Debs and the Haywood-Moyer Affair of 1906 (19-08)



I don’t know if I’ve ever really explained the purpose of this blog. It probably seems like a huge amount of work — all to produce a huge pile of words to sit mostly unread in a cul de sac of the internet.

I’m guessing there are three dozen people who read any given blog — and that is absolutely fine.

Seems like a ton of effort for such a small audience, does it not? What gives?

This blog achieves three things.

vol1-finalcover-smFirst and most importantly, it keeps me focused and working on Eugene V. Debs almost every single day of every single week from the first of February to the first of August. I know by this stage of my life that I am deadline-pressure driven and there is absolutely no way that a series of  275,000 word books of this sort would be anything but a massive catastrophe at sea with all lives lost unless I was working full out on the project for six months straight.

There is no “pulling an all-nighter” with books like these. These blogs give me an encroaching deadline every single week and that gets me in motion. Weird, but true.

It actually  takes longer than six months with the introduction writing and the polishing and the proofreading and so on — but six solid, flat-out months of work racing the clock every single week covers the essential amount of work to be done in assembling the basic content.

Tick… Tick… Tick… There are now 17 weeks remaining for Volume 4.

So that explains the scoreboard listing new articles and new scanning and the running word count. But what about the, you know, blog?

Well the second function of this exercise is that it helps me get started on the topics that may or may not wind up being covered in the introduction. The blog is a long-form first draft of an introduction. The biggest issue of 1906 in the world of Debs, far and away, was the Steunenberg assassination and the falsified arrest of Western Federation of Miners leaders Moyer and Haywood for the crime — just like the biggest issue of 1905 was the founding of the IWW and Debs’s place in it and the biggest event of 1907 was the move to Girard, Kansas to edit the Appeal to Reason and the biggest issue of 1908 was Debs’s travels aboard the Red Special campaign train.

Red Union, Red Paper, Red Train. Sounds like a good book title…

With the blog I start to explore a couple of the sources, put together a few thoughts, slam out a few graphics to make it look cool enough to keep people reading so that I get at least a tiny bit of feedback. It motivates me to read a few things that aren’t by Debs and it helps me figure out the books I am missing from my library. Then at the end of the six months I’ve got a huge pile of digital notes which I can cut and paste into the first raw introduction. Then the serious research process begins.

Finally comes the third function of this blog — documentation. Only a small fraction of the material from these blogs will make the cut for publication in the final volume. Certain information will appear here that will never be found anywhere else, and these bread crumbs might be of some help to students and scholars who follow.

It’s all enough to make the effort worthwhile to me.

Thanks for listening and thanks for reading.

•          •          •          •          •

The Steunenberg Assassination

At 6:35 pm on the evening of Saturday, December 30, 1905, an explosion at the west gate of the Caldwell, Idaho property of former Governor Frank Steunenberg shattered the quiet evening. Steunenberg was thrown about eight feet by the force of the blast. Still alive but badly bleeding from mortal wounds, Stuenenberg was carried inside his home and laid on a bed.


Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg (1861-1905)

“Who shot me?” the Governor asked before losing consciousness. Within thirty minutes he would be dead.

Before the night was over Idaho Governor Frank R. Gooding had offered a $5,000 state reward for information leading to the arrest of the culprit in the assassination, with county and private reward funds quickly pushing the total towards the $20,000 mark. (fn. “A Cowardly Crime,” Caldwell Tribune, vol. 24, no. 33 (Jan. 6, 1906), p. 1.)

Steunenberg had gained national infamy among the organized labor movement for having sent in the Idaho state militia to break an 1899 strike in Coeur d’Alene, earning the eternal enmity of the radical Western Federation of Miners, who were on the losing side of the labor conflict.

Arrests soon followed…

A miner named Albert E. Horsley (pseudonym Harry Orchard), a former WF of M member, was apprehended for the crime, with traces of dynamite, plaster of Paris, and twine similar to the Steunenberg bomb found in his Caldwell hotel room. (fn. Philip S. Foner, History of the Labor Movement in the United States: Volume 4, The Industrial Workers of the World, 1905-1917. New York: International Publishers, 1965; pp. 40-41).

On Jan. 8, 1906, the chief of the Denver branch of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, James McParland, was called in by Idaho Governor Frank B. Gooding. McParland had been a lead investigator of the Molly Maguires in 1877 and within two days he was ready to declare that he was “almost sure” that Horsley was the “tool” of the WF of M leadership. McParland orchestrated the transfer of Horsley from the Caldwell jail to the Boise state penitentiary, where he was held in solitary confinement for 10 days before being interviewed by McParland. (fn. Foner 4:41)

McParland met with Horsley/Orchard the first time on Jan. 22, 1906, and apparently threatened him with the death penalty unless he turned state’s witness against the WF of M leadership. He intimated that he might even go free if he could demonstrate that he was being used as a tool by others.

On Jan. 25, McParland met with Horsley-Orchard a second time in Boise, at which time he made clear that it was the leadership of the WF of M who he sought on a platter. (fn. Foner 4:41-42)
Historian Philip S. Foner wrote:

Orchard was given a clear alternative: Either name the leaders of the WF of M as the instigators of the assassination or hang! Name them and the states of Idaho and Colorado would see that Orchard was not made to pay for his crimes…. Orchard’s own confession of guilt as the man who assassinated Steunenberg would not suffice; the state of Idaho and the Pinkerton Agency were determined to liquidate the leadership of the WF of M and Orchard was to be used for that purpose. (fn. Foner 4:44)

McParland spent four days with Orchard taking his “confession” — Jan. 27, 28, 29, and 31, 1906 — during which he claimed to have participated in the murder of 18 people and various bombings over the previous 2-1/2 years. He claimed that he was assigned the Steunenberg assassination by an “inner circle” of WF of M leaders from their Denver headquarters, including President Charles Moyer, Secretary-Treasurer Big Bill Haywood, Jack Simkins of the General Executive Board, and former active member George A. Pettibone. (fn. Foner 4:45)

On Feb. 9 the so-called confession was announced and the four WF of M officials named by Orchard were indicted by the Attorney General of Idaho. Simkins vanished and could not be located but the other three were easily findable in Denver. Extradition of individuals to Idaho were were not fugitives from justice was complicated, so a warrant-free scenario was planned by McParland, who wrote to Luther M. Goddard, an associate justice on the Colorado Supreme Count. McParland and Idaho prosecutor James Hawley traveled to Denver, with the Judge arranging for the pair to meet Colorado Governor McDonald to sign extradition papers without a warrant. Then Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone would be immediately arrested and transported aboard a special train to Idaho to face trial. (Foner 4:46-47)

pettibone-haywood-moyerMcDonald listened for 3 hours as McParland laid out the substance of the Orchard confession. A representative of the Telluride Mine Owners’ Association named Wells participated in a discussion that followed, agreeing to raise $25,000 or even $50,000 if necessary to aid in the prosecution. McParland was adamant that the Colorado Attorney General should not be brought into the loop; Governor McDonald agreed to hold the papers until the following Monday before submitting them to the Secretary of State’s office, by which time the defendants would be safely jailed in Idaho. (Foner 4:47-48)

With Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone in jail Steve Adams, an individual implicated by Orchard as an associate in his crimes, was arrested in Haines, Oregon. Adams was taken to Boise and put in a cell with Orchard, then was brought to the prison office and introduced to McParland, who kept him up until the early hours of the morning trying to get him to confess, threatening him with hanging in Colorado if he did not comply. Adams first confessed, then recanted; he was brought to trial with the jury voting 7-4 to acquit. Two additional trials followed with the jury failing to agree; Adams was ultimately released. (Foner 4:49-50)

Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone were arraigned on Feb. 21, 1906. (Foner 4:51)

•          •          •          •          •

Debs as a Commentator on the Haywood-Moyer Trial

Having a close relationship with the Western Federation of Miners ever since his six week tour of the west in support of the striking hard rock miners of Leadville, Colorado in early 1902, Gene Debs was enraged by the patently illegal and transparent frame-up of Moyer and Haywood as complicit in the assassination of former Governor Steunenberg. These were, after all, not only top leaders of the Western Federation of Miners, but key founders of the Industrial Workers of the World — the organization which for several months Debs had been endorsing with all the authority his station allowed.


Here’s an interesting fact which I hope to explore more next week: While Debs was writing some of the most fire-breathing ultra-revolutionary columns of his entire career he was simultaneously on tour in Southern Minnesota and Iowa, delivering toned-down paid lectures on general socialist themes to a general audience.

On tour in the Midwest, delivering paid essentially nonpartisan lectures to paying audiences under the auspices of small Socialist Party locals and sundry civic groups, Debs made use of his down time to write several inflammatory articles which gained notice and drew ire from the conservative press.

The first of these, “Diabolical Plot of Capitalists,” was written February 22 from Southern Minnesota and directed to The Industrial Worker, official organ of the IWW. Debs hammered the “dark and devilish conspiracy, this foul and damnable plot, hatched out in the festering brains of the mine owners and eagerly and sympathetically entered into and carried into execution by their political hirelings, the governors of Colorado and Idaho.” He wrote:

The secret arrest of President Charles H. Moyer and Secretary William D. Haywood, of the Western Federation of Miners, and the secret extradition from their homes in Denver by means of a special train to Boise City, Idaho, and their incarceration there upon the alleged charge of complicity in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg, of Idaho, is the latest of a long series of outrages perpetrated upon these leaders by the western mine owners and their Standard Oil allies in their desperate determination to crush out the Western Federation of Miners, the only thing that stands in the way of their absolute and despotic sway in the mountain states….

The rigid integrity, unfaltering loyalty, intrepid courage, and unceasing vigilance of the leaders of the Western Federation baffled every attempt they made to corrupt and crush organized labor. For once they were dealing with men whose honor was absolutely proof to the jingle of gold….

That is why this whole infamous outrage was concocted and perpetrated in secret instead of the requisitions being issued and the arrests and extraditions made in the usual way and under the forms of law.

Having made this analysis of the motive for the arrests and deportations, Debs continued with a prescription for action:

And now that we understand the program of the plutocrats, what are we going to do about it? Fold our hands supinely and see our comrades murdered to glut the vengeance of our enemies for having been true to us? Are we, the workingmen of the land, whom they have so loyally and fearlessly served at such a terrible price to themselves to desert them in the hour of their direct need? No! By the gods we will have the manhood to stand by them, and if they hand these innocent victims, these incorruptible men, we will make them hang or shoot us also, for it is infinitely better to die like men than to live in the damning disgrace of our own craven cowardice. *   *   *

Appeal to the courts, does someone suggest? What courts? The courts that belong to the criminals that are murdering us?  *  *  *

The cooked-up testimony of sneaks and assassins in the service of capital shall not hang the honest men in the service of labor. Upon this issue all the organized workers of the land will unite and a million others will join with them. From Massachusetts and New York to California and Washington, and from Minnesota to the gulf the working class will arise and their tramp will be heard in the land, and the plutocracy, by God, would better think twice before they attempt to carry their murderous program into execution. (fn. Debs, “Diabolical Plot of Capitalists,” Industrial Worker, vol. 1, no. 3 (March 1906), pp. 1-2.)

This message to IWW members — publication of which was delayed owing to the monthly frequency of the union’s paper — was followed by a piece written in Boone, Iowa on February 26 for the IWW-friendly weekly published by Socialist Party radical Hermon Titus in Toledo, Ohio.

Under the incendiary headline “Prepare for Action!” Debs attested his personal acquaintance with the accused and the falsity of the charges against them and railed against the machine, clearly threatening extralegal repercussions should the judicial assassination of Haywood and Moyer be achieved:

The issue is clear. There can be no mistake about it.

The labor leaders that cannot be bribed or bullied must be ambushed and murdered. That is the situation in a nutshell. How shall we meet it? In just one way: We have got to fight.

Another Haymarket attempt will precipitate a revolution.

If murder must be committed it is not the working class alone that will furnish the victims this time. *  *  *

If they strike the first violent blow we will strike the last. (fn. Debs, “Prepare for Action!” The Socialist, vol. 6, whole no. 284 (March 3, 1906), p. 1.)

This was followed by a third blast — the one best remembered to history due to its inclusion in the 1908 collection of Debs writings — “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” This was published broadcast as part of a special “Kidnapping Edition” of the mass circulation Appeal to Reason on March 10.

In it Debs hearkened back to the Haymarket affair of 1886 and stormed:

Charles Moyer and William D. Haywood, of the Western Federation of Miners, and their official colleagues — men, all of them, and every inch of them — are charged with the assassination of ex-Governor Frank Steunenberg, of Idaho, who simply reaped what he had sown, as a mere subterfuge to pounce upon them in secret, rush them out of the state by special train, under heavy guard, clap them into the penitentiary, convict them upon the purchased perjured testimony of villains, and strangle them to death with the hangman’s noose.

It is a foul plot; a damnable conspiracy; a hellish outrage. *  *  *

I will stake my life on their honor and integrity; and that is precisely the crime for which, according to the words of the slimy “sleuth” who “worked up the case” against them, “they shall never leave Idaho alive.”

Well, by the gods, if they don’t, the governors of Idaho and Colorado and their masters from Wall Street, New York, to the Rocky Mountains had better prepare to follow them.

Nearly twenty years ago the capitalist tyrants put some innocent men to death for standing up for labor.

They are now going to try it again. Let them dare! *  *  *

They have driven us to the wall and now let us rally our forces and face them and fight.

If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood, and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns. *  *  *

If the plutocrats begin the program, we will end it. (fn. Debs, “Arouse, Ye Slaves!” Appeal to Reason, whole no. 536 (March 10, 1906), p. 1.)

Bold words backed by nothing but sentiment? Hyperbole, ultra-revolutionary posturing? Perhaps. The fact remains, however, that organized labor and public sentiment rapidly began to move on the matter.

Victor Berger, mocked the intimation that Debs would lead a charge of the light brigade of virtually unarmed workers into the maw of death. He dusted off an old meme to attribute why his temperamental friend had flown off the handle, speculating that “too much cucumbers” [booze] might be the reason for Debs’s blistering expressions of rage. (fn. Social Democratic Herald editorial, quoted in “Victor Berger Gives Labor Timely Advice,” The Labor World [Duluth], May 5, 1906, p. 1.)

Berger was nothing if not a pragmatist and the correlation of forces was obvious to all.

The trial was postponed until December — because of the elections, Debs said — and then postponed again to the middle of 1907.

With Haywood and Moyer preoccupied, the Industrial Workers of the World were left rudderless. Factional shenanigans filled the void.

•          •          •          •          •

The IWW Split of 1906

From the time of the founding convention to the start of the second convention on Sept. 17, 1906, the IWW organized a total of 384 local unions in the United States and Canada. In addition to full transference of the ST&LA apparatus, the union was able to make headway in textile centers such as Paterson, Lawrence, Providence, and New Bedford. (Foner 4:70)

iww-logo-smEstimates of membership at the time of the second convention varied, with Sec. Trautmann optimistically pegging the total at 60,000 — including 27,000 members of the Western Federation of Miners. Trautmann’s successor, Vincent St. John, declared the average monthly dues-paying membership during the first year of organization was actually 14,000. (Foner 4:70)

Foner concludes: 1. That the IWW drew its initial membership mainly from unions previously affiliated to the AF of L; 2. The majority of these members soon departed the IWW as collateral damage of the factional war that followed, with many of the locals terminating; 3. Socialist unions such as the Brewers and the Machinists, which initially expressed a positive attitude to the IWW, ultimately did not affiliate with the upstart union. (Foner 4:70)

President Sherman traveled widely and racked up massive expenses, quickly running through $7,000 in travel costs and road expenses in addition to his salary of $150/month. (Foner 4:71) Sherman was also a partner in Fraternal Supply Company, which advertised in the Industrial Worker and sold badges and other promotion material to local unions, thereby representing a conflict of interest. (Foner 4:73)


After the split the Sherman-Hannemann faction retained the backstock of the three pamphlets produced from November 1905 Debs speeches. After almost monthly contributions in 1906, Debs never wrote again for their newspaper, however.

The 2nd convention was originally scheduled for May but was twice postponed, first to June 27 to allow the WF of M to hold its convention beforehand, then to Sep. 17. With Haywood and Moyer in jail a faction consisting of Trautmann, De Leon, and St. John formed to challenge President Sherman, accusing him of exceeding his authority by appointing a credentials committee rather than letting it be chosen from the assembled delegates. (Foner 4:74)

A proposal was made to abolish the office of president, which was carried; at this point DDL declared that since the post was eliminated, the convention should elect a chair. Vincent St. John was chosen. (Foner 4:74-75)

A split ensued with two parallel IWW organizations maintaining headquarters facilities and ultimately publishing official organs. The minority Sherman faction, with William Hannemann doing double-duty as secretary-treasurer and editor, retained the back-stock of Debs pamphlets (Class Unionism, Craft Unionism, Revolutionary Unionism), the monthly small format newspaper Industrial Worker published in Joliet, and the old headquarters office located at 148 W Madison Street in Chicago.

The Trautman-DeLeon faction, joined by former party editor A.S. Edwards, established a new headquarters at 310 Bush Temple, also in Chicago. In March they launched their own weekly newspaper, The Industrial Union Bulletin, which is available as freely downloadble digital files through Marxists Internet Archive if you click that link.

In addition to the enormous waste and expense implicit in maintaining double paid staffs, double office spaces, and double publications, the IWW additionally burned through money through the courts, with the Trautmann-DeLeon faction suing the Sherman-Hannemann faction to seek return of the name and property of the organization.

I’m not quite sure how that suit ultimately turned out — I think the Trautmann-DeLeon insurgents lost — but the Sherman group was damaged beyond repair and soon went out of business, while the Trautmann  faction managed to hang on by the skin of their teeth.

It was a minor miracle that the IWW did not die forever in 1907.

•          •          •          •          •


Big Bill Haywood testifies in his own defense, July 11, 1907.

The Haywood Trial

The trial of Big Bill Haywood opened at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise on May 7, 1907. Haywood was seen as the most culpable of the three leaders and was brought to trial first, with the trials of Moyer and Pettibone to follow. The trial lasted for just over two months. Prosecution was led by James H. Hawley, with William E. Borah his associate; the defense team was headed by Clarence Darrow.

A Pinkerton spy was on the defense team and provided a list of jurors preferred by the defense so that the prosecution could easily target and eliminate them through the challenge process. (Foner 4:56)

Orchard was on the stand six days and described his killing of 19 people, including Steunenberg, on the orders of Haywood and other WF of M leaders. No witnesses could be produced to corroborate Orchard’s fantastic story.

Darrow delivered a long and passionate final plea that lasted two days, concluding late in the evening of July 27. The jury went into deliberation the next morning and after 20 hours delivered a Not Guilty verdict. (Foner 4:59)

Pettibone was later brought to trial but he was also acquitted in Jan. 1908. Moyer was never tried. The actual murderer and perjurer Orchard was sentenced to death by hanging but by way of thanks for his service to the state, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died behind bars in 1954, aged 88. (Foner 4:59)



The official deadline for Eugene V. Debs Selected Works: Volume 4 is October 15, 2019. I’m setting a soft deadline of August 1 to finish the document compilation phase of the project. This means there are now 17 more Saturdays after today to get the core content section of the book assembled, with a limit for publication of approximately 260,000 words.

  • “I Instinctively Want to Pull the Bell Rope: Interview with the Indianapolis Morning Star” (Jan. 21, 1906) — 418 words
  • “Prepare for Action!” (February 26, 1906) — 492 words
  • “In Full Swing: Excerpt from a Speech in Waterloo, Iowa” (February 27, 1906) — 403 words
  • “You Have One Prerogative — To Think: Speech in Davenport, Iowa” [excerpt] (March 2, 1906) — 1,830 words
  • “Moses Harman’s Mission” (May 10, 1906) — 750 words
  • “Political Action” (June 30, 1906) — 1,217 words
  • “Collapse of the Conspiracy” (July 7, 1906) — 1,390 words
  • “The Congressional Campaign” (July 7, 1906) — 735 words
  • “Man and Mule” (Aug. 4, 1906) — 776 words
  • “Strike for Your Life!” (Aug. 16, 1906) — 596 words
  • “Roosevelt and His Regime” (April 20, 1907) — 2,268 words
  • “Industrial Unionism Defined” (Nov. 2, 1907) — 1,253 words

Word count: 106,095 in the can + 12,138 this week +/- amendments = 118,223 words total.


David Walters will be running all of this material up on Marxists Internet Archive in coming days.

To find it, please visit the Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive



Here’s the microfilm that I’ve scanned this week, available for free download. Bear in mind that there is generally a short delay between completion of the scanning and its appearance on MIA. Thanks are due to David Walters for getting this material into an accessible format.

The Worker — 1907, 1908   ***end of publication***

Voice of Labor — 1905 (Feb. – June)   ***end of publication***


About carrite

Independent scholar from Corvallis, Oregon with a strong interest in early 20th century political history.
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1 Response to Debs and the Haywood-Moyer Affair of 1906 (19-08)

  1. Pingback: The Haywood Trial of 1907, part 1 (19-14) | The Debs Project

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