Harry Orchard is well-known in Idaho as the man who rigged the bomb on that Caldwell gate that killed Frank Steunenberg, former governor of Idaho. Less well-known is that Harry’s real name was Albert Edward Horsley, a onetime cheese maker from Wooler, Ontario, Canada.
Orchard pleaded guilty to the murder and turned state’s evidence in the famous trial of “Big Bill” Haywood and Charles Moyer, both leaders in the Western Federation of Miners, and labor activist George Pettibone. Clarence Darrow got those men off, but Orchard went to prison, admitting to 26 murders.
Orchard’s conversion started before his sentencing in 1908. He had been moved to plead guilty by his reading of the Bible and was convinced it was the only way to save his soul. At first sentenced to hang, that sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
In the early days of his sentence, Orchard received a visit from the 21-year-old son of Governor Steunenberg, Julian. The young man brought a packet of pamphlets and books associated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church on the behest of his mother, Eveline Belle Steunenberg. She and her children were church members, and she urged Orchard to “give his life fully to Christ.”
He did so, joining the Adventist faith. He was baptized January 1, 1909 at the Idaho State Penitentiary.
Mrs. Steunenberg saw God’s hand in the assassination of her husband in a way that comforted her. It came out that Orchard had made three previous attempts to kill the man, all of which failed. On the day of the assassination, the former governor had told his family he was moved to worship with them. Though his death came just hours later, Mrs. Steunenberg came to believe God had stayed the hand of the assassin long enough to bring the governor into the fold. She would petition for Harry Orchard’s pardon and release in 1922.
Harry Orchard spent 46 years in Idaho’s prison system—though mostly not within the walls of the prison. That’s a story for another day. Orchard died April 13, 1954, at the age of 88. He was the longest serving prisoner in the system. His funeral service was conducted by the Boise Seventh-day Adventist Church.