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"Range Rights"

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According to Elwood Mead in Irrigation Institutions, pp.28-29 (1903):

"There was no law by which men could legally secure control of the land they occupied. All the land laws dealt with farming land. There was no provision for leasing or settling the grazing land in tracts large enough to be of any service. Hence the range stockmen simply took possession of the country. Each man chose a location which suited him, fixed in a rough way the boundaries of his domain, and helped create a public settlement which made it unpleasant, if not dangerous, for a late comer to attempt to share with him the territory he had so marked out. In this way range rights came to have the force of law."

A land use pattern that consequentially developed in much of the West was to settle on the 160 acres allowed through the disposal acts and use unappropriated public domain to graze cattle (e.g. "base" and "rangeland"). To anchor control of the land, cattlemen claimed appropriative rights to the use of water sources, maintained by beneficial use through stockwatering, thus preventing competing grazing use of  land within stock walking distance. (See separate section on California Water Law.)

H. M. Taylor, head of the Bureau of Animal Husbandry, in an 1886 report entitled Importance of the Range Cattle Industry, pg. 316, stated:

"It will be seen that the ownership of the watering places gives tenure to contiguous range. The fact is recognized by the Western Cattlemen, and the question as to the number of cattle individual owners are permitted to hold, under regulations of the various local associations, it is determined by the question of water frontage."

This developed into the ranch's "customary range," recognized through mutual stockmen's associations. According to William D. Rowley in U.S. Forest Service Grazing and Rangelands: A History, p.19 (1985):

"These grazers who had arrived earlier attempted to establish prescriptive rights to the range by their customary occupancy and acceptance of those rights among themselves, their stock organizations, and roundup committees. Some western writers have compared these range rules to the customs of the mining districts in their attempt to regulate and distribute access to ore in rich stream beds or quartz lodes. As with mining-district rules, western legislatures sometimes reinforced the regulations of stock organizations by authorizing inspections of cattle shipments for legitimate brands and passing water laws that gave rights to the first users. It was in the area of water rights that early arrivals established their most effective power. Whoever controlled the water sources often controlled great areas of land."

In The Day of the Cattleman, p.185 (1929,)author Ernest Staples writes:

"The presence of others along a stream, too long to permit individual control, meant that exclusion of outsiders must come through some sort of an understanding among those already on the ground. Cooperation among neighbors in the conduct of their business resulted in the growth of a certain amount of range privilege and good will. Participation in the roundup, in the use of common corrals, in the group protection against Indians, thieves and predatory animals and, in some cases, in the group drive of the beef turnoff to the railroad could be permitted or denied to the newcomer. To deny such privileges, often appeared to be the only way of preventing overcrowding of a range already taxed to its full carrying capacity. The success of such a method would, of course, depend upon the size of the outfit so denied and upon the amount of cooperation among older stock growers."

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