Klump Country Blues

A Southern Arizona family faces off with the feds over land-use rights and the role of government

A scrappy little breeze careens through the Dos Cabezas Pioneer Cemetery, setting tufts of grass dancing among the cock-eyed grave stones. Amid this rambunctious parley of wind, spirit and bone, John and Delia Klump share eternal views east to the Dos Cabezas Mountains and south to the sunburned flats of Sulphur Springs Valley.

Strong, lanky and tough, John Sherman Klump arrived in these hills before statehood, before the Endangered Species Act, before such things as tree-huggers, trail joggers and grazing fees. It was rough-and-tumble country back then; lovely country, a land where hard-working folks could live simple and free.

Klump spent his early manhood riding the range, raising kids and dispensing meager family funds in Willcox saloons. When his first wife hit the road, he cleaned up his act, got hitched to pretty Delia and settled into respectable child-rearing. Before many years had passed, his prodigious progeny would total six boys and a girl. In turn, these youngsters would grow into pillars of ranching power, their combined holdings nearing 300,000 acres of range land stretched across southeastern Arizona and New Mexico.

In recent years, some Klumps would also make a name for themselves as rural rebels, spending much of their time fighting for a cause that city folks--and some of their own colleagues--find awfully far-fetched.

Still, these are merely temporal matters. Here on this peaceful hillside, the winds of change no longer afflict John and Delia Klump. They are tenacious, backcountry breezes, and that is all.

Up the road in downtown Tucson, one of those six sons, Luther Wallace "Wally" Klump, sits upright as Federal District Judge John Roll strides into the courtroom one day earlier this month. Even after a year in prison, Wally is a deeply etched, rustic figure. He's here because, in the end, he was forced to bend.

Out in the hall, Wally's son, Levi, a compact and studious man, is worried.

"Obviously, prison has really taken a toll on Dad," he says. "He has really deteriorated."

A month earlier, Wally Klump was still full of spit and vinegar, still defying Roll's order to pull his 28 cows from the Simmons Peak Allotment, a U. S. Bureau of Land Management property near Willcox to which Klump holds no realistic claim. During his year in jail for contempt, Wally became a minor celebrity (and BLM public relations headache), garnering a story in The New York Times, a "Free Wally!" Web site and a grim following among angry ranchers dotting the West.

But the BLM stuck to its guns.

"For us, it's simply a matter of enforcing the rules," says Diane Drobka, spokeswoman for the agency's Safford office, which oversees several Klump grazing allotments. "Mr. Klump held his fate in his own hands the whole time."

Cardiac murmurs, however, can give a 71-year-old man far from his family a change of heart. One morning in early May, Wally awoke feeling odd. In federal court, he appears silent and gaunt. His attorney, Heather Williams, rises to explain that her client will finally comply, and remove his cattle from Simmons Peak.

But that's not the court's only gripe against Wally. Roll is also displeased with the defendant's repeated threats to plug any government official who attempted to move his cows. Fortunately, this matter also seems headed for resolution. Klump "submitted a letter last week renouncing his Second Amendment rights," says Williams, adding that Wally only mentioned his gun rights in Willcox newspaper ads "out of frustration at the situation he and his family is in. He doesn't plan to ever hurt anybody over a cow."

Williams pauses, glancing down at Wally.

"I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Klump, for speaking up against injustice," she says. "We may not always agree with him, but people like him are why our country exists."

Jennifer Guerin, chief assistant U.S. attorney, stands to say she won't object to Klump's release. But she notes that his pacifism is rather fresh, considering that he'd issued more dark warnings just days earlier to a reporter from The New York Times.

"This was a very explicit threat to us," Guerin says, and Roll agrees, calling Wally's "very intemperate statements" the "seminal feature of this case." Nonetheless, Roll will grant Klump his freedom, contingent on a status report in five weeks that confirms the Simmons Peak cattle have found other accommodations.

Wally Klump stands slowly, and handcuffs are slipped from his wrists. Later, Williams calls it "the best Mother's Day gift" she could receive. "Obviously," she says, "I don't think he should have been there in the first place."

And, in the end, it's hard to gauge what his sacrificed accomplished. After a year in the slammer, Wally Klump is now just an ailing old man, and one too-long removed from the wily Dos Cabezas.

"The Second Amendment is my ace, and they know it's my ace. The founding fathers gave the individual a gun to fight the tyranny of the government. What's that mean? The bearer can kill someone in government if the reason is justified. But it's never been tested. I told them, you take those cows, I'll kill you as mandated by the Second Amendment." --Wally Klump, in federal prison, as reported in The New York Times, May 9, 2004.

By and large, the Klumps never cared much for the federal government, or its habit of enforcing grazing laws on public lands. But the family didn't actively provoke the feds until the late 1980s, when brothers Wally and Wayne began sporadically locking access roads to public property.

Feuding heated up in the early 1990s, when Wally and the BLM tangled over a parcel called the Badger Den Allotment. Wally repeatedly ignored permit requirements, and finally the BLM ordered that he remove his cattle. He appealed all the way to the Ninth Circuit Court, losing every time. According to an agency report, "Mr. Klump's public lands grazing permit was cancelled by the BLM for one basic reason: his continuing failure to follow the terms and conditions of his grazing permit."

Again, the BLM "requested that Mr. Klump remove his trespass livestock from public lands," according to the agency release. Again, Wally refused. When he then "claimed that he owned the public lands because he had worked on them," the BLM filed a Notice of Intent to Impound his cattle, and hauled them off for sale.

Meanwhile, Wayne had lost his grazing privileges on the Simmons Peak Allotment.

"I had a permit," he explains, "but my cattle kept losing their ear tags in the brush. Then the BLM went up there three times, kept on seeing cattle without tags, and yanked the permit through no fault of our own. This was at the same time they were claiming our water rights on the property."

Eventually, a judge in Tucson ordered Wayne to pull his cattle or face a $200 per-animal fine for each day they remained.

"This was the early 1990s," Wayne says, "and a cow was only worth $200. The whole thing was kind of nuts."

Adding fuel the fire, the Klump brothers decided on another option: They'd move Wayne's cattle from Simmons Peak and replace them with Wally's small herd. As a result, Wally's cows were once again trespassing on federal land.

The two contentious allotments--Badger Den and Simmons Peak--total 52,957 acres. Of that acreage, only 2,110 is private land owned by the Klumps. To date, Wally Klump has never had legal grazing privileges on Simmons Peak.

Finally, the frustrated BLM filed a civil complaint against Wally over his Simmons Peak cattle, and on July 31, 2002, Judge John Roll ordered the herd removed. Wally refused, and by April 21, 2003, he was on his way to a prison in Florence.

And that's where he sat on principle, until he was released earlier this month after agreeing to have Wayne pull the cows from Simmons Peak.

Heading east from Tucson, the boulder-strewn Dragoon Mountains offer the first broad vistas of Klump country. It is a gnarled land, spare and lean, a place where city scents are soon replaced by the acrid smell of creosote, and pavement pierces the scruffy horizon with a shimmering rigor mortis.

Rolling down the long, hard hill into Willcox, the commerce of cattle is still visible--rail yards and stock trucks and feed stores.

Just a handful of miles from Willcox--a few weeks before Wally's liberation--Wayne Klump stands in the shadow of his parent's old house. His own home rises just a few yards away. A boxy two-story in faded yellow, it overlooks a broad, pleasant meadow accented by grassy knobs and a hulking piece of antique mining equipment. On the meadow's far side, a squat, frontier cabin peeks from a grove of trees.

Tall, wiry and cowboy-polite, with a wide smile and brushy mustache, Wayne Klump could have just ridden in from some old John Ford movie set. Still, the youngest son of John and Delia isn't entirely a man of the 19th century as some claim: At the moment, he's simultaneously tugging an ATV from his garage and pointing out his solar-power system on the roof. Nor is he immune to checking his cell phone from time to time.

But he does hanker for the days when the government left folks like him alone.

"When my dad came here, it was all public domain, open range," he says. "You ran your cattle anywhere you wanted to."

Setting one's personal boundaries was easier, too.

"My dad drew lines around the property," Wayne says, "and this guy from the Department of the Interior came out there. My dad showed him his water rights, and so the guy says, 'OK, we'll draw lines around it, and this land is your allotment.' And everything was fine."

Better than fine, actually: By the 1940s, John Klump had moved his family a few miles east of Willcox to tiny Bowie, and began sinking every extra cent into buying more and more property.

"My dad was a cowboy," Wayne says. "And he was a little cowboy, in the business sense. But he was a hard worker, putting in long days.

"We weren't rich by any means. But while a lot of people spent all their money on a nice house and a fancy car, we didn't. We lived really cheap, and saved our money to buy another piece of land."

He squints up at the sun, and points to his folks' onetime home, now vacant-eyed and crumbling in spots.

"That's the house I grew up in," he says. "It was kind of tough. For a long time, we had to carry in our water. We had an outhouse and no electricity. But we had plenty to eat, and we were loved."

Wayne fires up the ATV, and a few bumpy minutes later, he stops and stills the machine, just down the hill from a few contentious Simmons Peak cows. The black-faced cattle raise their heads nonchalantly, and go back to nibbling desert scrub. Wayne steps along the path, and points out a thick, black line running down the slope, from a natural spring into a tidy stock pond.

Among his greatest fears, he says, is that the feds will maneuver the family out of their long-held water rights around Simmons Peak. Without water, this land would be useless to a Klump.

But his feelings reach beyond the purely practical, to settle in the primal pastures of memory.

"Listen, when I was growing up, we'd come up here with my dad and work on the spring," he says quietly. "We took pride in building the fences and doing a good job. A lot of kids these days live in the cities. They don't have an opportunity to be outdoors, and work like we did. And that's too bad."

"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 eleven western states. It's Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management bureaucrats sharply curtailing grazing permits to broaden their regulatory powers ...

"Today's range war is for control of our nation's greatest storehouse of natural resource wealth--the federal lands." --from Storm Over Rangelands, by Wayne Hage

To embittered ranchers, Wayne Hage is a revered hero capable of battling the feds to a draw. And he just may win his current fight in a Reno, Nev., courthouse. For Hage, a powerful cattleman married to a former congresswoman, the Reno showdown is only the latest skirmish in an ongoing war with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service over grazing, water and property rights.

Like the Klumps, Hage's fight was sparked in the '80s, when he was forced to reduce the number of his cattle grazing on Forest Service land. He fought back, and detailed his struggle in the 1989 tome of rebellion, Storm Over the Rangelands.

During the Reno trial, which started in early May, ranching families from South Dakota to New Mexico arrived to show support for Hage's basic philosophy: that many of them hold private property rights on federal land. Through grazing restrictions, he argues, the government deprives ranchers of income, and owes them compensation.

"What we're talking about here," he told The Associated Press in Reno, "is how the government--working with the environmentalists--took the property from me. This ruling could have a dramatic impact on Western states' rights and the proper jurisdiction of federal lands in the West. It's the first time in nearly a century that someone has effectively challenged the government over who owns the range rights and water rights out here on these federal lands."

To be sure, Hage's position is the same old "takings" bluster regularly bandied about by property rights zealots--but with a twist: Hage holds that such grazing restrictions squelch the "preexisting rights" of Western ranchers to range land, rights that predate the establishment of forest preserves in the 19th century.

Not surprisingly, Wayne and Wally Klump are pretty fond of Hage and his ideas.

"He has a ranch in Nevada, and the Forest Service and BLM took his cows and sold them," Wayne says. "But he didn't go to federal district court--he went straight to federal claims court."

Wayne narrows his eyes.

"And here's the deal," he says. "Hage didn't argue with the feds about whether they had the right to come and take his cows. He says, 'You're the government; you're bigger than I am. You have the right to take them. But pay me for them.'"

That notion raises a grin.

"Heck, I might just go up there to Reno," Wayne says. "It's going to be a month-long trial, and it's going to determine how much the government owes him and what his rights are."

While he wishes the same principle could help himself and Wally, "The hell of it," he says, "is that we've already gone to court and lost."

But others say ranchers shouldn't pin much hope on Hage's crusade. Among them is Debra Donahue, a University of Wyoming law professor and author of The Western Range Revisited: Removing Livestock From Public Lands to Conserve Native Biodiversity. Published in 1999, her book raised such a ruckus that Wyoming's senate president threatened to gut the state law college in revenge.

But Donahue didn't blink. She says federal laws "are absolutely clear that a grazing permit confers no right, title, or interest in public lands. And no one can acquire a right against the government by long-time use of government land unless the government so provides, as it did in some 'preemption' acts in favor of squatters in the 19th century."

Further, she doesn't believe there's much public support for the posturing of Wayne Hage and the Klumps.

"People like the Klumps will attract some sympathy," she says, "but only among those uninformed about the law and about the ecological impacts of grazing."

Some suggest that radical ranchers are simply grasping at straws.

"They're an anachronism," says Rod Mondt, a longtime Tucson environmental activist who's rubbed shoulders with the Klumps. "They're living in a world that doesn't exist anymore, and they're fearful of the world around them that's changing so fast. And in many cases, they don't have any other choices. They have everything sunk into their ranches. So that fear of change is magnified by (the fear) that they're losing control."

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." --Kris Kristofferson

It's late March, a little more than a month before Wally will leave the pokey, and the jailhouse phone is quite scratchy. But even lousy connections can't diminish a defiant Klump.

To Wally, his cattle are four-legged symbols of freedom. And that's why he's locked up. "I thought this was probably the most important thing I would do in my life," he says.

His rationale for incarceration is simple: The government doesn't own Simmons Peak. For the old cowboy with little left to lose, everything's at stake. This prompts a bit of philosophizing.

"For example," he says, "we have a formula for water. But a thing as important as freedom, we don't have any formula for. The best that most people come up with for freedom is private property.

"When private property is owned only by the rich guy, though, that's no longer freedom for the people working for him--the working guy is a slave to the rich guy. What I come up with is this: Private property should be owned by the guy who does the work on it. That's my formula for liberty and freedom."

It's an interesting concept. But even more interesting to many folks who know the Klumps is just how far Wally will go to achieve it. This question helps explain why his cattle remained illegally on Simmons Peak for so long.

Recalls Jennifer Guerin, the U.S. attorney: "Once, his son told me, 'You know, we're not bad people.' And I said, 'OK, you say you're not bad, that you're not dangerous. But then you make these kind of threats to hurt people. How can you say that's not bad?'"

Guerin also discussed the threats with Wally. "And he told me, 'Oh no, don't get me wrong. We're not saying we're going to kill people. We're saying we're going to kill government employees.'

"They had made it very clear that if the BLM or the court interfered (with their cattle), that they would take action against it," she says. "So why should (federal agents) go out there armed, and risk their lives and the lives of the Klumps, to remove them? I mean, who wants a Ruby Ridge over cattle?"

Some of the Klumps have proven quite capable of raising hell. For example, rumors regarding a nephew of Wayne's and Wally's flew throughout Cochise County in the 1980s. John L. Klump reportedly spent 10 days tracking an endangered jaguar, and then paraded his kill through Willcox on the hood of his truck. Perhaps speaking to family influence, the case wasn't prosecuted for years. It wasn't until 1993 that he and a buddy were lured to Albuquerque, where they were nabbed for attempting to sell the now-mounted jaguar and two dead ocelots to undercover officers.

In 1997, Cochise County Sheriff's deputies had a flurry of run-ins with Wayne and his son, Matt. This time, the two Klumps were accused of trying to confiscate a deer shot by hunters near their property. Matt Klump was later indicted for aggravated assault, for allegedly pointing a handgun at the pair.

All of this adds up to a habit of intimidation, says Rod Mondt. "I think people are afraid of them. They handle things in what they perceive as the Old West tradition--through intimidation."

At the same time, BLM spokeswoman Diane Drobka says the Klumps reinforce negative public attitudes about ranching, and make life harder for the "99.9 percent of ranchers who are complying with the rules. And I think a lot of ranchers are becoming concerned about that."

Her point is echoed by Doc Lane, director of natural resources for the Arizona Cattle Growers Association.

"It rubs off in a lot of different ways," especially in the court of public opinion, he says. "The public sees these lands as recreational. But for the ranchers, it's their livelihood, and that makes it very personal. We don't condone what they've done--it's hard to imagine someone getting so frustrated that they snap like that. Still, it's a tough deal."

"In many places where grazing is practiced, the land's colors and contours are not bright and distinctive enough to attract the interest of the urban tourist. Such places are known to the cowhands and sheepherders who ride them, known intimately and loved or hated. The land for them is not an abstract or an ideal quantity, something to be discussed at leisure in conference and meeting. If the Western landscape is a resource, so is this sort of practical grasp. --C.L. Rawlins

"You know, Wally says the Lord is guiding him," Wayne says. "And it could be, because a lot of the prisoners up there in Florence say he's bringing them to God."

It's about a month before Wally's release, a cheery, crystalline blue day beneath Simmons Peak. Wayne's mood darkens, and his boot nudges a chunk of dirt.

"A couple of years ago, Wally and I even flew back east to visit Sen. John McCain," he says. "We didn't have an appointment, and (it) turned out we didn't see him. But while we were waiting, a Japanese businessman went right on in with a suitcase under his arm. And he probably gave John McCain a suitcase full of money, I don't know."

This is the heart of cattle country's problems, he says.

"OK, the country wants these ranchers off the public lands. But why? Because whenever foreigners foreclose on the national debt, they want the land. And our government? Hell, they've got the tools to take it, with the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, clean water rules. And the feds are already claiming water rights on our property.

"I don't know who the big players are, but there's a lot of shit going on, and you and me, we're just peons."

But peons with a view: His tone softens, as he glances at Wally's cattle, grazing on disputed ground. Wayne clears his throat. "My wife left me eight or nine years ago," he says, reluctantly. "I don't know if it was me or the fight with the government, or a combination of things. But you know, it just wore on her. She said she couldn't hack it anymore.

"Anyway, she left and took the kids with her. It was the dead of winter, and I was lower'n quail shit. But then I started coming up here, and it was like coming home. I'd come up and pray and get closer to God. It's like a sacred thing, all those days and nights alone, just me and God and the land."

He pauses, then gazes at the Dos Cabezas tumbling southward--a belligerent birthright. "You know," he says quietly, "I feel this land is more mine than anyone else's."

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment

Tucson Weekly

Best of Tucson Weekly

Tucson Weekly