Several years ago, a couple of articles appeared on the George Mason University History News Network (HNN) , one suggesting a government and corporate role in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg and the other laying the assassination at the feet of Bill Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners. My views have been written elsewhere (i.e. Reflections on the Haywood Trial Verdict and others) and generally support the latter, despite Haywood having been found not guilty and the seemingly obvious government/corporate impropriety and law breaking that took place. Similarities were drawn between these events and the more contemporary history of 9-11 and the Iraq war. Utilizing historical comparisons is certainly valid and a practice I encourage. I have not previously shared these two articles and have posted them below for reading and reflection on this 9/11/2009.
All of the pictures below are from my collection and were added to the articles for illustration purposes. Nothing you probably haven't seen before and/or viewed elsewhere on this blog. Click on the pics and you will be taken to a related blog entry or website.
Mr. Castagnera, a Philadelphia journalist and attorney, is the Associate Provost at Rider University and author of the weekly newspaper column “Attorney at Large.”
The summer of '68 was an exciting time for my hometown of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Paramount Pictures brought Sean Connery, Richard Harris, Samantha Edgar and Anthony Zerby to the hard coal region to film The Molly Maguires. What premiered about a year and a half later in early 1970 was the classic tale of capitalist oppression, reprisals by a secret society of Irish terrorists, betrayal by an undercover agent, and --- inevitably --- the day of the rope. Connery, looking to escape being typecast as a certain British spy, brought his license-to-kill over to the character of Black Jack Kehoe, presented to film goers as a coal miner with a pick ax to grind against the mine owners, bosses, and coppers. Harris was James McParland, aka Jamie McKenna, the Pinkerton detective on the make, who befriends and then betrays Kehoe and his cohorts.
Not a bad movie, except that it got much of the story wrong. Although he mined coal in his salad days, Kehoe was a Girardville tavern keeper and political leader when he was arrested, tried and hanged as the alleged King of the Mollies. And McParland… well, was he an undercover detective who later testified honestly to the Molly Maguire crimes he had witnessed? Or was he an agent-provocateur who instigated crime and violence in the mine patches, providing an opportunity for his masters --- the likes of Alan Pinkerton and President Franklin Gowan of the Philadelphia & Reading --- to break the power of organized labor and the Irish immigrants' own Ancient Order of Hibernians? These questions have bedeviled historians and stirred controversy for generations.
Clues to the correct answer may be found more than a quarter century and a couple of thousand miles from the Molly Maguire trials, in the Coeur d'Alene mining district of Idaho early in the twentieth century. Like the July 1916 terrorist attack on the Black Tom Island arsenal in New York harbor, written about at this website last month, the murder of Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg on December 30, 1905 in Caldwell, Idaho, has faded into history's mists, its lessons largely lost to our policy makers today. But Steunenberg's murder, caused by a terrorist's bomb tied to his garden gate, has a lesson to teach us about conspiracy and the two-edged nature of terrorism.
Coeur d'Alene was a region rich in precious metals and in labor union agitation. The Western Federation of Miners was militant and bare knuckled. During work stoppages, union terrorism took the form of dynamiting company mines and mills, capturing and imprisoning scab labor in the union hall, and hijacking trains. The dynamiting of the Bunker Hill Mining Company's major processing facilities in Wardner, Idaho, in May 1898, led Governor Steunenberg to call in federal troops, who arrested "every male --- miners, bartenders, a doctor, a preacher, even a postmaster and a school superintendent," in the nearby union bastion of Burke, Idaho. All together about 1,000 men were herded into the "Cow Pen," a kind of makeshift concentration camp and held for weeks without trial.
Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather, claimed that "revenge is a dish best served cold." Fully seven and a half years later the ex-governor, back home in Caldwell, opened his garden gate at six o'clock on the second-to-last, snowy evening of '05. The explosion of a homemade bomb, fastened to the gate by a fish line, took off Steunenberg's legs. He lingered an hour before bleeding to death in a downstairs bedroom, conscious to the bitter end.
A waitress at Caldwell's Saratoga Hotel fingered a long-term guest, one Thomas Hogan, as a possible suspect. A warrant-less search of Hogan's hotel room turned up plaster of paris in his chamber pot. Other detritus, that could have comprised bomb components, was found in his valise. On New Year's day, 1906, Hogan aka Harry Orchard was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Less than a week later, the State of Idaho hired America's most famous detective: none other than James McParland, who headed the Pinkerton Agency's Denver office.
McParland, the famed Molly Maguire-catcher, rushed to Boise, where he interrogated Hogan/Orchard relentlessly. The result? An astonishing 64-page confession to the killing of Frank Steunenberg and seventeen others, all ordered, said Orchard, by the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners. On the strength of this confession, McParland led a posse by special train to Denver, where Colorado Governor McDonald had a warrant waiting for the arrest of WFM officers William "Big Bill" Haywood, Charles Moyer and George Pettibone. Denied any opportunity to contact their loved ones and lawyers, the three union leaders were kidnapped aboard the Idaho special and hauled to Boise for trial. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently sanctioned their kidnapping to Idaho.
Luckier than Black Jack Kehoe and Yellow Jack Donohue, Big Bill Haywood and his comrades had Clarence Darrow on their side. Already a rising star, and later to win international fame in the Scopes Monkey Trial and Leopold-Loeb Thrill-Killing case, Darrow was the darling of the American Federation of Labor.
Looking for three bites at the union apple, the prosecution brought Big Bill to trial first. Harry Orchard --- like another alleged-turncoat, Kelly the Bum, in the Molly trials --- told his lurid tale of a life of crime, terrorism and murder on the witness stand. In a long and passionate closing argument, Darrow told the jury of ranchers and business men,
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.
Darrow's theory was that Orchard acted alone in belated revenge for being squeezed out of a lucrative silver-mine deal by Steunenberg years earlier.
In a direct attack on McParland and his methods, Darrow recalled for the jury the great detective's ambiguous role in bringing the Mollies "to justice," and expressly drew the parallel between the two cases, especially the Pinkerton's production of the snitch known as "Kelly the Bum" to bolster McParland's testimony for the prosecution.
Some say the jury's unanimous "not guilty" verdict was the result of Darrow's silver-tongued oratory. Less kind critics claim the twelve jurors were intimidated by the terrorist tactics of the WFM. But when George Pettibone was likewise acquitted, the prosecutors gave up the ghost and released the three defendants.
Were the WFM union officers guilty or innocent? Were Black Jack Kehoe and the other alleged Molly Maguires guilty or innocent? Or, in a climate of violence and terrorist tactics, did beleaguered government officials lay those indisputable acts of violence at the feet of political opponents they preferred to see removed from the stage?
Was Saddam Hussein in league with al-Qaeda? Or did the 9-11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington provide a later generation of our government officials with an opportunity to remove another political thorn from the side of our body politic?
If, as I am suggesting here, both the so-called Molly Maguires and the three top officers of the Western Federation of Miners were brought to trial as scapegoats for terrorist acts, not because they instigated or aided those acts, but because government and corporate interests wanted them removed as potentially-powerful opponents then, in the ongoing absence of evidence of weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda, might we not fairly wonder whether Saddam Hussein has been made the unlikely bed-fellow of Black Jack Kehoe and Big Bill Haywood? An unusual context in which to view his pending trial, perhaps, but one which in this writer's opinion cannot be dismissed out of hand. --James Ottavio Castagnara
Who done it? (#44699)
by Charles V. Mutschler on October 18, 2004 at 10:08 PM
For the second time in two weeks HNN readers are offered a look at the murder of Idaho's former governor, Frank Steunenberg. In both articles, the implication is that Clarence Darrow saved his clients from being railroaded to the gallows. That is, of course possible. However, it seems quite possible that labor leaders engaged in behavior as sordid as hiring a hit man to kill political figures they disapproved of. Of course, if this is correct, then the argument that William Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners leadership were decent men, and the mining companies engineered the trial to purge the country of labor leaders becomes harder to sustain.
The Steunenberg killing resulted in a trial which was like the O. J. trial of its day. The country followed it closely, in print, and via telegraph. Afterwords, the trial reseeded into the background, but at least four books on the subject all seem to suggest that the union leaders were, indeed, guilty of hiring Harry Orchard to kill people.
No disinterested party, the killer himself penned _Harry Orchard: The Man God Made Again_ (Southern Publishing Association, 1952) while serving his life sentence in the Idaho prison. Orchard confesses his crimes, and explains his religious conversion in prison. If one takes his confessions, both in court and again in his memoir at face value, the killer was hired by union leaders. One should note, however, that by 1952, Orchard had outlived the other major players, and they could not contest his account.
Stewart H. Holbrook spent much of his life writing for newspapers before turning to writing popular history. _The Rocky Mountain Revolution_, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1956 is his narrative account of the labor violence in the hard rock mining camps of Idaho and Colorado, and Orchard's role in it. Holbrook didn't use footnotes, and his work was largely based on interviews, a common practice for journalists. He was able to obtain an interview with Orchard in prison, and also interviewed Edward Boyce, Clarence Darrow, and Mrs. Frank Steunenberg. The bibliography lists a number of secondary sources and some contemporary newspapers, but the interviews were probably Holbrook's major source. He concludes that Orchard was hired by the WFM leadership, based on Orchard's trial testimony, and his interview with the elderly man.
Robert G. Grimmett revisited the events, and wrote _Cabal of Death: Harry Orchard and His Associates in Murder in the Western Mining Wars_, Moscow, Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 1977. Although not footnoted, Grimmett's bibliography suggests that he went much deeper into the primary sources than Holbrook had. Grimmett cites the James H. Hawley papers, and William Borah papers held by the Idaho Historical Society, which include a copy of Orchard's confession, and a transcript of the Haywood trial. Grimmett is not quite as positive as Holbrook or Orchard, and notes the basic conflict between the testimony of Orchard and that of the WFM leaders. He seems to lean toward the point of view that Orchard was probably hired by the WFM leadership.
J. Anthony Lukas, _Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Town Sets off a Struggle for the Soul of America_, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 is the larges, and most recent study of the case. Lukas used extensive footnotes, and he probably did the most extensive research of any writer to date. He ultimately concludes that the WFM leaders were guilty. His proof isn't in the trial transcripts or Orchard's confession. He found correspondence files of the radical publication _Appeal to Reason_ which seem to be solid evidence that Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone were guilty. The concluding sentence of _Big Trouble_ reads, "If, four years after the Boise trial, these prominent Socialists wrote freely to one another about the guilt of Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone, what does this tell us about who struck down the governor on that snowy night in Caldwell?"
If Lukas is correct, it makes the argument that the trial for the murder of Governor Steunenberg was a mine owner 'railroad job' a lot less plausible. Comparing the Steunenberg trial to the Molly Maguire trials, or the decision to go to war in Iraq, may not be particularly apropos. --Charles V. Mutschler
Comments from either viewpoints are welcomed and appreciated. Please also browse this blog, the left hand column of resources, the archive of previous entries and/or utilize the search tool in the top upper left corner to research these events. You will also want to visit the GLC Collection/Steunenberg Papers at the College of Idaho. Thanks, John