SHOWDOWN IN CATTLE COUNTRY

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

some years ago, genealogist Lola Simmons prepared a family tree for a Klump daughter about to marry. The 74-year-old Willcox resident--who owns land near Wayne Klump's ranch--remains fascinated by her neighbors.

"The Klumps may just have been born in the wrong generation," Simmons says. "The white man took the land away from the Indians, then the cattle barons took it away from the sodbusters. Now the government's going to take it away from the cattlemen. It's just a cycle."
Simmons raises a critical point. For hovering over these dramatic, high-desert proceedings is the question of cattle ranching's future.

Like many ranchers, the Klumps see themselves as true environmentalists. But the late author Edward Abbey once referred to the nation's oft-overgrazed public lands as "cow burnt," and to cattle ranchers as "welfare parasites." The latter phrase referred to how relatively cheap it is for ranchers to lease huge chunks of public-trust land for grazing purposes.

Although few state and federal officials would go as far as Abbey, the paternalistic attitude that long marked the relationship between government and ranchers is changing, especially when it comes to the Klumps.

"We've given about all we're gonna give those folks," says the BLM's Larry Humphrey, a natural-resources specialist based in Safford. "This isn't the Wild, Wild West anymore."
In addition to grazing rights, water--an issue of eternal import in the West--is also at stake. The State of Arizona contends it owns the rights to the water on its land, not the leaseholding Klumps. The Klumps say otherwise, pointing to water claims that in some instances they have held since before Arizona's entry into the Union in 1912.

Things are so confused, even state land commissioner M. Jean Hassell admits the water debate "is not 100 percent clear-cut." Water is one of several issues involving the Klumps now being considered in Arizona's courts.

Many area ranchers have expressed public support for the Klumps: On May 28, the 70 or so persons attending an auction in Willcox of cows seized in the federal raid applauded loudly when auction owner Sonny Shores refused to sell the beasts. (Undaunted, the feds shipped the animals to Phoenix, where another auctioneer sold them.)

The residents in these parts generally are conservative and law-abiding, but with a peculiarly rural twist: Many are accepting of political radicalism--as long as it's directed against the government. But some locals wonder privately if Wayne and Wally Klump are going too far with their Armageddonlike posture.

"They're goin' up against the United States of America," says a Willcox rancher, putting the emphasis on the U in "United." "I swear they ain't crazy; they're what I'd call astute businessmen. I agree with a lot of their ideas. But they're gonna lose. And for what?"
What is hurting Wayne and Wally Klump most is their unwillingness to compromise with the powerful government forces mobilized against them. That has created an unprecedented and deep rift in a clan formerly renowned for its unity.

Willcox city attorney Jim Holland's statement--When you're on a Klump's bad side, you're on all of their bad sides--just isn't the case anymore.

"There are people in the family who tell us, 'Don't be martyrs!'" Wally Klump says. "Give em what they want!' I don't doubt that we'll get whipped. But if there's any future of any kind for my children or anyone's children, you have to make a stand somewhere."
Many locals fear that a classic Western showdown between Wayne and Wally Klump and the government is inevitable. Not Lola Simmons. "Wayne Klump is too belligerent to be a martyr," she says. "He wants to stay alive and cause the government grief til he's 100."

wally klump unlatches a gate at the border of Cochise and Graham counties and points a long index finger at the distant Peloncillo Mountains. The low, early morning June sun only hints at the heat that seems likely to fall upon him and his brother Wayne in the coming months.

The deep creases on Klump's face are like a map to the roads that crisscross this land he knows so well. Over six feet tall--plus a few inches of cowboy hat and boots--he retains, at 59, the rawboned features common to the Klump brothers.

"Is it possible to have freedom when the government owns everything?" he asks, gesturing at the open country of grasses, small bushes and mesquite trees. "I don't think so."
By car and then by foot, Wally Klump had toured the Badger Den Allotment, a sprawling leasehold of 48,000 acres on which the feds previously allowed him to run up to 150 cattle at a time.

The cows are still out there, but the feds say they will seize and sell them at auction sometime in the next year if Wally Klump doesn't remove them. The seizure won't affect the 150 cows Klump runs on state-leased land or another 40 on his private property.

Wally Klump got in hot water with the BLM for doing the same thing as had his brother Wayne: Earlier this year, he crossed off "Grazing Lease Application" from the top of the annual permit form and substituted the handwritten words "Unconscionable Adhesion Contract."

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