Harry Orchard was born in Ontario in 1867. Orchard worked on his father's farm before leaving to find work in the United States.
In 1899 Orchard was working as a miner in Burke, Idaho. At that time Idaho was hit by a series of industrial disputes. The governor, Frank Steunenberg, took a tough line and declared martial law and asked President William McKinley to send federal troops to help him in his fight with the trade union movement. During the dispute over a thousand trade unionists and their supporters were rounded up and kept in stockades without trial.
The unions felt betrayed as they had mainly supported his campaign to become governor. Activists were particularly angry about Steunenberg's attempts to justify his actions: "We have taken the monster by the throat and we are going to choke the life out of it. No halfway measures will be adopted. It is a plain case of the state or the union winning, and we do not propose that the state shall be defeated."
During this period, Orchard joined the Western Federation of Miners and later claimed that during industrial disputes he took part in acts of violence. On one occasion he admitted blowing up the Bunker Hill concentrator that resulted in the deaths of two men.
On 30th December, 1905, Frank Steunenberg, the former governor of Idaho, went out for a walk. On his return, when he pulled a wooden slide that opened the gate to his side door, it triggered a bomb, that killed him.
James McParland, from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was called in to investigate the murder. McParland was convinced from the beginning that the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners had arranged the killing of Steunenberg. McParland arrested Orchard who had been staying at a local hotel. In his room they found dynamite and some wire.
McParland helped Orchard to write a confession that he had been a contract killer for the WFM, assuring him this would help him get a reduced sentence for the crime. In his statement, Orchard named William Hayward (general secretary of WFM) and Charles Moyer (president of WFM). He also claimed that a union member from Caldwell, George Pettibone, had also been involved in the plot. These three men were arrested and were charged with the murder of Steunenberg.
Charles Darrow, a man who specialized in defending trade union leaders, was employed to defend Hayward, Moyer and Pettibone. The trial took place in Boise, the state capital. It emerged that Harry Orchard already had a motive for killing Steunenberg, blaming the governor of Idaho, for destroying his chances of making a fortune from a business he had started in the mining industry.
During the three month trial, the prosecutor was unable to present any information against Hayward, Moyer and Pettibone except for the testimony of Orchard. William Hayward, Charles Moyer and George Pettibone were all acquitted. Orchard, because he had provided evidence against the other men, received life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. Orchard died in prison in 1954.
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 the Western Federation of 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.
For three hours and a half today Harry Orchard sat in the witness chair at the Haywood trial and recited a history of crimes and bloodshed, the like of which no person in the crowded courtroom had ever imagined. Not in the whole range of "Bloody Gulch" literature will there be found anything that approaches a parallel to the horrible story so calmly and smoothly told by this self-possessed, imperturbable murderer witness.
Orchard in his first day on the stand told the details of these crimes. In 1906 he with another man placed a bomb in the Vindicator Mine at Cripple Creek, Colorado, that exploded and killed two men. Later he informed the officials of the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad of a plot of the Western Federation to below up one of their trains, because he had not received money for work done for the federation. He watched the residence of Governor Peabody of Colorado and planned his assassination by shooting. This was postponed for reasons of policy. He shot and killed a deputy, Lyle Gregory, in Denver. He planned and with another man executed the blowing up of the railway station at the Independence Mine at Independence, Colorado which killed fourteen men. He tried to poison Fred Bradley, manager of the Sullivan and Bunk Hill mine, then living in San Francisco, by putting strychnine into his milk when it was left at his door in the morning. This failed, and in November, 1904, he arranged a bomb which blew Bradley into the street when he opened his door in the morning.
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 the 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."
There was nothing theatrical about the appearance on the stand of this witness, upon whose testimony the whole case against Haywood, Moyer, and the other leaders of the Western Federation of Miners is based. Only once or twice was there a dramatic touch. It was a horrible, revolting, sickening story, but he told it as simply as the plainest narration of the most ordinary incident of the most humdrum existence. He was neither a braggart nor a sycophant. He neither boasted of his fearful crimes nor sniveled in mock repentance.
Through all the story ran the names of the men for whom he worked and those who helped him in his wretched tasks. Haywood as the master. It was he who gave most of the orders. Pettibone, too, gave directions, furnished money, and once started out as if to help, but made excuse and turned back. That was in the Gregory murder. Haywood was the source of the money. Even what Pettibone gave him came from Haywood. Moyer he named occasionally, but not often. Moyer knew of some of the crimes, for he talked to Orchard about them and joined in Haywood's declaration that this or that "was a fine job."
But Haywood was the master, with Pettibone as the chief assistant, and then there were W. F. Davis, the old Coeur d'Alene comrade, and Sherman Parker and Charley Kennison of the district union, with W. B. Easterly Financial Secretary of Orchard's own union. Parker is dead now, shot a little while ago in Goldfield.
The defense professed to be pleased with the story as one that disproved itself. The prosecution, however, is sure it can be corroborated. Without question it produced a tremendous effect, and throughout its recital there ran a growing conviction of its truth.
Gentlemen, I sometimes think I am dreaming in this case. I sometimes wonder whether this is a case, whether here in Idaho or anywhere in the country, broad and free, a man can be placed on trial and lawyers seriously ask to take away the life of a human being upon the testimony of Harry Orchard. We have the lawyers come here and ask you upon the word of that sort of a man to send this man to the gallows, to make his wife a widow, and his children orphans--on his word. For God's sake, what sort of an honesty exists up here in the state of Idaho that sane men should ask it? Need I come here from Chicago to defend the honor of your state? A juror who would take away the life of a human being upon testimony like that would place a stain upon the state of his nativity--a stain that all the waters of the great seas could never wash away. And yet they ask it. You had better let a thousand men go unwhipped of justice, you had better let all the criminals that come to Idaho escape scot free than to have it said that twelve men of Idaho would take away the life of a human being upon testimony like that.
Why, gentlemen, if Harry Orchard were George Washington who had come into a court of justice with his great name behind him, and if he was impeached and contradicted by as many as Harry Orchard has been, George Washington would go out of it disgraced and counted the Ananias of the age.
I am sorry to say it, but it is true, because religious men have killed now and then, they have lied now and then. Of all the miserable claptrap that has been thrown into a jury for the sake of getting it to give some excuse for taking the life of a man, this is the worst. Orchard saves his soul by throwing the burden on Jesus, and he saves his life by dumping it onto Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone. And you twelve men are asked to set your seal of approval on it.
I don't believe that this man Orchard was ever really in the employ of anybody. I don't believe he ever had any allegiance to the Mine Owners Association, to the Pinkertons, to the Western Federation of Miners, to his family, to his kindred, to his God, or to anything human or divine. I don't believe he bears any relation to anything that a mysterious and inscrutable Providence has ever created. He was a soldier of fortune, ready to pick up a penny or a dollar or any other sum in any way that was easy to serve the mine owners, to serve the Western Federation, to serve the devil if he got his price, and his price was cheap.
If Harry Orchard has religion now, that I hope I never get it. I want to say to this jury that before Harry Orchard got religion he was bad enough, but it remained to religion to make him totally depraved. Hawley will picture him as a cherubim with wings growing out from his shoulders and with a halo just above his head, and singing songs with a detective on one side of him and McParland on the other. I don't know yet how Borah will picture him, but everybody will picture him according to how they see him. My picture is not these, none of these. I see what to me is the crowning act of infamy in Harry Orchard's life, an act which throws into darkness every other deed that he ever committed as long as he has lived. And he didn't do this until he had got Christianity or McParlandism, whatever that is. Until he had confessed and been forgiven by Father McParland, he had some spark of manhood still in his breast.