‘The Trial of the Century’ is a bold claim which is perhaps ascribed a hundred times over a hundred years. People my age would probably give the O.J. Simpson trial that title, while their parents or grandparents may contend that it really describes the Manson family trial, or the Lindbergh kidnapping proceedings. For others, when considering the 20th century, the names Sacco and Vanzetti, Rosenberg, or Scopes might spring to mind.
But in the first decade of the 20th century, a trial in Idaho was given the distinction. Albert Horsley, better known as Harry Orchard, was convicted of assassinating former Idaho Governor Frank Stuenenberg, via a bomb outside the Stuenenberg’s home in 1905. Orchard would go on to spend the next five decades behind bars.
A few years into his prison sentence, Horsley began corresponding with William E. Hawks of Bennington, Vermont, regarding Hawks’ purchase of bridles, spurs, and brushes made by Horsley. The DeGolyer acquired 9 of these letters in 1980.
The letters caught my attention because I’d spent a number of years living in Idaho. I’d never heard of Horsley or Stuenenberg, but when I read the word ‘assassin’ in a catalog record, I was curious. I expected to skim the letters and write a quick blog post about how this odd collection ended up in a Texas archive. I was not prepared for the poignancy of Horsley’s letters, which are too rich to sum up in one entry. So, over the following months, I’ll be sharing the letters, and going into greater detail about the events surrounding the trial, and Horsley’s life. Below is a scan of the first letter in the collection, and a transcript. Horsley had a third grade education, and I’ve fixed obvious typos and misspellings in the transcript, but left most of the letter untouched.
Boise, Idaho, Nov, 10th 1912
Wm E. Hawks,
Your very kind and welcome letter received and I can assure you, very much appreciated. I know a good many of the parties that you mention as being, detained against their will at the, “Hotel Idaho,” Well I don’t blame them for not liking the place, and I think I ought to be a pretty good judge, as I have been here nearly seven years. *George Horsley, from Soda Springs, was here since I have been here. His father was a large sheep man over there and had a big mercantile store. No double the same man that you traded with when you were there and this is one of his sons.
I had a letter from Charlie a few days ago, and sent him four bridles and bits, spurs, and some other things, he is going on a trip through southern Texas, and is going to try and dispose of them for me. Yes, his book is very interesting, and as you say, it is the truth, I know personally a good part of it, and also some of the characters to my sorrow.
I will send you the, bridle and bits, in about ten days or two weeks, and I can get the rope made, and all the **romeles and ***hackamores. I make most of the stuff that I handle myself, I have never made a rope, I hire a fellow here that is a first class braider and knotter to do some of the work, but outside of that I do all the rest. I will send you a little different bridle from the last and I think you will like it much better, as every one that has seen them do, and they will stand lots of wear and tear.
I have no words to express my gratitude to you for handling this junk for me, but hope to be able to do so in other than words someday. With kindest regards, I am,
Very respectfully yours.
Box. 58 Boise Idaho.
*It is not clear if he is of any relation to Albert
**It is unclear what this word is intended to be
***A hackamore is a type of bitless horse headgear.
By Christina Jensen
Carlson, Peter, Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983
Lukas, J. Anthony, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997
Idaho Public Television, ‘The Many Faces of Harry Orchard. http://idahoptv.org/productions/specials/trial/resources/manyfaces.cfm 2018