Terror in the Gold Camp: The Crimes of Albert Horsley


by Beth Dodd:





Whenever a terrorist attack occurs, like the recent tragedy at the Boston Marathon, it is natural to wonder “Could it happen here?” You may not realize that in Teller County, it already happened before. Albert Horsley, remembered by his alias Harry Orchard, committed mass murder near Victor back in 1903.
Harry Orchard was born Albert Horsley in Ontario in 1866. He grew up poor and received little education. As a young man he abandoned his wife and daughter, burning their business for the insurance money and running off with another woman. Although he worked as a logger, a milk man and miner in the western U.S. and Canada, Horsley went from bad to worse. He later admitted to robbing a train depot, steeling sheep, planning to kidnap children, and selling bad insurance. In Burke, Idaho in 1897, he saved up the money to invest in a silver mine and a coal business but then had to sell them to pay gambling debts. He ended up working as a mucker in someone else’s silver mine.

While in Idaho, he joined the Western Federation of Miners. He became a radical union supporter and began to commit violent acts in support of the union cause. The 1890s were tough times in Idaho’s silver mines. In 1899, Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg asked President William McKinley to send in troops after striking union miners hijacked a train and dynamited a large silver concentration mill, killing two men. Horsley was one of the men who lit the dynamite. When federal troops arrived, they arrested all the men in the union towns. Over 1,000 strikers were held without trial.

Horsley had moved on to Cripple Creek by the time of the 1903-04 labor war there. While in Teller County he became a paid union terrorist when he blew up the Vindicator Mine in Victor, killing two men, for $500. Six months later, Horsley and his accomplice, Steve Adams, bombed the train depot at Independence, killing 13 non-union miners. Horsley’s bombing of the depot turned public opinion against the strikers, and led to the final collapse of union labor in the mining district. Martial law was declared in Victor to end the violent strike. Hundreds of striking miners were illegally arrested, tried at the Cripple Creek courthouse, and held under armed guard. Many miners were forcefully deported, beaten and robbed, and dumped at the state line. As if he hadn’t caused enough trouble in Cripple Creek, Horsley also abandoned a second wife and burned down another business.

Two years later, Horsley was back in Idaho using the name Tom Hogan. In December of 1905, he bombed the home gate of former Idaho Governor Steunenberg. Steunenberg died with his family by his side. Horsley made no effort to escape and was arrested after a private detective found that he was using several names. Bomb making equipment was discovered in his hotel room. Horsley claimed that the governor had been paid by Idaho mine owners to act against the strikers. Some sources today claim that the Governor deposited $35,000.00 from an unknown source into his bank account shortly before he called in the feds to break the silver strike.

Horsley was jailed in Boise and a confession was drawn from him James McParland, the western manager of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Denver. McParland was Pinkerton’s most famous employee and America’s top detective. He had made his reputation some thirty years earlier by going undercover to infiltrate, capture, and convict the Molly Maguires, a secret group of deadly Irish labor activists in the Pennsylvania coal mines.

In his confession to McParland, Horsley accused the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners of ordering him to kill Steunenberg. Horsley named President Charles Moyer, Executive Secretary William Haywood, and former Treasurer George Pettibone, all of Denver, as well as Executive Board Member Jack Simpkins of Spokane, as participants in the conspiracy to murder the governor.
Horsley also described several failed murder attempts that he said were ordered by the WFM. The intended victims included Colorado Governor Peabody and two Colorado Supreme Court justices. The bomb intended for Justice Gabbert had killed an innocent passerby instead, and an unexploded bomb was found at Justice Goddard’s home. Following these revelations, Justice Goddard approved the arrest and extradition to Idaho for trial of the WFM leaders. Simpkins could not be found, but the other three were virtually kidnapped from Denver and shipped to Idaho by secret train. Haywood was taken while in a compromising situation with his sister-in law and later ran for Colorado Governor while in jail in Idaho, winning 16,000 votes. The WFM lawyers howled and tried to get the three defendants returned to Colorado, but lost their case in both the Idaho and U.S. Supreme Courts.

The first of the WFM men to stand trial for the murder of Steunenberg was Executive Secretary “Big Bill” Haywood in June of 1907. Haywood’s sensational trial was avidly followed across the country. During his eight days of testimony, Horsley described his career as a union terrorist for the Western Federation of Miners, which resulted in the deaths of at least 17 men, including Steunenberg. He was also grilled about his bigamy, heavy drinking, and compulsive gambling.

During the trial, which was followed day by day in the national media, Horsley admitted bombing the Vindicator Mine and the train station in Independence with the help of Steve Adams, killing a total of 16 men and injuring many more. He also confessed to stalking Colorado Governor Peabody and killing Denver deputy Lyle Gregory. Horsley had also tried to kill mine manager Fred Bradley in San Francisco in 1904 with poison and then a bomb, but Bradley survived. The confession of Horsley’s previously unsolved Colorado crimes must have been a great shock for Teller County residents, especially for those who had lost family or friends in the bombings.
In response to the murder conspiracy charges, William Haywood’s defense team, including famous Chicago prosecutor Clarence Darrow, presented evidence of spying and sabotage against the WFM by the Pinkerton detectives. The defense claimed that the Pinkerton’s had brought the murder charges in order to discredit the organization’s leaders. The defense also presented “startling new evidence” about insanity in Horsley’s family, including a grandfather and an uncle who went crazy.

Horsley’s accused accomplice, Steve Adams, was absent from the Haywood trial. Adams had been implicated by Horsley in the two Victor bombings and in the deaths of two timber claim jumpers in Idaho. Adams was arrested and made to confess by Detective McParland. Adams’ story corroborated much of Horsley’s and was expected to seal the fates of Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone. But Adams recanted his confession before the Haywood trial, possibly due to fear of revenge by the WFM. Without his confession, the prosecutors had no evidence to prove Horsley’s accusations against Haywood. Their case fell apart when Horsley, claiming a religious conversion, confessed to crimes that he could not have committed.

The jury found Haywood not guilty of conspiracy to murder Governor Steunenberg. Pettibone was also acquitted after a short trial, and the charges against Moyer were dropped. One juror for the Haywood trail later told a reporter, “There was nothing against the accused but inference and suspicion.” Steve Adams was tried in three separate trials, resulting in two hung juries in Idaho for the murders of the timber claim jumpers, and an acquittal in Colorado.
After all the other suspects were acquitted or released, Horsley was tried alone. In March of 1908, he was convicted of murdering Governor Steunenberg. He received a sentence of death by hanging, but an appeal was made and his sentence was changed to life in prison. Soon after, he became a Seventh-Day Adventist. He wrote his autobiography, and raised chickens and strawberries at the Idaho State Penitentiary in Boise until he died in 1954. He was 88 and had served 46 years, the longest term ever served at the old Idaho State Penitentiary.