Records: Bundy ancestors were farmers, not full-time ranchers - 8 News NOW

Records: Bundy ancestors were farmers, not full-time ranchers

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LAS VEGAS -- Rancher Cliven Bundy’s claims of ancestral rights to graze on federal Gold Butte rangeland have their roots in two of his maternal great-great-grandfathers who were among the original 1877 settlers of Bunkerville.

But historical accounts of the roles Dudley Leavitt and Myron Abbott played in the development of the Mormon colony don’t depict either man as having spent much time running cattle on open rangeland as Bundy has done in defiance of federal court orders against him.

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In the 1942 book "Dudley Leavitt, pioneer to Southern Utah," author Juanita Brooks offered plenty of detail about Leavitt's cattle experience prior to his arrival in Bunkerville, where he also set up a cotton gin and flour mill. But there is little detail about Leavitt's ranching activity once he reached Bunkerville. 

In the 1992 book “Edward Bunker: a study in commitment and leadership,” author Gaylen Bunker penned a chapter on Bunker’s founding of Bunkerville that detailed Leavitt’s contributions. The author noted that the town was originally established under a United Order in which property was shared by all for the communal good.

Gaylen Bunker wrote of Leavitt: “He put everything he had into the United Order, including all of his cattle, horses, and wagons. He had his big waterwheel hauled down from his old residence at Gunlock (Utah) and installed for the benefit of the community to drive a cotton gin.”

By 1880, though, the United Order collapsed financially as some settlers claimed to be pulling more weight than others.

“Dudley Leavitt, a particularly important individual in the community, felt that his cattle were divided among others and he came out of the experiment poorer than he went in,” Bunker wrote. “Whether it was the method of distribution or his desire for more land, Dudley moved across the river and set up his family at what would become a separate town: Mesquite.

“The year 1880 ended the remarkable experiment that had proved to be such a phenomenal success in it earliest days.”

Once in Mesquite, Leavitt ran a farm but it doesn't appear he spent much time with cattle. As Brooks wrote:

"For four years the family lived here, and were an independent, self-supporting unit. They raised everything they ate; they had molasses and honey, they hauled rock salt from St. Thomas, they had their grains, fruits and vegetables. They always had milk, though there were times when there was no butter. They kept pigs and sheep, so they could have meat on occasion."

After the Virgin River flooded and wiped out his farm, Leavitt spent most of the rest of his life delivering U.S. mail, according to Brooks.

Leavitt eventually moved to Littlefield, Ariz., where he was a neighbor in 1900 to Abraham Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s paternal great-grandfather, according to Census records. Leavitt returned at some point to Bunkerville and died there in 1908.

Unlike Leavitt’s brief initial stint in Bunkerville, Myron Abbott stayed in town until his death in 1907. His contributions to Bunkerville agriculture were described in an article on immigrant pioneers available through the Utah State University Special Collections Library. Abbott was described as having “some farm land and a large family to work it.”

He was credited with bringing to Bunkerville “many young fruit trees and grape cuttings that are still growing in the area.” But neither that article or a separate 98-page diary Abbott authored covering the years 1880 to 1882 tied him to cattle grazing.

These were typical entries from Abbott’s diary, covering two days in February 1880, exactly as transcribed by the Genealogical Society of Utah: “We leveled land sowed wheat and started to make a ditch along the uper side of our land. The Wind blowed very hard from the West all day and we set out some trees on the north side of our field.

“Myself, Joseph Earl and Stephen worked on the field ditch. Wilbur sowed barley. Miny plowed in the barley at night. Wilber Earl and Wife myself and Wife Went to Brother Lemuel Leavitt’s to spend the evening. We sowed 6 bushels of barley.”

It was in January 1948, some 68 years after Leavitt initially left Bunkerville, that Cliven Bundy’s parents bought the Bunkerville ranch Bundy still calls home.

But any ancestral ties Bundy claims wouldn’t have come from the ranch, at least when it comes to direct bloodlines. The seller, Raoul Leavitt, and Bundy’s mother, whose maiden name is Margaret Bodel Jensen, were second cousins who shared Dudley Leavitt as a great-grandfather, according to the website Ancestry.com.

Claims of ancestral rights to graze in Gold Butte also would not have existed until 1936, at least under federal law. That is when the federal government began regulating grazing on federally-owned land in Southern Nevada under the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934. A 1998 federal court ruling established that Bundy’s father, David Ammon Bundy, didn’t begin using Bureau of Land Management acreage for grazing until at least 1954.

Prior to the Bundy ranch purchase in 1948, all the farming by his ancestors in Bunkerville and later in Mesquite came from his mother’s side of the family.

Bundy’s maternal great-grandfather, William Elias Abbott, grew up in Bunkerville and later became one of the founding pioneers of Mesquite. A bronze statue of Abbott erected in Mesquite says in its biographical inscription that in his youth “he raised melons, picked cotton, cared for animals, and made molasses. Later, he delivered mail pony express style, peddled produce to mining camps, hauled salt from St. Thomas to Silver Reef mine, and herded three thousand steer from Arizona to Utah.”

That last passage is noteworthy, both because it is the only mention of cattle and also because it doesn’t acknowledge any connection he may have had to ranching in the Bunkerville area. Instead, the inscription mentions his role as Mormon bishop of Mesquite from 1901 to 1927 and his extensive career of public service. Abbott also was said to have operated a hotel with wife Mary Jane Leavitt.

The Dictionary of Mormon Biography website also said Abbott took up the lumber business and “miraculous cures” while Census records indicate he continued farming in Mesquite from at least 1910 to 1920.

John Jensen and Abigail Christina Abbott, Bundy’s maternal grandparents, married in 1909 and lived in Mohave County, Ariz., where they farmed at least as early as 1910. From at least 1920 to 1940 they farmed in Mesquite.

Bundy’s father’s side of the family, beginning with paternal great-grandfather Abraham Bundy, also farmed but did so from at least 1900 to 1930 in northern Arizona.

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