Hateful vitriol, including a postcard from “Satan,” has prompted the owner of Elk Mountain Ranch to ask a federal court to stall the judge’s own decision that corner crossing is not trespassing.

Attorneys for Fredric Eshelman’s Iron Bar Holdings company filed for a stay Friday, telling Wyoming’s Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl there’s “a risk of harm” if his decision remains in effect. Eshelman wants to temporarily reverse Skavdahl’s June 1 decision while the ranch owner appeals the case.

Eshelman’s lawyers also claim that the corner-crossing ruling will cause irreparable harm to the North Carolina resident’s business at his 22,045-acre Carbon County ranch. Corner crossing is the act of stepping from one piece of public land to another without setting foot on private property.

Eshelman’s wildlife-rich ranch enmeshes some 6,000 acres of public land in a checkerboard pattern of ownership. By corner crossing, however, hikers and hunters can reach that public land without setting foot on private property.

“[T]he ranch is bracing for an influx of people who will attempt to corner-cross through ranch property.”

Elk Mountain Ranch employee affidavit

Eshelman’s unsuccessful federal civil suit against four hunters argued that passing through the airspace above ranch property at checkerboard corners constitutes a trespass. The Missouri hunters broke with convention when they corner crossed at Elk Mountain in 2020 and 2021, and Eshelman’s motion predicts more people will now come.

“Currently, the ranch is bracing for an influx of people who will attempt to corner-cross through ranch property,” one employee stated in an affidavit. They could bring ill-intent, lawyers say.

“[T]here are many people who not only dislike — but actually hate — [Eshelman’s Iron Bar Holdings company] and may seek revenge … by imposing property damage … blatantly trespassing … or threatening Plaintiff’s representatives and employees while corner crossing,” the motion states.

Court filings say the hunters’ attorneys opposed a stay.

On Elk Mountain the Missouri men bagged two six-point and one five-point elk during their first corner-crossing trip — about a week long — in 2020. The private and public land had been the exclusive domain of Eshelman, a hunter himself, until the Missourians challenged the notion that corner crossing was illegal.

Special delivery

Eshelman’s motion cites and offers “Satan’s” postcard, two emails, one Facebook post, a text message and reported voicemail messages as evidence of danger.

“The vast attention this case has garnered in the news and social media” produced shockingly vulgar, graphic and hateful communications that “directly threaten” the ranch and employees, the motion states. The employee affidavit states that “[C]allers are smart enough not to make outright threats.”

A ranch gate at Elk Mountain. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“To prevent, or at least minimize the risk of violence and confrontation, justice warrants a stay,” the motion reads. “A stay will notify the public the matter is unsettled, and it will minimize the risk of public confrontation with Plaintiff and its employees.”

The postcard, signed “From Hell, Satan,” but postmarked in Denver, stated “we hold a place for you here in the eternal fire.” Addressed to “Fred,” and mailed to the ranch, it said “[y]ou belong with us, here in the darkness, abandoned by god.”

An April 23 email to Eshelman stated that the author hoped the ranch owner dies a painful death and said that, in a just world, the hunters would be allowed “to harvest your organs for the money to pay their legal fees.”

Other messages took on ranch property manager Steve Grende, who confronted the Missourians in 2021 while they were hunting on public land. Grende yelled and swore at the men and followed them in his truck, according to testimony in 2022.

The text message said Grende would get an “ass whippin’” if he harassed or hazed hunters again.

For evidence of irreparable harm to the business, the motion recounts a voicemail message in which the caller said he would work to see the ranch business “go down the drain.”

Judge ‘mistaken’

After repeated requests by Elk Mountain Ranch in 2021, Carbon County prosecuting attorney Ashley Mayfield Davis ordered misdemeanor citations be issued against the four hunters for trespassing. A jury in 2022 found them not guilty.

Meanwhile, Eshelman filed the civil suit against the four, claiming up to $7.75 million in damages for their alleged airspace trespass.

The hunters successfully defended themselves, arguing that the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 prevented the ranch owner from blocking or trying to obstruct — including with threats and intimidation — their passage from one piece of federal land to another.

A survey marker at a common checkerboard corner near Elk Mountain Ranch. (James Hasskamp)

The case arises from and applies to the checkerboard-ownership landscape 20 miles north and south of the Union Pacific Railroad across southern Wyoming. There, alternating mile-square sections of private and public land would allow landowners to prevent the public from accessing public land if corner crossing was considered trespass and illegal.

Across the U.S. some 8.3 million acres of public land are inaccessible to the public under any interpretation that corner crossing is trespassing and illegal. Wyoming has about 2.4 million acres of “corner locked” land, much of it in the checkerboard area.

“The final order [from Skavdahl] created uncertainty for property rights in those thousands of acres of property,” Eshelman’s motion contends. “Implementation of the Final Order creates confusion about the status of private property rights, for both private property owners and the public.”

The motion states that Skavdahl was “mistaken” when he relied on a previous Unlawful Inclosures Act case known as McKay rather than a more recent one known as Leo Sheep. Eshelman has a likelihood of winning on appeal, the motion states and a stay will not substantially injure defendants.

Two attorneys who hadn’t previously been involved in the case filed the motion along with Eshelman’s lawyer Greg Weisz. The newcomers, Theresa Wardon Benz and Kristin L Arthur, with the Denver firm Davis, Graham and Stubbs, specialize in appeals.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. No legal U.S. resident (the public) should be kept off of public lands! Isn’t that the entire point of public lands? And let’s face it, the only reason land owners wouldn’t support corner crossing is so they could have exclusive access to public land, essentially now making it private land! The Government could stop the nonsense by making it unlawful for private land owners to keep U.S. citizens from accessing public land. They could also make it unlawful for private citizens to hold landowners responsible for their personal well-being while accessing public land, land-locked by private! But instead, here we are! I love what these guys did in 2020, because it’s just common-sense! I am watching this closely and have every intent of corner crossing to public land in the future! Like someone else pointed out earlier; what, are we going to starting flying around private lands? Air is air! They don’t own private air! They own private land! If air is the rule, one might expect Cabela’s to start carrying a line of jet packs!

  2. If I can’t step over the corner through thin air and not touch your property stepping from public property to public property then neither can you legally fly an airplane over private property. how stupid is stupid ?

  3. I sympathize with others who want their rightful use to the nations federal lands.However if this decision holds up it seems the practical application will be pretty limited. It would not authorize vehicular use and you would have to have a well trained (and tall!) horse to step over it. Congress made a big mistake here a long time ago and any useful solution will have to come from there; A compromise law that would allow only non-motorized legal access where public lands corner?? There would need to be some other already recognized public access that touches the federal land other than just the existence of of two tracts that corner.

  4. Here in Colorado I have personal experience in public land access blocking. For many years Myself and other people have been hunting and just camping on public land that is now unavailable because of private land surrounding our public land. The road that has always been a county road or fire road B. L. M. management roads are now blocked by private land ouners.

  5. Public land has to be accessible to the public, otherwise it becomes private land. The judge ruled properly, the greed of Eshelman is and will be never ending !

  6. Dear Fred.

    Please go back to where you came from,,,

    Or here is an idea. Make a little path on your property that hunters/ photographers/ animal lovers/ and hikers can access public land.

    Become the good guy and let people thru your land and on to the public land Most people in Wyoming are respectful of our lands.

    What would it hurt? Your reasoning is pretty weak. Why go thru all the hassle.
    It may not be your intent but you are pissing off a lot of Wyoming people.

    Your lawyers are making a fortune off of you

  7. I think Eshilman is looking for anything that will cause his appeal to overturn, as a Hunter myself and a Cabin owner on Elk Mountain plus Born and raised in the Hanna/Elk Mountain area I’ve not seen or heard of any malicious or harm or threats being done to any of his employees or himself, I’m good friends with one of his Ranch Managers, the only public input I’m seeing is for this issue to finally be settled and give the public their due Right to access Public property, I think Eshilman is grasping for anything to stop that. We are Entitled to Public Land.

  8. Delay is a Trump tactic and Fred has learned from the best. He is a leading conservative giving millions to support Trump. The real problem here and in many states is our state government is weak and did not have the foresight or funds to purchase access to public land so we can all enjoy it, not just the wealthy. And money talks in this country so we shall see.

    1. Gina. Trump did not invent the delay tactic in court. So get off everything is Trumps fault. Now that said the loser of court fight hasn’t lost until all due process is exhausted. He is in his full right to appeal by legal means

  9. If Steve,and other employees just refrain from harassing hunters,as he did before,I highly doubt there is any “danger” at all.
    It’s just another move by the entitled to hold from the public for their own personal gain.

  10. So the request is ridiculous. Perhaps he needs to understand that being a neighbor in a state who values the freedom to use public lands and that they and wildlife should and do supercede his desire to be king if the mountain.
    This reminds me of the case the Supreme Court said to the rancher. Take down the fences and leave them down. Don’t know about it, read this:

  11. Anonymous threats are the lowest form of cowardly abuse. Why are cowards attacking people they disagree with?

  12. The legal strategy of asking the Judge to change his mind because Mr. Eshelman is a pariah in Wyoming, roundly disliked for his bad behavior, is as clumsy and inept an attempt at litigation as I have seen in a long while. That postcard did not come from the real Satan. The real Satan would have known that there is a special corner of hell, hotter than the rest of the place, for people who wrongly try to appropriate public lands.

  13. Hopefully the trophy hunters will be doing some corner crossing this year taking pressure off us meat hunters.

  14. The Missouri hunters won their cases because of federal law the lawyers for Wyoming livestock Budd-Falon say that the supreme court has always said that the property rights are with the state law. However this is BLM land and that is federal.Judge Skavdahl made the right decision on the federal public lands. The landowners that hoard public lands are the real lawbreakers.

    1. Rod Stone – right on! I can’t believe people are wound up because other people put their foot in the air above their property for 1 or 2 seconds to gain access to PUBLIC property that all peoples own. Such…. crybabies!!

  15. WyoFile, you have stooped to a new low in journalism. Actually publishing a postcard from one person to another? Without even analyzing what your “commentary”… NOT news is portraying here, you have set the bar so low in “news” I can’t even imagine what comes next to top … or errrrr… undermine, this level of journalism.

    1. Mr. Skaggs. You owe Wyofile an apology. That card was submitted as court evidence. Thus in public domain. Exact same as the pin drops submitted

      1. Just to be clear, I totally agree that the public should have access to the lands that were checkerboarded out to the Union Pacific railroad as partial payment for their efforts in building the Trans-Continental Railroad. “Every other section within 10 (?) miles on both sides of centerline of completed track laid”. The public should be allowed access to public land. Got it… I agree with it.
        I just dislike the tenor of this piece of “journalism” where a whole article is focused on one crazy person’s postcard sent through the USPS.
        I find it a shame that WyoFile can’t find somewhere, anywhere, something else to write about. No wonder they are in a constant Begathon looking for money.

        1. “Hateful vitriol, including a postcard from “Satan,” has prompted the owner of Elk Mountain Ranch to ask a federal court to stall the judge’s own decision that corner crossing is not trespassing.”

          The postcard is in relation to why oligarch fred wants a reversal of the earlier decision.

          I don’t understand your manufactured “outrage”. Seems to me like you just want to complain about wyofile.

  16. Once again, as with “Waypoint 6”, Eshelman’s lawyers want to distract away from the real issue at hand; the public’s right to access public land.

  17. The claimed “vast attention” on this case has been brought by landowner himself – ‘you reap what you sow’ – from the suit and the behavior and accusations he and his employees have initiated. To persist that access to public lands involves “passage through ranch property” despite the recent ruling could be viewed as a warning, something no one needs now.