In the past 80 years Raymond Yowell’s ancestral homeland has had more than 900 nuclear bomb tests, 50 million ounces of gold extracted from its depths, and now, his cattle rounded up and sold to the highest bidder for past due grazing fees from land he has grazed for more than 20 years.
He was born in Elko, Nevada in 1931. His parents lived near the Ruby Mountains, South of town, the location of the signing of the famous Ruby Mountain Treaty of 1863. This treaty guaranteed that “peace and friendship” between the White man and the Shoshone would last as long as the grass shall grow. The treaty covered some 60 million acres of land located in four states on today’s maps.
His ancestor’s existence would seem meager by today’s standards, but their connection to Mother Earth set them apart from the new arrivals that landed on this continent. They were told by their elders that the white man was coming and that he was to be welcomed. “Do not resist when the strange ones come, they will be many. Try to adapt to their strange ways and customs. They do not have a connection with our Mother Earth as you do, but they are very strong and they leave trails for others to follow, there is no end to them, like the ants on the prairie,” the elders would say.
To the Native Americans, animals, plants, and the earth are all living things. When an individual excepts responsibility for any of these things it is his duty to protect and respect them as you would your own child. The cattle Yowell owned were not native to this land but brought here by the white man, but still Raymond felt a deep respect for each animal in his care.
The problem started with the buffalo. An animal that the Creator did place on this continent. The buffalo use to roam the land with freedom and dignity, no fences, water rights, grazing fees, or boundaries that restricted their movement across the land. The Native American’s knew how to exist with the buffalo, their ceremonies matched their arrival and departure, so the Shoshone’s cycle of life and the buffalo cycle of life were one in same. The animals hoofs broke up the soil and their droppings carried the seeds that regenerated the next years vegetation.
The buffalo were bigger, faster, stronger, and better tasting than the white man’s cattle. They could jump six feet straight up in the air and run 35 to 40 miles per hour. Their meat was lower in cholesterol and had less fat then the cattle that replaced them. The only problem was they did not respect the newly constructed fences that criss-crossed and divided the country side. None of the white man’s fences could hold the mighty animal or keep them off of the new train tracks that were being constructed.
To solve the problem, the government offered to pay $3.00 for each buffalo hide. As the going rate for a days wages was $1.00 per day, it was to no ones surprise that more than 100,000 buffalos were killed, on a daily bases, and their carcasses were left to rote, in the sun, where ever they fell.
Yowell was not around when this event took place but his elders told him about it. He does not understand why anyone would do such a thing to a living animal or why the white man thinks he can own the land by building a fence around it. He was always taught that no one can own the land, that the land itself is a living thing. His elders cautioned him, “try and adapt to the situation and do what ever you have to do to survive,” they would say.
Yowell (his last name was passed down from his Grandfather who was given the name by two German brothers who farmed in the area) was 20 years old when he enlisted in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. At about this same time, the Nevada Proving Grounds was established in Southern Nevada south of his ancestral home. The 1,360 square mile site conducted 928 nuclear explosions between 1951 and 1992 with 100 of these explosions taking place above ground. Mushroom clouds could be seen for hundreds of miles and dust from these clouds drifted across the Shoshone homeland and rest of the countryside. Yowell did not understand why anyone would do such a thing to Mother Earth and Father Sky but again he was told to adapt, do what ever you have to do to get by.
Yowell was 30 years old when gold was discovered just west of his home in South Fork, Nevada. The discovery was called the Carlin trend and contained some of the largest gold producing ore in North America. By 2002, more than 50 million ounces of gold were produced by grinding the ore into a fine powder, mixing this powder with a mild solution of cyanide and water, and leaching the gold out of the stone. Some of the largest open pit mines in the world are located in this area. As the price of gold goes up, the mines go deeper and wider. Again Yowell does not understand why anyone would do such a thing to Mother Earth for a shiny metal and again he was told to adapt.
Now at 81, Yowell can adapt no more. His Livestock Association questioned why he and the Shoshone had to pay a grazing fee for their own land and request a copy of the permit. They had been paying a fee every year since 1940 but none of them had ever signed any document. The mater was turned over to the Bureau of Land Management and no one there could provide any document to support the fee, so Yowell and his Livestock Association quite paying the bill in 1984.
The grass was still growing and the cattle were still grazing 19 years later when on May 24, 2002 the BLM sent armed rangers and three semi’s to confiscate all of the cattle. To add insult to injury, the BLM sent Yowell a bill for $180,000 for his part of the total $2.5 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines that the BLM said they were owed. When Yowell told them he was retired and his cattle were his only income, the BLM garnished 15 percent of his small social security check. He never received any money from the sale of his cattle.
At the present time Yowell is preparing his case for a hearing in Reno, Nevada on February 21. He has filed a $30 million lawsuit against the BLM and the Treasury Department. With no money for attorney fees, or the fight, he only hopes someone will come to his aid. This case could change the fundamentals of the Federal Indian Law’s concerning grazing rights, treaties, and the fees charged to Native Americans now and in the future.