If you can make it through the first half of this article, you’ll come to where I’ll explain why I feel our family had a legitimate gripe against the Department of Interior—suffered real financial losses—and yet, I don’t for a moment support either Bundy cause—and I don’t believe they have a tangible grievance.
Unless you’ve been following the recent news story of the takeover of the Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and of the subsequent arrests of the armed protesters, you may not remember the case of Cliven Bundy—the father of the group’s leaders—who some say set this news story in motion when he and his armed supporters kept agents of the federal government from confiscating his cattle back in 2014, at his Nevada ranch.
Why did the government want Cliven Bundy’s cattle? Well, cattle ranchers who haven’t enough of their own land to graze their cattle will pay grazing fees to use land belonging to someone else. Grazing fees on Federal land is considerably lower, compared to what ranchers pay to graze on private land. Yet, Bundy decided he didn’t want to pay his fees, and for some twenty years, he grazed his cattle on public lands, without compensating taxpayers and without adhering to environmental restrictions put in place to protect the land from overgrazing.
When the government finally tried to put a stop to his illegal use of public land, Cliven rounded up his armed militia friends and convinced the federal agencies—who didn’t want a blood bath—to back down. This didn’t mean the Feds had given up—they were just regrouping.
Cliven Bundy’s day of retribution has finally come—because he is now behind bars, facing a slew of charges, along with four of his sons, and dozens of his supporters—some facing charges for the 2014 Bundy Ranch incident, some for the Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge takeover, and some for both.
In Oregon, the armed protesters initially demanded the immediate release of the Hammonds, two ranchers who were convicted of arson and required to return to prison to serve out their term. Supporters of their cause call it double jeopardy, yet that’s an inaccurate summation. The Hammonds weren’t tried twice for the same crime. It was instead some snafu, where one court allowed an early release and another cried foul. Were the Hammonds unjustly treated? Perhaps, but even the Hammonds didn’t support the armed takeover.
After the Hammonds quietly returned to prison, and failed to give support to the Oregon takeover, the Bundy’s cause shifted to a demand for the federal government to turn over the federal lands to the state.
That’s a rough summation of the events that led to the current situation, which is the arrest of dozens of their supporters, the death of one of them, and sympathizers moaning about the abuses the Bundy family has endured. This is where I cry bullshit.
If you want to feel outrage over abuses of the federal government, I don’t think the cause is a rancher who refused to pay grazing fees—fees much lower than he would have paid on private land.
I’ve written Havasu Palms, A Hostile Takeover to tell people what happened to our family. In this post, I’ll briefly touch on what happened to us.
Our family leased land from the federal government back in 1967 to develop a resort on Lake Havasu. The name of our corporation was Havasu Palms. My parents owned 51 percent, and they were the general managers, and my father, a general contractor, was the guy in the trenches, getting the work done—along with the help of mom, and throughout the years, me, my sister, and later, our spouses.
The original lease with the government guaranteed that at the end of the lease Havasu Palms would be financially compensated for any improvements made—or allowed to remove the improvement. The lease stipulated that that would be applicable to any subsequent lease. Sounds good, right?
We ended up building a new marina, restaurant, new store, and 131 space mobile home park. What we didn’t plan on, the feds added the lease land to the nearby Chemehuevi Indian Reservation, and our next lease was with the tribe—which didn’t allow for any compensation for improvements.
In the end, we lost everything—even private property, like my husband’s fork lift, a mobile home, a store full of inventory—and a water ski my sister is still bitching about.
Our lease with the tribe had an arbitration provision, which we took. We won the arbitration, but a federal judge later set aside the judgment, saying it was not in the best interest of the tribe.
That is actually just a snippet of what happened over the course of time—and if you are interested you can read the book, it’s available in paperback and eBook.
At the time our family lost Havasu Palms, my husband and I were its general managers. Mother was a widow by that time, and she foolishly spent all of her money attempting to recoup some of her losses through the courts. She lost everything—as we eventually did. It was a domino effect.
We suffered through rough, financially challenging years. Friends often ask us, how did you do it? Yet, never once—not once—did we consider taking up arms and threatening government employees. For one reason, the situation was—is—complicated, and I don’t believe the solution for this particular issue is armed insurgence. There are causes I would give my life for; this is not one of them.
Today—life is good. Those rough times got us to where we are today. Mom is 88 and lives with us. While her financial situation never improved after losing everything back then, she still has us, and we have managed to financially rebuild our lives. We live in a home I love, are blessed with an amazing family, and I’m doing what I always dreamed—I’m an author and actually making a good living doing it.
When I think of Cliven Bundy, throwing it all away because he thought it his right to graze his cows for free—I have to shake my head. I don’t get it. Our time here is short. Family is precious. And life is not always fair. But like Job, sometimes we have to deal with it and move forward.
Choose your battles carefully, because, as LaVoy Finicum discovered, sometimes they can kill you.
(Photo: Havasu Palms, California)