Horse News

(SPECIAL EDITION) Labor Day 10 Years Ago ~ Cloud’s Herd: the Death of a Promise

by R.T. Fitch

“It dawned on me as I slept, this morning, that there was something about today, Labor Day, that resonated in my soul.  Not the true meaning of what Labor Day is but instead an anniversary, a going back in time to something monumental that changed the course of equine advocacy.

You see, there was a time when a group of advocates were attempting to put an end to the bloody, predatory business of horse slaughter and still another team that was working to halt the cruel and unlawful practice of the BLM ripping federally protected wild horses and burros from their rightful ranges.  The two groups were aware of each other but never saw a tie-in or common thread until…ten years ago today.  Labor Day weekend, 2009, the BLM launched an ill advised and unnecessary attack upon the herd championed by one of the most celebrated wild horses of all time, the stallion, Cloud.

That display of bravado and malice galvanized the two advocacy groups into one as we have continued to march forward with one banner, one mission and one single purpose, to save American Horses, both domestic and wild, from abuse, neglect and slaughter which is the ultimate end of even the wild ones under the planning of the current BLM regime.

It is difficult to look back ten (10) years as I, personally, was so very naive and actually thought that my government would listen to me, understand my pleas and make corrections to accommodate my position.  Bitter pill to swallow,;our government has it’s own agenda driven by money, special interests and political power.

Lessons can be learned by being reflective, but perhaps the biggest lesson for myself is that we must never let our guard down, must never assume all is well and never, ever abandon those who do not have the voice or power to help themselves.  We must press on.” ~ R.T.

Cloud’s Herd: the death of a promise

There was a feeling of foreboding doom running through the occupants of a small motel room in distant Lovell, WY on the eve of September 3rd, 2009.  Many had worked for weeks preparing a legal case to block the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from capturing and removing the world’s most famous herd of wild horses from their designated sanctuary in the Pryor Mountains – Cloud’s Herd.  Only a few hours earlier, they had learned that their attempt to stop the madness had failed and the government agency would commence the brutal “gather” the following day.  They huddled together in hopes of formulating a plan, a focus point on which they could rally around; even though they felt the cold bite of virtual steel handcuffs on their wrists.

There were hushed whispers and brief introductions as individuals, from around the country, waited for the leader of the Cloud Foundation, Ginger Kathrens, to say a few words.  Ginger has made the preservation and protection of this herd her life’s work and each and every person assembled respected and loved her for her dedication and her efforts.  She stood front and center as the brightest light in the room while a small motel desk lamp illuminated her smile. With great conviction, she spoke:

Enny award winning Ginger Kathrens speaking with volunteer wild horse advocates

Emmy award winning Ginger Kathrens speaking with volunteer wild horse advocates

“Let us not allow the events of today become a focal point of negativity for us.  Although the future does not look bright, perhaps there will be something positive that we can learn from this experience; something that will be the key in finding solutions for the future.  At the very least, what is unfolding here in Lovell, WY has brought all of us together, people from around the country and from around the world. Let’s take a few moments and introduce ourselves to each other.”  And, with that, she nodded to a young woman sitting on the floor near her and asked;

“Tell us about yourself; where you are from; why you are here; and share your thoughts on the impending events that will be brought about tomorrow.”

One by one, each individual shared their story that had brought them to this tiny Wyoming town and what drew them to take a stand to help our country’s native wild horses.  There were 17 souls, total, crammed into that little room; but, as the personal testimonies continued, a feeling of greatness began to swell amongst them.  They were not just a small group of individuals who were struggling independently to have their voices heard; instead, they were a cohesive and growing presence that shared the same motivation, conviction and drive to continue to fight to save Cloud’s herd from total destruction.  Present were cinematographers, reporters, authors, writers, students, and independent equine advocates. There were also a host of individuals, in attendance, due to their knowledge of past experiences with wild horses.  Some simply came because, as concerned Americans, they felt compelled to help, to lend a hand to their more experienced comrades during this time of great need.  This tiny group was not a room full of fragmented individuals but a cohesive force of one mind with one mission and one passion; save the wild horses. Tomorrow, they would do what they could to stand as witnesses for the horses during the unnecessary and dangerous activities of a Federal agency gone amuck, the Bureau of Land Management.

The next morning, September 3rd, the sun slipped up over the Pryor Mountains painting beautiful hues of reds and yellows across the western foothills of the Wild Horse Refuge. On any other day, such a panoramic scene would uplift the heart of even the most hardened of observers.   Today, however, it could not warm or alleviate the icy feeling that ran through the veins of the wild horse advocates as a breeze of impending doom blew across those same foothills. It smelled of betrayal, loss of life, and the death of a dream.

A wild horse advocate speaking for the the bulk of America's voting population

A wild horse advocate speaking for the the bulk of America’s voting population

The ambient temperature dictated that the benevolent observers should be in short sleeves. Instead, they huddled together in jackets and coats while trying to warm the bone chilling fear that coursed through their hearts and drove dread deep within their souls.  They were there to watch, to question, and to represent those who could not speak for themselves. From down the mountains and over the bluffs they could collectively feel the question poised on the lips of those who had harmed no one; those whose lives were about to be destroyed; those who are known around the world as Cloud’s herd. That singular, simple and brutally honest question was: “Why?”

They asked that question before the helicopter even left to do its mean gather.  They asked the question as they sat on the bluffs overlooking the trap; and, they asked the question as a small family band of wild horses with a baby in tow was driven in 90+ heat into their awaiting jail cells. Again, they asked the question, “Why?”

As they lay their heads onto their separate pillows at the end of the day, none of them could sleep; none of them could rest as they wrestled with what they had witnessed that day.  The look of betrayal and loss in the eyes of the once free wild horses played over and over on the back of their eyelids as they attempted to rest. They knew that tomorrow the sun would rise, the helicopter would fly, and more wild horses would be ripped from the land that is legally designated to be theirs.

On September 3rd the world diminished and shrunk to a smaller scale with the loss of that handful of wild horses. Tomorrow, the world will implode a little further as more souls are caged and shut away.

The wild horse advocates will continue with the struggle to answer the question posed not only by the horses, but virtually the entire population of America’s voting public as it now resonates from the mountain tops: “Why?”     Tomorrow, they will be greeted with the same response they had received today, the one carefully crafted and cast into stone by the elected officials of this once great land. The answer to the waiting world will echo loudly, again, from the Pryor Mountains in Montana and Wyoming.  The answer will be striking in its simplicity, as the answer will be nothing more than harsh, cold, deadly…silence.


R.T. Fitch – Author of “Straight from the Horse’s Heart

7 replies »

  1. And even this precious Pryor wild horse herd is barely teetering on genetic viability with only 140-172 horses since that 2009 capture and removal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It seems as though that was the birth (or rebirth) of a movement and it hasn’t stopped since. I see so many staunch advocates who jumped in right about that time, although there are many who have been working at this for a much longer time. It’s so much more and so much bigger than our WH&B. It’s our Wildlife, our Public Lands…OUR PLANET..our DEMOCRACY

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this memory, so central to what we’re experiencing today. I love it that you focussed on the strength that nominally but passionate and well prepared small groups of advocates, wildlife and animal welfare defenders can bring to bear when we act in unity and never let ourselves be ground down. We can’t afford despair. There’s too much at stake.

    Liked by 1 person


    I recently listened to Christopher Ketcham as he read portions of his book and interacted with the audience.
    When asked how long he had researched before writing his book, he said 10 years.

    ‘This Land’ Is the ‘Desert Solitaire’ of Our Time

    A new book by Christopher Ketcham is a rollicking and unsparing look at the threats to our public lands

    Toward the beginning of his new book, This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West,
    investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham travels to a Bureau of Land Management parcel south of Ely, Nevada. He watches a heavy machine called a Bull Hog charge through a forest of piñon and juniper, tearing it to shreds on behalf of ranchers who want a landscape more amenable to cows.

    While this is Ketcham’s nonfiction debut, he has distinguished himself over the years as one of the West’s most indispensable muckrakers. He builds on his past reporting, published in Harper’s and other outlets, examining the right wing’s war against the Endangered Species Act, the follies and failures of the public lands ranching industry, the ecological impacts of predator control, and many other themes.

    The book’s central argument is simple: The American people collectively own some 640 million acres of public lands across the country, a vast expanse of national parks, forests, wilderness areas, and more that, combined, constitute a grand experiment in egalitarianism, environmental protection, and social democracy. This project, however, is threatened. A powerful clique of industry groups, right-wing ideologues, religious zealots, and corrupt officials are working together to privatize and exploit these lands, ruining living ecosystems and breaking environmental laws in their quest for profit and control. “I went west,” Ketcham writes, “to see what we are losing as a people.”

    Ketcham writes about these landscapes with grace and deep attention. After a soft spring rain in sagebrush country, he says, “The steppe…takes on the aspect of sublime enormity, like the ocean, and heaves and calms with the changing weather.” At other times, his prose, revealing his disgust for the status quo, edges into the kind of intense invective that may well turn some people off. This Land is also filled with dense references to federal agencies and environmental policy, but Ketcham skillfully deploys a parade of colorful characters—scrappy earth defenders, villainous cowboys, obsequious bureaucrats, legendary conservationists-to keep the narrative moving through history, analysis, and the occasional rant.

    For a long while now, I have been looking for a big, bold book about public lands, one that brings the fighting spirit and conservation vision of great writers like Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, and Bernard DeVoto into the 21st century. In This Land, I think I’ve finally found it.

    Liked by 1 person

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