As I’ve been writing the final chapter of Tracking Nana I’ve been reading up on the Cibecue affray and at the same time following events at the aptly-named Malheur (“misfortune,” or “bad luck”) Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. There are depressing parallels, as with the Branch Davidians at Waco and both Wounded Knees, not to mention the anabasis of the Nez Percé. All unfolded in a fog of misinformation, confusion, mixed motives and hidden agendas, and none ended well.
Bundy and his posse appear to have painted themselves into a corner, and I suspect that if some now regret it, at least a few of them relish the role of Travis at the Alamo. I’m a little disappointed in old man Hammond – if I were a septuagenarian rancher who had spent his life feuding with the feds on the open range, I believe I would absolutely decline to spend my last years as the guest of the guvmint in an 8’x10’ cell. Maybe he figures it will save his family’s ranch for another generation, or believes he’ll get better health care in the joint than he can afford as a self-employed small businessman. Could be he’s just tired; I know I would be in his place.
The Paiutes too seem to have let their old resentment of the ranchers who swarmed their lands in the first place blind them to their common interest in reining in the federal bureaucracy. (If you think the ranchers are angry at the BLM, ask an Indian what he thinks of the BIA.)
I’m also surprised the confrontation has not sparked more expressions of support elsewhere in the West. There are plenty of ranchers right here in New Mexico who have their own beef (pun intended) with their federal overlords, and we need look no farther back than Reis Tijerina and the Tierra Amarilla Courthouse to find a local precedent for armed protest.
Now the Oregon governor’s impassioned demand for action (and more federal money) echoes the earlier angry voices of the governors of Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and the Territories whenever there was an Indian “uprising” in the latter half of the 19th Century.
Bundy’s wife has issued a call for donations (Lisa Bundy, P.O.B.1072, Emmett, ID 83617). I’m tempted to send her five bucks, with my advice for whatever it’s worth: agree to surrender to the county sheriff and plead guilty to misdemeanor counts of trespassing and vandalism, if in return the feds promise to impanel a grand jury and appoint an independent special prosecutor to investigate the whole mess. Since there are serious allegations of misconduct not just by federal agencies but by the U.S. Attorney in Eugene, that investigation should be undertaken by disinterested parties someplace out of state, perhaps as far away as Salt Lake.
If that grand jury decides to indict Bundy and his followers for terrorism or whatever, well, it’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six. The Malheur protestors have successfully drawn nationwide attention not just to the injustice done to the Hammonds but to the broader question of federal mismanagement of our public lands. We don’t want these issues obscured by a cloud of gunsmoke. It’s time to stand down before somebody gets hurt.