By Nathan Barton
Mama Liberty would have loved this story, found in the Lusk Herald in their 18 April 2019 issue (hardcopy only; I was unable to find it on their website).
In Buffalo, Wyoming, a wanted man fled law enforcement officers in his jeep until he got it stuck. He then swiped a bulldozer and headed cross-country, fleeing the police at five miles an hour, crashing through fences across pastures and fields. Until the landowner, a local rancher, came up to him and stopped him with a rifle. Then held him (gasp!) at gunpoint until the sheriff’s officers arrived and formally arrested him. No, not the rancher with the gun: the guy who stole the dozer and went through all the fences. This is Wyoming.
Then, of course, the rancher headed for the nearest psychiatrist to get help with his severe post-traumatic stress, so very glad that he didn’t actually have to fire a shot. Of course not. This is Wyoming. Instead, he pulled out his other tools out and headed over to start repairing fences before the cows got out.
Not only is this Wyoming, but this is in one of the parts of Wyoming not so badly corrupted by “modern” sensibilities – the distressing Tranzi attitude found in Albany County (home of the University of Wyoming) or Teton County (Jackson Hole, playground of celebrities and environists).
I have no idea why the criminal was stopped by law enforcement or why he fled. But I believe he demonstrated his lack of character (including a certain mental condition) when he stole the bulldozer and starting driving it through fences. But regardless, I believe that the rancher did what most people would do: defend his property and that of others from someone obviously not respectful of private property. Even when facing a desperate situation.
The entire situation had elements of danger and comedy, but also presents some serious questions and concerns. In this case, the sheriff’s officers and other law enforcement did handle the situation with the rancher well. Unlike too many these days, they did not mistreat the rancher because he was armed (and the fugitive apparently was not), or because he actually pointed his rifle at the man. They did not use the situation as an excuse to seize his rifle, drag him to their station, or detain him in any way. But I still must ask if what the officer did in attempting to stop the fugitive was appropriate, and truly the best way to both preserve the peace and protect the public safety.
It also reminds us that any of us must be prepared, at any time, to defend ourselves, our family, our neighbors, an our property from someone’s actions. Whether intentional or not. This Wyoming rancher was. Are we? He was far from any place where you would be seriously concerned about crime – not even simple vandalism or theft. Although Buffalo is near the junction of two interstates, it is a frontier area with a very low population (humans far outnumbered by cattle and sheep), and not a high-crime neighborhood.
Yet he took it in stride, didn’t overreact, and didn’t let it distract him any longer than necessary from his normal business. Again, could we?
Why didn’t the cops get hard-nosed with the rancher? Even in Wyoming, they have (unfortunately) been given the legal power to do so: they could have arrested him on suspicion, seized his rifle, even been justified (in the eyes of the law, at least) in shooting him. But unlike cops in larger areas (even Wyoming’s small urban areas like Casper and Cheyenne), they understood that their power (whatever the law says) is limited. Had they taken any of these “legal” actions, they would have faced the wrath of the County’s residents and many more. This is an attitude severely lacking in too many places.