Such was the case in an exotic, untamed land far to the west of power and wealth, an almost mythological place full of treasure and peril, with flashy, savage names. Countries within a country, the Utah, New Mexico, and Nevada territories. Lands once free, until jackbooted thugs wearing the insignia of collectivist war lords rode into town and stole the chosen people blind. The problem is, like most bedtime stories, it's pure fairy dust.
Back in the mid 19th century there were indeed vast, sprawling territories of high desert and arid mountains dotted with barely arable plains and occasional scrubby farmland being added to 30 odd United States, a nation growing like tomatoes on steroids. The Nevada Territory at the time was the living breathing incarnation of adventure, the wildest of the Wild West. Rattle-snakes, scorpions, rugged desert land, land often times with no clear owner. This was classic west, sheep and cattle ranchers vying for control, ranchers and farmers forming fragile alliances to hold off Indians and rustlers, Gentiles and Mormons lived side-by-side or across the divide, as railroad tracks and telegraph lines inched through and slowly began to conquer the desolate wilderness under the banner of manifest destiny.
It was somewhere in that process, well over a hundred years ago, that it occurred to a few less-than-scrupulous people all over the west how awesome it would be if the newly created States dealt with all the routine headaches of land ownership, but still left the resources open and available for agriculture and industry to exploit at will. Why buy huge, expensive tracts of open wilderness, why spend your own precious dollars and worry about toxic clean ups or burnt out soil, if you can get it surveyed for valuables, graze it and log it and mine it and build homes on it and get water wells put in, etc., for free?
Location location location! A few shady politicians, some greedy loggers and mining companies, a few farmers and ranchers, all operating in distant, hard to access places few Americans cared about, places few had even heard of much less seen, all added up to an unusual version of the American Dream. Think of it as the Great Western Gravy Train. A train that began running non-stop, ferrying money and resources from East and West coast taxpayers straight into the pockets of once impoverished residents for decades. Some residents were more honest than others, but throughout the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression many were aided in one way or another, regardless of moral standing, by a den of legal thieves stretching from DC to Divine Strake. Then it got better!
Post World War II America. The victorious US needed safe places to develop and test new super weapons, build and fly secret aircraft, shoot rockets and blow up stuff. It was noisy and messy and needed to be done in secure locations, far away from prying eyes, and the west was ideal for that purpose. Throughout the high western desert, gamblers, developers, cabals of congressmen and cowboy CEOs 'reckoned,' why not create or extend huge, convoluted bureaucracies to serve national security, and further acquire land which might, just possibly, expand the lucrative gravy train?
And so it was done. Generations of people grew more prosperous than they ever would have been, entire families grew up able to rely on distant federal government programs, to the point they could almost think of the land as theirs. Except when pesky bills for out of state geologists or construction crews or clean up projects came due. At which point those would be sent right to Uncle Sam, leaving the real estate just where the rancher and miners and loggers needed it. And most were satisfied with the arrangement, who wouldn't be? It was money for nothing, it was land for free.
Except for a few kooks and cranks who got grabby and greedy. Enter Cliven Bundy. Who has now added to his cranky, kooky repertoire by declaring himself a Mormon prophet with divine revelation to share:
The message I gave to you all was a revelation that I received. And yet not one of you can seem to even quote it.” ... He goes on to explain that, although they managed to deter the BLM, they failed to do it "within one hour," as the revelation had prophesied. So when an hour passes, he decides to get in his bulldozer and march on the BLM himself. The dozer gets stuck in the mud and he receives another revelation. “It come to my mind real plain — the good Lord said, ‘Bundy, it’s not your job, it’s THEIR job.’OK, so you're all in trouble with God for not charging armed agents while Bundy's precious holy ass stays safely the behind the lines ... Normally this might be attributed to cynical self enrichment. But given the circumstances there's also a real possibility Bundy is suffering from dementia or some other serious issue.
Back in the real world, the Bundy's were one of many post-war ranching and farming families who made the most of what fate offered. By the 1980s they were doing well, not bad for growing melons and ranching cattle in the middle of nowhere. They could have grazed their growing herd on private land for 10 to 20 bucks a head, or they could have taken advantage of any of the nearly endless perks of the gravy train: buy land at special rates using special loan programs set up just for people like them.
Being able to add and subtract, these clans took full advantage of the bargain rate of a buck twenty-five a head courtesy of John Q Taxpayer. It had been a set at $1.12 in the early 1960s, but over the following sixty years the jackbooted thuggish government, known in other quarters as We the People, had raised the price a full twelve-cents. Most ranchers knew a kick-ass deal when they saw it.
But for patriarch Cliven of House Bundy, that was just too goddamn much. Besides, Bundy insisted, since his grandpappy had been living in the region for decades ... somehow that meant the best land was really all his land. And he shouldn't have to pay anything. So he mooched for twenty years, ignoring bills and collection notices and court orders. This is one of many reasons why Bundy whining about government control and subsidies for others shows him to be so deliciously clueless. Which brings us up neatly to recent events, where he quickly used up his fifteen minutes of fame.
The history of government land management programs and how various departments were at times scammed or corrupted over the decades is complex. What's written above is a short, grossly simplified version of some of those policies as they relate to current events near the Bundy ranch. What's easy enough to understand is there are not many other groups of people who have benefitted so much, so consistently, and for so long from government programs as did western timber tycoons, mine owners, along with ordinary farmers and ranchers, in the middle of the last century.
Many of their heirs continue to enjoy the rich legacy of long dead, crooked politicians and forgotten local business folks who took advantage of post-war growth, starting with the War of Northern Aggression right through the Cold War. Bundy himself inherited virtually every comfort and perk government land management and agricultural subsidies can offer, thanks to men who manipulated state and federal officials into dealing with many of the expenses of owning land, while they, local residents, enjoyed all the privileges. On our tab.
Or at least that's how it used to be, it may not last. Thanks to clowns like Cliven Bundy and Fox News shining a national spotlight on his raging case of entitlement neurosis.