SHOWDOWN IN CATTLE COUNTRY

THE KLUMPS HAVE RUN COWS ON PUBLIC LAND FOR DECADES. NOW THEY'RE TELLING THE GOVERNMENT THEY OWN IT.

THE GOVERNMENT MAN recalls the first time he laid eyes on a Klump. "One of the brothers was riding horseback over the south side of the Dos Cabezas Mountains," says Larry Humphrey of the federal Bureau of Land Management. "I noticed that his horse wasn't wearing any shoes and I mentioned it to him. He said, 'We never shoe our horses.' Then he rode over the top."

That encounter took place in the mid-1970s, years before the pioneer cattle-ranching clan--most prominently brothers Wayne and Wally--went to war with the government. The clash threatens to destroy the Klumps' land empire, built over decades of accumulating government cattle-grazing leases and private property. The Klump domain includes more than 100,000 acres of rangeland in Cochise and Graham counties, and in New Mexico's Hidalgo County.

The family is the stuff of legend in southeast Arizona, a rural world in which reputations are made through hard work and achievement, not media hype. Tales are legion about the Klumps' frugality, work ethic and clannishness. Until recently the brawl had been confined to courthouses and administrative offices in Washington, D.C., Phoenix, Tucson, Bisbee and Bowie. But the battleground has expanded.

Last December family members padlocked several gates on roads in the Dos Cabezas Mountains, about 100 miles east of Tucson. Although the Klumps have since reopened most of the gates in question, officials say the family's action illegally cut off access to about 47,000 acres of public land. The event that pushed the ever-antagonistic relationship between the federal government and the Klumps over the edge came earlier this year. Instead of simply signing his annual application for a cattle-grazing permit on the Little Doubtful Allotment, Wayne Klump crossed out several provisions that offended him.

That gesture was the last straw. The BLM declared the grazing lease invalid and took action. On May 20, the feds mobilized BLM Rangers, wranglers from out of town, cattle haulers and two helicopters. They rounded up 84 head of cattle from Little Doubtful near the Arizona-New Mexico border and sold them at auction in Phoenix a few weeks ago. The feds netted $24,136 from the sale, which Wayne Klump videotaped.

BLM officials say it marked the agency's first large-scale seizure of cattle since the bureau was founded in 1946. And the feds have given notice they plan to impound hundreds more cows from other Klump leaseholds in the next year.

The Klumps' future is on the line. Without restoration of the grazing leases, both sides agree, the Klumps' venerable cattle business surely will crumble. The recent cattle raid by the normally hands-off feds proves how far the government is prepared to go in this 1990s range war.

Behind all the fighting is the stiff-backed intransigence of unyielding codgers in the crusty, hate-all-government, Old West mold. And Wayne and Wally Klump--the most radical of the five surviving Klump brothers--don't seem willing to give an inch.

"They can't keep pushing us," says Wayne Klump, at 49 the youngest of the brothers. "I get red-faced as an old Communist when I talk about it. This ain't America anymore."
It's too easy to conclude that Wayne and Wally Klump have been riding in the Arizona sun too long. It's also too easy to conclude the government should focus on something more pressing than a few cows in the desert. Like most disputes of this nature, it's impossible to affix either side with absolute blame.

Wayne and Wally Klump may be nakedly flaunting their radicalism to an end that seems uncertain even to them. But rural Westerners long have approached legal issues from a moral tack--sometimes because it is their only strategy.

For, in truth, the West has seldom had control over its own destiny. More than half of the land in the Western states is owned by the Washington, D.C.-based federal government. Rural Westerners of all stripes view the East Coast bureaucrats who regulate their lives as pencil-necked geeks who know nothing about how to survive outside an office.

To ranchers all over the West, mentioning the word "government" is like using an electric cattle prod on an unsuspecting bovine. They see the BLM as an evil feudal lord who illegally controls huge fiefdoms of public lands with an iron fist. And like many ranchers, the Klumps have worked the same land for so long they've come to believe they own it.

In the Klumps' view, government policies about owning grazing lands are illegal and immoral.

Wayne and Wally Klump are as unswayable as saguaro cacti. The brothers have filed legal papers claiming they, not any government, own the public land on which cows of theirs have been grazing for decades.

"I don't intend to back down, whether I survive or not," says 59-year-old Wally Klump in the deliberate, Texaslike twang common to natives of the Willcox-Bowie area. "You keep a-growin' and then you come to a point. We feel an act of God will protect our way of life in this country."
Straight-talking Cochise County Sheriff Jimmy Judd sums it up like this: "They think that all government is bad and they think they run the show on the government's land. Bad combination."

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...