Sunday, May 31, 2009

Did the Steunenberg Children Favor Commuting Harry Orchard's Sentence?

Here is an interesting short note that was recently discovered at the ISHS and forwarded on to me. Thank you ISHS for bringing it to my attention. I had not seen this letter before as it was found in an unrelated file, not in Harry Orchard's or among the Steunenberg papers. Click on the image to enlarge for reading.

Courtesy Idaho State Historical Society
It is rare to have an item that has been signed concurrently by Governor Steunenberg's wife, Eva B. ("Belle") Steunenberg and three of the children, Julian (my grandfather), Francis and Frank Jr. In fact, this may be the only such example.

Belle would have been about age 56, Julian 35, Francis 29 and Frank Jr. around 21. Most likely it was written during the period of time that the family members were living in Walla Walla /College Place, WA. Frank Jr. attended Walla Walla College from 1920 to 1924 and my grandfather Julian and grandmother Francis (not the sister Francis on the letter) would have been living there at that time too. I am not sure if Belle and Francis were in that specific location or not.

Great grandma Belle was a rather dominant force and her forgiveness toward Harry Orchard has been well documented. It is likely that some degree of pressure or expectation of signing this letter was brought to bear on her children, even though they were well into adulthood at the time of its writing. Of course, that is just speculation on my part. My grandfather Julian never spoke about Harry Orchard so I can only guess his true feelings. He was a kind, forgiving man, a faithful Adventist although not with the traditional fervor of his mother. No doubt he would have been in favor of sparing Harry Orchard the gallows but I am not sure he would have been all that anxious to see Orchard released. Julian had been devastated by the murder of his father and himself never able to be "released" from the horror of that evening of December 30th, 1905 in Caldwell, Idaho. I don't believe he was concerned that Orchard spent his life in prison. What did become troubling later to Julian and his brother Frank, and perhaps Francis too, was the sometimes celebrity treatment that seemed to be afforded Orchard during his tenure in the Pen while little attention was afforded their martyred father. Scroll down to the picture section near the bottom of the blog and see "Harry 'behind bars' at the Idaho Pen."

Most of the rest of the family, led by Charles "Pete" Steunenberg, the governors brother, had a very different view in regards to Orchard and helped rally support to snuff out any attempts to commute the sentence.

See blog posts:
Mrs. Steunenberg Pardons Slayer of her Husband

Orchard's Letters to Charles "Peter" Steunenberg

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