Elk Mountain along Carbon County Road 400. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

The owner of the Elk Mountain Ranch that’s the site of a widely watched corner-crossing case filed a notice Thursday stating he will appeal the loss of his federal civil suit.

Fredric Eshelman’s appeal will be made in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, according to protocol. It could take longer than two weeks — even into late August — before the specifics of Eshelman’s objections are laid out in documents.

Eshelman sued four hunters from Missouri for trespass after they corner crossed and passed through the airspace above his property. The hunters stepped from one piece of public land to another in an area where land ownership is arranged in a checkerboard pattern.

At the common corner of four sections — two public and two private — the men in 2020 and 2021 located survey monuments and stepped over them without setting foot on Eshelman’s private land. By that method, they successfully hunted thousands of acres of public land enmeshed in Eshelman’s 22,045-acre ranch on Elk Mountain.

“Property rights are always defined by the state.”

Karen Budd-Falen

Corner crossing has been a legal gray area but the Missourians challenged Eshelman’s practice of deterring hunters from accessing corner-locked public land. By insisting that corner crossing was trespassing, Eshelman essentially had exclusive access to some 6,000 acres of public land for his own hunting and other excursions. 

Carbon County authorities, upon Eshelman’s urging, charged the hunters with trespassing, but a jury in 2022 found them not guilty.

Eshelman filed a civil suit seeking up to $7.75 million in damages, even though the men never touched or damaged his property. The hunters’ attorneys successfully moved the case to federal court where they argued that the Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1885 prevented Eshelman from blocking their passage across the corners.

After a hearing, U.S. Chief District Judge Scott Skavdahl decided the men did not trespass and issued his final judgment June 1. He limited his decision to corner crossing on foot in the checkerboard area; there is no trespassing if private land is not touched or damaged, he stated.

His ruling applies to Wyoming. Across the West, some 8.3 million acres of public land are considered corner-locked to public access.

Karen Budd-Falen, who filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Wool Growers Association, said her clients would have to see the reasoning behind the appeal before they decided to again express their opinion.

Budd-Falen and her clients said the civil suit should have been decided in a Wyoming court, not a federal one. Wyoming law states that property owners also own the airspace above their land.

Skavdahl said in his ruling that property ownership can have limitations, and that in this case, legal corner crossing was one limitation on property rights.

Budd-Falen said Thursday she holds to her original arguments.

“Property rights are always defined by the state,” and the Supreme Court of the United States has said that many times, she said.

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)...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. THIS one law should be amended at either the state or federal level or maybe both.
    Although somewhat contentious depending on who is reading it the fact remains the wealthy landowners or their relatives with be one of a few issues that will mean the death of public land altogether if not stopped and stopped NOW. You own the land then it’s yours to do what you want, you also own the access to public land that somehow slipped through the cracks and in the defiance of BLM, National Forest, State Forest lands is just plain wrong and should (WILL) be dealt with eventually

  2. I believe corner crossing should be allowed. Some land owners use the public land for personal use/profit. These landowners won’t give permission to cross their personal property without charging a fee.

  3. I don’t have millions of acres and live in small house in a subdivision in CO. If my neighbor wanted to build a big tree house that over hung my property — I could object because I own some of the space above my property. If someone wanted to dig a tunnel to get to the pond behind my house, I could object because I own some of the space under my property. Our forefathers took property rights seriously. It will be interesting to find out about Wyoming property rights.

  4. I heard a suggestion that the government trade him sections and create open area to the public and close in his private property. A win for both. But then the rich landowners want it all, no comprise. They want to landlock public land for their own benefit. Thank you MO hunters and all the people supporting them. Don’t give up.

  5. Are checker-board inclosed public land parcels leased for grazing? Does accessing these require approval from the private land owner? So can cows and sheep cross the corner or are they trespassing?

  6. There are thousands of acres of public lands throughout the West that are inaccessible to hunters and fishermen and others seeking to use it for recreation — merely because rich private landowners have been allowed to buy up all the land surrounding it.

    This needs to change. These lands belong to the public. Not the private scammers. Federal law needs to be changed to require that all public lands be accessible by publicly accessible roads, including by public easements on private lands where necessary. The various Federal alphabet bureaucracies are forever trading lands, public for private. Let’s force them to do that in order to achieve these goals.

  7. So then according to Budd-Falen and the State of Wyoming a property owner in Wyoming has the right to stop a plane flying at 30,000 feet if it crosses “their airspace”? Wow it’s amazing the hare-brain ideas that are institutionalized by Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Wool Growers Association Wyoming.

  8. Eshelman is a rich spoiled brat who can’t take no for an answer. The Missouri hunters have whipped him twice in court the big rich baby can’t handle it he’s a disgrace to carbon county and also to Wyoming.

  9. It must not take much brainpower to be an opioid billionaire these days. The robber baron in question fell for a glossy brochure from some slickster real estate agent brokering a ranch that was promising -complete and sole access to 1,000’s of acres of public land- you hire some kid ranch manager to tell the world that -do you know how much money my boss has?- you then enlist the aid of very expensive team of pettifogger attorneys that know you can’t win, yet have billed you a pretty prenny and you get your butt whipped in court by 4 good ole’ Missouri boys. Of course team shyster is prodding you to appeal, where you”ll lose again and they know it. Since it’s 5 o;clock somewhere, the -team’ is laffin’ it up cashing your checks and giggling at the bar. You’re only buddy here in the state of Wyoming is Paul Burke who’s so savvy, he doesn’t know you lost and will lose again. About 569,000 folks will be laughing in unison once again when the judge scoffs at your appeal.

  10. It seems to me that the landowner is trying to control way more than his rather large ranch. He already has more than most folks, maybe he should be happy with that.
    People should be able to use public lands, and those corners should have crossing methods permanently in place.

  11. It would appear from comments by Ms. Falen that ownership of “airspace” may be the remaining issue to be contended, especially if such a “lofty” concept resides somewhere in the annals of Wyoming state law.

  12. This does appear to be a sad incident of a rich man with too much money and too much time on his hands looking for something to occupy himself. Unfortunately, he ended up in Wyoming.

  13. Stockgrowers and hunters/fishers have a lot in common here. Just like the BLM rule set to take effect, out-of-state interests are going to continue to dictate to Wyoming residents. United we stand…..

  14. I think it’s time for the legislatures to step in and settle this – this obviously is a very wealthy bully that’s trying in no certain terms to not allow any body on land he does not own but gets to keep landlocked – there has to be an access to the public land and obviously this person want ms to intimidate anyone who think they can get to public land crossing over his corner – the legislation should come up with a plan that allows people to access public lands via corners with a 10 foot into all private land only to be used for access!!!! The UP Railroad bought up the checkered pattern years ago to ensure no other railroad could build – that has since changed and no one should be kept off public state or federal public land!!!

  15. I wonder if he is one of these spoiled rich guys who thinks he can spend his way to victory and spend his opponents into submission?

    1. Sadly all Wyomingites are being tarred by the same brush as the out of state millionaire owner. While I agree with private property rights, they should not be able to prevent public use of public lands. On the other hand the right to use public lands does NOT give the right to use at will and in any way, including crossing private land. Rules and restrictions are as necessary for this as anything else. I do think the crossing ladder is one of the smartest things to come out of all of this.

  16. if this appeal is denied, eshelman will have set a precedent and open up corner crossing in all western states, not just wyoming. karen fallen-budd, please sent this message to your clients the wyoming welfare cowboy outfit – the free lunch is over

  17. It must be nice to have unlimited funds to harass people. It would be nice if he would use some of that money for Conservation instead of trying to protect the doctrine of the King’s Deer.

  18. A first year law student know that Jurisdiction is based on personal or subject matter. My guess is that the defends have no ties to Wyoming. Federal Judges are perfectly capable of hearing cases regarding Wyoming State Law in an objective manner.
    I hope the Corporate Welfare Stock Grower Ass. & the Plaintiff both loose at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Too much of Wyoming’s Lands are inaccessible to the general public that support these Corporate Welfare Ranchers and/or their wealthy owners!
    Great reporting by Wyofile on this story and many others.

  19. This is another clear case of the rich bullying other individuals seeking to use the public lands, which they own. The four men from Missouri have had terrific moral and financial support from outdoor groups. I’m certain it will continue.

  20. dr.eshleman has every right to appeal the decision to the federal circuit.
    the 10th is a middle of the road circuit.

    wish him the best of luck !