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!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can not express in words how I feel about these sorts of things. Thank You for bringing them to light.

Lemuel Gulliver said...

Mr. Grigg,

Where do you find these atrocity stories? Each one leaves me feeling more sick to my stomach than the last.

To the tune of the song, heard so often after 9-11-2001:

"I'M ASHAMED TO BE AN AMERICAN, WHERE I CAN NEVER SAY I'M FREE..."

Just in case any white people reading this think these sorts of things only happen to folks of color or ranchers out West, check out this link:

http://www.policestateusa.com/2014/galveston-wedding-beatdown/

What scares me, in a country that piously proclaims, "In God We Trust" is the solemn Biblical assurance: "God will not be mocked". I am afraid for the divine punishment that someday will descend upon us all, and for the price that Satan will exact for his favors, showered upon the corrupt and evil two-legged animals who have run this country for the last 150 years.

We can forgive a sinner, but we can never excuse a hypocrite. This country drips with hypocrisy like Niagara Falls drips with water. The utter evil and corruption, masquerading as goodness and light, is monumental in scale.

- Lemuel.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! This is exactly the article and facts we need to get out in response to the let's references to Indians or "welfare cowboys" and other lies.

As always, this is an outstanding column that brings to light news I have not read anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Grigg,

Thank you once again for writing about the plight of ranchers with our federal government. You may want to check out Range Magazine (rangemagazine.com). They have some of the best investigative journalism that I have seen. It may give you some more ideas on where and how to look to find more of these stories. (There are thousands of similar stories. Few are as blatantly wrong as what happened to the Danns, but there are still many that could be found and reported.)

Cedric Ward said...

Another great article with outstanding references.
A suggestion. Please highlight the links in this article. They are difficult to find without moving your cursor over the link.
Also, in paragraph ten, "and the Shoshone, quite understandably, ever considered themselves to be Mexican subjects." should say "and the Shoshone, quite understandably, (N)ever considered themselves to be Mexican subjects." I believe you meant to say.

http://goldtradercommentsaugust2010.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

As always Mr. Grigg lays out the truth...

Anonymous said...

Is anyone keeping track of the body count in New Mexico? I will never set foot anywhere near that state. I would love to see a Pro Libertate post on the APD.

danny j said...

OK, I know this comment will be largely unappreciated, but I'm big on consistency, so am compelled to post it.

When the U.S. annexed about 1/2 of the territory of Mexico at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, some of that property had been owned by private citizens of Mexico. Officially, the U.S. honored those property rights, though in reality most of it was confiscated by U.S. citizens or local governments, largely through the courts and few of the descendants of those property owners still hold any of their ancestors' property.

Much of the land that was not previously in private hands was either given away or sold very cheaply to U.S. citizens, but a good portion of it has remained under ownership of the U.S. government. Now I don't appreciate the government owning so much land, and am anxious to consider options to put more of it into private hands, but for now, we taxpayers own that land.

From what I can find, the land in question here falls into that category of property that the Mexican government claimed as theirs and which the U.S. government has ever since 1848 claimed as theirs.

My experience with BLM-managed land (or generally, mismanaged land) is that it is leased to oil, lumber, ranching and other interests at well below market rates. I consider all of those to be government subsidies, and since I am generally opposed to government subsidies to private business interests, I'm having a hard time seeing letting Bundy graze his cattle on our land for what I've read is about 10% of the local rate for range fees on private property to be some form of tyranny. The only scent of tyranny I get is of our government nearly giving away our property to private business interests without our consent.

I am having an even harder time seeing Bundy refusing to pay y'all and me even the discount rates we charge him to be anything except a welfare scam.

But, I'm in full agreement with William that the real victims in all of this are the Shoshone, and other Indian groups who were in legitimate possession of that land before Mexico and then the U.S. took possession of it.

OK, INCOMING!
Keep up the good work, William. I recommend your blog to others all the time. I haven't been able to donate yet, but I'm hoping some of those I've turned on to your excellent research and writing have.