Wyoming’s top federal prosecutor has rejected a retired federal agent’s complaint against state and county justice officials that alleged they violated federal law when prosecuting four hunters for corner crossing near Elk Mountain Ranch in Carbon County.

The complaint asserted that Carbon County prosecutor Ashley Mayfield Davis and Carbon County Sheriff Archie Roybal — both under the authority of Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill — violated the federal Unlawful Inclosures Act of 1884 and the 14th Amendment. Those violations occurred, Casper resident James Hasskamp alleged, when Davis charged the Missouri hunters with criminal trespass for corner crossing in 2020 and 2021 to hunt on public land.

Corner crossing is the act of stepping from one piece of public land to another at the common corner with two pieces of private property, all arranged in a checkerboard pattern of ownership. The four hunters never set foot on private Elk Mountain Ranch land where they were accused of trespassing. A Carbon County jury found them not guilty after a trial in April.

“[W]e do not consider the situation, as it currently exists, to constitute an unlawful ‘inclosure’ of public land.”

Nicholas Vassallo, acting U.S. attorney for Wyoming

The 1884 UIA seeks to preserve public access to federal property while the 14th Amendment ensures due process, equal protection and federal supremacy. Davis’s prosecution of the hunters ran afoul of those federal legal scriptures, Hasskamp’s affidavit alleged.

His filing with Acting U.S. Attorney for Wyoming Nicholas Vassallo sought a court order to stop actions that deter corner crossing.

Among Hasskamp’s complaints were that the operators of Elk Mountain Ranch, owned by North Carolina businessman Fred Eshelman, erected two fence posts at a checkerboard corner, violating the UIA. The posts – planted kitty-corner on two separate sections of ranch property — were chained together in what Hasskamp said was a design to prevent access to public land.

The hunters, Phillip Yeomans, Bradly Cape, John Slowensky and Zachary Smith, used a fence ladder to surmount the obstacle and cross from one parcel of public U.S. Bureau of Land Management property to another without setting foot on private Elk Mountain Ranch land.

But Vassallo didn’t buy Hasskamp’s argument.

“[W]e do not consider the situation, as it currently exists, to constitute an unlawful ‘inclosure’ of public land…” Vassallo wrote Hasskamp on Aug. 30. That absolved his office from pursuing the issue, Vassallo wrote.

“Consequently, it is our view that [the UIA] does not require the filing of a civil action by the U.S. Attorney,”  he wrote in a five-sentence, one-page letter to Hasskamp.

Posts and chain

Although Hasskamp’s affidavit alleges violations of the UIA against state and county officials, it names Eshelman, his ranch and his property holding company in the complaint’s title and throughout 44 pages of the document.

County and state officials “unlawfully acted as agents of Fredric Eshelman, EMR Land Co., LLC and Iron Bar Holdings,” wrote Hasskamp, who described himself as a retired 27-year agent with Department of Homeland Security.

Carbon County attorney Davis’s direction to Sheriff Archie Roybal to cite the hunters violated the UIA, Hasskamp claimed, because the act prohibits using threats and intimidation, in addition to physical barriers, to prevent legal access to public land.

Hasskamp contested Vassallo’s no-action decision in a Sept. 10 letter. He was “extremely disappointed” the attorney refused to take the issue to court, the letter states.

By shunning a legal venue, “an executive agency of the United States … has continued to jeopardize the public’s use of public lands, based on political issues, not law, and most importantly, through executive fiat,” Hasskamp wrote. He urged the acting attorney to reconsider his decision.

A spokeswoman for Vassallo said only that he had responded to Hasskamp’s complaint and would not comment further.

Vassallo’s determination “is likely a political decision, wherein money and power by the ‘landed class’, dictate public land use for their own dominion and control, versus the public’s use of the land for their own interests and good,” Hasskamp’s letter states.

The posts and chain at a common checkerboard corner at Elk Mountain Ranch. (James Hasskamp)

Eshelman’s 22,042-acre property, is salted with numerous parcels of public land, many inaccessible by public roads or recorded easements but contiguous to one another — and thereby contiguous to a public road — via various checkerboard corners.

Although the hunters walked free from the state’s criminal misdemeanor trespass charges, ranch owner Eshelman has sued them in civil court. He has claimed up to $7.75 million in damages alleging they trespassed by violating the airspace above his property at the common corners.

Resolution of that suit, set to go to trial in U.S. District Court next summer, could affect access to some 8.3 million acres across the West, 2.4 million of which are in Wyoming.

Access restored near Casper

Although Vassallo rejected Hasskamp’s claims in Carbon County, the attorney resolved a longstanding dispute over public access north of Casper in Hasskamp’s favor. There, Hasskamp claimed, a ranch-owning family, gun-manufacturing outfit and hunting guide service had illegally blocked public access to BLM property by locking a gate across a public easement.

In his affidavit, Hasskamp named Owens Land & Livestock Company, Teapot Land Co. and Lost Creek Outfitters with blocking access. One or more of the entities “unlawfully installed and placarded a gate with No Trespassing signs, which is on a recorded public easement, on Twenty Mile Road, within Natrona County,” he wrote.

The gate and a lock on it blocked access from a public easement to BLM land, the affidavit alleges, a violation of the UIA. The site is about 15 miles north of Casper near the Antelope Hills subdivision.

“This office, with the assistance of the Bureau of Land Management, contacted the landowner and demanded that the lock and sign be removed from the gate,” Vassallo wrote Hasskamp. “The landowner has complied and we therefore consider that matter resolved.”

A person associated with Lost Creek Outfitters said she was unable to comment on the issue but would relay a message to the landowners involved. WyoFile left a message at a telephone number listed for Owens Land & Livestock but did not receive a response.

This story was updated to include a link to the letter from Vassallo — Ed.

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. Oops, hit send too soon. You can also add the Outfitters to this “elite” list. Probably should mention the “Wildlife Task Force” which quickly showed to be Outfitter driven and attempted to “guarantee” business for these welfare guides via non res tags that could only be used with the service of an Outfitter

  2. I think the chronic attempts over the years to exclude the public for accessing and enjoying their, well, public lands amounts to one thing – ELITISM. There is a small but up until now, strong force that has leveraged the average Wyomingite in a chokehold and will trying anything and everything to keep us off public lands. These “elites” included the ultra-rich jetsetters and the BLM welfare cowboys of the Wyoming Stock Growers. Add to that the annual “pretty people” of the Lander One Shot who are given preference for Antelope tags out of the general pool. Can’t omit Wyoming Game & Fish here…anytime there’s a conflict between the average Joe Wyoming hunter and these elites, especially regarding the issue of accessing public lands (alleged trespassing, etc.), the hammer always falls on the “Joe”. There’s a whole bunch of redshirts burning 1,000’s of gallons of fuel in their shiny green pickup trucks and yet, today, fishing and hunting opportunities have dwindled. Yet G & F sure caters to the big landowners and treats Elk like livestock. Can’t forget that Legislators and County Attorney are “in” on it, as well. We have a severe imbalance of power here in Wyoming and it’s a time for a long overdue revolution.

  3. The US Attorney’s Office is now appearing like another Federal agency recreant in its duties. All they need to do is file the case and let the judge decide. But notice BLM’s hand was forced to finally take action for the locked gate on the road north of Casper. BLM knew about this locked gate for years and complacently let the landowner have free private use of thousands of public land. For shame. Kudos to Mr. Hasskamp for exposing the truth and the legal foundation for how to hold public officials and cheating landowners and outfitters accountable.

  4. The private landowners who own parcels adjacent to Public Lands would sing a different tune if their own access to Federal Public Lands was restricted to only those access points available to ALL citizens. It’s an old game; ‘reminds me of the Johnson County War. There’s a lot of “law” out there, but very little “justice.”

  5. The Bureau of Land Management has the authority to obtain legal access across private land to reach public property for public purposes, which can include hunting, outdoor recreation along with many other reasons. That part takes time but can be done. Getting the BLM to willingly start and complete the process is another issue.
    Historically, the BLM has to avoid or minimize these issues in their land use planning efforts because of the politics. If you have a good case for public access, participate in the BLMs planning process along with all the people you can get to muster to get involved. Be vocal about it and don’t give up. And remember it doesn’t necessarily have to mean vehicle/road access. It could be so much a foot or bicycle trail.

  6. A few years ago Uinta County bought land from the state. It cost the county over a million dollars for a thousand acres. The county had to pay the state the highest use valuation for sagebrush and horny toads. Force the ranch pay that valuation for the checkerboard public lands he thinks he owns. We need to be very careful as they open pandora’s box.

  7. The rancher could buy the public lands at full price, pay what private people charge for grazing rights on their property. The rancher gave the judge how much the landlocked public property when he sued the hunters. It is illegal to block access to a private piece of property. Let see what happens if the same is for public property. The rancher is opening a can of worms that needs to be addressed but never will be. That public land has a lot of value to those who lease it but pay only pennies on the dollar. If this standard was used it would break a lot of ranchers who use public lands.

  8. The unlawful locking of the BLM access gate near Casper was clearly a violation of the Inclosures Act and the 14th Amendment. Yet, when Mr. Hasskamp pushed the issue, there were no arrests or fines levied towards the guilty parties. The lock was simply removed and then everything was “all good” according to acting U.S. Attorney Vassollo. The Feds, State and Counties want to rail it against four Missouri hunters who never physically touched private property yet when there’s a clear violation committed by an Insider, well, these entities will look the other way. Next time I go 70 through a 20 mph school zone and get busted, I’ll just promise to go 20 next time and not get a ticket. I’ll be “good”, right?

    1. Gerry’s point is a very good one. When someone blocks legal access, there has to be fines or it will just continue. Perhaps from now on, if the public is caught trespassing on private land they should just wait until contacted by the county attorney and then leave. Would that be OK? I bet not.

  9. He with the most $$$$$ wins. Welcome to ‘Merica. I’d like to see a dollar figure of how much this has cost taxpayers.

  10. This guy is the “acting” U.S. Attorney for Wyoming. So….well, that’s like, your opinion, man. Even Ray Charles could see that the placement of steel posts by Eshelman’s henchmen onto Fed land to string a chain across the corner was an inclosures violation.

    To top it off, the Eshelman crew also harassed and hazed the Missouri hunters for day while they were on their hunt. This is a direct violation of the WY G & F Hunter harassment law, yet, G & F look away. It looks like both the Feds and State are collaborating against these Missourians.

  11. Being able to lease public land for grazing is a benefit for both the state and the rancher, but neither should be able to abuse it. Hunting is a benefit for both the state and the hunter also, especially local communities who sell the supplies and lodging. It is also a real blessing to non millionaire local tax payers who hunt for food. It would be interesting to see the local benefit compared to the money the government gets for leasing the land.

  12. Public land means the right to ingress and regress said lands by the general public. To prohibit such access is contrary to state and federal law.

  13. Anyone with a lick of common sense can see that purchasing land in a checkerboard fashion by the wealthy is simply a blatant attempt to keep the common man from public land and literally control twice the acreage at half the cost. How can any state allow these type of purchases and not be literally deaf, blind as well as dumb to this simple fact. This should be put before a jury of ones peers and not one person like a judge! I know of nowhere in our country you can landlock somebody from their own property so this is absolutely no different! Simply require a 12′ easement at the corners if that’s the way you want to spend your money and do not want to buy contiguous parcels of land. By allowing checkerboard purchases the BLM is the problem. Once again you’re fighting unelected bureaucrats that clearly do not work in the best interest of the public. Seems to me that the multi million dollar devaluation figure the gentleman refers to as losing in value was the pumped up value that he thought was provided by the corner purchase method restricting access to public land to which he should have not been entitled to in the first place. He apparently is wealthy enough to bring obviously blatant nuisance lawsuits to the courts which if brought before any reasonable court would be thrown out for the waste of valuable time that it is!

    1. You need to research the Transcontinental Railroad agreements/grants between the Federal Government and the companies building it. They were given every other section of land on both sides of the railroad corridor that they built. This carried over to modern days where the railroad companies sold this land to whomever, which left public sections of land in this situation.