Monday, October 12, 2020

Gila Defense

Lessons Learned

The Numbers

Gila Defense

By Stephen L. Wilmeth


            The final blow was the graffiti that appeared on one of the outbuildings.

            It appeared overnight on one of the vacant outbuildings on the frontage road off the interstate. The appearance of it was unlike the rest of the stuff that has appeared over time. Most of that is probably more gang related at least that is what folks say that should know such things. I-10 and its proximity to the Mexican border to our south has long been an obvious feature of the cartel operations. Any vacant structures seem to attract problems, and these have had their day. We decided we were not going to offer a continuing temptation or a magnet for more nefarious activity.

            We fired the Komatsu up with the intention to begin demolition.

            The silver, green, and black design of the new design, however, was quite intricate. A lot of effort had been expended. The amount of paint used had to have been expensive and that was mentioned to a fellow who was once a citizen liaison with the city of Las Cruces in their program to rid the town of the same stuff. When the mention of gangs and tagging was brought up, he suggested such intricate work may not be gang related. It seems that there are people who have made such artwork their avocation.

It is their hobby, an endless empty canvas, to deface property that doesn’t belong to them.

Lessons Learned

            It would have been my grandmothers that would have been most upset with such willful destruction of property. They were both curators of the civilized confines of our surroundings. Refinement, to the extent it existed, came through their influences. Formal manners were taught and enforced by them. In many ways, they were the gate keepers into our world. Houses, their domain, were the obvious entry points.  Friends, relationships, and the ties of family were closely tied to those homes.

It was the men that created the physical world in which we lived. That world was ruled by outcomes and conclusions. Feelings had little to do with anything. We were taught to suck it up and get it done. Under the guidance and influences of that extended paternal world, we either learned the routine, became intwined and loved it with devotion, or eventually left it all. Honesty and work ethic were the expected outcomes.

The combination created a hierarchy of permanent and clear standards.

Regardless of size or grandeur, our property was our domain and those that were not were respected and generally left alone. Certainly, there were outlaws and ne’er-do-wells that broke those rules, but they were exceptions and allowable customs and societal latitude worked to fix problems without total reliance on authorities.

If somebody was stupid, they were going to be treated as such.

There was acceptable behavior and tolerance, and then there were points of nonreturn. There were few societal lifelines, and there was deep and … color blind respect for individuals who held up their end of the bargain.

That is clearly missing in the world we now live.

The Numbers

Civility without any form of real correction seems always to lead to chaos.

Most of us who make our living in the country have long given up on calling the authorities on most things. Experience with theft, for example, just doesn’t result in resolution. If we lose something, it is gone. Unfortunately, that isn’t just a roll of wire, copper floats, or a chain saw. In recent years, our rural community would be hard pressed to come up with a single example of solving a cattle theft incident.

That is why calling somebody over a matter of graffiti would be a waste of time, and we all know it.

Taken as a whole, these kinds of incidents are so chronic they should be categorized as low-level crime. The real crime is what has happened to our basic rights and our inability to affect any further erosion of them.

In recent days, the matter of the effort to designate the Gila River as wild and scenic has been front and center. The clarion cry from the politicos and their operators has kept the issue as one of moral and ethical commitment.

Save the River!

In one recent conservation district meeting miles from ground zero, the attempt was made to gain regional support for the effort by trotting out a citizen who feels so much better by just knowing the river will be saved for future generations. It seems that fellow occasionally visits the Gila and his soul and his inner being is recharged by the experience. His presentation was a recapitulation of the practice of minimizing the outcry from the local citizenry who actually face the federal assault on their property rights.

It’s a standard practice. It’s their standard communal practice.

The locals are characterized as if they just don’t understand the safeguards that the purveyors and agents of the action have taken and written into the pending legislation. They really don’t understand the greater picture. They are incapable of seeing the future value of the effort. Further, the basic point of arbitrage, this fellow’s recharged soul, is elevated into a position as being on par with the rights of the locals affected.


The truth is the historical Gila community has been taken advantage of to the point they are essentially defenseless. They don’t have the numbers to defend themselves, and their basic rights have been eroded to the point they can’t fight in any form of civilized standards to defend what they have left.

In a nutshell, what they face is the same as all outnumbered rural residents. It is a masterful manipulation of our patience.

It is a shortcoming of failed leadership of a system that too few have ever understood.


Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “There are brushes, paints, palettes, and empty canvases that don’t belong to everybody.”


Why should we be concerned by the erosion of property rights?

From the paper Property Rights in American History by James Ely, Jr., Vanderbilt University:

First, stable property rights are a powerful inducement for the creation of wealth and prosperity, prerequisites for successful self-government. Conversely, as the English politician and author Edmund Burke declared:” A law against property is a law against industry.” John Marshall agreed that protection of property and contractual rights was crucial for economic growth. Speaking at the Virginia ratifying convention, he insisted that weak government under the Articles of Confederation “takes away the incitements to industry, by rendering property insecure and unprotected.” In short, as a leading scholar had stressed, “Marshall was convinced that strong protection for property and investment capital would promote national prosperity.” The resulting market economy would increase national wealth and benefit all citizens with increased goods.

Second, property rights have long been linked with individual liberty. “Property must be secured,” John Adams succinctly observed in 1790, “or liberty cannot exist.” An economic system grounded on respect for private ownership tends to diffuse power and to strengthen individual autonomy from government. Property was therefore traditionally seen as a safeguard of liberty because it set limits on the reach of legitimate government. By helping to preserve the economic independence of individuals, secure private property encourages participation in the political process and willingness to challenge governmental policy. Viewed in this light, the ownership of property represents personal empowerment. As one prominent historian described American society as it neared the break with England, “Men were equal in that no one of them should be dependent on the will of another, and property made this independence possible. Americans in 1776 therefore concluded that they were naturally fit for republicanism precisely because they were ‘a people of property; almost every man is a freeholder’.”

In contrast, there are few examples of free societies that do not respect the rights of property owners. One could persuasively maintain that without guarantee of property rights the enjoyment of other individual liberties, such as freedom of speech, would be meaningless. Put simply, the absence of a system of private property renders self-government unlikely. As Justice Joseph Story explained in 1829: “That government can scarcely be called free, where the rights of property are left solely dependent upon the will of a legislative body. The fundamental maximums of a free government seem to require, that the rights of personal liberty and private property should be held sacred.”

Further reading:

---Frank DuBois

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