Billionaires like Bill Gates are acquiring farmland all over America, and in one case in Wyoming, using legal tactics to push farmers off land they’ve been farming for years. In Spectator World, Teresa Mull details the situation on Boot Ranch in Wyoming, whose owners, the Cross family, are fending off legal attacks from ultra-wealthy San Deigan, Arthur Nicholas, who owns the 300,000-acre megaranch, Wagonhound Land & Livestock Co. Mull concludes:
The ultrawealthy have been gobbling up massive tracts of rural lands in recent years. “Farmer Bill” Gates owns more private farmland than anyone else in America. Ted Turner’s private bison herd is the largest in the world. Last year, Rupert Murdoch splashed out $200 million to buy a 340,000-acre cattle ranch in Montana.
“Today, just 100 families own about 42 million acres across the country,” a 2019 New York Times article reported, and “the amount of land owned by those 100 families has jumped 50 percent since 2007.”
His coat caked in snow and mud on his glasses, Shane flashed a gratified grin and leaned out of his ATV (the windshield was too filthy to see through) to take me to see the land inside the Burnett Ranch that Wagonhound claims is theirs. From there we could see six counties and Colorado in the distance. Shane pointed out a couple of old homesteads dotting the place and outlined the disputed parcels.
Such “inholdings” were once common in the West, as homesteaders acquired patchwork parcels of land from other settlers who left. Typically, trades were worked out, or, as in this case, deedholders simply abandoned them.
The Crosses offered to buy or lease the parcels from Wagonhound, or to trade other property for them. Wagonhound refused. During the trial last October, Arthur Nicholas testified that he was “not sure” where the Burnett Ranch is and he is “totally comfortable buying any ranch without ever having set one foot on it or seen it.” He also testified that he believed he had flown over the parcels and that he did not recall ever physically being on the Burnett Ranch because that is “not important” to him.
Wagonhound’s website says the ranch’s vision is “to honor tradition” and “remain steeped in history.” But it’s hard to see Wagonhound’s behavior as anything but greedy bullying. The case is being appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court after a district court ruled against the Crosses. My requests for comment from Wagonhound went unanswered.
Shane, relaxed after the cattle drive, surrounded by family and friends and holding his one-year-old son, explained what keeps him going.
“It’s our home. And we want to keep doing this. Now it means even more to me because I want Dake [his son] to be able to do it. If you think of the stuff we’re doing right now, imagine what this guy did, when they didn’t have four-wheelers and shuttle trucks,” he said, motioning to Richard. “Growing up and hearing their stories and learning about it just makes you develop an incredible sense of pride. Doing a good job and working hard, thinking of the heritage and what my ancestors went through — anytime times get tough, when you come from that, we’re not going to shy away.”
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