Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

April 29, 2014

LION AND THE LAMB: Discouraging words from the west

CROSSVILLE — In the early 1870s Dr. Brewster M. Higley wrote “Home on the Range,” a poem that quickly spread across the United States. Set to music by a friend of his, Daniel E. Kelley, the song became a popular one for various groups. Many have considered it the unofficial anthem of the American West and in 1947 Kansas adopted it as its state song. 

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,

Where the deer and the antelope play;

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

And the sky is not cloudy all day
.

In these days, however, its words about the lack of discouraging words in the West no longer seem to fit. For several decades there has been open conflict taking place on the western range over livestock grazing on federal lands. The federal rangelands in Nevada are managed principally by the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. The BLM manages some 167 million acres of publicly-owned rangeland, and the Forest Service, about 95 million acres. Ranchers have now been given access to this land: they may either lease or obtain permits to use portions of it and pay a fee based on the number and type of livestock and the period for which they are on the land. Some 20,000 ranchers in Western states are taking advantage of this and abide by the BLM regulations.

At the center of this controversy is Cliven Bundy. The Bundy family owns a 160-acre farm near Bunkerville, Nevada, which it bought in 1948 and which serves as headquarters and base property for the family’s ranching operation on nearby public domain lands. Although the Bundy family paid the lease fees for some 20 years, Cliven Bundy has refused to pay these fees in recent years, claiming that the land belongs to the state of Nevada and not to the federal government. This standoff resulted in a court case in which the federal government was awarded trespass damages amounting to $200 per day per head for any livestock belonging to Bundy, which he refused to pay. Bundy has since accumulated over $1 million of unpaid grazing fees and court-ordered fines.

Then earlier this year the federal government tried rounding up the trespass cattle owned by Bundy and found 908 head of cattle scattered across 1,200 square miles of remote mountains and desert. It gave up this plan, however, when armed militia groups from around the West arrived to give Bundy support, and bloodshed seemed imminent.

Bundy’s views on the federal government are one of the major disturbing words to roil the calm on our nation’s western range these days. Wikipedia describes the matter as follows: “Bundy does not recognize and will not submit to federal power, claiming that he does not recognize or obey federal laws and denying the legitimacy of the federal government: ‘I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada. And I abide by all Nevada state laws. But I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.’ 

“Bundy also denies the legitimacy of the federal court system, and filed a motion to dismiss the BLM legal case by claiming the federal courts have no jurisdiction because he is a citizen of Nevada. Bundy also believes that that federally-owned grazing land in Nevada belongs only to Nevada. Bundy’s arguments have been repeatedly rejected by federal courts.”

A second set of discouraging words from Bundy relate to racist comments he has made that have caused a mass exodus of former supporters such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Sean Hannity. A story in a recent New York Times quoted Bundy: “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro...there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch—they have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Answers to these questions by Cliven Bundy are readily available. All he would have to do would be to read Solomon Northup’s book, “Twelve Years a Slave,” or see the film.

We’re living in a time when there are many disturbing words from other parts of our nation as well as from its western range. It’s all part of what it means to be at home in the world.

• • •

This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice.  Opinions expressed in “Lion and Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff.  For more information, contact Ted Braun, column coordinator, at 277-5135.

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