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An assassin on Kootenay Lake

Former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was assassinated on Dec. 30, 1905 when a bomb exploded at his house in Caldwell. The sole person convicted of the crime — although he implicated others — was Albert Horsely, aka Harry Orchard (1866-1954).

Orchard spent time in Nelson and Pilot Bay in 1896-97. We know this because of Orchard’s testimony at his sensational trial and what he wrote in The Confessions and Autobiography of Harry Orchard (1907), p. 14-15.

Above: Albert Horsely, aka Harry Orchard, aka Mr. Little in a photo that accompanied his 1907 memoir.

Horsley was a logger and cheesemaker in Hilton, Mich. and Brighton, Ont. After his wife gave birth to a daughter, he fell into serious debt. In the fall of 1896, he planned to run away with a married woman, and to settle with his creditors, he burned his cheese factory.

I paid up my debts with the insurance money, and had about $400 left, and I left there a month or so afterward, and this woman followed me a short time later and met me in Detroit and we went to Nelson, British Columbia. We stayed there and at Pilot Bay … for three months or so, and I found out that she had written home and her folks knew where she was, and I bought her a ticket, and she went home and I left there and went to Spokane.

Orchard gave no indication why or how he ended up in West Kootenay. During his trial, the Nelson Daily Canadian reported that Orchard — then still known as Horsely — and Hattie Simpson arrived in Nelson in the late summer or early fall of 1896, calling themselves Mr. and Mrs Little.

They started a restaurant in a little building on Baker street, about the place where the Silver Grill now stands. [Near the corner of Ward and Baker] It was not very elaborately fitted up, but the reports of those who dined there at that time are to the effect that the meals were well cooked and Mrs. Little was particularly tidy in her care of the place. Horsely … did not make a very good impression on his visitors.

Horsely/Orchard/Little was “generally sullen,” but prone to the occasional loquacious outburst where he would take about his old home in Brighton and adventures in Detroit.

He seemed to brood a great deal and it was suspected that his domestic relations were not as pleasant as they might be. Mrs. Little, on the other hand, was always in a communicative frame of mind. She spoke freely to patrons of the restaurant, many of whom suspected that there was a skeleton in the closet …
But the restaurant business was not a great success, and Mr. and Mrs. Little determined to move. Just about this time there was an opening at Pilot Bay for a boarding house keeper. The foreman of the sawmill up there was in Nelson and he heard of the Little family. He hired them to go up and take charge of the boarding house …

One regular restaurant customer, tobacconist W.A. Thurman, was there the night the arrangement was made. He later identified a photo of Hattie Simpson as Mrs. Little.

Horsley and Simpson moved to Pilot Bay in March 1897. Books kept by the West Kootenay Butcher Co. showed that meat was shipped from the 11th to the 31st of that month to a man named Little, but then the orders ceased.

Below: The Daily Canadian explains Harry Orchard’s Kootenay connections.

David Clark, a Pilot Bay hotelier, told the Daily Canadian he knew the couple well while they looked after the boarding house.

In fact, they lived at his place while the boarding house was being fixed up. Little, he says, was a disagreeable fellow and was continually nagging at the woman with whom he was living. Very often she came into the room in tears and it was during this time she began to realize the enormity of her offence and it is likely she made up her mind to return to her lawfully wedded husband. Mr. Clark has a theory as to the reason why Little changed his name to Orchard. While he was at Pilot Bay, [a] young fellow named Orchard name from the east and Little became acquainted with him. A few months later Little arrived in Spokane and changed his name to Orchard, the name evidently having been suggested by his acquaintanceship with the young fellow he met at Pilot Bay.

From Spokane, Orchard went to Wallace, Idaho, where he drove a milk wagon and invested in mining properties before going to work in the Tiger-Poorman mine near Burke.

Orchard was arrested for the murder of Frank Steunenberg shortly after it happened. He confessed to a Pinkerton detective — and also claimed to have killed 16 other people and all sorts admitted to all sorts of crimes related and unrelated to labour unrest in Colorado and Idaho.

He said the assassination was carried out on the orders of leaders of the Western Federation of Miners in response to steps Steunenberg had taken against the union.

Three of those leaders — William Haywood, Charles Moyer, and George Pettibone — were charged but acquitted. (Clarence Darrow represented them.) Orchard then pled guilty and was ordered hanged, but his sentence was commuted. He spent the remaining 46 years of his life in prison, although he received special treatment.

Hattie Simpson returned to her family in Brighton, Ont. She died there in 1953, six months before Orchard. According to Orchard’s great grandson, he “destroyed the lives of his wife and daughter in Canada. The scars that he inflicted erased any joy and happiness that these two people might have enjoyed during their lifetimes.”

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Mar 12, 2018

Anthony J. Lukas recounts the story of Harry Orchard in Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997). Orchard implicates the leaders of the radical Western Federation of Miners (WFM), which had locals in Rossland and elsewhere in B.C. One of the leaders, William “Big Bill” Haywood, went on to lead the Industrial Workers of the World (the Wobblies). Haywood also once visited the West Kootenays. Famous American criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow successfully defended him at the Frank Steunenberg murder trial.

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