After relating the twisting story of union boss “Big Bill” Haywood, it was made clear to me that I mustn’t forget the tale of Harry Orchard, the “Mad bomber of Cripple Creek.”
It was Harry Orchard’s confession to Pinkerton detective James McParland in February 1906 that tied Haywood and other union officials to the bombing of Independence rail platform, the bombing deaths of two miners in the Vindicator, and the murder of former Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenberg.
“I awoke, as it were, from a dream, and realized that I’d been made a tool of, aided and assisted by members of the Executive Board of Western Federation Miners. I resolved, as far as in my power, to break up this murderous organization and to protect the community from further assassinations and outrages from this gang,” his confession said.
Orchard’s real name was Albert Horsley and he grew up on an Ontario farm with seven brothers. He was also known to use the alias Thomas Hogan. He left Canada, after several years working in a cheese factory, when he was about 30 years old.
Working eventually in a silver mine in Burke, Idaho, Orchard joined the WFM and was among the thousand or so miners that hijacked a Northern Pacific train and then blew up the Bunker Hill concentrator, killing two men. According to his own admission, he was one of two who placed the dynamite and then lit the fuse.
“Orchard’s career as a paid union terrorist began in 1903 when he blew up the Vindicator mine in Colorado, again killing two men, for a fee of $500,” according to a biography by faculty of the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law. “Six months later a bomb planted by Orchard at Independence train depot exploded, killing 13 non-union miners.”
In the same testimony, he also told of unsuccessful efforts to kill the Governor Peabody of Colorado, and two Colorado Supreme Court Justices. Also he admitted additional murders including deputy Lyle Gregory, of Denver, and the attempted poisoning and then successful bombing of Bunker Hill mining manager Fred Bradley in San Francisco.
Oscar King Davis of the New York Times described Orchard’s testimony in the Haywood trial as follows:
“Orchard spoke in a soft, purring voice, marked by a slight Canadian accent, and except for the first few minutes that he was on the stand, he went through his awful story as undisturbed as if he were giving and account of a May Day festival. When he said, ‘and then I shot him,’ his manner and tone were as matter-of-fact as if the words had been ‘and then I bought a drink.”
Orchard was tried and convicted in March 1908 for the murder of former Gov. Frank Steunenberg. He received a death sentence but it was commuted to life in prison by Judge Fremont Wood and the Board of Pardons and he served out his life sentence, raising chickens and growing strawberries, in Idaho State Penitentiary until his death in 1954 at age 87.
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