SALT LAKE CITY — Grant Gerber was so fed up seeing Nevada ranchers struggling with government grazing policies, he organized a coast-to-coast horseback ride to deliver their message to Washington.
Gerber was among those whose mount cantered along Constitution Avenue on Oct. 16 to cap a 2,800-mile journey that along the way would prove to cost him his life.
On Oct. 7, his horse stumbled in Russell, Kansas, on a prairie dog's pothole, and the two went down together. Gerber went on to Washington after being checked out by doctors, but he started to complain of headaches.
By Wednesday he was being seen by doctors in Wyoming, in surgery on Thursday in a Salt Lake hospital, and by Saturday, he was dead.
Gerber, a lifelong horseman, Vietnam veteran, attorney and Elko County commissioner, was 72.
"He had told us before if something happened to him that the ride was to go forward and we laughed about it," said co-rider Bruce Clegg, the Tooele County Commission chairman. "He was willing to risk his life for something that he believed in so strongly."
After a Bureau of Land Management supervisor ordered cattle off the Battle Mountain range and cited drought, Gerber said he could see the livelihood of his rancher friends being extinguished by what he described as unjust and unwarranted authority.
In an interview in early October with the Deseret News, Gerber said he and every other elected official in Nevada had accountability with the public for their decisions, but such was not the case with the federal government.
That frustration led to the birth of the Grass March Cowboy Express nationwide ride and its rallying cry of "Regulation Without Representation is Tyranny."
The group left Bodega Bay, California, on Sept. 26 traveling on horseback in 5-mile relays at a 10 mph pace. An assortment of horse trailers, some mules and a chuckwagon made up the caravan, which would typically break for camp late in the evening and begin again at 4 the next morning.
Gerber was an outspoken critic of the BLM and railed against the "pervasive depth" of federal government control in his home state.
He disagreed with the unlawful actions of ranchers like Cliven Bundy — who refused to pay grazing fees or remove his cattle from federal land — and emphasized the Grass March was an exercise of constitutional freedoms.
About two years earlier, Gerber and a handful of other rural Western county commissioners formed the American Lands Council — which seeks local control of Western public lands — and tapped Rep. Ken Ivory, a Republican from West Jordan, to be its president and its voice.
"He's indomitable. He has the deepest love of country and the principles of property, and liberty and self governance of anybody I have known," Ivory said. "He has an inexhaustible energy to stand and to advocate and battle on behalf of those principles — and he has devoted his life to that."
Clegg said that over the years, Gerber did a lot to help his neighbors in Utah on varied issues, and so when it came for the Grass March, there was a healthy Utah contingent that joined in.
"We have the same issues, the same battles, the same sage grouse-wild-horse-closing road issues," Clegg said. "It's certainly a fight we could both fight together."
The satchel of messages delivered to Congress from the ride included Ivory's HB148 — the Transfer of Public Lands Act — along with petitions and resolutions from dozens of counties expressing land management frustrations.
Clegg said the harrowing and humbling journey he and Gerber shared across the country made their bond grow even stronger.
"We'd say it was complete boredom interrupted by sheer terror. You'd just be going along on that concrete and every time you'd hear the horse's feet slip, it would send a shock of terror down you so quick you'd be afraid of going down."
No one aside from Gerber was hurt, but it was anything but uneventful, he added.
"It was full of events every day, every five miles and with every horse. We had trucks blowing by, cars going by. We knew the risks that we were taking. We knew that concussions happened."
Both Clegg and Ivory will miss Gerber, but they said his death on the ride is somehow poetic.
"He died doing what he believed in with all his heart," Ivory said.
Added Clegg, "He died for the cause and there are worse ways to go. Being on horseback and moving ahead and being healthy, there are just a lot worse ways of leaving the world than that."