The Prison Letters of Albert Horsley

‘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.

Albert Horsley.
Image courtesy of Idaho Public Television.


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,

Bennington Vt.,

Dear friend;-

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.

Harry Orchard

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. 2018

Events Manuscripts

DeGolyer Library goes live at DFW Archives Bazaar


Reference, Access, Outreach. These words don’t mean much to the public, but for archivists, they describe how we interact with the public. People might understand that we collect old “stuff,” but then what happens?

Students using material in the DeGolyer.

Reference happens.  In the DeGolyer Library we help people find answers through phone calls, via email, and when they come to visit.  When visiting, a researchers signs in, talks with a staff member about their research, and then we bring them folders or boxes of materials. Sometimes our readers are academics who know their subjects—and know exactly what they want. But more often, our readers want to know something—but they don’t know where or how to look. We take the time to try to match materials to their questions.

Access happens in Archives as well.  For the DeGolyer Library, we provide access in multiple ways. We create catalog records, which condense a manuscript collection down to its essentials. For some collections we create finding aids, which are longer documents. A finding aid may inventory many of the folders of the collection.  More importantly, it includes a history of who created the material and why they created it. This helps provide historically context for the collection. Other times we might scan parts of a collection. We do this when we know that a section is very popular—or well used.  People who can’t visit can view these letters or photographs from far away.

Panel Discussion
Panel discussion with Bill Wittliff (L) and Virgil Musick (R)


Outreach happens when the DeGolyer library has exhibits, hosts talks, writes blog posts, or participates in events like the DFW Archives Bazaar.

Join archivists, museum curators, librarians, and history professionals from all across the DFW area at the Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park on Sunday, October 14, 2018, from 1-5pm for the DFW Archives Bazaar. The Bazaar will feature over twenty-five Texas archives offering fun and interactive ways to learn more about the historical resources and services available in North Texas. Come discover the photographs, documents, films, maps, and more held in the incredible archival collections in and around DFW!

The event is free and open to everyone — what a great way to experience Texas’ diverse history! At the demo booths and interactive exhibit guests can learn how to preserve their family treasures, interview family members about their own history, digitize family memories, and much more. Other attractions include a full slate of speakers and sessions featuring historic film. At the “Ask an Archivist” Station, professional archivists will be available to answer your questions! Have a future archivist in the family? Students can learn about archival career options and get advice on schools, programs, and internships at the career booth.

In addition to the exhibitors and demos, there will be a door prizes, trivia, and more. All attendees of the DFW Archives Bazaar will receive free access to the rest of Dallas Heritage Village and everyone is encouraged to picnic on the grounds (food and beverages will also be available for purchase).

Explore Your Past! Preserve Your Future! The DeGolyer invites you to the Dallas Heritage Village to see archivists in the wild.  And you might just get a free bookmark.