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
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
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
“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
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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
Dann family, and other members of the Western Shoshone nation who have
sought to defend their lands.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
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
“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.
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.
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.
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
Defending her rights: Carrie Dann.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Truth, Justus, and the American Way: Cliven Bundy invites a five-year-old to try on a cowboy hat.
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
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.
the consternation of the government and the respectable media, the
rebels held their ground, forcing the Regulators to retreat.
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.
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.)
what must be considered an act of Providence, no lives were lost on
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.
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.
certain rights there – range improvements and so forth,” Cliven
Bundy told me during an interview near the site of the April 12
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
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.”
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.”
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
several places where their trucks have caved in tortoise dens,” Ryan Bundy told me, his voice laden with weary disgust. “Talk
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.
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.”
the retreat on April 12, the BLM sent four ominous-looking certified
letters to the Bundy home.
Hereditary commissar Rory Reid.
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
Cliven has said that if the Sheriff is issued a
warrant signed by judge of appropriate jurisdiction, he will turn
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.
isn't burdened with any illusions about the kind of people who are
seeking to shut down his ranch.
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.”
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.”
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
first victim in the elite's onslaught against homesteaders and
ranchers in Wyoming was a reformed prostitute named Ellen Watson,
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
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.
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.”
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
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
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.”
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.
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.”
son-of-a bitch hasn't been born yet,” came the cowboy's laconic and
thoroughly unamused reply.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
sold himself dearly, holding off dozens of heavily armed, ruthless men for
an entire day.
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.”
Champion predicted, the The Regulators eventually employed what would
now be called the “Waco Protocol.”
house is all fired,” wrote Champion in his terse, fatalistic final
entry. “Goodbye, boys, if I never see you again.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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
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.