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Gold Butte, the Bundy Family, And Desecration Of Sacred Artifacts

Ken Lund/Flickr

Gold Butte is a 350,000-acre swath of land on the northeast side of Lake Mead, just south of Mesquite.

It is the home of ancient native petroglyphs and other artifacts, and has been under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management for many years.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wants to make it a national monument. 

But there’s some private land near Gold Butte. Land run by a ranching family named Bundy. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

A couple of weeks ago, the day after Earth Day, many of Nevada’s Paiute tribes and supporters held a “culture walk” through Gold Butte. What they found there was dismaying.

Much of what they hold sacred has been destroyed.

Ancient petroglyphs had bullet holes through them. Some had been defaced with graffiti. Many burial and campsite artifacts were trampled or stolen. And a Joshua Tree - which had been used as a marker by hikers - was chopped down.

Photo Courtesy: Christian Gerlach of the Sierra Club

Photo Courtesy: Christian Gerlach of the Sierra Club

The Bureau of Land Management is in charge of this land. But since the 2014 standoff on the Bundy ranch, the BLM has pulled back in the face of threats.

Annette Magnus of Battle Born Progress said she has also been threatened, simply for writing about dead cows she has found on the site of the road. These are the same cows that the federal government tried to take from the Bundy family in 2014 because they had refused to pay more than a $1 million in grazing fees.

Magnus said the cattle are emaciated and dying, trying desperately to live off of the desert.

The answer, say Gold Butte supporters, is to designate the land as a national monument - something President Barack Obama can do under the Antiquities Act. But it's unclear what might be different if that designation was made.

The local Paiute tribes want to be able to help administer the area, but William Anderson, former chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes, says that at this point, the tribes would not be part of a coalition to take care of the land.

"I reached out to the Department of Interior in D.C. to let them understand that this is something we could work together with," Anderson said.

Magnus points out that within the last two years, Nevada has gotten two national monuments - Tule Springs here in Clark County and Basin and Range in Lincoln County.

She thinks it should be a slam dunk to name Gold Butte as a monument as well. But she points out that both Congressman Crescent Hardy R (NV) - who represents the district - and Congressman Mark Amodei (R) NV are against the idea, as is Senator Dean Heller R (NV).

Jaina Moan of Friends of Gold Butte said that the majority of Nevadans support public lands, and encourages people to voice that support.

Both Magnus and Moan  are optimistic that before he leaves office, President Obama will designate a third national monument in Nevada in as many years. Who will run it, though, and whether they will have any power to overcome threats of violence of those who would rather keep the federal government out, remains to be seen.

Statement from the Bureau of Land Management: 

"The Bureau of Land Management has been working closely with local officials and stakeholders on future management plans for the Gold Butte area.  Due to concerns over employee safety, the BLM has not been able to actively manage public lands in Gold Butte over the past two years."


From NPR: Dispute Over Cattle Grazing Disrupts Patrols Of Federal Lands

From Desert Companion: Standard Bearer

William Anderson, former Chairman of the Moapa Band of Paiutes;  Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress;  Jaina Moan, executive director of Friends of Gold Butte

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)