Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Terrie Simons was heartbroken when she heard that Robert "LaVoy" Finicum had been shot and killed by Oregon State Police troopers Jan. 26 beside a Harney County highway.

But Simons' sorrow galvanized her to action.

Peaceful action with a message and a purpose.

"Let's start by trying to reunite our county and our community," Simons, 49, of Halfway said a little before noon Saturday.

Less than a half hour later, as about 100 people gathered in a slushy parking lot about two miles southeast of Halfway, Simons' efforts of the previous two weeks began to bear fruit.

Simons was one of the organizers of a "Rural Lives Matter" rally that brought a crowd to eastern Baker County on a seasonably chilly February day with temperatures in the upper 30s and occasional beams of sunlight piercing a thin overcast.

The flier for the event stated that the rally was "dedicated to the Hammonds and the memory of LaVoy Finicum and Jack Yantis."

Finicum is the Arizona rancher who was fatally shot by OSP officers. He was one of the main spokesmen for the group which occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County starting Jan. 2.

Simons called Finicum's death "a tragic event."

But she also believes that some of the points Finicum and his fellow protesters have tried to make - among them the role the federal government plays in managing public lands in the rural West - are vital issues that need to be debated.

Encouraging that debate is one of the main purposes Simons and co-organizers Tom Huff and Kasey Wright, both Pine Valley residents, had in planning Saturday's rally.

Simons said she hopes to ensure that Finicum's death, rather than inflaming people on all sides of the debate, instead prompts them to engage in civil discussions.

"We all want to live a happy, healthy life," Simons said. "We're all in this together."

Huff, 48, who's the sixth generation of his family to live in Pine Valley, agreed.

"Our intention is to figure out a way to work together, to find common ground and to have no bloodshed," Huff said prior to the rally.

He said he believes that Finicum's death, though it should not have happened, can spawn a public dialogue that leads to a better society and a more equitable relationship between the public and the federal government.

"If I was the one shot and killed I would hope something good would come out of it," Huff said.

Wright, 25, who grew up in Idaho and moved to Pine Valley a few years ago to help her husband operate his family's farm, said the occupation of the Wildlife Refuge in general, and Finicum's death in particular, convinced her that she needed to participate in the debate rather than merely watching it.

"This is where I stand - how can we come together and collaborate in a way that benefits everyone," Wright said.

See Monday's Baker City Herald for a more detailed story about Saturday's rally, including comments from other speakers and from audience members, and photos.