A new book, Orchard: a novel (2016), uses the method of fiction to explore the story of Harry Orchard (1886-1954), the complicated and controversial figure responsible for assassinating former Idaho Governor, Frank Steunenberg, in 1905. Written by Jack H. Bailey, the novel is a creative take on Orchard (real name Albert Horsley), who received life imprisonment for the killing, and his path toward that fateful day in 1905. Orchard is a posthumous publication, with Mr. Bailey, a WWII US Navy veteran, having passed in 2010. This preview will give some of the historical background for the real-life Orchard.
Albert Edward Horsley, the later Harry Orchard (among other aliases), was born in Ontario, Canada, in a rural area between Toronto and Kingston. Horsley would leave school in third grade to support his family (he was one of eight children), working as a farmhand. At 22, he moved westward to Saginaw, Michigan, to become a logger. He would return to Canada and marry by 23, and he and his wife worked as cheesemakers, with their own cheese factory. However, living beyond his means led Horsley to burn his factory for the insurance money and after collecting the funds, he left his wife and young daughter to take up with a new woman and live in British Columbia. Soon after, that relationship dissolved and Horsley migrated southward to Washington state.
By 1897, Horsley found work delivering milk to mining communities in the northern panhandle section of Idaho, and was able to save enough to buy a small share in a local silver mine. Despite beginning a wood and coal business, personal debt (primarily from gambling) would force him to sell his share in the silver mine and then his share in the wood and coal enterprise. Horsley became a shoveler in a nearby mine and significantly, came into contact with the Western Federation of Miners, a labor union open at times to militancy.
Frank Steunenberg was governor of Idaho from 1897 to 1901, and his tenure saw significant labor strife, specifically in the mining areas where Horsley worked; northern Idaho. An escalating strike in 1899 over pay by non-unionized workers led Steunenberg to declare martial law and call in federal soldiers – some 1000 men were indiscriminately arrested. Many miners had supported Steunenberg for governor and felt his actions disloyal. Martial law remained in force until Steunenberg’s term ended in 1900 and he did not seek re-election.
On December 30th, 1905, Frank Steunenberg was out for a walk in Caldwell, Idaho, where he lived. Returning home, he pulled the wooden slide on a gate to a side-door –that movement detonated dynamite rigged to the gate. The fourth governor of Idaho, Steunenberg was dead within the hour at age 44.
Investigation by the independent Pinkerton Detective Agency led to the quick arrest of Harry Orchard on January 1st, 1906. Orchard had been staying in a nearby Caldwell hotel and strangely made no attempt to neither flee nor dispose of the dynamite and wire he was found with. One witness, a desk clerk at Orchard’s hotel, indicated that they had walked to site of Steunenberg’s killing after the event, with Orchard declaring to him that Steunenberg had been financially rewarded by Idaho mine owners after leaving politics.
In an effort to avoid the death penalty, Orchard provided the Pinkertons with a confession stating that he had killed the former governor on contract for the Western Federation of Miners. Two prominent leaders and a union member were named. The three men would be defended by the famous lawyer, Charles Darrow, and were acquitted for lack of evidence. Orchard also claimed that he murdered at least 16 other people and committed violence during various industrial-labor conflicts, such as the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903-1904.
Harry Orchard would live out the rest of his life in an Idaho prison, dying in 1954 at age 88, almost 50 years after his original arrest. In 1906, he had published an autobiography entitled, The Confessions and Autobiography of Harry Orchard. In this excerpt, Orchard describes how he rode a commandeered train, one nicknamed the “Dynamite Express”, to help blow up a mine owners’ mill in northern Idaho during the 1899 labor unrest:
“When the Northern Pacific train left Wallace that morning (April 29) at eight o’clock, all the telegraph wires had been cut, and when it left Burke, five or six masked men with rifles boarded the engine and directed the trainmen to put on extra cars….The train was made up of box-cars and flat-cars, one or two passenger-cars and a baggage-car. The men got on board here, and we started down the canyon. I was in one of the passenger-coaches.”
Orchard: a novel, will be released July 26th and an official website (with pre-order option) has been launched at Jack H. Bailey. Order options are also available via book retailers Amazon – Orchard and Barnes & Noble – Orchard.
The launch of Orchard: a novel is being publicized by FSB Associates and a selection of their featured books can be viewed at Written Voices. The official Facebook page for author Jack Bailey can be found at FB – Jack H. Bailey.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)