This ain’t my first rodeo

Trevor Brazile ropes and ties a calf in 8 seconds in 2009.

As the National Finals Rodeo returns to Las Vegas on Dec. 2, I recall that the closest I ever came to rodeoing was the time Grandpa Hicks put me on his horse Skeeter and sent me down to the lower pasture to bring back the cows for the evening milking.

Now, I say pasture in the kindest North Texas sense — a relatively open area dotted by scrub oak, mesquite, nettles, sandburs, cockleburs, goatheads and Johnson grasses, populated with scorpions, red ants, sidewinders, diamondbacks, jackrabbits and coyotes. It was a place where the butcherbirds hung their prey, young snakes, on the barbed wire (I was a grown man before I learned it was barbed wire and not Bob wire.) fence to keep the other vermin from stealing their victuals. Etched throughout this verdant landscape were gullies as deep as a man on horseback.

It hadn’t changed a whole heck of a lot since Gen. Philip Sheridan rode through in 1866 and panegyrized the place by proclaiming, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”

My grandparents churned their own butter and smoked their own meat. Grandma Hicks could snag a fleeing pullet by the leg with a length of wire and wring its neck in seconds, leaving the headless bird to run around for a minute or so till it could be picked up and plunged into boiling water, then plucked for a fried chicken dinner with biscuits, gravy and all the fixin’s.

At night as we listened to radio with the glowing De Forest tubes, the only thing to read was the Bible and the Sears & Roebuck’s catalog, which, when the new one arrived, would be, shall we say, recycled.

Every year we’d go to the Chisholm Trail Roundup in Nocona. This was back when the factory still made boots and leather goods, like my three-fingered baseball mitt that had to be oiled and tied around a baseball to form anything resembling a pocket. Every year they’d introduce Miss Enid Justin, the owner of the boot company. It was always “Miss” Enid Justin.

The Chisholm Trail Roundup had no lasers or fireworks or ear-splitting rock music, but it did have a booming-voiced, smart aleck announcer who would trade snappy patter with the rodeo clown during the bull riding events. We sat on cold, splintering wooden bleachers in boots and jeans and hats. Not in an 18,000-seat arena.

This was back when the stars of the sport were Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders.

In 2009 at the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack the star was then 33-year-old Wise County , Texas, roper Trevor Brazile. Unlike most in the sport Brazile earned a couple million dollars in prize money over the years, as well as a barnful of gold buckles. Most cowboys are lucky to cover their expenses — pickups, horse trailers, horses, tack and gear, as well as fuel for vehicles, horses and selves.

On that Saturday, the morning newspaper rodeo reporter Jeff Wolf, who also covered auto racing, wrangled me a press pass and took me down to the pressroom in the bowels of the T&M to meet the assorted rodeo officialdom. Along the way we bumped into Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins and T&M manager Pat Christensen. I was just there to show the flag for the paper as its editor, to show the rodeo the newspaper welcomed them, so maybe they’d think of us when there were news scoops to reveal.

I shook hands with and joked with everyone from the head honcho to the doctor to the hangers on. But I had one boon to ask. If Trevor Brazile happened by, might I get a chance to shake his hand and say hello?

Just before the rodeo was to start, they brought through the pressroom mild-mannered, soft-spoken, polite-as-hell Brazile. I shook his hand and wished him luck from a Wise County expatriate, who, like a kid collecting autographs, could now tell his family back home he’d actually met the star of the rodeo circuit. He was from Decatur. I was from Bridgeport, 11 miles down the road, and Decatur’s arch rival in high school sports. Perhaps, that this being Las Vegas and all, you’ve heard that old craps shooter’s plea: “Eighter from Decatur, county seat of Wise.”

As a lagniappe, I also shook the tiny, soft, splayed hand of bashful 2-year-old Treston, who, like his dad, was dressed in black from hat to boot. If I live so long, perhaps someday I can say I met him when …

Wolf talked the rodeo communications director into letting me sit in the press box up at arena side for a couple of go-rounds, where I dusted bits of arena floor kicked up by passing riders off my program and watched poor Trevor Brazile finish almost out of the money in both calf (I refuse to call it tie-down roping as a sop to the animal rights whiners.) and team roping.

The closest I ever came to that kind of rodeo action was because I did not know Skeeter was a cutting horse. I think I was about 10. For the purposes of this story and an aversion to too much self-embarrassment, I’ll not admit to being any older. Only my mother could proffer a contrary accounting, and she doesn’t own a computer.

So, when I got down to the pasture where that half dozen or so head of docile milk cows were grazing, either through some unintended signal from me or his own instincts, Skeeter decided that one suckling calf keeping devotedly near its mother just had to be cut out of the herd for purposes only Skeeter could fathom.

In the Texican lexicon skeeter is short for mosquito, another blood-sucking denizen of those parts, which darts about in the air, changing directions so fast as to defy the laws of physics. If you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing one work, that’s what a good cutting horse does. It dashes and stops and cuts back, doing whatever it takes to prevent that calf from doing what it instinctively wants to do, rejoin the rest of the herd.

Normally, most people get to see this performance in a nice flat arena from comfortable seats. Did I mention the gullies? Somehow I managed to stay on Skeeter’s back instead of flying off under the force of kinetic energy as he made all those hair-pin turns and stops.

After awhile, Skeeter decided I did not know what the heck I doing and allowed me to point him toward the barn, leaving behind that calf and all the milk cows with bulging udders. Grandpa was so angry I almost wished I’d tumbled off into a gully so I could at least have Grandma’s sympathy.

As I told the communications director back then: “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

This first appeared as a column in the morning newspaper in 2009.
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The real meaning of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is rich in traditions. The turkey. The dressing. The pumpkin pie. The family assembled in prayerful reverence in remembrance of the plight of the early settlers of this country — much of which is complete fiction.

The Plymouth colonists set out to live in an idealistic communal fashion. Everyone would share equally in the products of the colony. But after nearly starving to death in 1621 and 1622, Gov. William Bradford abandoned the social experiment and gave each family its own plot of land, and whatever was produced on it was the rightful property of the owner to consume or trade.

The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 followed by a feast of Thanksgiving.

Capitalism saved the colony.

The American Institute of Economic Research has posted online its own retelling of the Thanksgiving story, along with passages from Bradford’s recollections from “Of Plymouth Plantation,” translated into more modern spelling.

The AIER notes that the colony was attempting to live in the manner described in Plato’s Republic in which all would work and share goods in common, ridding themselves of selfishness and achieving higher social state. The problem was that hard work was not rewarded and laggardness and sloth went unpunished. William Bradford

Bradford wrote:

“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”

Before the colony could die off from starvation, Bradford divvied up the land and introduced private property.

The governor wrote:

“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end. … This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

And the result was, again in Bradford’s words:

“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

This is the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving: Capitalism always triumphs over communist utopian fantasies. Humans will work for their own self interest and, instead of it being greedy and rapacious, all benefit and prosper.

But Americans elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris anyway.

A version of this blog was first posted in 20
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How Nevada became the 36th star on the U.S. flag

36-star U.S. flag

Today Nevadans celebrate Nevada Day. On this day in 1864 Nevada became a state.

Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.

With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill declaring Nevada a territory. Lopped off from the western stretches of the Utah territory, the territory grew in population with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds.

But its population in 1864 was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of the House at the time represented.

Nevada was destined to become a state for the most compelling of reasons imaginable. No, not because the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to wage the ebbing Civil War. The Union got just as much revenue from the territory.

President Lincoln needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared on Oct. 31, 1864: “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

That is why Nevada became the 36th state and Utah did not become a state until 1896, while New Mexico and Arizona remained territories until 1912.

When Congress passed the Enabling Act for Nevada statehood on March 21, 1864, Lincoln was in a three-way contest with Gen. John C. Fremont, a radical Republican, and Gen. George B. McClellan, a Democrat, both of whom Lincoln had relieved of their commands during the war.

It was feared the vote could be so divided and close that the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, where one more Republican representative could make all the difference.

According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Fremont dropped out of the race in September after brokering a deal with Lincoln. The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election with 212 electoral votes to 21 for McClellan.

Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

One of the first appeals for a separate territory came from a meeting in Gilbert’s saloon in Genoa in August 1857 instigated by Maj. William Ormsby, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada,” published in 1881.

From this meeting came the appeal:

“The citizens inhabiting the valleys within the Great Basin of the American Continent, to be hereinafter described, beg leave respectfully to present for the earnest consideration of the President of the United States, and the members of both Houses of Congress this their petition; praying for the organization of a new Territory of the United States. We do not propose to come with any flourish of trumpets or multiply words in this memorial, but we propose simply to submit a few plain statements as the inducements and reasons which actuate us in making this appeal to those who have the power to remedy the existing difficulties and embarrassments under which we now labor and suffer.”

Among those difficulties and embarrassments was:

“In the winter-time the snows that fall upon the summits and spurs of the Sierra Nevada, frequently interrupt all intercourse and communications between the Great Basin and the State of California, and the Territories of Oregon and Washington, for nearly four months every year. During the same time all intercourse and communication between us and the civil authorities of Utah are likewise closed.

“Within this space of time, and indeed from our anomalous condition during all seasons of the year, no debts can be collected by law; no offenders can be arrested, and no crime can be punished except by the code of Judge Lynch, and no obedience to government can be enforced, and for these reasons there is and can be no protection to either life or property except that which may be derived from the peaceably disposed, the good sense and patriotism of the people, or from the fearful, unsatisfactory, and terrible defense and protection which the revolver, the bowie-knife, and other deadly weapons may afford us.”

Nevada’s path to statehood gained firm footing that same year when Brigham Young, the territorial governor of Utah and president of the Mormon Church, called on church members to leave what is now Nevada and other regions to assemble in Salt Lake City to prepare for an anticipated military confrontation with the federal government.

In 1858, a war measure was directed at the Mormons, Rocha recounts,

Congress’ Committee on Territories submitted a bill to create a territorial government called Sierra Nevada.

The name was shortened when the committee submitted its written reasons for creating the new territory: “to protect the public mails traveling within and through it; make safe and secure the great overland route to the Pacific as far as within its limits; restore friendly relations with the present hostile Indian tribes; contribute to the suppression of the Mormon power by the protection it might afford to its dissatisfied members; and (be) of material aid to our military operations. Thus satisfied and impressed, your committee respectfully report a bill for the formation of a new Territory … to be called the Territory of Nevada.”

Dan De Quille the 30-year staffer of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City stated the case a bit more colloquially in his book “The Big Bonanza.”

Occupying the western portion of the vast Utah Territory, the miners of the Comstock range were a long way from the longest arm of any law, so they resorted to making their own. At a meeting in Gold Hill on June 11, 1859, various “rules and regulations” were unanimously adopted.

Among the more ignoble, De Quille noted, was: “No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this district.”

The rest were of the customary Western laws — simple, swift and strict.

— “Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.”

—   “Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon conviction, be fined or banished, as the jury may determine.”

De Quille — who like many of his ilk, time and locale was known to stretch the truth a bit — recounts one tale of terrible swift justice.

In August of 1859 two thieves by the names of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of cattle and attempted to sell them at a suspiciously low price. They were arrested, tried and sentenced by the jury of their peers to have their left ears cut off and be banished.

De Quille writes:

“Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner. He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise’s ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to say or do a good thing.

“Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow’s hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders, and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion. Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off the fellow’s left ear, but there was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud.

“The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself. Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, and being, in a good humor, said that they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed the executioner might take off the prisoner’s right ear, if he had one. The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant’s fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas’ ear over to the jury, saying as he did so, that they now had a pair of ears that were ‘rights and lefts’ and therefore properly mated.

“This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful ‘Golden State.’”

After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices in the newly carved out territory. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.

Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.

The younger Clemens brother described with some probable embellishment their arrival in Carson City:

“We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. …

“We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the way up to the Governor’s from the hotel — among others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:

“’I’ll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach — a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.’

“Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another. … I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

“This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily ‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”

By the time Sam Clemens penned that introduction to Carson City, he had adopted the pen name Mark Twain.

Sam Clemens first used that nom de plume on Feb. 3, 1863, in dispatches from Carson City for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Ten years later he would offer the quaint explanation about how it was derived from his days as a riverboat pilot on the ever-shifting Mississippi River, where the leadsman would take soundings to determine the depth. Twelve feet of clearance was needed for the draft of the paddleboats, thus the leadsman would call out for the log book, “Mark twain,” or two fathoms.

But newspapering has always been parching work for penurious pay, the more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.

Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman writes, “People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger.”

Gov. Nye arrived on July 7, 1861, without mentioning gunfire or zephyrs. He declared the Nevada officially a territory on July 11. A census found 16,374 souls residing in said territory.

In an ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers:

“I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”

The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.

While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.

But the path from territory to statehood was nearly derailed by an old familiar issue that resonates 150 years later — mining taxes.

At first the residents of the territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 for statehood in September 1863. But in January 1864 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other enterprises was voted down by a similar 4-to-1 margin.

Then in July 1864 a revised document that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — passed on a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.

With time running out before the November election, the new Constitution was telegraphed to Washington, D.C., at a cost of $3,416.77.

Nevada’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country.

The Constitution contains a seemingly incongruous amalgam of the Declaration of Independence and a loyalty oath:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”

Both of Nevada’s new senators arrived in Washington in time to vote for the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery and the new state’s lawmakers approved it on Feb. 16, 1865.

Sen. Stewart later wrote:

“It was understood that the Government at Washington was anxious that Nevada should become a State in order that her Senators and Representative might assist in the adoption of amendments to the Constitution in aid of the restoration of the Southern States after the Union should be vindicated by war. Another and very important factor in inducing the people to vote for statehood was the unsatisfactory judiciary condition under a territorial form of government. … The morning after I took my seat in the Senate I called upon President Lincoln at the White House. He received me in the most friendly manner, taking me by both hands, and saying: ‘I am glad to see you here. We need as many loyal States as we can get, and, in addition to that, the gold and silver in the region you represent has made it possible for the Government to maintain sufficient credit to continue this terrible war for the Union. I have observed such manifestations of the patriotism of your people as assure me that the Government can rely on your State for such support as is in you power.’”

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.

On Nov. 2, 1864, The New York Herald published a glowing account of the state’s admission and what it meant for the nation.

The article began:

“The proclamation of President Lincoln, published in the Herald of Monday, absorbs the Territory of Nevada, with its untold wealth of riches in gold, silver and other minerals, into the ever swelling bosom of the United States. Nevada, but yesterday an isolated place on which but little public interest concentrated, has suddenly become a place of paramount importance, as a new and valuable state of the Union.

“Today we give a map of the new State in connection with this sketch of the history of its progress and wealth. The State is called ‘Nevada,’ from the old Spanish nomenclature, that word signifying ‘snowy,’ from the word ‘nieve,’ which means snow in the Castilian language.”

The article concludes breathlessly: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”

Nevada did not have an official flag until 1905. That version had the word Nevada in the middle with the words Silver at the top and Gold at the bottom with rows of stars between the words. The Battle Born flag was not adopted until 1929. It was revised slightly in 1991 to make the word Nevada easier to read.

When Nevada became a state, its new Constitution contained a so-called Disclaimer Clause, just like every other new state being admitted, in which the residents of the territory were required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Nevada’s enabling act also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state.

The land was never sold and to this day various federal agencies control approximately 85 percent of the land in the state. The Disclaimer Clause was repealed by the voters in 1996, but nothing has been done about it since by any governor, congressman or attorney general.

A version of this blog first appeared on Oct. 31, 2014.

Nevada and I share this birthday, though the state is slightly older.
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How Nevada became the 36th star on the U.S. flag

36-star U.S. flag

Today Nevadans celebrate Nevada Day. On this day in 1864 Nevada became a state.

Not only was Nevada “Battle Born,” as the flag proclaims, it was battle bred and born after a remarkably short gestation during the Civil War.

With Southern states seceding from the Union, in March 1861 President James Buchanan signed the bill declaring Nevada a territory. Lopped off from the western stretches of the Utah territory, the territory grew in population with the gold and silver booms of the Comstock Lode and other finds.

But its population in 1864 was still only about 30,000, just half of the required 60,000 for statehood and well short of the 100,000 that each member of the House at the time represented.

Nevada was destined to become a state for the most compelling of reasons imaginable. No, not because the Union needed Nevada’s gold and silver to wage the ebbing Civil War. The Union got just as much revenue from the territory.

President Lincoln needed the votes in the election that occurred eight days after he declared on Oct. 31, 1864: “Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

That is why Nevada became the 36th state and Utah did not become a state until 1896, while New Mexico and Arizona remained territories until 1912.

When Congress passed the Enabling Act for Nevada statehood on March 21, 1864, Lincoln was in a three-way contest with Gen. John C. Fremont, a radical Republican, and Gen. George B. McClellan, a Democrat, both of whom Lincoln had relieved of their commands during the war.

It was feared the vote could be so divided and close that the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, where one more Republican representative could make all the difference.

According to retired Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha, Nevada’s votes were needed to re-elect Lincoln and build support for his reconstruction policies, including the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.

Fremont dropped out of the race in September after brokering a deal with Lincoln. The president then carried 60 percent of the Nevada vote and easily won re-election with 212 electoral votes to 21 for McClellan.

Nevada not only ratified the 13th Amendment, as well as the 14th Amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection under law, but Nevada Sen. William M. Stewart played a key role in the drafting of the 15th Amendment stating the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

One of the first appeals for a separate territory came from a meeting in Gilbert’s saloon in Genoa in August 1857 instigated by Maj. William Ormsby, according to Thompson and West’s “History of Nevada,” published in 1881.

From this meeting came the appeal:

“The citizens inhabiting the valleys within the Great Basin of the American Continent, to be hereinafter described, beg leave respectfully to present for the earnest consideration of the President of the United States, and the members of both Houses of Congress this their petition; praying for the organization of a new Territory of the United States. We do not propose to come with any flourish of trumpets or multiply words in this memorial, but we propose simply to submit a few plain statements as the inducements and reasons which actuate us in making this appeal to those who have the power to remedy the existing difficulties and embarrassments under which we now labor and suffer.”

Among those difficulties and embarrassments was:

“In the winter-time the snows that fall upon the summits and spurs of the Sierra Nevada, frequently interrupt all intercourse and communications between the Great Basin and the State of California, and the Territories of Oregon and Washington, for nearly four months every year. During the same time all intercourse and communication between us and the civil authorities of Utah are likewise closed.

“Within this space of time, and indeed from our anomalous condition during all seasons of the year, no debts can be collected by law; no offenders can be arrested, and no crime can be punished except by the code of Judge Lynch, and no obedience to government can be enforced, and for these reasons there is and can be no protection to either life or property except that which may be derived from the peaceably disposed, the good sense and patriotism of the people, or from the fearful, unsatisfactory, and terrible defense and protection which the revolver, the bowie-knife, and other deadly weapons may afford us.”

Nevada’s path to statehood gained firm footing that same year when Brigham Young, the territorial governor of Utah and president of the Mormon Church, called on church members to leave what is now Nevada and other regions to assemble in Salt Lake City to prepare for an anticipated military confrontation with the federal government.

In 1858, a war measure was directed at the Mormons, Rocha recounts,

Congress’ Committee on Territories submitted a bill to create a territorial government called Sierra Nevada.

The name was shortened when the committee submitted its written reasons for creating the new territory: “to protect the public mails traveling within and through it; make safe and secure the great overland route to the Pacific as far as within its limits; restore friendly relations with the present hostile Indian tribes; contribute to the suppression of the Mormon power by the protection it might afford to its dissatisfied members; and (be) of material aid to our military operations. Thus satisfied and impressed, your committee respectfully report a bill for the formation of a new Territory … to be called the Territory of Nevada.”

Dan De Quille the 30-year staffer of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City stated the case a bit more colloquially in his book “The Big Bonanza.”

Occupying the western portion of the vast Utah Territory, the miners of the Comstock range were a long way from the longest arm of any law, so they resorted to making their own. At a meeting in Gold Hill on June 11, 1859, various “rules and regulations” were unanimously adopted.

Among the more ignoble, De Quille noted, was: “No Chinaman shall hold a claim in this district.”

The rest were of the customary Western laws — simple, swift and strict.

— “Any person who shall wilfully and with malice aforethought take the life of any person, shall, upon being duly convicted thereof, suffer the penalty of death by hanging.”

—   “Any person found guilty of assault and battery, or exhibiting deadly weapons, shall, upon conviction, be fined or banished, as the jury may determine.”

De Quille — who like many of his ilk, time and locale was known to stretch the truth a bit — recounts one tale of terrible swift justice.

In August of 1859 two thieves by the names of George Ruspas and David Reise stole a yoke of cattle and attempted to sell them at a suspiciously low price. They were arrested, tried and sentenced by the jury of their peers to have their left ears cut off and be banished.

De Quille writes:

“Jim Sturtevant, an old resident of Washoe Valley, was appointed executioner. He drew out a big knife, ran his thumb along the blade, and not finding its edge just to his mind, gave it a few rakes across a rock. He then walked up to Reise and taking a firm hold on the upper part of the organ designated by the jury, shaved it off, close up, at a single slash. As he approached Ruspas, the face of that gentleman was observed to wear a cunning smile. He seemed very much amused about something. The executioner, however, meant business, and tossing Reise’s ear over to the jury, who sat at the root of the pine, he went after that of Ruspas, whose eyes were following every motion made and whose face wore the expression of that of a man about to say or do a good thing.

“Sturtevant pulled aside the fellow’s hair, which he wore hanging down about his shoulders, and lo! there was no left ear, it having been parted with on some previous and similar occasion. Here was a fix for the executioner! His instructions were to cut off the fellow’s left ear, but there was no left ear on which to operate. The prisoner now looked him in the face and laughed aloud.

“The joke was so good that he could no longer restrain himself. Sturtevant appealed to the jury for instructions. The jury were enjoying the scene not a little, and being, in a good humor, said that they would reconsider their sentence; that rather than anyone should be disappointed the executioner might take off the prisoner’s right ear, if he had one. The smile faded out of the countenance of Ruspas as he felt Sturtevant’s fingers securing a firm hold on the top of his right ear. An instant after, Sturtevant gave a vigorous slash, and then tossed Ruspas’ ear over to the jury, saying as he did so, that they now had a pair of ears that were ‘rights and lefts’ and therefore properly mated.

“This little ceremony over, the pair of thieves were directed to take the road leading over the Sierras to the beautiful ‘Golden State.’”

After the territory was created, Lincoln promptly appointed party loyalists to fill offices in the newly carved out territory. James Nye of New York was appointed governor and Orion Clemens became secretary, bringing along his younger brother Samuel to be an assistant.

Nye had campaigned for Lincoln in the previous election. Orion Clemens had studied in the St. Louis law office of Edward Bates, who became Lincoln’s attorney general.

The younger Clemens brother described with some probable embellishment their arrival in Carson City:

“We arrived, disembarked, and the stage went on. It was a ‘wooden’ town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. …

“We were introduced to several citizens, at the stage-office and on the way up to the Governor’s from the hotel — among others, to a Mr. Harris, who was on horseback; he began to say something, but interrupted himself with the remark:

“’I’ll have to get you to excuse me a minute; yonder is the witness that swore I helped to rob the California coach — a piece of impertinent intermeddling, sir, for I am not even acquainted with the man.’

“Then he rode over and began to rebuke the stranger with a six-shooter, and the stranger began to explain with another. … I never saw Harris shoot a man after that but it recalled to mind that first day in Carson.

“This was all we saw that day, for it was two o’clock, now, and according to custom the daily ‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”

By the time Sam Clemens penned that introduction to Carson City, he had adopted the pen name Mark Twain.

Sam Clemens first used that nom de plume on Feb. 3, 1863, in dispatches from Carson City for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Ten years later he would offer the quaint explanation about how it was derived from his days as a riverboat pilot on the ever-shifting Mississippi River, where the leadsman would take soundings to determine the depth. Twelve feet of clearance was needed for the draft of the paddleboats, thus the leadsman would call out for the log book, “Mark twain,” or two fathoms.

But newspapering has always been parching work for penurious pay, the more Nevada centric and less clean-cut explanation might be closer to the truth, which Twain was seldom averse to stretching.

Twain biographer Andrew Hoffman writes, “People who knew Sam in Nevada said that he arrived at the pseudonym by entering a saloon and calling out in the leadsman’s singsong intonation ‘Mark twain!’ — meaning the bartender should pour two drinks and mark them down on the debit ledger.”

Gov. Nye arrived on July 7, 1861, without mentioning gunfire or zephyrs. He declared the Nevada officially a territory on July 11. A census found 16,374 souls residing in said territory.

In an ironic turn of events, one of the first acts of the newly elected territorial legislature was to declare gambling illegal. According to Russell Elliott’s “History of Nevada,” Gov. Nye delivered an impassioned appeal to lawmakers:

“I particularly recommend that you pass stringent laws to prevent gambling. It holds all the seductive vices extent, I regard that of gambling as the worst. It holds out allurement hard to be resisted. It captivates and ensnares the young, blunts all the moral sensibilities and ends in utter ruin.”

The law carried a fine of $500 and two years in jail.

While the lawmakers for the territory were outlawing what would one day generate more wealth than all the gold and silver mines, they also were still dithering over what name the future state would bear. At one point the legislature approved an act “to frame a Constitution and State Government for the State of Washoe.” The names of Humboldt and Esmeralda also were bandied about until Nevada won out.

But the path from territory to statehood was nearly derailed by an old familiar issue that resonates 150 years later — mining taxes.

At first the residents of the territory voted by a margin of 4-to-1 for statehood in September 1863. But in January 1864 a Constitution that would have taxed mining at the same rate as other enterprises was voted down by a similar 4-to-1 margin.

Then in July 1864 a revised document that changed mining taxes to “net proceeds” — allowing deduction of expenses — passed on a vote of 10,375 to 1,284.

With time running out before the November election, the new Constitution was telegraphed to Washington, D.C., at a cost of $3,416.77.

Nevada’s motto — “All for Our Country” — and its Constitution reflect the Battle Born nature of the times and divided country.

The Constitution contains a seemingly incongruous amalgam of the Declaration of Independence and a loyalty oath:

“All political power is inherent in the people[.] Government is instituted for the protection, security and benefit of the people; and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it. But the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal Government in the exercise of all its Constitutional powers … The Constitution of the United States confers full power on the Federal Government to maintain and Perpetuate its existance [existence], and whensoever any portion of the States, or people thereof attempt to secede from the Federal Union, or forcibly resist the Execution of its laws, the Federal Government may, by warrant of the Constitution, employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority.”

Both of Nevada’s new senators arrived in Washington in time to vote for the 13thAmendment abolishing slavery and the new state’s lawmakers approved it on Feb. 16, 1865.

Sen. Stewart later wrote:

“It was understood that the Government at Washington was anxious that Nevada should become a State in order that her Senators and Representative might assist in the adoption of amendments to the Constitution in aid of the restoration of the Southern States after the Union should be vindicated by war. Another and very important factor in inducing the people to vote for statehood was the unsatisfactory judiciary condition under a territorial form of government. … The morning after I took my seat in the Senate I called upon President Lincoln at the White House. He received me in the most friendly manner, taking me by both hands, and saying: ‘I am glad to see you here. We need as many loyal States as we can get, and, in addition to that, the gold and silver in the region you represent has made it possible for the Government to maintain sufficient credit to continue this terrible war for the Union. I have observed such manifestations of the patriotism of your people as assure me that the Government can rely on your State for such support as is in you power.’”

Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865.

The original territory created in 1861 was added to in 1862 and 1866 by slicing off vertical chunks of western Utah. In 1867 the southern-most part of the state, now mostly Clark County, was added by taking the westernmost reaches of the Arizona Territory. Until 1909, Clark County was a part of Lincoln County.

On Nov. 2, 1864, The New York Herald published a glowing account of the state’s admission and what it meant for the nation.

The article began:

“The proclamation of President Lincoln, published in the Herald of Monday, absorbs the Territory of Nevada, with its untold wealth of riches in gold, silver and other minerals, into the ever swelling bosom of the United States. Nevada, but yesterday an isolated place on which but little public interest concentrated, has suddenly become a place of paramount importance, as a new and valuable state of the Union.

“Today we give a map of the new State in connection with this sketch of the history of its progress and wealth. The State is called ‘Nevada,’ from the old Spanish nomenclature, that word signifying ‘snowy,’ from the word ‘nieve,’ which means snow in the Castilian language.”

The article concludes breathlessly: “There can be no doubt that the future of the new State will be as propitious as its beginning. With so much available wealth in its bosom, it is natural that it must attract intelligent and enterprising people to go and settle there.”

Nevada did not have an official flag until 1905. That version had the word Nevada in the middle with the words Silver at the top and Gold at the bottom with rows of stars between the words. The Battle Born flag was not adopted until 1929. It was revised slightly in 1991 to make the word Nevada easier to read.

When Nevada became a state, its new Constitution contained a so-called Disclaimer Clause, just like every other new state being admitted, in which the residents of the territory were required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

Nevada’s enabling act also states that the land “shall be sold,” with 5 percent of proceeds going to the state.

The land was never sold and to this day various federal agencies control approximately 85 percent of the land in the state. The Disclaimer Clause was repealed by the voters in 1996, but nothing has been done about it since by any governor, congressman or attorney general.

A version of this blog first appeared on Oct. 31, 2014.

Nevada and I share this birthday, though the state is slightly older.
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Difference of opinions and equal opportunity foul-ups

Today the print editions of he morning newspaper and the insert from a former newspaper carried contrasting lede editorials on whether Clark County School Superintendent Jesus Jara should be allowed to keep his job as the matter comes up at today’s school board meeting.

The R-J points out that student achievement under Jara has been abysmal. Granted there has been a pandemic, but the paper editorializes, “Mr. Jara had the no-win task of leading the district though a pandemic. That was disruptive and beyond the district’s control. But leaders are paid to adapt and overcome, not to be swept helplessly along by current events.”

Not only have basic proficiency scores plummeted, the paper notes, but under Jara the district has weakened its grading policy:

“Instead of a renewed focus on academic excellence — particularly after the disaster of remote learning — Mr. Jara pushed this summer to dumb down the district’s grading policy. Allowing numerous test retakes and mandating minimum scores of 50 percent should push grades higher, even if students know less. This is a fraud on parents and an affront to students who take their classroom work seriously.”

Meanwhile, over at the Sun insert the lede editorial is headlined: “CCSD superintendent has earned support of community, school board.”

The uberliberal paper attributes opposition to Jara to the allegedly right-wing anti-vax and anti-mask crowd and shrug off the pathetic lack of academic accomplishment by the superintendent and his underlings.

The editorial blathers:

“Ideally, board members would pull together and support Jara as he continues to lead the district out of the crisis, as opposed to serving a loud group of anti-vax, anti-mask parents whose heads have been filled with misinformation and disinformation on vaccines and COVID safety. If left to their own devices, these parents would throw caution to the wind and leave children at risk.”

In an incredible display of that much touted equity, the Sun editorial was supposed to have been printed Wednesday, but via some unexplained backshop error the entire Wednesday editorial page was actually the same as was printed on Oct. 22, and today the R-J online lede editorial online is the same as was printed on Oct. 12.

Nice to have opinion options … and fair is fair.
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Climate change or return to climate norm?

Vice President Kamala Harris used the white ring around Lake Mead as a visual for her claim that the federal government must spend trillions of dollars to combat climate change.

In reporting on the Monday event, the morning newspaper flatly stated, “Over the past 20 years, Lake Mead’s water level has declined by about 150 feet amid climate change-fueled drought conditions.”

Or might the current conditions be a return to normal after about of century of wetter than normal?

According to a 2006 University of Arizona study of 508 years of tree ring data, the past 100-year period was wetter than the average for the past five centuries.

Connie A. Woodhouse, who led the research team, said, “The updated reconstruction for Lee’s Ferry (on the Colorado River) indicates that as many as eight droughts similar in severity, in terms of average flow, to the 5-year 2000-2004 drought have occurred since 1500.” Woodhouse was at the time a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center Paleoclimatogy Branch in Boulder, Colo.

The newspaper quoted the vice president as saying, “And it is critical that we as a nation understand that we have within our hands, within our possession, the ability to actually change the course of where we’re headed. … Just look out at this lake. … This is where we’re headed.”

Or is it where we’ve been as well? Vice President Kamala Harris speaks as Congresswoman Dina Titus, left, and Representative Susie Lee look on while at Lake Mead on Monday. (R-J pix)
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Happy Constitution Day

Today marks the anniversary of one of the most propitious days in the history of this country. On this day in 1787, the representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. It was ratified by the states and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

You remember the Constitution don’t you?

That’s the document that says the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …” Not waive, delay or ignore parts of laws the president doesn’t like, such as immigration laws, which the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To … establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”

The Constitution also says, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives …”

But when it came to ObamaCare, which is replete with a panoply of revenue generating taxes to offset its expenses, the Senate grabbed an unrelated bill that had passed the House, cut the existing language and substituted the ObamaCare verbiage. The bill number was the only thing that originated in the House.

Yes, it’s those four-handwritten pages that give Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …” Not to force people to engage in commerce by buying health insurance or pay a fine or a tax for not doing so.

Arguably, Congress cannot abrogate that power by handing the president the power to impose tariffs and declare emergencies.

But when Congress passed the Trade Expansion Act it allowed the president to restrict imports in the name of national security. That was the excuse President Trump used when he imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel, even the military requirements for steel represent only 3 percent of the commodity’s domestic production.

That Commerce Clause also has been stretched to prohibit a farmer from growing grain to feed his own cattle because that affected demand for grain on the interstate market. The same rationale allows Congress to set minimum wages for jobs that have nothing to do with interstate commerce.

It also gave Congress the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Some wars get declared, while others are just military exercises.

But Trump bombed Syria without even informing Congress.

The instrument also says the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Not decide for himself when the Senate is in session. At least the judiciary slapped Obama’s wrist on that one.

During ratification the Founders added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment that says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” That probably means Congress can’t order a religion to pay for contraceptions, abortifacients and sterilization against its beliefs. Nor could President Biden unilaterally bar discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re pretty sure the document did not envision a president’s administration creating by regulation laws the Congress refused to pass — think immigration enforcement and rules promulgated by the EPA, FEC, HHS, HUD or USDA without the consent of Congress.

The Constitution did not envision a president having the authority to require private business employees to be vaccinated against or tested for a virus or unilaterally extend an eviction moratorium without congressional authorization.

Another clause gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States …” though the foregoing powers and powers vested by the Constitution part is largely ignored.

The Constitution also gave Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever … to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …” And just when did Congress purchase and the state Legislature consent to turning over 85 percent of Nevada’s land mass to the federal government?

As James Madison said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations …”

Happy Constitution Day, while it lasts.

A version of this first appeared in 2014.
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Happy Constitution Day

Today marks the anniversary of one of the most propitious days in the history of this country. On this day in 1787, the representatives at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. It was ratified by the states and went into effect on March 4, 1789.

You remember the Constitution don’t you?

That’s the document that says the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed …” Not waive, delay or ignore parts of laws the president doesn’t like, such as immigration laws, which the Constitution says: “The Congress shall have Power To … establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”

The Constitution also says, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives …”

But when it came to ObamaCare, which is replete with a panoply of revenue generating taxes to offset its expenses, the Senate grabbed an unrelated bill that had passed the House, cut the existing language and substituted the ObamaCare verbiage. The bill number was the only thing that originated in the House.

Yes, it’s those four-handwritten pages that give Congress the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States …” Not to force people to engage in commerce by buying health insurance or pay a fine or a tax for not doing so.

Arguably, Congress cannot abrogate that power by handing the president the power to impose tariffs and declare emergencies.

But when Congress passed the Trade Expansion Act it allowed the president to restrict imports in the name of national security. That was the excuse President Trump used when he imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel, even the military requirements for steel represent only 3 percent of the commodity’s domestic production.

That Commerce Clause also has been stretched to prohibit a farmer from growing grain to feed his own cattle because that affected demand for grain on the interstate market. The same rationale allows Congress to set minimum wages for jobs that have nothing to do with interstate commerce.

It also gave Congress the power to “declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Some wars get declared, while others are just military exercises.

But Trump bombed Syria without even informing Congress.

The instrument also says the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.” Not decide for himself when the Senate is in session. At least the judiciary slapped Obama’s wrist on that one.

During ratification the Founders added the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment that says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” That probably means Congress can’t order a religion to pay for contraceptions, abortifacients and sterilization against its beliefs. Nor could President Biden unilaterally bar discrimination based on a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re pretty sure the document did not envision a president’s administration creating by regulation laws the Congress refused to pass — think immigration enforcement and rules promulgated by the EPA, FEC, HHS, HUD or USDA without the consent of Congress.

The Constitution did not envision a president having the authority to require private business employees to be vaccinated against or tested for a virus or unilaterally extend an eviction moratorium without congressional authorization.

Another clause gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States …” though the foregoing powers and powers vested by the Constitution part is largely ignored.

The Constitution also gave Congress the power “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever … to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …” And just when did Congress purchase and the state Legislature consent to turning over 85 percent of Nevada’s land mass to the federal government?

As James Madison said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations …”

Happy Constitution Day, while it lasts.

A version of this first appeared in 2014.
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Book review: ‘Saints, Sinners and Sovereign Citizens’

The battle for dominion over vast swaths of public land in Nevada and the West was thrust into the headlines and public awareness by the armed standoff at the Bundy family’s Bunkerville ranch a couple of years ago when federal agents rounded up the ranch’s cattle for auction to cover unpaid grazing fees.

Longtime Nevada journalist John L. Smith uses that event to anchor his comprehensive insight into the century-and-a-half long wrangle over public land use in his recent book, “Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War over the West’s Public Lands.” More than 80 percent of Nevada land is controlled by various federal entities, which regulate grazing, mining, logging, oil and gas and other uses.

Smith opens with a detailed and often breath-taking recounting of that tense confrontation in April 2014 between Bureau of Land Management and other federal agents and heavily armed sympathizers of rancher Cliven Bundy and his sons, analyzing the issues and motivations of the cast of rather colorful and often charismatic characters. From there he explores the people and places that set the groundwork for this conflict.

“The region was long-coveted but little understood,” Smith explains in his prologue. “It had been home to the indigenous Goshute, Mohave, Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe people, but that didn’t prevent conquistadors from claiming it in the name of the Spanish Empire until the early 1800s. When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, it staked the vast aridness as its own.”

The Treaty of Guadalupe at the end of the Mexican-American War ceded the modern West to the United States in 1848 and the discovery of gold brought throngs seeking fortune while the turmoils in the East sent members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a new home. They brought herds of sheep and cattle for food.

It was the difference of opinion over the right to graze those cattle that drew Smith to the Bundy Ranch in April 2014.

“Cliven and wife Carol were friendly. The constitutional lesson was the same one I’d heard from him and others before about state sovereignty, local jurisdiction, and the limited power the Founding Fathers had granted the federal government,” Smith recounts. “When I reminded him that his views had been shellacked in federal court, where judges had consistently ruled against him, he returned to his constitutional argument. By now, I expected, Bundy’s own cows could recite it.”

The book quotes Cliven Bundy extensively, including his somewhat paranoid assessment of what was at stake for him at the time: “When I see the forces they have against me. … You know all those vehicles, all the machinery, all those men, all those guns and all those badges, you know, they’re only after one person. They’re not after you. They’re only after me. They’re after Cliven Bundy. And they want to incarcerate me or put a bullet through me.”

Of course, the much feared bloodbath was averted when the feds stood down and allowed the Bundys to free his corralled cattle.

As Smith relates, many of the Bundy backers were well versed in the lore of federal oppression fomented by events such as the deaths of Randy Weaver’s family members by FBI snipers at Ruby Ridge and the deaths of Branch Davidians during a standoff with feds near Waco, Texas.

But the Nevada sources of federal land conflicts are well documented by Smith, from the Mary and Carrie Dann sisters of the Western Shoshone tribe in Eureka County to Elko County rancher and Sagebrush Rebel Wayne Hage to Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver, a leader of Sagebrush Rebellion II, to Battle Mountain ranchers Dan and Eddyann Filippini.

Smith devotes an entire chapter to “The Senator from Searchlight” Harry Reid and his role in the public land controversies. Reid himself concedes that his vote to update and strengthen the Wilderness Act cost him votes. “The day I voted for that bill was the day I lost the rural vote,” he is quoted as saying.

Smith points out that Reid, whose father was a hard-rock miner, was sympathetic to the industry’s land use for much of his term in Congress, but by 2005 conservationists thought Reid was becoming “a reliable environmental vote at a time when he was approaching the pinnacle of power in the Senate,” Smith wrote. “While others grew gray in Washington, Reid became greener with age, according to the National Environmental Scorecard kept by the League of Conservation Voters.”

Smith also tells how Bundy sons Ryan and Ammon led the takeover of the Malheur Refuge in Oregon to protest the imprisonment of father and son ranchers whose controlled burn spread onto federal public land.

After opening with the Bundy travails, Smith concludes with Cliven and sons and others — after about two years in jail awaiting trial — being cleared of federal charges when the judge ruled the prosecution violated due process by failing to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.

This thoroughly researched book provides thoughtful insight into a controversial issue that doubtless will continue for years to come.

The book is available at several online bookstores, including University of Nevada Press.
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Our day that will live in infamy

Where were you on September 11, 2001 — 20 years ago?

I wrote on the Sunday following that day of infamy:

“I sat down at my computer at about 6 a.m., unfolded the newspaper and switched on the television. There was smoke pouring from the top of one of the unmistakable landmarks of New York City, the World Trade Center. Well, I thought, there’s a story and photo for tomorrow’s front page, and started into the morning’s routine.

“Minutes later a fireball blossomed from the other tower, and it began to dawn on the commentators and me that this was no ordinary accident and Sept. 11 would be no ordinary day.”

I started making phone calls. Reporters and photographers were dispatched to Hoover Dam, McCarran International, City Hall, Nellis Air Force Base, the Strip and elsewhere. Editors huddled. The publisher called in and said we should add 24 pages to the Wednesday newspaper. All plans were scrapped and we started from scratch, hoping to help our readers make sense of a senseless act.

Every section of the paper kicked in its resources.

The press crew rolled the presses early and cranked out thousands of extra copies.

Then I wrote that Sunday:

“I was proud of what we all had accomplished, of the concerted effort and professionalism, as I drove home at 1 a.m. … until I heard the callers on the radio. People were saying they would gladly give up some freedoms for the sake of safety.”

I wanted to reach into the radio and slap some sense into the callers.

The column proceeded to tick off some of the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights and I wondered aloud which people would willingly sacrifice. The First’s right of assembly, lest there be a bomb, and no freedom of speech and religion, especially that one? The Second’s right to bear arms? The Fourth’s prohibition against warrantless search and seizure? The Fifth’s right to due process? The Sixth’s right to a public trial?

I concluded:

“If this is the consensus of the nation, the bastards have already won, destroying our will and our principles as well as planes, buildings and lives.

“We will have surrendered without firing a shot in the first war of the 21st century.”

The column appeared sandwiched between a Jim Day cartoon and a Vin Suprynowicz column with the headline: “The passengers were all disarmed.”

In a comment to a local magazine on an anniversary of 9/11 I called it “our Pearl Harbor.”

Now, these two decades later, the Taliban, who harbored the terrorists who plotted and carried out the 9/11 attacks, are back in power in Afghanistan. Was it all for naught?

A version of this was posted on this day in 2016.
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