SHOWDOWN IN CATTLE COUNTRY

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

As John and Delia Klump's children reached adulthood, they, too, invested almost everything they made in more and more ranch properties. Attached to much of the private land was a bevy of federal and state grazing leases and water claims.

Locals marveled at the clan's industry and frugality. Wayne and Wally Klump, for instance, once strung six miles of wire over the rugged terrain between their ranch homes. A self-contained telephone system was born. (Now the two brothers communicate by radio: Wally's home has a telephone line to the outside world, but Wayne's doesn't.)

By the time John Klump died in 1969--he was followed by his wife in 1973--the Klumps had built a land-and-cattle kingdom in southeastern Arizona and western New Mexico.

But there were dark moments. Sherman Klump died of cancer at the age of 28 in the 1960s. Then, in 1978, perhaps the strangest and most-whispered-about Klump tale of all occurred.

It happened on a cold winter evening in January of that year. Wayne Klump's wife, Sally, then the 31-year-old mother of two--including an infant daughter--vanished from their ranch outside Bowie.

Cochise County sheriff's reports say Wayne Klump took five days to notify the office of Sally's disappearance. He said she had previously run away after arguments, but never for that long. Klump said his wife didn't have any identification or personal belongings when she walked away.

Several people reported seeing Sally Klump in the years after her disappearance, but none of the sightings proved conclusive. The last entry in the sheriff's file came in March 1990, when a sheriff's commander noted the case is considered "open."

Sally Klump long has been considered legally dead and Wayne Klump has remarried: He and his wife, Sandy, have eight children--his, hers and theirs. He denies any wrongdoing in the unsolved mystery of Sally Klump's disappearance.

"She walked off and left me and the kids--that's it," Wayne Klump says. He adds, sarcastically, "So I'm Wayne Klump, the famous cowboy who kills people and throws them down wells and then drinks water off them. Shoot, I've never hit no one. I'm a lover, not a fighter."

if wayne and wally klump have a guru, it is Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, who in 1989 put into writing widespread and long-felt sentiments about the government's ownership of the Western rangelands.

Hage's Storm Over Rangelands--Private Rights in Federal Lands begins:
"Range war! Here and now! No, it's not the Old West. It's not the clash of cattlemen against sheep herders or ranchers against sodbusters in time warp. It's today's headlines about Congress threatening to increase stiff grazing fees ranchers already pay on federal land in the 11 Western states. It's Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management bureaucrats sharply curtailing grazing permits to broaden their regulatory powers.

"It's Public Broadcasting System television specials about environmentalists accusing ranchers of overgrazing, and pressing to eliminate the livestock industry from federal lands with slogans such as 'Livestock Free by 93!'"
Wayne Klump says the government--by which he means all governments--became his sworn enemy years before he ever heard of Wayne Hage. Still, he calls Hage "a true American who thinks like I think about all this."

Like Hage, Klump is able to cite chapter and verse about the government's machinations against ranchers. For Klump, two of the years that will live in infamy are 1934 and 1976. In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act established the leasing system for public lands. Before its passage, ranchers ran their cattle on public lands for free.

The permit and fees required after 1934 drove many small ranchers from the range entirely, according to a 1982 book, The Angry West, leaving in their wake large-scale operations popular with the government because of their supposed efficiency.

Then, in 1976, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). FLPMA reaffirmed and advanced a policy that had been in effect since the turn of the 20th century: For what Congress called the "general good," the West's vast public lands would be held in federal ownership forever.

The law also dictated the multiple use of public lands. FLPMA meant that ranchers weren't necessarily the only game on what they considered their turf anymore.

The regulations hit hard in Arizona, where the federal government controls 42 percent of all land, making it the state's largest landowner.

Wayne Klump saw FLPMA as a potentially fatal blow to his way of life. "They started coming down on us piece by piece," Klump says. "I started doing my homework and I found out how illegal the government operates."

Klump studied the U.S. Constitution with the intensity of an Orthodox rabbi at the Talmud, concluding that it prohibits state and federal governments from owning private land. He scoffs, of course, at the courts around the nation which have disagreed with that argument in any number of cases.

During the 1980s, the Klump brothers--especially the more radical Wayne and Wally--had skirmish after skirmish with federal, state and local governments. The disputes took several forms. The feds and the state would accuse the Klumps of overgrazing their cattle. The BLM would say the Klumps' cows weren't wearing their government ear tags.

Sometimes the Klumps grudgingly complied with the government regulations; other times they didn't. And then, in February 1990, Wayne and Wally Klump issued what government officials saw as a declaration of full-scale war.

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