Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mrs. Steunenberg Pardons Slayer Of Her Husband

Here are a few brief mentions of Eveline "Belle" Steunenberg that appeared in the press during the Haywood trial in 1907, and in 1908 when the issue arose regarding a pardon for Harry Orchard.

Belle kept a pretty low profile and only made a couple of brief appearances in the courtroom. Borah and Hawley would have preferred to stage a greater family presence with the bereaved widow and children as did Darrow and Richardson with the family of Bill Haywood. Belle would have nothing of it.

Belle was already a rather controversial member of the family after having left the Presbyterian Church and converting to Adventism. She was a founding member of the small Adventist church in Caldwell, Idaho and her view's were often considered somewhat radical at the time. The family relationship was probably one of tolerance as she undoubtedly did not participate to a great degree in the social circles or gatherings common to the rest of the Steunenberg's. She was a very devout and active member of her church, committed to its growth and teachings and her time and energy were focused on those efforts and on her children. I certainly can't fault her for such devotion.

While reading the pre and post assassination diary entries of Will Steunenberg (one of the governors brothers), what stood out in stark contrast was the absence of Belle from most of the informal family gatherings, usually at the home of A.K. and Carrie Steunenberg. The family certainly rallied to Belle's side to provide support and comfort during the difficult days and weeks following the assassination. However, I am speculating that she drew most of her comfort and strength from her Adventist Church family. Belle would remain very busy with her church activities where none of the other Steuneneberg's, with the exception of her own children, were members. In 1915 she would move away with the children to the Adventist community of College Place near Walla Walla, Washington. Later in 1920 she would head to California where my grandparents Julian and Francis had settled.

As the above article indicates, Belle was very forgiving toward Harry Orchard, visited him at the Idaho Pen and influenced his eventual acceptance of the Adventist faith. It would be safe to say that most of the family at the time did not share in those views and the press clippings shown here likely strained relationships even further. Clearly, the Steunenberg brothers would have preferred that Orchard hang from the gallows along with the threesome of Haywood, Pettibone and Moyer. My grandfather Julian, eldest son of the Governor and Belle, was by then a member of the Adventist Church (and remained so for his lifetime) and at the very least went along with his mothers views. I am sure it raised considerable internal conflict for him as a young man but he never spoke of these events to any degree for the rest of his adult life.

You can view some of the letters exchanged between Orchard and my great grandmother Belle and grandfather Julian in the following post on this blog: Saturday, December 29, 2007, Letters from Assassin Harry Orchard

For a little more religious history, go to Sunday, April 20, 2008, Steunenberg's and Religion.

Below is a picture of Belle in her later years. She died in 1951, the same year in which I was born but I did not come along until a few month later.

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