Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Ground We Walk On: A History of the IWW in the Mother Lode and the Jackson Socialistic Circle (Post 3)

Malicious Miners and Pernicious Pinkertons
By David Roddy

Note: this is the second post in a series on the Haywood, Moyer, and Pettiboone trial.
Famed Pinkerton private detective James McParland.
To fully understand the union movement in the California gold mines after the 1903 strike, one must first travel eastward to Idaho, where politics inescapably hung around the investigation of the assassination of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg in late December, 1905. State prosecutors focused on charging the leaders of the Western Federation of Miners with conspiracy to commit the bombing that took his life. Idaho Governor Frank Gooding telegraphed the Pinkerton National Detective Agency to lead the investigation.

The agency, commonly called “Pinkertons,” established a reputation during the last decades of the 19th century as a private security force industrialists could rely on to infiltrate, intimidate, and bust worker associations. Carnegie Steel even hired an army of 300 Pinkerton agents to open Homestead Steel Works in Pennsylvania to strikebreakers during a summer strike in 1892, which culminated into a gun battle between striking steel workers and the Pinkertons. The hiring of the agency by Gooding signaled the Governor’s intention to prosecute the union itself for the crime.

The agency sent James McParland to take charge of the investigation. McParland previously received national attention for his investigation of the “Molly Maguires,” an alleged secret society of radical Irish Catholic anthracite coal miners in 1870s Pennsylvania. His work led to the eventual arrests and executions of ten men accused of violent labor activism. He later worked for railway baron Jay Gould to infiltrate the Knights of Labor during the 1886 Railway Strike.

When McParland arrived in Idaho, local authorities had arrested Albert Horsley, who was living as a miner under the pseudonym Harry Orchard, for suspicious activity. McParland’s first move was to transfer Orchard from the local jail to a death row holding cell at the state penitentiary, under the pretense that violent labor agitators could attempt to assassinate him as well to silence a testimony against union leaders.Once moved, McParland informed him that if he did not confess to the murder and implicate the union, he would hang without trial. Governor Gooding used Orchard’s subsequent confession as impetus to arrest W.F.M. leaders William “Big Bill” Haywood, Charles Moyer, and George Pettiboone for conspiracy to murder. Using perjured extradition papers, McParland had them abducted in Colorado and transported over the state line to Idaho to await trial.


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, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

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