about the assault on Champion's settlement.

While the Sheriff assembled his posse, the city's leading merchant, a transplanted Scotsman named Robert Foote, assumed the role of Paul Revere, dashing through the streets of Buffalo urging residents to arm themselves and “take a side.” Over the next three days, recalls Helena Huntington Smith in her definitive book The War on Powder River, “The streets were filling with armed men from the nearer ranches, while riders were sent to distant parts of the country for help to repel the murders.”

On April 11, the spontaneously organized citizens' militia arrived at the TA Ranch to engage the invaders. Snipers took up positions and trained their gun sights on the main ranch house. Several members of the militia cobbled together an assault vehicle they called the "Ark." Under covering fire from snipers they advanced on the enemy, hurling improvised explosive devices into the building.

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association, a non-governmental organization controlled by politically connected cattle interests, urged Acting Governor Amos Barber to intervene. Barber sent a frantic telegram to President Benjamin Harrison describing the citizen uprising as a threat to national security:

An insurrection exists in Johnson County, in the state of Wyoming, in the immediate vicinity of For McKinney, against the government of said state.... I apply to you on behalf of the state of Wyoming to direct the United States troops at Fort McKinney to assist in suppressing the insurrection.”
By April 12, the citizen militia had taken control of the TA Ranch, and the Regulators were pinned helplessly inside the stable. On the following day, Colonel Robert T. Van Horn and the 6th Cavalry arrived on the scene, no doubt to the relief of the Regulators and their employers. 

That relief rapidly gave way to consternation when Van Horn deferred to Sheriff Angus, recognized the legitimacy of the citizen revolt, and made arrangements for the Regulators to surrender.

Colonel Van Horn treated “the armed citizenry with the utmost respect, while making it clear that the fighting had to stop,” Herring recounts. “To the surprise of the cavalry, as soon as Van Horn assured the citizens that the Regulators would be arrested and taken to Fort McKinney, the impromptu militia swiftly disbanded.”

Although Major Wolcott insisted on surrendering to Van Horn, claiming that he would fight to the death rather than surrendering to Sheriff Angus, he disarmed his despondent mercenaries and went peaceably to the stockade at Fort McKinney. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association retained enough political clout to arrange the release of Wolcott and his Regulators without facing criminal charges. But the Association – which was already reeling from its financial losses – quickly lost its stranglehold on Wyoming politics.

Within a few years, the elite-connected cattlemen retired from an industry for which they were manifestly unsuitable, abandoned a state they had nearly destroyed, and found other ways to inflict misery on humanity. While isolated conflicts continued to flare up in the range lands until the second decade of the 20th Century, Wyoming was left to manage its own affairs – until the heirs of the elite interests behind the WSGA devised a new rationale for land-grabbing: Environmental protection.

This isn't about protecting turtles – it's about controlling the land,” declared Red Bear, an Apache Indian from St. George Utah, who told me that he had come to Bunkerville “to stand in defense of freedom.” He described to me how he had been confronted by a BLM official while walking on the range.

He told me that I had to leave, because I had `no right to be on the property,'” Red Bear said, emitting a disgusted chuckle over the armed functionary's severe irony deficiency. 

“To a Native, that's a very old story, and it's the same one we're seeing here in Bunkerville today. The people behind this are driven by greed and capable of great violence, and it's happening everywhere in the country. I came here – all of these people came to Bunkerville – to tell the government and the people working with them that it stops here.” 

Dum spiro, pugno! 

*In the original version of this article I reported -- based on previous accounts -- that the BLM-supervised confiscation of Bundy's cattle was carried out by Cattoor Livestock, a firm in Nephi, Utah that has done contract work for the agency in the past. According to Sue Cattoor, "The contractors were Shayne Sampson and Cameron Warner." I regret the erroneous earlier report, and extend my apologies to the Cattoor firm.