story by Jan Falstad of the Billings Gazette
Crow Tribe Seize Horses for Trespassing
One of Montana’s largest horse sales from a single ranch in modern times is expected to begin this weekend.
“Unless there is a court action, I feel pretty confident the sale will start at 10 a.m. on April 2 and run the 3rd and probably the 4th,” said Allan Hanley, a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs rangeland management specialist.
A meeting between the BIA and the Northern International Livestock Exposition to finalize all the details, including the parking, is scheduled for Tuesday.
Bands totaling 829 horses, including nine newborns, that formerly belonged to James H. Leachman of Billings will be auctioned at the Home Place ranch 16 miles east of Billings along Highway 87 East. Buyers can preview the horses on Friday. Auctioneer Rick Young of Absarokee is expected to handle the sale.
Hanley is expecting 3,000 to 10,000 people at the sale, given all the interest surrounding one of the biggest cases of alleged horse abuse in recent Montana history.
“Most of them will just be tire kickers coming to see 829 horses in one spot,” Hanley said. “…I think about 300 will be serious buyers.”
All the Leachman horses, save nine newborn foals that will be sold with their mothers, had their brands inspected last week in a three-day effort that ended Saturday at 4 p.m.
About 30 people, including employees of the BIA, the Montana Department of Livestock and the NILE, as well as Crow Tribal members, identified and tagged the horses. A dozen workers lined up along the chutes to shave butts, shoulders, flanks and faces to check for brands. Then they attached white butt tags and placed blue plastic identification bands around the horses’ necks.
NILE Executive Director Justin Mills said the spreadsheet identifying the horses, including their new identification numbers, age, sex and brands, if any, was turned over to the BIA. That list will serve as the catalog for the sale, Mills said.
“I’ve taken calls from Idaho, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and the East Coast,” he said.
Hanley also fielded calls on Monday from interested bidders in a handful of states, including Texas.
On March 22 and 23, members of the Crow Tribe rounded up most of the horses in a large pasture and neighboring ranches where they were trespassing and drove them into pens that used to hold cattle for sales at the former Leachman Cattle Co.
In late December, Shepherd veterinarian Jeff Peila warned that hundreds of Leachman horses in one pasture were near starvation.
Since mid-January, the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office and NILE officials fed about 150 tons of donated hay to the horses, so most of the animals are in pretty good shape now, Peila said. Seven horses were found near death, and, at Peila’s recommendation, Yellowstone County Sheriff Lt. Kent O’Donnell destroyed four of them.
In January, Leachman was charged with 14 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty, and last month four additional charges were filed. Seven of the 14 counts are primary counts, and seven are alternative counts.
Leachman has pleaded not guilty. His jury trial is set for June 3, and he faces a maximum sentence of seven years and $7,000 in fines.
The BIA, which seized the horses for trespassing on tribal lands, published the required legal notice Friday, giving Leachman five days to pay the trespassing penalties, as well as the costs of rounding up, processing and selling the animals, which are mostly American Quarter horses.
BIA Superintendent at Crow Agency Vianna Stewart said the bill will be substantial.
“We’re pretty close to six figures or $100,000,” she said Friday.
The tab was still being figured Monday to account for all 25 hours that it took to identify and band the horses.
Leachman has until 5 p.m. Tuesday to redeem his horses, Stewart said.
Click (HERE) to view Billings Gazette Video
- Tribal horsemen round up hundreds of Mont. horses (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Hay Dropped to Starving Horses at Montana Ranch (abcnews.go.com)
- Authorities airlifting hay to starving Montana horses (reuters.com)
- Ranchers rally to save starving horses (msnbc.msn.com)