First published in Range Magazine.
What are the biggest keys to success? In Stanton Gleave’s case, stubbornness and bullheadedness, sometimes referred to as patience, persistence and perseverance.
Stanton Gleave presides over a sprawling family sheep and cattle ranching operation headquartered in remote Piute County, Utah – which some have suggested (and perhaps even hoped) would become the location of the next stand-off between ranchers in the West and the Federal Government. Most people probably have no idea just how close that might have actually come to happening, but before considering that possibility, first a little background about the Gleave Clan.
According to Stanton, the biggest keys to his family’s success in the ranching business are plain old stubbornness and bullheadedness, and he claims he and his family come by it naturally.
First of all, Stanton comes from tough stock. “My great-great-grandfather, Walter Gleave, joined the Mormon Church in Great Britain, and walked ‘across the plains’,” as Mormons like to say, “and in the 1870s ultimately settled a homestead along the east fork of the Sevier River in Kingston Canyon.” Stanton’s grandfather, Rob Gleave was born in that homestead cabin in 1882.
One of the real heroes in Gleave family history, and perhaps one of the primary sources of that stubborn, bullheaded streak, was great-great-grandmother Jane Barrowman. Jane’s daughter, Elizabeth, had married young Walter Gleave, and they were accompanying Jane and her husband as they came across the plains to Utah. When Jane’s husband died, she continued on with Walter and Elizabeth to what later became Piute County, and took up an adjoining homestead.
According to Stanton and family legend, Grandma Jane had a little bunch of cows that she herded all over that country on foot. Extremely independent and self-sufficient, Jane would seldom accept help of any kind from anyone.
Because of this, Walt was surprised early one morning when Jane came to him for help. Her milk cow had wandered off and didn’t come in the night before, so she had gone searching in the dark, and doggedly followed her all night, eventually working her back to the corral. But the cow was so flighty she couldn’t get very close. When they finally got back to the corral, still in the dark, what Grandma Jane thought was her milk cow was still upset and went right over the back fence and left again, and Jane couldn’t figure out what had gotten into her.
What Walt discovered is that Jane had been stubbornly following, and eventually corralled, a big black bear. It didn’t take long for word to get around that Grandma Jane was wrangling bears just for something to do.
Fast-forwarding 100+ years, Gleaves are still wrangling cows and predators in Piute County. Stanton married Charolette Berry from Cedar City. They have five children, including four sons, and a daughter who is married to a rancher in adjoining Wayne County.
“It was a real struggle for me to acquire that first 100 head of cows,” says Stanton. At this point, in the 21st Century, after years of stubborn persistence, however, the Gleave family ranching operation has expanded substantially, to run 1000 mother cows and 3000 sheep, in an effort to try to accommodate everyone in the family who wanted to stick around, and be part of the operation. That includes all four sons, Garrett, Clayton, Dwyatt and Waylon. It also includes Stanton’s brothers, Jan and Arby, and nephew Kholten. The current family ranching operation helps support eight households. With the help of a small trucking business, six of them work on the ranch essentially full-time, with each taking a turn driving truck a day or two a week. Stanton & Charolette’s grandchildren are the sixth generation of Gleaves to ranch in Piute County — 7th if you count grandma Jane Barrowman. And at this point Gleaves graze livestock in at least five Southern Utah counties.
The Gleave family is a close-knit bunch. The Utah Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) learned that the hard way back in the early 2000s. And in the process, Stanton, the patriarch, learned that it’s not just the federal government that can be heavy-handed and engage in serious governmental overreach. State and local governments are just as capable of using the same tactics.
The Gleave family sheep herd is divided into three summer bands, which graze on Mt. Dutton and Monroe Mountain. Mt. Dutton is infamous among stockman for its predators, and especially mountain lions. In the early 2000s Gleaves were losing more than half their lamb crop every year to predators. How many businesses can suffer 50% losses and still survive?
Who owns and is responsible for the predators that were decimating Gleaves’ livestock? In this case, it was the State of Utah. So Stanton Gleave stood-up and told the State of Utah it needed to start getting serious about taking care of its lion problem on Mt. Dutton. From his perspective, among other things, this was a property rights issue where the state was failing in its responsibilities, resulting in deprival of his property and property rights.
Instead of actually addressing the issue, the DWR engaged in a full-fledged retaliation campaign against Stanton and his family. DWR undertook a massive, heavy-handed, undercover operation to “bust” the Gleaves. It sent undercover officers to Gleaves’ Navajo sheepherders, who they would offer liquor and try to get incriminating information about the family. When that didn’t work, they sent undercover officers and informants to Gleave family reunions, looking for family members around a campfire to let down their guard a little bit, and say something. That too was unsuccessful. So then they started stalking Gleave family members, getting them off alone, and telling them (lying) that they had all kinds of evidence against them, and threatening to throw the book at them, while offering to go lighter if they would just spill their guts, and sell out their fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins. But state officials learned the hard way that wasn’t going to work either.
Finally, it all came to a head after an ugly confrontation between an overaggressive DWR officer and Stanton’s oldest son, Garrett. As the “discussion” escalated, young Garrett ended up getting a hold of the officer by the collar (and if you’ve ever had a chance to shake hands with any of the Gleave boys, you would know it would have been like being in the death grip of a bear). The officer tried to go for his gun, but Garrett grabbed and held his hand so he couldn’t draw the weapon. Needless to say, that situation could’ve ended very badly.
In the meantime, while the DWR was ignoring its serious lion problem and expending all its resources harassing the Gleaves, trying to put them all in prison, according to whisperings around Piute County, an old sourdough prospector (now dead) who spent a lot of time on Mt. Dutton had quietly and single-handedly “removed” over 100 lions from the mountain.
A lot of things came to light as a result of that whole ordeal. “Although it was a very painful experience at the time, giving credit where credit is due,” Stanton says, “changes and reforms have now occurred in the DWR that make it a much better agency to work with today than it was 20 years ago.” Consequently, today there is an uneasy truce between the Gleaves and the Utah DWR. And one of the important elements of that truce is that although the Gleaves still have huge predator losses on Mt. Dutton – over 600 lambs in 2016 – they are now able to receive compensation for much of their annual predator losses.
“Aside from way too many predators, the Gleaves have a fairly typical western range sheep operation; summering in the high elevations on Mt. Dutton & Monroe Mountain where they can grow 90 lb. lambs in 4-5 months. Like many Utah sheep outfits, they winter in the vast desert expanses of Millard County, out toward the Nevada border. Although the sheep business (and selling lambs to the State of Utah to feed to its lion herd – maybe something akin to a contract to feed the BLM’s wild horse herd) has been a profitable enterprise (more some years than others), like many western ranchers, the Gleaves’ first love is cows and cowboying. They love good horses, and run about 50 head of horses to operate their 1000 head cow/calf operation. Every day the Gleaves spend horseback is considered one of the main rewards for the lifestyle they have chosen.”
There is an old saying, “for he who loves his work, life is a vacation.” And to a large extent that is how best to describe life for Stanton Gleave and his family. They love ranching — even with the relentless challenges – including everything from weather, predators and disease, to tough markets and growing operating expenses. But the single biggest challenge and heartache they deal with on a daily basis is the heavy weight of continual government oppression and the constant assault on property rights, all of which has only gotten worse in the last 40 years. The record speaks for itself. Since 1976, federal grazing levels in the West have been cut in half. Again, how many businesses can survive with cuts of 50%?
Given Stanton’s views and outspokenness on these matters, and his consideration for the plight of other ranchers, like imprisoned Dwight and Steven Hammond, the persecuted and prosecuted Bundys, and the late LaVoy Finicum, he is often considered and treated as guilty by association, and branded with the same labels they are. Consequently, in the last several years Stanton and his pictures have been featured in multiple mainstream media stories, including NPR, The Guardian, and the Salt Lake Tribune. Whether it is true or not, the Salt Lake Tribune claims that back in 2014 or earlier, Stanton made a pact with Bundys and/or Finicum to help support and defend them if they were attacked based on their widely-publicized step of terminating their grazing permits with the BLM. Consequently, Stanton was also summoned to testify before the Utah State Legislature about his views on public land-use issues.
Why all the attention?
First of all, Stanton Gleave seems to have been cast as the leader of the next wave of so-called “radical extremists,” who many have attempted to label as “domestic terrorists.” Much of the attention also seems to stem from a January, 2016 Range Rights Workshop in Cedar City, Utah, before LaVoy Finicum was killed and Bundys were arrested near Burns, Oregon. During that meeting an image was leaked, via Twitter, showing Stanton, along with his sons and some other ranchers, with papers in their hands. According to the tweet, they had just signed papers “pledging” to terminate their own federal grazing permits. Although the tweet was a genuine stretch — Gleaves were seriously considering that possibility — but in reality the whole exercise was just an experiment to see what kind of reaction would result (and those who wanted to know got their question answered). In the process, Stanton Gleave got a lot of attention and acquired a myriad of new labels.
Despite the spurious labels, Stanton intends to continue to stand his ground regarding issues of freedom and property rights. . Unlike most similarly-situated ranchers he has stuck his neck out and become increasingly vocal on these issues.
According to Gleave, he has seen and experienced first-hand what has happened in Southern Utah over the course of the past 25 years. He has experienced all the challenges of trying to make a go of it as a rancher while dealing with governments which seem to be bent on his destruction. He worked for many years for Kaibab Forest Products (until it went out of business), and drove truck on the side, to feed his family and help grow his cow herd and ranching operation. He has had a front-row seat watching what has happened in surrounding counties after creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Stanton has watched and experienced increasing federal overreach as local economies have suffered. And the harder the federal government worked to push people out of business and off the land, the more determined he became to hang-on and survive. “I’ve just been too stubborn and bull-headed to give-up,” he says.
Despite his controversial stance on these issues, Stanton Gleave is well-respected in ranching circles. According to Stanton, one of the main ways his family has been able to expand and grow its operation is because of “all the ranchers who have come to me and said ‘we’ve finally had it and just can’t take anymore . . . do you want to buy our outfit?’ And I’m just so stubborn and bull-headed that I jump in so they can jump out.” Gleaves’ latest, biggest acquisition under such circumstances was the renowned Robber’s Roost Ranch and federal grazing allotment in Wayne County. Robber’s Roost was a place where Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the Wild Bunch once hung out. The Ekker family had owned the place for years, but after AC Ekker was killed in a plane crash on the ranch, rather than sell-out to environmentalists, who wanted to remove the cows, AC’s sister, Evelyn Ekker Bingham, asked Gleaves if they would be willing to buy the place and keep the cows. According to Evelyn, when she eventually makes it to the other side, she would never be able to face her brother AC, and their crusty old rancher father, Arthur Ekker, if she had sold the ranch to environmentalists — regardless of what they were willing to pay.
Stanton says “That’s one of the ways that I can relate to Cliven Bundy – because like Cliven, over the course of the last 50 years, I have watched as one rancher after another has been pushed out.” . Although that has proven to provide great opportunities for the Gleave family to expand their operation, it has taken a serious emotional toll on Stanton as he has watched his friends and neighbors get pushed off the land and out of the industry.
Nonetheless, Stanton credits God with blessing him with the opportunity to be a steward over so many resources, and that’s one of the reasons he takes God-given rights so seriously – because, as part of that stewardship, God-given rights are a necessity for effectively managing God-given resources. And that’s something worth being stubborn and bullheaded about.
THE PIUTE POSSE
As Stanton Gleave likes to say “Piute County is unique.”
To be sure, Piute County is a unique place. It’s a tiny rural county, in the heart of nowhere, with a population of less than 2000 people. Despite limited access and infrastructure, however, Piute County has abundant natural resources. Essentially, the only economic activity in Piute County is directly tied to agriculture and natural resources.
Piute County is also unique politically – especially when compared to places like Clark County, Nevada and Harney County, Oregon, which have been the sites of some of the most recent, high profile “conflicts” with the federal government. Political leaders in Piute County are remarkably like-minded on these issues. At this point, all the county commissioners seem to be well-informed, proactive, and highly protective of county interests. And, Piute County has a county sheriff who has taken a hard line with both the federal government and outside militia influences. He has said that he will not tolerate any more cuts in grazing AUMs on Forest Service grazing allotments in Piute County, and that he would rather deputize every man, woman and child in the county rather than have outside militia influences and forces attempt to get involved in county issues.
Piute County is also unique in that it has someone with a level of natural leadership that few places enjoy. In a nutshell, when Stanton Gleave talks, other ranchers listen. In his neck of the woods, he’s one of the main guys that ranchers in a 3-4 county area look to for leadership and direction — especially on these issues. He is the natural, unappointed head of the so-called “Piute Posse.”
Although the federal government has had great success infiltrating so-called “militia groups” with informants and finks, infiltrating the Piute Posse would be a totally different ball game. The big difference is, they are ranchers who believe in the Second Amendment. You cannot fake it until you make it with them. In a so-called militia group with everything from phonies and counterfeits to wannabes, it’s pretty easy to blend in. But in a group of ranchers that fit the description and definition of “The Real McCoy,” it’s not hard for them to spot fakes, separate the wheat from the tares, and figure-out who’s real, and who’s not. Among other terms, “coyote” is a word used to describe imposters, who are viewed with about the same sentiments as the sneaky predators that prey on their livestock.
Both Piute County and the Piute Posse are unique, and that seems to make some people really nervous.
Photo Credits to Gentry (Gleave) Taylor, Stanton’s granddaughter.