Cliven Bundy’s attempted land grab in Nevada brought to mind Burhl Trenary.
For about 50 years, Mr. Trenary rented a two-story house and 45 acres of land in Oklahoma from my family. He held a job as a janitor at a nearby school until he retired.
Mr. Trenary loved the place. He and wife Fannie spent more than half of their lives there, on a sylvan land at the edge of a small city. Forest pushed in on three sides. Wild blackberries sprouted down the hill by a big ravine and were canning-ready like clockwork every Fourth of July. Deer emerged from the woods every evening to dine. That included partaking from Fannie’s vegetable and flower gardens. The Trenarys raised their family in that two -story house. Their three children knew no other home.
The place originally belonged to Lulu, my maternal grandmother. It was her Indian allotment. She was part Cherokee. Her Quaker husband ran a general store in town, a mile off, and took a horse and buggy to work. They called the place Edgewood Farm. For years, they had an orchard and, I believe, a small vineyard. They kept a milk cow or two, chickens and hogs. My mother was born in that house in 1909 and raised there. A great grandmother of mine died in the southeast bedroom.
My grandparents eventually moved away and began renting the property. My dad ended up managing the place.
Not long after the end of World War II, my dad struck a deal with Burhl Trenary. Burhl would pay only $50 rent for as long as he lived on the property and would do repairs and other minor work at his own expense.
“I told him,” my dad said, “to treat the place like it was his.” And for the next half-century Mr. Trenary did just that. In fact the place became known locally as “the Trenary place.”
Somewhere around 2000, the Trenarys decided to move. It was their choice. They had become ill, now in their 90s, and the children had long moved away and started lives of their own. They couldn’t take care of Edgewood anymore.
But not once did Mr. Trenary claim ownership to a property where he had lived twice as long as my family had and knew the land much better. He always understood. He did not own the land. The law is the law.
The basic difference between Mr. Trenary’s compliance with the law and Mr. Bundy’s rejection of it in Nye County is this. Bundy’s landlord isn’t a person. It’s the government. The “hated” federal government. He thinks living on the land long enough makes it his. A lot like it was in the Old West with the Indians. Just take it.
I’m guessing if Mr. Trenary were alive today, he would be scratching his head about Mr. Bundy’s land grab. I talked with him a few years before he passed and he told me this about the oral contract he made with my father.
“It was a good deal for you dad,” he said, “and it was a good deal for me.”