Luther Wallace "Wally" Klump recently marked his 70th birthday. He could not celebrate his threescore and ten on the family ranch in Arizona with his wife, and children and grand children. The old rancher turned 70 in a penitentiary cell with only convicts to commemorate the juncture.
Klump was not in prison for murder, rape, drugs or any of the common offenses against society. His offense was one that astounded the most hardened and cynical of the criminals in the penal complex where he is housed. Klump's "crime" boiled down to "trespassing" cows on Bureau of Land Management property in Arizona's Dos Cabezas Mountains. His fellow inmates understood why Wally was serving time. For his birthday, they made a card with a picture of a grazing cow and a bold caption "BLM Sucks!"
The rawhide tough, tall old rancher has become a father figure and prison Parson to many of the young detainees. As an inmate said in a phone interview, "I thank God for saving me, and having Wally here to guide me to a better life...."
Wally rates respect with the prisoners because of his steadfast refusal to bow to what he believes is "an unreasonable authority." In this case, Federal Judge John M. Roll, U.S. District Court, Tucson, who jailed Klump April 21, 2003, for contempt of court for "failing to follow the Court's order prohibiting the unauthorized grazing of cattle on government allotments." It is common knowledge with his fellow inmates that he can get out of jail at anytime, by simply by having his family remove the "criminal cows" from BLM lands in the Dos Cabezas area.
But on this point, Klump will not budge.
He is firmly convinced that the BLM lands belong to the family, not to the Bureau of Land Management. Indeed, his kin were running cattle in the Dos Cabezas long before the Bureau existed.
The Klump roots are deep in Arizona's ranching history. In 1904, Wally's grandfather and grandmother, John and Ruthie Klump, and their children, left the Black Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico to drive their homestead stakes into the Cimmerian earth of the Dos Cabezas, between the high, scorching Chihuahuan, and even hotter Sonoran Desert. Wally's father, John Sherman staked his own homestead claim there, at age fourteen.
The homestead was near the tough Cochise County, Dos Cabezas mining camp. Copper, lead, silver and gold mines, were pouring steady streams of wealth from the earth, and the population hovered around 3,000 including the notable Big-Nose Kate, brothel madam, and Doc Holliday's woman.
The Klump family labored, prospered and grew. John Sherman married Delia Ellen. They built a four-room house and worked rough years raising livestock and hay in the dancing mirages and simmering heat. As their hard-earned successes grew, they began accumulating springs, water rights, and private land. In 1934, after Congress passed The Taylor Grazing Act, John met with the U.S. Grazing Service (BLM predecessor) and surveyed his allotments.
John and Delia had seven children, including Wally, and nurtured them as the strong, resilient citizens that survival in the harsh environment demanded. In 1967, John was covered in the sweet earth that he so loved. Delia followed in '73.
In the large part, the sizeable clan that began with John and Ruthie, continued living on the land, and running their cattle in the desert flat and high in the mountains. Thirty-four brands registered to the Klumps attest to their time on the range.
"Life was good, until about the late 80s or early 90s," observes Wally's kid brother, Wayne, as he surveys a seemingly endless vista from their hunting cabin perched high on a bolder-strewn bench in the Dos Cabezas Mountains. "That's when we began having trouble with the BLM. I think it all started because we closed access to their land across our private property." He gestures to a jumble of arroyos and gulches below. "Some of our lands are patented mining claims with equipment like mining carts and such still on them. The public began vandalizing the old mines and stealing stuff, so we shut 'er down, and that caused a real stir 'cause it also blocked the BLM from coming in."
Wayne is a lean ropy man who seems to thrive on beef, bread, water and sixteen-hour workdays. He is equally sparse in his speech, that usually revolves around cows, grass, water, his children and the BLM. He launched a mind-numbing narrative of the family's troubles with that agency, including the imposition of impossible regulations on their grazing allotments, entrapment by U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service undercover agents, fenced-off water, water grabs, and more.
He noted that at one point, BLM required them to ear-tag all their livestock on pubic lands. "That didn't work!" he said. "Look around you. Our cows browse on mountain mahogany, (a stiff -limbed brushy plant) that pulled the tags out, and still they charged us with trespass. We tried to comply, but it didn't work. No matter, three trespasses, and you lose your allotment."
Wayne sips tepid water from a well-used plastic gallon jug and continues, "We have gone to court with them. We didn't have the funds for lawyers, so we acted in our own behalf, trying to save our water and grazing rights. We lost, and Wally filed suit charging that the BLM took his ranch and water rights. He lost of course." He pauses again to watch the sun set into distant peaks, and then in a flat voice tinged with misery said, "A poor rancher can't win against the kind of money the government has. All of this is what led up to Wally being in prison."
Wally's ranch lies several miles of rough dirt road from his brother's place. With Wally in prison, the work on the ranch continues unabated. Wally's son Levi drives the two hours from his spread in New Mexico when he can spare time, but much of the constant work on his ranch has fallen on Wayne and his children.
It is well before dawn, in the welcome cool of morning, when Wayne, eleven-year-old Reba, and Nicki, sixteen, are hooking up the gooseneck trailer to haul hay to Wally's outfit. Nicki is seasoned at hauling long trailers through the winding mountain roads and down Interstate 10. She chauffeurs her rig with a sure hand, to a local hay farm where her brother, Matt and cousin Levi, are already loading. By nine o'clock, the whole family is bucking tons of hay into Wally's barn. By noon, the temperature inside the metal building is well over a hundred degrees. Wally's grandchildren, Logan, five, and Heather, three, happily play in a pile of bale ties with occasion attention from Reba.
An entry in Nicki's diary describes Logan's concern for his grandpa. "Logan was quietly riding in his car seat while we were hauling hay for our families. His father, Levi, and I were talking about Wally, and how he was in jail for illegally running cattle on BLM land. Suddenly, Logan piped up, "When is grandpa going to come home?" I turned in my seat to see a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy looking crushed and confused. I looked at Levi as he told Logan he didn't know how long it would be. Logan began to shoot off more questions about his "missing" grandpa. "Why won't they let him go." "Must have been bad cops that took him. " The last thing Logan said, made me choke up. "I miss grandpa." With that, nothing else was said about Wally." I later learned that it wasn't the first time Logan had asked about "Grandpa." Sadly, I have to say, it won't be the last."
The BLM office that controls the Klump allotments at Safford, Arizona, was reserved about speaking on Wally's situation. Assistant Manager, Wayne King, a large man with a yellowing grey beard, longish hair and soft hands, when interviewed on Klump's imprisonment said, "We tried several things that didn't work, so we had to try something else."
The brief interview with King and Public Affairs Specialist, Diane Drobka, produced four aerial photos that BLM contends show that the Klumps rolled back their fence to allow their cattle onto federal lands. The interview also produced inexact, and disturbing dialogue.
Walley: (Admittedly in the interrogation mode.) "You put Wally in prison, seized his bank account, and ordered his bank to address the issue of improperly releasing the contents of his safe deposit box. What are you going to do with his ranch, seize it?"
King: (leaning forward in his seat) "Well... well we are in court, and we really can't talk about this. But there have been a lot of (land) titles swapped around in the family.... "
Walley: "I hear reports that Wally Klump has made threats against BLM personnel. To your knowledge, has he ever directly threatened you, or your employees?"
King: "He has never threatened me... but there are stories that he has...."
A subsequent background check on Wally in Cochise County, and a conversation with the undersheriff, produced no official record of threats. However, he did run an advertisement in the Wilcox, Arizona, Range News, stating that continued harassment by the BLM would warrant: "Exercising Second Amendment rights." Additionally, attendees at an Arizona-New Mexico Coalition of Counties meeting report that Wally publicly stated it was time to "start shootin' BLM agents," (or words to that effect)'
These moves lost Klump the popular support of some-- certainly not all-- of the ranching community. His across-the-mountain neighbors, Pete and Carol Brunner, believe that the continuous BLM pressure pushed him over the line. "He is a good man, and a good neighbor," said Pete. "The constant harassment by BLM made him say things that he really didn't mean. "
New Mexico rancher Welda McKinley Grider staunchly remained one of Wally's supporters. In an e-mail to the New Mexico Cowbelles, she wrote, "This screams in the face of the recent victory of Hage vs. U.S. Wally is so strong in his belief, that I think he knew something like this (going to jail) was going to happen. I think he was prepared for it. He surely is a lot stronger than I," Welda also wrote: "In past times, the government has been able to pick us off one at a time. Those times are gone. Ranchers and concerned agriculture people are no longer willing to watch silently, while one of us goes under."
Has Wally failed the law, or has the law failed Wally? Unlike the hardened felons he is in prison with, he was denied a court-appointed attorney. The fines levied against him for illegal grazing exceed $300,000, and continue to climb by about $5,000 each day. The Department of Justice has seized his bank account, and likely will take his home. Wally's wife, Charlene, worries that the feds will take her personal assets, because of Arizona's common property law.
Wally remains in the penitentiary unrepentant, defiant, and in protest. From his cell, he states, "I am seventy years old, and in good health. I reckon that I will live to be ninety. My cows will stay on the land, and I will stay in prison until my property rights are restored, and the United States agrees to stop forcefully taking any more of my property."
In a recent handwritten letter to President Bush, the old cowboy spells out his beliefs and problems. "I am in prison because of my determination to protect my freedom. My formula for freedom is, private property rights for the person who is doing the work on the land. For over ten years, I have been in every court in the land trying to protect my property rights against the U.S. government, but the BLM is too big, and I have always lost. In your world quest for freedom, please start with, or at least include, America. Please give me a deed to the surface rights of this land. "
In writing this story, I applied for and received somewhat grudging permission from the Federal Marshal's office in Tucson to interview Wally Klump at the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence, Arizona. I was not allowed to interview Klump in private. The Marshal's office directed that the interview had to be conducted with prison official present.
Klump was dressed for the interview in standard prisoners' attire-- a bright yellow, short-sleeved jump suit. He is a tall rangy man, with no spare fat on his frame. Even in the inmate's uniform, he walked in proud, determined, and unbowed.
His rancher tan had faded after two months imprisonment, and his hands had gone soft. I wondered how a man who had spent his life outside under big skies adapted to confines of prison.
He didn't whimper about his problems, and had no complaints about how he was treated. His sole gripe was that "The Government is stealing my land, water, and my rights." Klump says that he fully intends to say in lock-up, until he gets them back.
His son, Levi Klump, reckons that his father is "doing time" for a larger cause. "He's not doing this for himself, he's doing it for everyone else who is in the same predicament, or rapidly falling into it."
Wally asked only one thing of me. He said that he "would really like to hear from folks on the "outside."
Write him at: Luther W. Klump #92358-008 C.C.A.-C.A.D.C. P.O. 6300 Florence, AZ 85232 (letters only, no packages allowed).