Sunday, January 24, 2016
Of Monuments and Raymond Yowell
Of Monuments and Raymond Yowell
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Yesterday was spent bridging gaps.
It was an exercise in cow buyers, local historians, and the absence of Leonard. With the latter, his health is an issue and the outcome permeates everything. It boils down to the ravages of time and the great mystery of where it actually goes. It is also a reminder of how bad birthdays become to your wellbeing. A universal truth is revealed and our only alternative is to march forward. We will try to smile in the process.
The historians were interesting.
We are working on a project that is intended to catalogue lasting contributions through our presence on this land. Largely, it is an exercise toward a greater understanding of our surroundings, but it ought to be more. There should be some accrual of security compounded for hard work and generational devotion. Yesterday’s example of such a value was the revelation that our Butterfield Ranch was not only the route of the famous trail of its name, but the crossroads of two historical trails, the Butterfield Trail that ran mail and passenger services from St. Louis to San Francisco, and another route that ran mail from San Antonio to San Diego.
I have never heard of the latter nor had I heard of Neide Springs until the last several weeks. Neide (or Neire as various spellings reveal) was probably an employee at Ft. Mason, the safe haven and protected water source on the Butterfield Trail just east of us on the Corralitos Ranch. There is evidence that Neide staked his own claim to a spring southwest from the fort on the other trail. An old map plots that route as a parallel historic trail to the Butterfield Trail with a water stop at Neide Springs. An important history lesson is revealed. The spring was a vital water source in one of the most sparsely watered stretches of historic trail in American history.
The second trail was very likely the lesser known Jackass Mail Trail.
Overlaying a topographical grid on the old historic map reveals that Neide Springs was none other than the ranch headquarters at our Butterfield Trail Ranch. We have always known the spring on the west side of our headquarters’ corrals produces surface water in wetter years. The area around the spring is overlain with a caliche bench and the assumption and anecdotal explanation of the absence of turf there was a function of cattle, but the historians suggested something much broader and profound. From the presence of artifacts, they believe the site was a large encampment for Indians and was occupied seasonally for centuries if not millenniums. The discovery of a mammoth skeleton there likely suggests it was also a vital water source for even earlier epochs. The barren ground was the result of concentration of both animals and man. Cattle presence was simply … a modern, contributing impact on the land!
Of Monuments and Raymond Yowell
It is necessary to state the intention of this historical survey of the ranch is to compile measures of defense for the continued operation of the ranch with the impact of the upcoming management plan for the Organ Mountain Desert Peaks National Monument. Forty percent of the ranch is now overlain by the monument on lands that were never suggested by federal agency audit to have any monument or wilderness characteristics. It didn’t matter that the evaluation was simply ignored when national conservation organizations prevailed on the president to sign into law (by presidential edict) a monument that threatens, without recourse, 40 ranches and 90 families that make their living on the impacted lands. To add insult to hurt, one agency official told me I had no more influence on the eventual management plan on my ranch than a grandmother in Miami Beach.
That is the reality we face as it is the reality hundreds and thousands of other western families face in the jaws of federal land management. We are on our own and any meager defense we can raise will be conditional on the sovereignty that we grasp and uphold by our own efforts. We are trying to tell our own story and its importance as a measure of history and impact on culture and customs.
Surely … we have worth.
In light of the daily updates and drama we hear and read about Harney County, Oregon, an equally important and perhaps more poignant battle of human rights is taking place in Nevada. It is the battle being waged by Raymond Yowell against the BLM and the U.S. Treasury. Unlike the stacked political battle of condescension and hatred being waged against the Bundy family, the battle between Yowell and the federal juggernaut isn’t so easy to demonize. Mr. Yowell, or, more appropriately, Chief Yowell, is a former chief of the Western Shoshone National Council. He is a member of the Te-Moak Band. He is also a member of a grazing association that was granted a grazing permit in northeastern Nevada starting in 1940. The group paid fees until 1984 when they determined they wouldn’t pay another dollar to the federal government. Their decision was based on a greater understanding of the Treaty of Ruby Valley when the United States recognized the tribe’s rights on 60 million acres of what are now parts of California, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.
The curtailment of paying the fees was also predicated on a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that determined the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty simply gave the United States trusteeship of the lands and could claim it as public lands. The uproar that created was intended to be resolved when the Western Shoshone Claims Distribution Act of 2004 was passed. In that action, the Tribe was paid $145 million for silence forevermore.
The BLM, however, didn’t give up their claim on grazing fees in arrears. They took action by seizing Yowell’s 132 head of cattle, hauling them across the state, selling them and sending the Chief a bill for $180,000 for outstanding fees. They also garnisheed his social security earnings which resulted in a reduction of his monthly check to $779. The only action missing from a full blown middle ages inquisition is a Star Chamber ruling of throwing the old chief into debtors’ prison.
There is no way the 81 year old could pay the demand even if it was legitimate so he took action.
Chief Yowell determined his status as an American subject to the 1863 Treaty gives him vested rights to be a herdsman indeterminate of the current status of agency management of his historical lands. He claims the government violated his due process, his civil rights, and his constitutional protection against unwarranted seizure of his cattle. He is suing the BLM and the United States Treasury for $30 million for the violation of his constitutional rights.
The true grit of the old chief makes me smile.
As the plight thickens, both his and ours, we find ourselves united across not just miles, but common bonds and predicaments. We also find the need for greater understanding, and that is revealed in the same heart sick fear for our future. Put aside all other differences and a greater human understanding emerges. Our customs and culture were shaped by individual sacrifice and effort in the presence of expanses of arid land. That unique culture, with its land based foundation, is fully at risk. We find ourselves within the crosshairs of an absentee owner and public mob that mocks our existence, demands our acquiescence, limits our enterprise capabilities, suppresses our generational recruitment, and dispenses or alters laws and or treaties upon need and agenda priorities.
Just change the titles and signators on the official documents of record, but the outcome has all become the same stepwise degradation of our people, and … our way of life.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Two things are in order this morning. First, I have an ancestor born in the Salt Lake Valley in 1837 to a Scotsman by the name of Moss and an unnamed Indian woman. I’m hoping I can determine she was a member of the Western Shoshone Tribe and a bridge to the Te-Moak Band. Second, I am thinking a change of our ranch’s name from Butterfield Trail Ranch to Jackass Mail Trail Ranch makes mucho sense!”