Saturday, June 7, 2014

"Conversion of Harry Orchard - Turning a Criminal Into A Christian" ?

Caldwell's 1st SDA Church 1909
If you are receiving this as an email notification, the formatting may be rather scrambled. Come to the blog for better viewing (at least I hope it's better!).

I will get to the point of the title of this post in a minute. First let me give a little family related Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) history. As some of you know, the SDA church played a significant role in early Steunenberg history. We still have a few kinfolk who are SDA's. Much of our more readily known SDA history began when my great grandma, Eveline "Belle" Steunenberg, left the Presbyterian Church to join a small and newly established SDA church in Caldwell, ID. 

From Big Trouble:
"The community's general air of well-being was reflected in the bustling jollity of Caldwell's holiday festivities, formally ushered in on Saturday, December 23, with Christmas exercises at three downtown churches. The most impressive were those at the Presbyterian Church, the house of worship that attracted many of Caldwell's leading citizens. Belle Steunenberg had stood proudly among its founders, a teacher in its Sunday School, a doyenne of the congregation, a community leader 'jeweled with Christian graces,' until her inexplicable defection to Caldwell's tiny eight-member Adventist Church when it was inaugurated a year before—an act of such breathtaking betrayal it had left a strong residue of resentment in the front pews."
Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas

However, the family SDA association actually began quite a few years earlier in Walla Walla, WA with the grandparents and great grandparents of  Francis Beardsley Wood, my grandmother, who would marry Julian Steunenberg in 1906.

(Right) From my mother's (& her mother Frances Wood Steunenberg's) copy of 60 Years of Progress - Walla Walla College (1951-52). Stephen and Lois Babcock-Maxson (top) and J. Franklin and Carolyn Maxson-Wood (below)—my great great great and great great grandparents.

My grandparents Julian and Frances Steunenberg were life long SDA's and we visited them frequently during the years. Although never "preachy" and always accommodating, they did not talk a whole lot about the SDA, but we learned to respect the Sabbath and various SDA practices. For example, being a frequent visitor to grandma's kitchen, I always remember those funny Loma Linda can goods in the pantry. We laugh about it today as one of my sons is vegetarian and my daughter is vegan. I am still a carnivore of sorts but to a much lesser degree. We all eat more healthy these days and little did we realize that grandma and grandpa Steunenberg were far ahead of us in that regard. Years later we further learned the value of a vegan diet from Loreen Steunenberg Dinwiddie.

Re-enactment (Left) at Fort Walla Walla Museum of pioneers Carolyn Wood, husband J. Franklin Wood and her parents Stephen and Lois Maxson.

I cannot recall grandma and grandpa ever speaking of Harry Orchard. My mother always said that during her youth, Orchard, and Frank's assassination, were clearly not topics of conversation within the family.

Although I will always have the utmost love and respect for my SDA friends and family, and great grandma Belle, I do have a different view when it comes to the glorification of a mass murderer through the years and Orchard's alleged Christian conversion. I have shared thoughts on Orchard before and they have not changed appreciably over the years.

Here is an excerpt from A Good Hanging Spoiled written by me some years ago:
"In terms of Orchard's much debated religious conversion and whether it was genuine or contrived — I have always viewed it as a moot point, as he will be judged by a far greater entity then this mere mortal. Perhaps it was Charles "Pete" Steunenberg, brother of the fallen governor, who found the perfect blend of religion and punishment. Pete said something to the effect that if Harry Orchard had found religion then the sure-fire way to guarantee he kept it was to keep him right there in the Idaho penitentiary! His letter published in the Idaho Statesmen raised a public outcry and served to snuff out a near successful attempt by Gooding, Hawley and others to obtain Orchard's release."

"One matter on which much of our family probably does agree is the post-trial treatment of Orchard during the long years he spent at the Idaho penitentiary. He became a trusty, had his own cabin outside the prison walls, was given freedom to roam about as he pleased, and was photographed with governors and their children and grandchildren. As he grew older, Orchard was written about and pictured in the press as the nice old grandfatherly type. I cannot think of any mass murderer ever receiving such favorable treatment in the history of the American prison system! One can argue whether Orchard should or should not have swung from the gallows, but to go from a wanted poster to a poster child for Idaho was and is a tough pill to swallow for our family and friends. Frank Steunenberg never had his opportunity to grow old or to enjoy being a grandfather to my mother Brenda or his other grandchildren. Were it not for that dastardly deed of Harry Orchard on the evening of December 30th 1905, he would have most likely lived to see some of his great grandchildren—perhaps even this one."
John T. Richards

The following is a view expressed by a great grandson of Orchard:  
"For years, I've researched the history that surrounded my great grandfather, Albert Horsley, aka Harry Orchard. In discovering that a documentary has been produced, I again find it sad that commentary surrounding Harry Orchard and his deeds forgets that there is a side to this story that fails to mention the pain and decimation that has affected our family. Harry Orchard destroyed the lives of his Wife and Daughter in Canada, and the scars that he inflicted erased any joy and happiness that these two people might have enjoyed during their lifetimes. He destroyed their livelihood when he burned down their cheese factory in Canada and added insult to their lives by running off with an other women, leaving them penniless. While I did not know my Great Grandmother, I am told that she was a hollow bitter woman whom no one enjoyed being around. Her bitterness affected my Grandmother deeply, and I never once remember her smiling. While the Stuenenburg family lost a great member of their family on December 5th 1905 in a terrible event perpetrated upon them by my Great Grandfather, Harry Orchard also destroyed his own family, people just as innocent as the Stuenenburgs. My Great Grandmother and Grandmother refused to discuss my Great Grandfather in any terms other than to mention that he had left them. It was only after my Grandmother had passed away that we found an obituary of Harry Orchard in her belongings and discovered the history of Harry Orchard. Learning that you are only a generation or two away from a mass murderer isn't a family history that you are proud of."

"As I am an atheist I was further frustrated to learn that a religious organization holds Harry Orchard up as an example of the transforming power of God's Forgiveness. This is almost too much to tolerate. Harry Orchard was a monster, plain and simple. No higher power is going to judge him. He spent his days in Jail for the most part in relative comfort, and thanks to the Seventh Day Adventists, as a semi-celebrity. He should have lost his life, as should his three co-conspirators, at the end of a noose."
Larry Taylor, June 15, 2010—From Assassination; Idaho's Trial of the Century-Feedback:

And here is a 1983 article from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin about "Uncle Frank", the youngest child of Frank and Belle Steunenberg. Uncle Frank was about 5 years old at the time of his father's assassination. He graduated from Walla Walla College in 1924.

September 4, 1983
"I want the world to know that when this incident is mentioned I want them to be aware of the real hero of this story: my father, instead of the criminal who killed him."—Frank W. Steunenberg

So all the above leads me to the article and cover photo below of  Harry Orchard from a hard copy of Adventist Review. Just below the photo is a link to the online version of the same magazine and article. You can find all the references online that are not in the hard copy version.

I learned of the upcoming article when Sandra Blackmer, Feature Editor of Adventist Review, contacted me regarding use of some photographs she had seen on this blog. As was the case at the time of the Haywood trial, Harry Orchard continues to elicit many different viewpoints, all of which I respect and welcome. I am happy to provide photographs and information—even where viewpoints might differ.

Click on this link for the online article:
Conversion of Harry Orchard - Turning a Criminal Into A Christian
Now, some 110 plus years later, the discussion and debate continues. The article provides an interesting and already familiar SDA viewpoint and comes with an excellent list of references available online. I was pleased to see at least cursory attention given to Belle Steunenberg's role (as controversial as it remains) and acknowledgement of the destruction and suffering caused by Orchard.

Jim Nix, Director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, wrote the original article for a presentation he had put together a couple years ago and had asked at that time if he could use some photographs. I want to also thank Sandra Blackmer, Adventist Review Editor, for requesting permission to utilize my photographs on this occasion and for our always friendly and interesting contacts. I welcome them anytime.

One other little tidbit related to Jim, I believe he also bought a copy of Harry Orchard, the Man God Made Again, from me on eBay three years or so ago. That was before Jim and I had direct contact a year or so later. If I had known, I might have written a few friendly comments on the inside cover and signed my name to it! Thank you again Jim and Sandra for your recent and past contacts and for continuing the discussion.
Other Links:
Click here for references from the Web version of the above article

Saturday, March 22, 2008-Brenda Steunenberg Richards-The Graduate-Class of 1936-Honorary Diploma September 2004

Sunday, April 20, 2008-Steunenberg's and Religion

Saturday, September 13, 2008-Mrs. Steunenberg Pardons Slayer Of Her Husband

Saturday, December 29, 2007-Letters from Assassin Harry Orchard

"Just past 7:30 p.m., he gasped three or four times, like a man trying to catch his breath, and muttered something unintelligible. As Will leaned closer, trying to hear those last syllables, the governor sank back and died.  'Frank died in my arms', Will wrote a sister in Iowa, 'and I hope the fellow that killed him will die in my arms, only in a different manner.'" —Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas
(*Will Steunenberg, brother of the slain governor).

Left: Frank—probably circa early 1890's before he became governor.

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