Wild Horse Casey
By George Parman
In the silvery light of the March moon, a rabbit hopped slowly across the gate of the corral. Out on the flat, a pair of coyotes howled. The rabbit stopped to listen. The coyotes stopped howling as if on command. Then, in the distance, they all heard the dull thump, thump sound of horses coming, not running, just trotting, yes, a weary trot. The horses make a half circle in the flat, hit the road and the trail into the foothills along side a sandy ridge and then were into the wings of the corral before they knew it.
The rider behind them rode up closer and in a low voice said, "Here, here." as they were going through the gate. He then eased off his horse and closed the gate. He walked around stomping his feet to get the circulation back, went back to make sure he'd tied the gate tight, got back on his horse and headed for the cabin on the flat below.
Once back to the cabin, he pulled the saddle off his horse, gave him some hay and a good feed of grain. Then he went into the cabin and got himself a plate of cold beans and slice of bread that he had cooked two days before.
This man was Frank "Wild Horse" Casey. Frank couldn't have gone to town and been a banker or lawyer, but that banker or lawyer couldn't have been a "Mustanger" like Frank was. An artist in his own way, Frank was one of the best at what he did. Frank loved horses and like so many people, the more horses he handled, the more he wanted to handle. It was like a fever, yes, the mustang fever. And Frank sure had it.
Frank had watched this bunch of horses and waited until the grass was starting in March and the mares were heavy with their colts and didn't have much run in them. He had camped out in an old mining cabin in Mineral Canyon on Como Mountain and started the horses moving at daylight. They gave a pretty good run up on the Churchill Spring Road heading toward Wabuska. He turned them East within sight of Wabuska and came back down the east side of Lion Mountain onto the flat west of Hooten Wells. They came to the Carson River fence and on to the corral at Hooten Wells, many hours and many miles from where they started. Yes, this was Wild Horse Casey, truly an artist at work. All Frank ever wanted was lots of horses and freedom.
Benjamin Frank Casey was born in Flagler, Colorado on December 14, 1892. Frank's widowed mother and the youngest of her seven children moved to Fallon, Nevada in 1908, settling on a farm in Sheckler District. In 1915, Frank and his brother Alfred B. Casey acquired twenty acres at the old Pony Express station and stage stop called Hooten Wells, located between Bucklands Station and Carson Sink Station south and west of Fallon. The brothers attempted to homestead 160 acres there but were turned down because this property was located in a "second form reclamation withdrawal" in connection with the Truckee-Carson Irrigation Project at Lahontan Reservoir. The brothers first started to raise goats on their property, but there were lots of coyotes and the coyotes killed many of the young goats. The men decided that they needed to raise something the coyotes couldn't handle and it was good horse country.
There was a lot of discarded cable left from the construction of Lahontan Dam. They used this cable to construct a large corral. They also built a cabin from the lumber that was discarded from the Lahontan Dam Project.
The Caseys bought fifteen older thoroughbred mares and a Morgan stud from Lem Allen of Fallon. At this time, Lem Allen's thoroughbreds were some of the best and fastest horses in the world. Their horse business was started. There was a good market for saddle geldings on the local ranches and the army bought horses for its army remount program.
World War I interrupted their business. Frank went into the army to serve his country. When he got out of the army, his horse numbers had grown. Prices and the market for horses were good until the Great Depression hit. Then the tough years started.
The Taylor Grazing Act
In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act was passed. Most of the ranchers of the time didn't really understand the law and didn't pay much attention to it. Most of the rules of the Taylor Grazing Act were handled by what was called the "Grazing Service." The office of the Bureau of Land Management wasn't set up until 1946.
By 1941, the Grazing Service had gotten its feet under it and decided that in the Carson District, N3, in order for a person to hold a grazing permit, “base” or “commensurate” property was required. In the Fallon Range unit adjacent to Hooten Wells, an applicant needed enough base property to hold his stock for one month out of the year.
On December 6, 1941, case decision #23134 was handed down from the Grazing Service with B.F. Casey as appellant. Casey was given a temporary or nonrenewable permit even though he had run horses on that land since 1915. According to the Department ruling, Casey could continue to receive his permit so long as his possession of the land on which he had settled was allowed to continue and so long as he remained a qualified applicant in all other respects. But his license was limited to the number of livestock that could be supported on his base property for the number of months the government classified the range as unsuitable for use.
On July 26, 1944, a second decision, #23877, was handed down with Benjamin F. Casey as appellant. Casey had asked for a permit for 275 horses beginning April 1, 1943 and ending March 31, 1944. The application was approved for only 170 head of horses from May 1, 1943 to March 31, 1944. The decision meant not only a cut in numbers, but also required Casey to take his horses off the range for thirty days and hold them on his commensurate property. The district grazer stated the reason for his action was that there was insufficient feed on the range to take care of more than the number of horses for which the license was approved over an eleven-month period each year. It was necessary to require the appellant to keep his horses off the range for at least one month for the protection of the range.
Casey had run his horses on that land since 1915, was a World War I veteran, and had sold horses to the army at a time when they were sorely needed. Many ranchers, including the well-known Charlie Moffat, had bought lots of 25 head of geldings at a time for their ranch use. Horses with Casey's well-known ladder brand were in use on many ranches. But, suddenly, Wild Horse Casey's horses had become a problem.
During World War II the price of sheep and wool was high and many sheep outfits were after more range. These interests had a lot of influence with the Grazing Service, lots more than one horseman. The range may have been over grazed because of the sheep that came in ever increasing numbers. Apparently the government thought these sheep were no problem. The sheep men often had no base property in the immediate area and in some cases even the state, but a different set of rules seemed to apply.
Frank ran his horses at Hooten Wells and around the backwaters of Lahontan Reservoir until the spring of 1947. Since he was in violation of his permit, he was constantly under the threat of having his horses gathered and confiscated by the government. Yes, gathered by the government. Casey had lost his right to his permit, his way of life, and the freedom he had fought for in World War 1.
In the spring of 1947, Frank was able to get together a down payment on property in the hills between Mina and Big Fish Lake Valley, farther south and east in Nevada. With the help of a nephew and a friend, Casey gathered most of his ladder-branded horses and took them south to this new property. The new area had not yet been absorbed by the Federal government and was still controlled by the state. Frank thought this would be a land with the freedom his horse business required-his kind of country. Frank and his helpers began to build a corral while watching the horses. This was their kind of country, lots of room for the horses, lots of freedom. They were far away from the Grazing Service and the Taylor Grazing Act.
Frank received word that a friend in Fallon needed help haying, so he left his helpers to complete the corral and watch the horse herd while he went to help his friend. While working there, he was injured in a fall from a haystack and died two days later in the Churchill County Hospital. Yes, Benjamin Frank "Wild Horse" Casey had passed away on August 20, 1947 at 55 years of age.
Casey was one of the first in a long and not-yet-ending list of livestock people to lose their range rights to the Taylor Grazing Act administered by the Grazing Service and to their successors, the Bureau of Land Management.
After his death, these horses of Frank’s scattered from Big Fish Lake Valley back to the Lahontan Reservoir and Hooten Wells.
I tell this story to explain one of the many ways the “mustang” horses originated in the West, only a feral horse, confiscated from the ranchers by the Wild Horse and Burro Law of 1971. You have to realize that before this law was passed; all these horses belonged to somebody. Before the coming of the white man to the Great Basin, there were no horses. If you don’t believe that, just read the accounts and diaries of explorers like Jedediah Smith, Peter Skeen Ogden, and John Fremont.
In 1972, ranchers with horses ran them outside on the BLM land like they did cattle and those without special permits were deemed “estrayed” or “in trespass.” They were given time to gather and claim their property after the “trespass fees” were paid. The trespass fees were, in most cases, set higher than the market value of the horses. This caused owners to turn many of the horses back out to be confiscated by the Wildhorse law. The people who could afford it and who saw the problems the future might bring, gathered all the horses they could off their range. The horses left were to be managed by the BLM at appropriate levels with the environment, the livestock, and wildlife in mind.
At this point, the wild horse groups moved in, whether motivated by profit or in some cases, emotion, they found they could file lawsuit after lawsuit against the BLM, the ranchers, and anyone else that got in their way, stopping any sane management.
Meanwhile, the feral horse numbers grew 16% to 20% per year and in some cases more. The BLM was limited in their management options by these lawsuits.
As the horse numbers grew, the cattle numbers declined. Ranchers were put out of business. No one was left, in many cases, to manage the water developments the ranchers had owned, no salt was set out, and there was no predator control.
In 1955, the deer harvest in Nevada was 34,500. In 2008, the number of deer harvested by hunters was a mere 7,025 head. Sagehen are all but gone and all wildlife is affected.
The wildhorse advocates are smiling though, as these horses are given over-protected status and their good attorneys file more lawsuits, stopping the BLM from any sane control of the horses.
In November 2009, 70% of the entire wildhorse budget was being spent for 34,730 unadoptable horses and burros in holding facilities at a cost of $835 per animal per year. That can amount to $15,000 during a horse’s lifetime. Ask yourself why.
The BLM adopt-a-horse program is financed and advertised entirely by your tax dollar. It operates in complete competition and conflict with the people in the real horse business of producing horses being used in our country.
Lawmakers have passed laws stopping humane slaughter of any horses and completely paralyzed the entire horse business.
In a recent press release, President Obama has requested a BLM budget of 75.7 million dollars for the 2010 wildhorse and burro program, a 12 million dollar increase over the 2009 budget of 64 million. The budget proposal makes a separate but related land-acquisition funding request of 42.5 million dollars for the purchase of land for one wildhorse preserve. You know, that’s a lot of our money. I notice the more money the programs get, the more concern they get from people with money. Most of these people would be more than willing to help spend the budget money.
Just think what would happen if the wildhorse law was repealed and then horses were given back to the ranchers they were originally stolen from, if the counties and the states managed them as they did before at no cost to the taxpayer.
2017 budget for the wild horse program spent 82 million dollars including 48 million for off range holding costs. On range population was over 55000 head above recommended values. These figures per BLM on their website at https://www.blm.gov/programs/wild-horse-and-burro/about-the-program/program-data