Saturday, May 3, 2014

Shootout over Harry Orchard

Repeat visitors are familiar with this postcard from the trial of Bill Haywood in 1907 showing Harry Orchard coming out of the Boise Court House. The postcard belonged to my grandparents, Julian and Francis Steunenberg, was handed down to my mother, Brenda Steunenberg Richards, and then to me. It has no postmark or writing on either side. A couple of my fellow Idaho collectors have asked about it in the past but they knew there was no point in making me an offer. I had never seen another but always figured a few more must be out there somewhere.
As stated elsewhere, the postcard is one of the few remnants of those events from my grandparents, as they rarely spoke of Frank's assassination, Haywood's trial, nor mentioned Harry Orchard. Rumor has it that grandpa and grandma did have more photographs related to the trial that were stored in a window seat. You can guess the next part—rain leaked in and ruined all the items. Not sure if true, but the story is consistent with the damage we see on the lower right corner of the postcard and similar to a few other items as if they got wet and were stuck together. One can only dream but no point crying over spilled water. 

Of course one of the questions about this postcard is who exactly in the photo are the outlaws?  Is it just old Harry or are the likes of Charlie Siringo, Robert Meldrum, Rudy Barthell, or maybe even Warden Whitney, on the right or wrong side of the law? There seemed to be plenty of guns for hire on all sides of the battle of Capital versus Labor. But seeing all these gunslingers, and the hardware we know is under those coats, would seem to give the advantage to the state and the mine owners.

Although the photograph is common in publications, I have never seen another one despite a search for many years, specifically intense over the past decade—until now. Quite to my surprise and pleasure, one popped up on eBay a couple weeks back with a starting bid of $5 bucks. What a bargain! Just the sight of it got my heart pumping and my sights zoomed in for the kill. After all, it had been a long search and I had to add this back up card to the collection. It would be an all out war with no prisoners taken.

I kept a daily watch on the postcard and right up to within a few seconds of the auction end it had a handful of bids and was still only $7.50. However, I could not be lured into any sense of easy pickings. Us Idaho collectors can catch each others scent and we all knew the others were lurking in ambush. I had predicted $200 as in the neighborhood of the probable purchase price, perhaps even higher if a couple or three of us got into our own labor war shootout.

Well, I must say the last few seconds, with about a 1/2 dozen of us quick draw snipers left in the fight, was pretty heart stopping. Bang, bang, bang bang!—just as if Siringo and Meldrum had really drawn on each other when they met up in the Idanha Hotel. When the smoke cleared, I saw my last shot, despite all the ammo fired off, had hit the mark. Yes, I had finally taken down Harry Orchard, Meldrum and Siringo and they were mine!

Above is the recently purchased postcard. As you see, it has no creases and none of the water type damage as my other one. However, it has a few more dings around the edges and a couple nicks on the photo itself. And Bob Meldrum, upon closer examination, looks like he put too much pancake on his cheeks that morning. He doesn't look so ghostly on my original card.

The card is addressed to a "Mrs. R. R. Bassett" in Aberdeen Wash. I am tracking some possible interests Bassett family members in WA and ID may have had in the trial. If you have any info in that regard let me know.

Each of the two postcards has its positives and negatives but both are in nice shape overall for being about 114 years old. An added bonus on this newly acquired card is the writing on the front, "Taken in front of court house" and postmark on the back, "Boise Idaho, SEP 12, 1907"—not even yet a couple months after the Haywood trial had ended.

How much did it cost?  $180.27 to be exact. So in the ballpark of what I figured to be possibly $200 but still pretty rich for my blood. I am always looking for trades and there is a similar postcard with the same carriage and driver, Whitney, Barthell, Ackley, Siringo and Ed Hawley, son of James Hawley, that I would like to acquire. Meldrum is not in this one. Again, the photo is in various publications, including Big Trouble by Lukas, but the postcard is rare. I have seen a couple over the years, got outgunned in bidding a few years back on one, and am still in the hunt. I will come loaded for bear next time and a prisoner card swap is always possible too.

To those other Idaho/Haywood trial collectors, you wounded me but the shootout was fun and no one was hurt. How high had I set my sniper shots? Well, I can't reveal the amount of ammo I was packing to all my Idaho collector friends. It was a fair fight and we were only firing dollars. We all live to face off another day—on the streets of Boise Idaho—1907. 


Patricia said...

On the 1910 census there was a 34-year-old druggist named Robert R. Bassett living in Aberdeen, Washington. He was born in Canada. His wife of 8 years, Elma or Elina, was born in Tennessee. Her father, William Longhorne aged 67, was living with them. He was a lawyer. An 18-year-old boarder named Minnie Johnson was also in the household.

Robert was listed in the 1900 census in Chehalis, Lewis, Washington with his parents and siblings as follows:
James Bassett-48
Sarah Bassett-48
Robert Bassett-24
Charles Bassett-22
Willie Bassett-16.

The following is his obituary:

The Chehalis Bee-Nugget, Friday, April 13, 1928 Robert R. Bassett.

Robert R. Bassett died Tuesday morning at a Centralia hospital after three weeks' illness. He was 52 years of age and had been a resident of Lewis county most of the time since 1889, coming here with his parents from Canada. His youth and earlier years were spent in Chehalis where he was well known. For several years he made his home in Aberdeen. Four years ago he returned to Chehalis and had conducted a barber shop in this city until his business was destroyed by fire in the Moore block a few weeks ago. His aged mother, Mrs. J.C. Bassett and a brother, Charles Bassett live in Tacoma; a sister, Mrs. Mortimer Dunning at Silverton, Ore., another brother, Wm. Bassett, is a well known Centralia business man. Funeral services were held at Centralia yesterday.

I gleaned all of this from There were no obvious Idaho connections, but I did not do an extensive search. Hope this helps you.

John T. Richards Jr. said...

Thank you Patricia. Very helpful. The only Bassett I know with an Idaho connection was a Charles J. Bassett, who served under Governor Steunenberg as Commissioner of Immigration. He remained in Idaho politics for some years thereafter. I will do a little more checking.

Idaho Statesman, 26 Nov 1918
Prominent Man Suddenly Called
C.J. Bassett, Widely Known Throughout Idaho,
Passed Away at Boise Home.
C.J. Bassett, familiarly known to all his friends as "Jule", a prominent figure in the early political history of the state, died suddenly at his home, 416 South Fourth street, Tuesday morning of heart failure. Mr. Bassett had not been well for the past six weeks but his family had no idea that the end was near. Death came while he was settled in his favorite chair in the living room.
Mr. Bassett was a conspicuous figure in Idaho politics for 20 years. He was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1851 and went west while in his twenties, locating at Salt Lake. It was here that he married Miss Christina Rasmussen 41 years ago. The young couple went immediately to Idaho, settling in what was known as the Gentile Valley, in the Soda Springs region, later going to Blackfoot, where Mr. Bassett was manager of the stage line from Spencer, known then as the Beaver canyon, to the Yellowstone National park.
It was while living at Blackfoot that Mr. Bassett was made immigration commissioner under Governor Steunenberg, after having served a term in the territorial legislature in 1880. He was elected secretary of state in 1901 and re-elected the next term. At one time he was chairman of the Democratic state central committee and in the recent state campaign was selected as manager for E.A. Van Sicklin, the Democratic candidate.
For a number of years Mr. Bassett had been a great sufferer from asthma. He is survived by his widow and three daughters, Mrs. W.B. Hurd of Portland and Mrs. W.B. McIntyre and Mrs. A.S. Dolling of Boise. The funeral will be held Friday and will be under the auspices of the Boise order of Elks of which Mr. Bassett was a member.

1900 Federal Census of Boise, Ada County, Idaho (12 Jun 1900)
Charles J. Bassett - 48 - Nov 1851 - M - IA-US-US - Head - Immigration ???
Christina - 46 - Mar 1854 - F - ID-DM-DM - Wife
Charles - 21 - Oct 1878 - M - UT-IA-ID - Son - Clerk
Helen - 16 - Jun 1883 - F - UT-IA-ID - Daughter - At school
Idaho - 9 - Jul 1890 -F - ID-IA-ID - Daughter - At school
Sarah Rasmussen - 35 - Jun 1864 - F - UT-DM-DM - SisterL - Dressmaker
Peter (Div) - 54 - May 1846 - M - DM-DM-DM - BrotherL
(DM = Denmark) (Married 23 years, 6 children, 4 living)