Rawlins, site of Wyoming’s landmark Frontier Prison, is the locale for a scheduled criminal trespass trial involving four hunters accused of corner crossing. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr./WyoFile)

A judge in Rawlins on Friday rejected a motion to dismiss criminal trespass charges against four hunters accused of corner crossing but said she would consider requests to delay their trial.

Carbon County Circuit Court Judge Susan Stipe said the outcome of a separate, ongoing civil trespass suit involving the same 2021 hunting incident could affect the criminal case in front of her. It is scheduled to be tried before a jury starting April 27.

“Having this jury trial … may be the cart before the horse.”

Carbon County Circuit Court Judge Susan Stipe

“Having this jury trial … may be the cart before the horse,” Stipe said. The separate civil suit, brought by the owner of the Elk Mountain Ranch where the men are accused of trespassing, could undo the foundation of the criminal case before her, she suggested.

Four Missouri hunters have pleaded not guilty to the trespass charges and contend they stepped from one piece of public land to another — at the intersection of two public and two private sections — without setting foot on private property. The case involves the checkerboard pattern of land ownership in parts of Carbon County where private and public land are interspersed.

The cases hinge on whether a person passing through the airspace above a private piece of land is trespassing, and their outcomes may impact public access to millions of acres of public land in the West.

Stipe declined defense attorneys’ requests to dismiss the trespass charges, saying she found no grounds under her authority to throw them out. Because she ruled from the bench Friday and lawyers needed time to confer with their clients, she said she would consider a delay of the April 27 trial, if requested, at another hearing Friday.

‘Threadbare allegations’

As the hunters, prosecutors, defense attorneys and court personnel prepare for the criminal trespass jury trial in Rawlins, the Elk Mountain Ranch owner told a federal judge he should move the case back into the Wyoming court system. An attorney for Fred Eshelman outlined reasons to federal judge Scott Skavdahl in a memo filed Thursday.

Skavdahl on March 1 accepted a transfer of the civil case from Carbon County District Court to his federal venue. Eshelman’s attorney objected last week, calling the transfer “an attempt to impermissibly derail state court proceedings.” Attorney Gregory Weisz, representing the ranch’s holding company Iron Bar Holdings LLC, asked that it immediately be returned to Wyoming’s jurisdiction.

A fence guards private property at the Elk Mountain Ranch, site of a corner-crossing controversy. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Hunters’ attorneys “raise federal defenses that are, at best, speculative,” Weisz wrote. Further, the hunters’ claims that the value of the civil litigation meets the minimum $75,000 federal threshold are “threadbare allegations.”

Eshelman and Iron Bar make their civil trespass claims only under state laws, Weisz wrote. The case “does not rely on any federal statute …”

Just because the alleged trespass involves the hunters stepping from one piece of federal Bureau of Land Management land to another does not mean the issue should be adjudicated in the U.S. District Court for Wyoming, Iron Bar says.

“If the other [checkerboard] parcels of property were owned by another private landowner as opposed to the BLM, Plaintiff would have still brought its claims … in state court,” the filing states. The federal Unlawful Inclosure of Public Lands Act that generally prevents landowners from fencing others out of federal land does not apply to the Elk Mountain Ranch civil complaint, Weisz contends.

“Plaintiff’s Complaint focuses on the validity of Plaintiff’s private property rights, the legal ability to exclude others from its property, and a determination of whether Defendants unlawfully trespassed upon the airspace above Plaintiff’s private property,” he wrote. “[T]here simply is no ‘substantial federal interest’ that would warrant removal of the case … from Wyoming courts to federal court.”

Many believe that resolution of the unsettled corner-crossing trespass question in a federal venue would address access to millions of acres of public land across the West that are now “landlocked” by any interpretation that corner crossing is illegal.

Weisz made other arguments to support return to Wyoming jurisdiction, while an attorney for the hunters maintained that the case belongs before a federal judge.

No gag order

In circuit court Friday Judge Stipe also called prosecutors’ motion to limit the distribution of public court documents a request for a “gag order.” She denied that motion.

During a two-and-a-half-hour hearing, she listened to prosecutors’ request for an order “to limit prejudicial pretrial communications with the media and release of information.” That request apparently included even the distribution of public court documents.

Carbon County Prosecutor Ashley Mayfield Davis told Stipe there is “too much media attention” on the case and that it is being tried in the media instead of in front of a Carbon County jury.

Media coverage of the case is such that it would be hard to find a venue, even “on a desert island,” where denizens were not aware of the dispute, Davis told Stipe.

The prosecutor’s request is for “what I’m going to call a gag order,” Stipe said.

“I’m concerned about that issue,” Stipe said. “I’m guessing the media is also concerned.

“Any motion for a gag order is hereby denied,” she said.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

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. Can someone tell me why a ticket wasn’t written to the Elk Mountain ranch manager and-or employees for harassing and and interfering with 4 hunters? This is WY S.S. 23-3-405. “Interference with lawful taking of wildlife prohibited”. Not only is it illegal to do this, it’s also illegal for the ranch owner to instruct his lackeys to do this. Several tickets should of been written.

    Oh wait, the owner of Elk Mountain ranch clearly has the Carbon County D.A. and her lackeys under his thumb. Since the biased and hopefully soon to be ex-Carbon County D.A. won’t do the right thing, could a grand jury be summoned to consider these harassment charges? Is Carbon County really this dirty and corrupt?

    1. “Why wasn’t a ticket for Hunter Harassment issued”??? I’ll tell you why – prosecutorial misconduct. When the dust settles on this one, someone in the deep state of Carbon County will need to account for themselves. Public perception has already been formed with an extremely negative outlook on the Prosecution. It’s a guarantee that the Wyoming Bar disciplinary board is watching these shenanigans closely and will in the near future be having a very frank discussion with Ashley Mayfield-Davis. This blatant and obvious1880’s era robber baron owned “law dog” stuff don’t fly in 2022. A whole lotta people will be lined up to speak their piece on this one!

  2. The only truthful and unbias narrative of this situation is coming from WyoFile and it’s bulldog reporter, Angus Thuermer aka Mr. T. If prosecutors didn’t want bad publicity to get out, then they shouldn’t of made bad decisions. Mr. Mayfield and Staff are 100% responsible for their own biased maneuvers and ill reputation earned in this kangaroo court setup. Seriously, I “pity the fool(s)” who tried to suppress knowledge and skirt the 1st Amendment via a gag order with Mr. T and WyoFile on the spot. What’s your next move, Ms. Mayfield-Davis, gonna try to get WyoFile shut down? Since this is been a game that has obviously backfired on you, what’s your move, Darling? We’re watching and are not going away.

    1. Great comment. This state’s legislature and DA’s still act like it is 1880. Change is coming my dinosaurs….

  3. I believe this “corner crossing” issue is one that is long overdue for resolution! As a life-long resident of Wyoming and an avid outdoorsman, I believe arguments on both sides have some merit. I am an advocate for “corner crossing” but I do believe it needs to have some rules attached to protect the adjacent landowners rights as well!

    I was born and raised in NE Wyoming and my family history is ranching, farming and homesteading. My mother grew up on a ranch near Newcastle operated by her mother and father. I remember as a youngster working with my grandmother to operate her ranch…herding and doctoring her cattle and sheep, making repairs to ranch facilities and fences. My grandmother’s ranching operations included federl and state grazing leases in addition to deeded land. When I was a young boy, I remember landowners in the area, including my grandmother, allowing nearly unlimited access to property for recreational activities including hiking, picnicking, hunting and fishing. As I was the oldest grandchild, my grandmother and I had a very unique relationship. I remember her asking me “what I thought” as she prepared to wind down her ranching operation and retire. No one else on this side of the family was into ranching at the time, so my grandmother basically liquidated her deeded holdings and released her state ad federal grazing leases. During the final years of her ranch operation, my grandmother had to deal with an ever-increasing series of trespass violations, which included damage to surface property by people (even life-long family “friends”) creating new roads which lead to increased erosion and damage to grazing and other assets such as fences being cut and not repaired while illegally “off-roading” on my grandmothers property.

    My fathers family (my paternal grandfather) homesteaded near the Cheyenne River south of Newcastle and farmed and raised sheep. I do not recall and family stories of land abuse from my Dad’s side, probably because my Dad’s family had ceased operations and “moved to town” when my father was a young boy. The property on my Dad’s side was also much more remote from the normal travel routes of the time, they probably had little or no trespass issues to deal with.

    As I have pursued my interests in the outdoors over the years, I have noticed an alarming trend…people calling themselves “outdoorspeople” have and are treating private land as their garbage dumps, using ORV’s irresponsibly by driving wherever they want (instead of walking) creating new trails that end up changing the landscape, including off roading in private cultivated fields and pasture land. Leaving gates open allowing livestock to move into areas that the landowners don’t want their livestock at that time.

    The stories can go on and on about what I have personally witnessed and from reliable first hand observers, including some childhood friends who still ranch/farm today. I strongly support public access to public lands in most circumstances but I have seen enough abuse of private lands and property in my lifetime that I am convinced that some strict control measures need to be attached to the “right” to recreate on public land. The corner crossing “discussion” in Carbon County Wyoming seems to stem more from private landowners desire to create and maintain a “land empire” than a valid attempt to protect there deeded land interests. The concept that trespass occurs when someone “passes through the airspace above the land” is a ludicrous argument, since, if carried to the extreme, could prohibit air travel and space exploration. The large landowners who claim “injury” because someone “passes through the airspace” over their property smacks of royal “entitlement” that lead to the founding of this country by people who were tired of the wealthy landowners controlling everyday life in England and Europe. I think we are seeing a resurgence in this attitude the “since I’m wealthy, I have more rights than the “poor”.

    Thank you for the opportunity to weigh in on this important matter!

    1. Gary, you make some good points and a point or two that wasn’t very good = “recreationalists” destroying and littering public land. Does it happen? Sure but I cover quite a bit of public land in my recreational pursuits and I see way more adjacent private landowners using the BLM as their personal landfills. Some of these neighbor created created have been in existence for years and years and grow daily with more ranch garbage dumped on them. Many of the illegal roads on public land have also been created by the rancher. Let’s talk about another way of destroying land = grazing. There is a whole lotta BLM out there that has been chewed down to nothing but dirt, leaving absolutely nothing for the wildlife. Streambanks trampled down and cow sludge flowing in the channel, if water runs at all. I can tell you with all honesty that for every acre of public land somehow damaged or destroyed by recreationalists, you can probably counter that a 1,000 acres that has been ground down to nothing by the $1.35 cow-calf a month public land cowboy. Pretty easy to blame some bird hunter or rock hound when the real culprit is controlling the land for pennies on the dollar.

      1. Many times it is the grazing lease holder and/or adjacent landowner who has damaged the public parcels of land with their livestock or driving all over it, creating roads and ditches. Yet they’ll point the blame at someone who wants to look for arrowheads or photograph wildflowers and such on U.S. taxpayer owned property. The rancher wants to cry out and claim they’re protecting the land by keeping John Q. Public off but in most cases, the land should of been protected from them. Here’s hoping that the Ashley Mayfield kangaroo court goes nowhere other then exposing the clowns and their surrogates who are trying to create a feudal system of land control and almost free livestock grazing plus wildlife harvested for profit in Wyoming.

    2. I agree with the comments by Gary Wolfe. People who legally access USA lands by corner crossing should not be prosecuted.
      As a non-native Wyomingite who Chose to live in Wyoming 40 years ago and who has had been doing field work across the state for many years I have seen both good and bad from landowners and non-landowners over the years. From the 1980s into the early 1990s many landowners allowed free access on and across their lands. While a few large landowners attempted to prevent access across public lands they claimed they owned most landowners were more than generous with their property. Around the time of the early 1990s as the population of people who wanted to recreate/hunt increased problems began to become more frequent. Including leaving gates open or closing then (leave them as you find them) cutting fences, creating new roads on private land, starting fires, and trashing the property to name a few of the issues. As a result access across or onto private lands have been rightly restricted. In addition I have found new owners of private lands are more likely to restrict access than long time ranching families.
      The thoughts presented by others that ranchers are also are destroying public lands though are true in some cases it does not give hunters and recreationalists the right to do the same.
      One of the problems resulting from this case after the defendants win is how this precedence will be handled in the future. As stated above I believe corner crossing should be legal. Will people abide legally and only walk across at corners or will some or more believe they now have the right to cross away from the corners or to drive to these sections. Carrying a large hunted animal across numerous checker boarded sections is possible, but will short cuts be taken? This would also be the case for camping on public lands. One would need to hike in the camp spot. You would have no given right to access these lands any other way. It should also be noted that while hunting of “arrowheads” has been a considered a family tradition for a very long time, on public lands this is illegal. These last comments will need to be considered only after the court case is resolved in the hunters favor.

  4. I had to laugh at the assertion that even those on farflung islands know about this
    corner crossing case. Wyoming is the insular island, disconnected from the rest of the world, if you ask me. Maybe better off for it , unless there’s a nuclear war with Russia because Colorado and Wyoming feature underground missile silos, placed there because of the lack of population, will be targeted for the first strikes After that no one will have to worry about corner crossing a rich guy’s land .

  5. I am of the opinion that the Iron Bar Ranch should be given the actual damages for their property, which is exactly zero dollars, and they should be mandated to pay the entire of the legal fees incurred by the defendants and reasonable penalties for mental anguish and suffering, including travel fees, caused by this attempt to legally bully these men from out of state, he and his unethical lawyers figured that they would knuckle under rather than fight this injustice. This should be a case for the ages, where it doesn’t matter how rich you are, you can’t buy an unjust win in a kangaroo court in a backwoods county, even in Wyoming,where because of this case being filed by the District Attorney, justice is on the side of the biggest pocketbook

  6. I propose a new holiday. “Corner Crossing Day” where we all legally access public lands that private landowners are hellbent on closing off.

  7. Since this case has major implications for unlocking public lands across the country, hearing it in federal court is appropriate.

  8. If “airspace” is included in private property rights, how does that affect airplanes? Both private and commercial aircraft fly over privately owned property all of the time.

  9. This case should never have gone to court, PERIOD. If the 4 defendants in the case never stepped on the ranches property how did they trespass. I don’t know of anyone that owns the air in, or around their property. If that was the case you would be able to sue commercial airlines for flying their aircraft over your property. In my opinion, I feel this ranch owner that is pushing this case is just trying to throw his weight around, I could understand pushing the issue if these 4 out of state hunters where hunting on the ranches property, but they weren’t. I THINK THIS LAND/RANCH OWNER NEEDS TO FIND OR PICK UP SOME KIND OF HOBBY!!

  10. In a nutshell, since the “gag order” request was tossed, the Fred Eshelman/Ashley Mayfield Davis team is trying to steer the case from the Fed’s back to the Wyoming kangaroo court. What’s a matter there, Freddie? You can’t “buy” the Feds? . In essence this case has already been tried and the Court of Public Opinion has found the Ashley Mayfield Davis/Carbon County Attorney’s Office team guilty of in-your-face buffoonery and deep embarrassment to the citizens of Carbon County. The stench from this one is going to linger over Rawlins for decades. Hey Ashley, when it’s all over, do you think Fred is going to retain you as his personal Attorney after the voters of Carbon County send you out on the noon balloon? Doubt it

  11. While I don’t have a crystal ball, I have a hard time believing a jury of average Wyoming citizens, would convict someone for trespassing on land they never touched. If they do, then every person who walks a sidewalk waving their hand over someone’s lawn is just as guilty. I think a jury will see that.

    Further, if hunters were harassed by ranch employee’s while hunting public land, the employee’s should have been charged. How they got to that land is irrelevant to the harassment law and is a separate issue being handled by the corner crossing trespass charge. The fact that the prosecutor chose to only charge the hunters is telling.

    The outcome to these trials will go a long way to determining how much access the public has to their own land.

  12. This case is about federal land and will impact multiple states, it should be in federal court not in state court where laws are already in favor of the landowner with the most money.
    What is getting damaged in the air space at a corner crossing?
    If that’s the argument then one could say that if the wind is blowing it was public air that went across when they did .
    If there is a road going to these lands then the public can go on these public lands so why can’t the public go on them by corner crossing?
    This argument of damaging landowner land by doing this is a childish accusation and everyone knows this.
    Leasing these federal lands for cows to graze isn’t an ownership of our public lands and if it’s damages everyone is worried about then the lease holders shouldn’t be able to drive on the land because of damages either , if one goes to these leased lands and walks around, they will notice the only damages are from the lease holders vehicles and the livestock .
    This is about public land not about private land, actually this is about the power over the people on their own land.
    If the landowners don’t like people on the public land they lease then the lease shouldn’t be offered to them, they get first dibs on the lease when it comes up also and that needs addressed too if this is going to be such a problem to these landowners, if it’s public land then the public should be able to use it.
    This landowner in question doesn’t live in Wyoming and is just using money for power , I really doubt he could locate any damaged airspace on his place after a couple hunters corner crossed.

  13. The civil case is quite important as a matter of range and land law. I think it is in the correct jurisdiction. The case has national implications, especially in the west. The corner-crossing matter must be addressed due to the checkerboard. As a 35-year active member of the WSB, I hope it comes out “right,” which to me is that the trespass case must fail.