Wildfire: 41 Days at Malheur

Notes on a work in progress on the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, 2016.

Wildfire: 41 Days at Malheur

Updated: 8 July 2021.

The 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon was a major event in recent Oregon history. The story is complicated, but the short version is that a group of people unhappy with Federal land-use policies (and even land ownership) occupied a bird sanctuary in central Oregon. The leaders of the event were two brothers, Ammon and Ryan Bundy, from Bunkerville, Nevada. The Bundys and their father, Cliven, had successfully stood off the Bureau of Land Management in an armed confrontation in 2014. The Oregon take-over ended differently, with one of the occupiers, LaVoy Finicum, killed at a traffic stop, and the Bundys and several of their supporters being arrested.

The Malheur story has been told in several fine books, especially John Temple’s Up in Arms and Anthony McCann’s Shadowlands, but both of those writers, and others, have concentrated on the motivations and actions of the occupiers. In Wildfire, my aim is to look primarily at the action of law enforcement and political leaders, which is an equally important part of the story.

For now, I am posting primary source documents from the Oregon State Police and other governmental organizations related to the takeover, and the current draft of the first chapter, which is about the traffic stop that led to the Bundy’s arrest and Finicum’s death. Other material will be added as it becomes available.

Sample Wildfire Chapters

Sample Chapter from Wildfire: 41 Days at Malheur. Chapter 1, The Sno-Park. (This chapter is on the first moments of the traffic stop that led to the arrests of the occupation leaders, and the death of LaVoy Finicum. This material is copyrighted by me, Tony Greiner, and may be read, but not used for other purposes without permission. Please use the contact form to reach me.


Primary Source: Oregon State Police Incident Report SP16026132 on shooting death of Robert LaVoy Finicum, 26 Jan 2016. Most of these documents actually focus on the FBI agents and their roles in the event. (The investigation of the Oregon State Police was done by the “Tri-County Major Incident Team”, which is linked below.) The names of agents is anonymized, and there is a small amount of redaction. Obtained through an Oregon Open Records request, six months after the initial request, and at the cost of $250.

Primary Source: Affidavit from FBI to support a criminal complaint and arrest warrant for Ammon Bundy, et al. (27 Jan 2016)

Primary Source: Report of the Tri-County Major Incident Team (Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office) on the officer-involved shooting of LaVoy Finicum, one of the occupiers who was killed Jan 26, 2016, while attempting to avoid arrest. The fatal shots were made by two different Oregon State Police officers. Under Oregon law, when an officer is involved in a shooting, an investigation is made by an independent police department. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s department had no role in the affair except to investigate what happened. This file has been redacted.

Primary Source: Formal Indictment of Malheur Occupiers, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy Bundy. March 8, 2016. This is the revised “supersceding indictment”. Six pages.

Primary Source: Emails to and from the staff of Oregon Governor Kate Brown related to the standoff. These emails total 610 pages, but much of them is pasting in the text of previous emails. Although these emails are searchable with the Ctrl-F tool, I have found that doesn’t work particularly well with this file. The emails are organized in a rough (but not totally) chronological. Most of them deal with management matters, such as writing press releases, deciding who will be the spokesperson to talk to the press and similar matters, but some of them are more about decisions made by the governor’s staff on how to proceed. There are lots of acronyms and initials here, [for example, GKB means “Governor Kate Brown”], so having a second page open when reading them may be useful.

Updates from the Wildfire book: