Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

Ledger: Looking Back 25 Years: 7/3/1996

This edition of the paper contained the second of a two-part Ledger interview with Harrison area rancher and Montana State Legislator Karl Ohs. Following are brief excerpts from that article.

The FBI was looking for Montana State Legislator Karl Ohs. The name of the Harrison area rancher was on a short list of legislators that the Freemen on the “Justus Township” ranch said they felt they could trust. A long-time friend and ranch employee was the father of a young woman at the Freemen ranch. Ohs was prepared to offer his services as a mediator.

Only days after the 81-day standoff came to a peaceful end, Ohs consented to an interview by the Whitehall Ledger in which he explained how he became enmeshed in what he says was “the experience of a lifetime.” Ohs said he was somewhat surprised to be on the Freemen list because of the views he holds. He is not a “fringe sympathizer.” Ohs said Val Stanton, the ranch hand’s daughter who was the common thread between him and the Freemen, was like a second daughter to him. She left the Freemen compound ten days after the standoff started with no criminal charges pending against her.

After that, Ohs got down to the really serious business of negotiating. Freeman Edwin Clark, part of a Jordan area ranch family, has been credited by the FBI as taking over the leadership role among the Freemen and working to find a peaceful end to the standoff. “Always, from the very beginning, Edwin was always the most reasonable,” Ohs said.

In a sort of last gasp effort at asserting themselves, the Freemen sent out a number of letters to legislators threatening to file liens against them within 10 days if demands were not met. But Ohs said that move probably hurt the Freemen cause and set the stage for the surrender.

In the end, it was Edwin who oversaw the surrender, escorting each Freeman individually to the law enforcement vehicle and then turning himself over.

In conclusion, Ohs said he was grateful that he could be a factor in settling the Freemen standoff without violence, though he downplayed his role. Lots of others – everyone involved from day one – played a part in reaching that conclusion, he said. The issues at hand were not worth dying for, he said.

“Ultimately, things were settled and nobody had to give their lives for issues that are now going to be settled in the courts,” he said. “To think you have a little to do with that – maybe it isn’t pay enough, but it does help,” said Ohs.

A Whitehall native was threatened June 25 by a man from North Carolina. The out-of-stater told the Montanan, “You’re going down, son.” No blows were exchanged and no one was injured. The Whitehall native is U. S. Magistrate Richard Anderson and the North Carolinian is a Freeman. Judge Anderson said he will not be on the bench for the trial, though.

In the federal system, a different judge handles arraignments from the trial judge. And, in any case, no federal trial is televised – cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, he said.

Anderson moved to Whitehall when he was in the third grade. His parents, Herbert and Inez, bought an interest in the McKay and Carmaichel store in 1946 and ran the store for many years, sometimes under the name Gambles. The judge graduated from Whitehall High in 1956. Anderson left Whitehall after his high school graduation to attend college and law school at the University of Montana. He became a U.S. Magistrate in 1991.


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