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Frank Steunenberg

In office
January 4, 1897 – January 7, 1901
Lieutenant George F. Moore (1897)
J. H. Hutchinson (1899)
Preceded by William J. McConnell
Succeeded by Frank W. Hunt

Born August 8, 1861(1861-08-08)
Keokuk, Iowa
Died December 30, 1905 (aged 44)
Caldwell, Idaho
Political party Democrat, Populist
Spouse(s) Belle Keppel Steunenberg
Residence Caldwell
Profession Newspaper Publisher, Politician
Religion Christian

Frank Steunenberg (August 8, 1861 – December 30, 1905) was the fourth Governor of the State of Idaho, serving from 1897 until 1901. He is perhaps best known for his 1905 assassination by one-time union member Harry Orchard, who also admitted to being a paid informant for the Cripple Creek, Colorado, Mine Owners' Association.[1] Orchard attempted to implicate leaders of the radical Western Federation of Miners in the murder. The labor leaders were found not guilty[2] in two trials,[3] but Orchard spent the rest of his life in prison.


Early career

Steunenberg attended Iowa State at Ames and then went on to become a printer's apprentice, and publisher. In 1881 he was hired by the Des Moines Register in Des Moines, Iowa. Steunenberg later published a newspaper in Knoxville, Iowa, before finally settling in Caldwell, Idaho where he joined his brother taking over the Caldwell Tribune for six years[4]

In Caldwell Steunenberg became active in politics and was elected to the first Idaho Legislature in 1890 as a fusion candidate endorsed by both the Democratic and Populist Parties.


With labor union support, in 1896 Steunenberg was nominated as both the Democratic and Populist candidate for governor. He won the November election and became the first Governor of Idaho who was not a member of the Republican Party. Steunenberg served during a period of considerable labor unrest in the Idaho mining industry. As a result, many corporations, fearing that Steunenberg's government would not support them if there was a strike, increased their wages for workers.

The Bunker Hill Mining Company, however, did not. In April 1899 striking members of the Western Federation of Miners destroyed the company's mill at Wardner. In response Steunenberg declared martial law and asked President William McKinley to send federal troops to quell the unrest. (See also: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho labor confrontation of 1899.) This action was seen as a betrayal by Steunenberg's union supporters. Steunenberg did not seek reelection in 1900.


Statue of Governor Steunenberg seen in front of Idaho State Capitol

On December 30, 1905, Steunenberg was killed outside his house in Caldwell by a bomb rigged to his front gate. Harry Orchard was arrested shortly thereafter for the murder, and the investigation was conducted by Pinkerton agent James McParland. With the promise of a lighter sentence, McParland compelled Orchard to write a confession in which he implicated "Big Bill" Haywood, general secretary of the Western Federation of Miners, Charles Moyer, president of the Western Federation of Miners, and George Pettibone, a labor activist who had a prior conviction related to an 1892 dispute in Coeur d'Alene, as co-conspirators. McParland arrested the three in Colorado in February 1906.

The nationally publicized trial took place in Boise in 1907. There was a lack of evidence in a case that was supported only by Orchard's testimony. Clarence Darrow, a lawyer who specialized in defending trade union leaders, won an acquittal for Haywood. Pettibone was defended in a separate trial by Judge Hilton of Denver, and was also acquitted. Charges were dropped against Moyer.[5] Orchard received a death sentence in a separate trial, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison.

More information about the Steunenberg trials at James McParland.


  1. ^ Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 119.
  2. ^ Roughneck, The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 135.
  3. ^ The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood, William Dudley Haywood, 1929, page 224 ppbk.
  4. ^ Idaho State Historical Society Public Archives Research Library.
  5. ^ The Autobiography of Big Bil Haywood, William Dudley Haywood, 1929, page 224 ppbk.

Additional references

See also

Further reading

Party political offices
Preceded by
Edward A. Stevenson
Democratic Party nominee, Governor of Idaho
1896 (won), 1898 (won)
Succeeded by
Frank W. Hunt
Political offices
Preceded by
William J. McConnell
Governor of Idaho
January 4, 1897 – January 7, 1901
Succeeded by
Frank W. Hunt


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