SHOWDOWN IN CATTLE COUNTRY
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."
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."
Wally Klump included a check for $3,396 to cover his yearly grazing permit, but also added the words "Paid Under Protest and Duress" under his signature.
The feds reacted quickly to this latest Klump jab. BLM area manager Vernon Saline returned the check with a terse letter that concluded:
"You have returned an unacceptable grazing application. . . . Any livestock found on the Badger Den Allotment are in trespass and will be subject to impoundment proceedings."
The BLM's Larry Humphrey won't say when his agency will raid Badger Den, but the feds are coming and Wally Klump knows it.
"I just don't know what to do," he says. "I'm trying to be the best American I can be and they're putting me against the wall."
Put aside for a moment his obsession with all things government, and it's evident how Wally Klump was elected to the Bowie school board for years, and why he is a leader at his Southern Baptist church. Courteous--except to most government types--and direct, he sometimes displays a sense of humor as dry as the cattle-grazing terrain over which he has lorded.
"I think I'm fair-minded and objective," Klump says, smiling, "but you'll never meet anyone who says they're not fair-minded and objective, including cowboys and government men."
Like his brothers, Wally Klump is a cowboy, far better at working cattle country than at debating constitutional issues. And this cowboy is running a little scared; some say more than a little paranoid.
Klump won't carry a rifle--standard cowboy gear--in his pickup truck, because he says he fears assassination at the hands of government agents. "I don't want them to be able to say I pointed my weapon at them first," he says evenly.
At about noon, Wally Klump cracks open a can and lifts some tuna fish onto two pieces of whole-wheat bread. He washes the simple sandwich down with fruit juice from a jug. Then he starts to speak about his origins.
"I got my thinking from my father," Klump says.
john sherman klump moved to Cochise County at the age of 17 in 1907--five years before Arizona became a state. Legend has it his mother led the family by covered wagon from Reserve, New Mexico, to escape the bloody Sheep Wars, and to afford her children a chance at an education.
The Klumps homesteaded on a 160-acre site between Willcox and Bowie and tried to make a go of it.
Homesteaders in those days settled on their parcels and grazed their cows on adjacent federal public-trust lands with little government interference. Budding ranchers would usually also claim water rights on the grazing rangeland. Life wasn't easy. John Klump's first marriage produced three children, though two of them died at an early age. In his young-adult years, he was a hard-living cowboy who drank much of his money away at Willcox saloons. His first marriage ended in divorce.
John Klump then was fortunate enough to meet Delia Ellen Knape, a pretty goatherder from Apache Pass. The couple married and had six boys and a girl: Dan, Doris, Richard, Wally, Sherman, Keith and Wayne.
The clan stayed poor for a long time. Even as late as 1939, family members say, John Klump controlled just one 640-acre section--akin to a patch of grass in arid country where one cow can't earn a living on less than 100 acres.
But then something happened that changed the course of history in southeast Arizona's rangelands.
"Dad woke up and realized time was a-wastin'," Wally Klump says.
The Klumps moved over to Bowie and started to buy small ranches with whatever money they could scrape together. Then, as now, Bowie was a dot on the Arizona map dominated by folks trying to eke out a living in the ranching and farming industries. But land was cheap and the Klumps in the 1940s and after parlayed every spare cent into buying more and more property.
"Every day, one of us kids would stay home from school and help out," Wally Klump recalls. "We would build fences, work cattle, whatever had to be done. Dad would get drunk about once a month, but he was all business the rest of the time."
Being increasingly land-rich didn't put much money in John Klump's pockets. Wally Klump says without pretense that he and his siblings were the poorest students at the Bowie School. The Klump kids had to make do with two pairs of pants, two shirts and one pair of shoes in a year. The elder Klumps never did have electricity or indoor plumbing.
"We'd go barefoot in the summer," Wally Klump recalls. "We ate beans and we had a milk cow. Ate jerky all summer long. We had the smallest ranch in the area, but we watched where all our money went."
Like two of his five brothers, Wally Klump served in the U.S. Army during the early 1950s. (Brother Richard is a Korean War veteran.) He says his prudent ways stood him in good stead during his two-year stint.
"I just wasn't used to spending any money," he says, "and the other guys were. At the end of the month, I would lend them $10 or $15 so they could go have a weekend somewhere. I made quite a sum doing that."
After his honorable discharge, Wally returned to the Bowie area. He later married Charlene Sourwine, a second-grade schoolteacher who, he says, "loved horses and always wanted to marry a cowboy."
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.
The brothers filed papers in Cochise and Graham counties laying claim to about 300,000 acres--almost all of it state or federal land. They based the claims on their interpretation of constitutional and common law, citing the family's long history in the area and their continued use of the rangelands.
The two Klump brothers claimed "all minerals, coal, oil, gas, water, geothermal, gravel and all known and unknown substances to the center of the Earth. We claim the air, airspace, water, gases, all living things, all dead things and all substances to the heavens and beyond."
This document, to put it mildly, gave the state and federal governments the notion that the Klumps had gone off the deep end.
"The Klumps think they own the land and that's bull," says state land commissioner Jean Hassell. "It's not as clear about the water rights, but we think we're in the right and so do they on that. They are salt-of-the-earth people who have a different idea of how America should work and what public lands are."
Last year some of the Klumps started locking gates on lands they leased. Wayne Klump says he closed off several dirt roads in the Dos Cabezas Mountains after reading court decisions that say leaseholders may be held financially liable for injury and death on public lands.
It wasn't as drastic a move as it might first appear. As the authors of the Arizona Atlas wrote in 1981: "Lessees of state land have been permitted to treat it as private property, limiting passage and recreation use if they wish."
But the State of Arizona's philosophy has changed, at least when it comes to the Klumps. The locked-gates issue became news in southeast Arizona this year, after the state and the feds sued the Klumps, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department brought criminal misdemeanor charges against Wayne Klump.
As Wayne and Wally Klump got more and more steadfast in their struggles with the government, something happened that few who know the family thought they'd ever witness. Some of the Klump brothers won't talk publicly about the family split. But a sure sign of the rupture came in a letter last March from Dan and Belva Anne Klump to state land commissioner Jean Hassell.
"My wife and I would like you to know that there is no partnership as Klump brothers and never has been," brother Dan Klump wrote. "Wayne Klump is not our agent or spokesperson. . . . For the last year, my brother Wayne hasn't allowed me to get my cattle off of the land. When you have the cattle removed, I would like to be able to claim my cattle and pay whatever trespass I owe at that time."
as of last week, all the Klump brothers--not just Wally and Wayne--were subjects of pending lawsuits and administrative appeals in Phoenix, Washington, D.C., Tucson and Bisbee.
Last February 28, the BLM sued Keith Klump in U.S. District Court, saying he had blocked Mascot Canyon Road by locking a gate near an old mine of his. The feds claim the locked gate "constitutes an enclosure of public lands." The feds are also planning major cattle seizures at Klump leaseholds in the Steins Mountains, Roostercomb, Simmons Peak and Badger Den allotments.
"I've told Wayne that the country is moving in one direction and he is moving in another," says Joe Lane, a former Willcox rancher and state representative, now an aide to Governor Fife Symington. "He and his brothers are intimidating, but they won't hurt people--I don't think. They just had better get with the program for their own good."
A few weeks ago, Wayne Klump filed personal liens in several courts against BLM officials and other individuals involved in last month's cattle raid at Little Doubtful.
The documents demand at least $650,000 from each for "rustling" his cattle, trafficking in "stolen goods," trespassing and other transgressions. It's far more than a nuisance suit. The BLM's Larry Humphrey--named in the lien claim--says a colleague also listed has been transferred from Arizona to Washington, D.C. The lien has clouded the title on his colleague's home, Humphrey says, and he won't be able to sell it until the case is decided.
And while on June 10 a justice of the peace in Bowie dismissed criminal charges against Wayne Klump after he unlocked the gates on public land, Klump didn't promise he would keep them unlocked.
"I couldn't afford a criminal conviction," Klump says of his decision. "I got too many fights to fight to go to jail right now."
If truth be told, Larry Humphrey is sick and tired of the family. "I used to think the Klumps were people you had to respect, even if you didn't agree with them all the time," says Humphrey. "Hardworking, family values. I can respect people being against the federal government. But whenever you get to analyzing their philosophy, it's really the Klump family against the world."
wally klump's wife, Charlene, is vacationing with one of the couple's sons in her native Iowa. Another son is vacationing in Australia and a daughter is running the family's cattle ranch in New Mexico.
That means Klump has more chores than usual at the unpretentious ranch home he completed three decades ago in the Dos Cabezas, about five miles outside Bowie.
Wally Klump walks toward a chicken coop to fetch the day's output of eggs. On the way, he stops to pick a handful of tart but tasty cherries off a tree. He proudly points out the healthy pomegranate, peach, almond, pear, pecan, apple, plum, fig and apricot trees that dot his property.
"Sometimes I'll think back on the days before we got into all of this with the government," he says suddenly and sadly. "We had our problems, but they were work problems, how to get this done or that done. It wasn't about living or dying back then."
Back at the house, brother Wayne is on the telephone in the kitchen, trying to find a lawyer to help with his cluster of legal cases.
Wally Klump walks into the large living room, dominated by family photographs, books and mounted deer heads. He doesn't have a television set and until a few years ago an old generator supplied the power at his place. The generator still works fine, but the solar panels on his roof do the trick most of the time.
Like many of the Klumps, Wally Klump is a voracious reader: He studies the Bible and also reads weekly livestock publications and U.S. News and World Report from cover to cover.
Recently, though, he's been concentrating on an entry in an old encyclopedia titled "The History of White People in America." He says he's seeking references to government ownership of land in the nation's early days.
Wayne Klump finally gets off the telephone. No luck yet with a lawyer.
Wally Klump pulls a penny out of a pants pocket.
"What did they write on it?" he demands.
"In God We Trust.'"
"Okay, now, what's that on the side, across from the date?"
"That's what keeps me going," Wally Klump says, his voice rising. "I know the future looks bleak for us. I know they're going to try to break us, financially and otherwise. But I have faith that this is America. I'm talking about the spirit of America. That is what keeps me going, sir."
A CITY SCORNED WHAT'S UNDER THE ANGER AF... v6-24-92
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.