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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 346

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This is the grave of Harry Orchard.

Born Albert Horsley in 1866 in Ontario, the future Orchard was a rounder and a thug. He married and started a cheesemaking business, but then burned it for the insurance money and left his wife and their baby daughter for another woman. He worked at any number of jobs over the next years–logger, miner, delivering milk. He was a gambler and a criminal who admitted to many low level crimes ranging from bigamy to burning other businesses for more insurance money to stealing sheep. He once planned to kidnap some children to raise money to pay off a debt. He was a bad man.

So of course Orchard was perfect to become a mine owner gun thug. He worked for the Pinkertons in the Colorado mine wars of the early 1900s, later claiming he had killed 17 men and serving as a spy infiltrating the Western Federation of Miners. It’s possible, although with a man like Orchard, it’s hard to know what was true and what was not.

What we do know is that for some reason, in 1905, Orchard decided to kill the ex-governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg. He chose a less than subtle means to do it. He placed a huge bomb on the gate of his house that went off when he opened it. This did the trick. It’s unclear why. Steunenberg was a sellout to the mine bosses; initially elected with labor support, he had worked closely with employers to crush the miners’ movement in the Coeur d’Alene area. Many believed that Steunenberg had left office with a lot of money he received from the mine owners for their services. But given that Orchard had so often been a gun thug for the mine owners, why did he target Steunenberg years after he left office? This will probably never be clear. He was just a murderous bastard.

In any case, Orchard didn’t even attempt to hide and was soon arrested. He claimed he had tried to kill him many times. Probably he was mentally ill. But he also happily implicated Big Bill Haywood and WFM leaders Charles Moyer and George Pettibone in the scheme, even though they had nothing to do with it. James McParland, the leading Pinkerton operative who was most known for infiltrating the Molly Maguires and ensuring their executions, was able to interview Orchard extensively and then wanted to get the whole interview in McClure’s, one of the leading magazines of the day. The goal was to try the labor leaders in public before the trial began. The labor leaders were railroaded into a trial that no one thought they would win. But with Clarence Darrow defending Haywood in the first trial, he was shockingly found not guilty as there was not one iota of evidence any of them were involved. Charges against Moyer were dropped and Pettibone was also found not guilty.

Orchard spent the rest of his long life in prison. He quickly converted and became a Seventh Day Adventist and was evidently a very religious and quiet man in prison. He was the longest-serving prisoner in the history of the Old Idaho State Penitentiary, dying there after 46 years. Toward the end, he was given a small cottage on prison grounds in exchange for tending the prison’s chickens. He died in 1954 at the age of 88.

Harry Orchard is buried in Morris Hill Cemetery, Boise, Idaho.

If you would like this series to cover other figures from this sordid story, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Haywood is in Moscow, so that’s not so possible and no one knows what happened to Charles Moyer’s body, but George Pettibone is in Denver, as is the odious James McParland. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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