More than a thousand mourners poured into Kanab, Utah, a tiny town on the border with Arizona, to celebrate the life of a rancher who died in a traffic stop in Oregon.
Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was among the men occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. He was shot and killed by police during an attempt to arrest the leaders of the movement on Jan. 26.
Finicum lay dressed in white in an open wooden coffin built by his family. An American flag was placed across his chest. Spurs, boots and photos of Finicum taken at the refuge were on display in the Kaibab Stake center, the large Mormon church where the funeral was held.
Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” and other books about U.S. history and the Constitution were placed on a table, along with a note that read: “Dad’s light reading.”
Many of the mourners wore jeans and boots, and held their cowboy hats in their hands as they paid their respects. The funeral drew people from Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon and Kentucky. Patriot group members were also in attendance from the Oath Keepers and the “3%” movement.
Finicum’s brother Jody Finicum let out a “holy smokes,” as he looked out across the crowd.
He described LaVoy as a deeply competitive person with an irreverent side, who grew up playing golf and leading potato gun fights in the sagebrush. He said LaVoy once rode his horse into the family’s living room just to see if it would fit through the door.
“What I most appreciated was his example in the things that really mattered: God, family and country,” Jody Finicum said.
Each of Finicum’s 11 children also spoke. They remembered him as a loving father who taught his daughters to ride horses and brand cattle alongside his sons. He studied scripture every night and encouraged his children to be active in the Mormon church.
After the funeral, Finicum’s oldest daughter, Thara Tenney, questioned the FBI’s account of his death.
“We are calling for a private, independent investigation to find out exactly what happened to our dad in an ambush on a lonely desolate stretch of highway in the dead of winter in eastern Oregon,” she said.
The FBI released a video of the traffic stop and has said Finicum twice reached for a gun in his pocket. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office is leading an investigation into the incident.
Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was among those who attended the funeral. “I’m here to honor a great man,” he said, sitting horseback behind the Finicum family. “He was basically crucified.”
In 2014, LaVoy Finicum participated in the armed standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management over Bundy’s unpaid grazing fees. In fall 2015, Finicum followed in Bundy’s footsteps and chose to stop complying with his lease contract with the Bureau of Land Management, in spite of a long, positive relationship with the agency.
After the funeral concluded, men and women riding horses and mules lined a half-mile stretch of the road outside the church, and then rode out alongside the hearse that carried Finicum’s coffin.
Finicum’s brother, Guy Finicum, said he had initially struggled to understand why his brother was participating in the occupation of the Malheur refuge.
“I didn’t have any clue what’s going on up there. I love my brother, and I was concerned. The news made it awfully scary and it didn’t fit with who my brother was. So I had to go up there and find out,” he said.
Guy Finicum said he came away from that meeting believing that LaVoy Finicum was sincerely trying to help people in Harney County.
“He told me, as long as there is one person up here that says ‘please stay and help me,’ I won’t come home. And how could I ask him to do otherwise?” he said. He said his brother was deeply motivated by his faith in God.
“He believes that this life is just one step, and it’s temporary for all of us. He has absolute confidence that he will be with his family again. He believes that as much as he believes the sun will rise. And that’s what gave him the ability to do what he did, he always looked at a higher goal,” said Guy Finicum.
More From An Occupation In Eastern Oregon
OPB | Feb. 22, 2017