Solitude, Industry and Lonely Work
Those who work and take care of animals (cattle, horses and sheep) on family owned ranches in the Western United States often do so outdoors alone and many miles from home in the worst weather. This environment cultivates introspection and individualism. These owner operators and their family members are industrious and dedicated. They routinely take a task that many would assume would require multiple people to accomplish and complete it alone. As they look around at the beauty surrounding them and the many animals that are dependent upon them — the paranoia of solitude begins to build in their souls and they tell themselves that they, and their brothers, are the only ones in the world that are really doing anything, and that what they do makes everyone and everything else seem silly in comparison. I know first hand of letting this paranoia build within me during the years that I spent on my family livestock and crop operation. I heard these very words back in the ‘70s from a university educated gentleman dairy farmer from England - “ . . . makes everything else seem silly . . . “.
I no longer have these feelings in my heart and soul because I left the family farm at mid life and moved on to the small business world and then into educational technology consulting and then to writing in retirement — I am now paranoid about other things. I hold deep respect for my brother, nephew and son who continue family farm operations.
My Cowboy Friends
I detect these same feelings in my conversations with my well educated (and law abiding) grazer friends on the high plains. One posted a daily journal entry several pages long describing what he had accomplished alone on horseback the previous day and it brought back old memories. I commented on his blog post that he made me feel silly. You can find this exchange elsewhere on this blog.
My three friends are located in the Dakotas and northeast Montana and although their operations differ, they each graze cattle and work on horseback. The grazer that I am most familiar with is a college graduate who started out on a rented ranch shoe string operation and by perseverance and industry he improved his lot through several ranches that he bought and sold. Today his outfit is 10,000 acres on the Little Missouri Grasslands and a showplace of natural beauty and good range management practice. Of the 10,000 acres that his cows graze, he owns about 2,000 acres and leases the rest from the National Forest Service which constantly monitors his operations. My understanding is that this model is fairly typical — that the rancher owns the core of the grazing operation while leasing surrounding rangeland from NFS or the US Bureau of Land Management. None that I know of own the mineral, oil and gas rights under their land — so they share the ranch and NFS/BLM roads with tanker and drill rig trucks, and share the grazing land with oil company drilling and pumping pads and tank farms.
My grazer friend in Montana has a Doctorate in Biology (plant genetics I think). Her parents are also involved in the operation, and her mother is a respected veterinarian. They live two hours from the nearest public school so my friend home schools her children while performing research in her field, managing range and cattle, and speaking at conferences. I am not familiar with the numbers and ownership structure of her grazing operation.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." - Joseph Heller
I don’t know if my friends consider themselves to be paranoid or not but I do know that they consider themselves to be operating under an existential threat from radical environmentalists (“Enviros”) and government agencies. They believe that the Enviros want to take away both their owned and leased lands to create a multi-state wildlife park or “buffalo commons”. They believe that, depending on the direction of political winds, the government agencies might grant the wish of the Enviros, or they might just outlaw grazing on public lands.
The Malheur Outlaws
Which brings us to the drama playing out at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. These self-besieged outlaws may be product of the paranoia of solitude in open country mixed with ignorance, and mixed with their self proclaimed involvement in a fundamental religious sect — and they are giving cowboys and grazers a bad name, or at least diminishing them in the eyes of public opinion.
These boys are harming no one but their own "cause" - and that even among many who sympathize. They have placed themselves under siege. I believe it is appropriate to just wait them out and, when they lose focus and come out, meet them with Miranda and handcuffs. Charge them then with the minimum (embarrassing) misdemeanor and send them home to their wives to await trial in county magistrates court. By all means bill them for the government’s costs related to the unlawful occupation of the facility.