Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Orchard by Jack Bailey

 Historical Novel about the struggle between mining union, Western Federation of Miners and mine owners.

Orchard by Jack H. Bailey
His name was Albert Edward Horsely, but in the mining districts of Montana, Idaho and Colorado he was known as Tom Hogan or Harry Orchard, just two of his many aliases. 

 Orchard was an explosives expert, who knew just how to set a charge of dynamite to do the most damage. Bill Haywood, miner and powerful individual in starting and recruiting for the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), employed Orchard to apply his craft in various mining districts in Idaho and Colorado. Haywood’s ruthlessness knew no bounds; Orchard’s final employment for Haywood, and the job that sent him to prison, was when Haywood hired Orchard to assassinate Idaho’s Governor, Frank Steunenberg in 1906.
Harry Orchard

Jack Bailey’s story of Harry Orchard begins on a train traveling from Montana to Wardner Idaho, which was the location of the Bunker Hill Mill and Concentrator.  The conflict between the workers and the owners of production is the historical backdrop of Bailey’s story about Harry Orchard.  Orchard is portrayed as an interesting character, who liked the whores, the booze, and the gambling table. On his train ride into Wardner, Idaho he became acquainted with two other main characters in the story, Charley Siringo, alias Leon Allison, and Bella Shanks. 

Charley Siringo

Siringo was a Pinkerton detective, who worked for the different mills and mines as an undercover agent. His mission was to find out who among the mine workers were actually union men working as non-union labor and who were the culprits of violence in the mining communities. It takes awhile for Orchard and Siringo or Allison to realize that they worked on opposite sides of the labor conflict. In any other life, Siringo and Orchard would have been drinking buddies; the author portrays them as having that kind of relationship. The other main character traveling the same train as Orchard and Siringo was Bella Shanks. Orchard was attracted to her, and he made it his business to turn around her unenthusiastic attitude toward him.

Orchard begins his work in Wardner Idaho when negotiations with the owners of the Bunker Hill Mill failed to meet the union’s demands. Bosses for the Western Federation of Miners were trying to place union members in the mines to recruit for the Union. Union members demanded that the owners of the Bunker Hill Mill shorten worker’s hours from 10 to 8 hours a day and increase worker’s hourly wage. 

The owners of Bunker Hill rejected the union’s demands.  The union’s answer was violence. On April 29th, 1899, Orchard along with 300 Union members planted 60 boxes of Dynamite on a train heading into the mine. The Bunker Hill Mill was destroyed and two men were killed. 

Instead of giving into union violence, Governor Steunenberg notified President McKinley of the need for federal troops and Marshall law. The troops had orders to round up all union members and hold them in a facility, which was a farmer’s barn. While the federal troops were rounding up union miners, Harry Orchard found his way out of the mining town and relocated to Cripple Creek Colorado waiting further employment from union boss Bill Haywood.  Meanwhile, Orchard married Bella Shanks and all was good until Orchard was called by Bill Haywood to kill the Governor of Idaho.

 Orchard believed one more job for the union would net him enough money to retire to San Francisco. After Orchard placed a wired explosive at the front gate of the Governor’s residence, just in time for the Governor to walk through and trigger the wire, Orchard calmly went back to the Saloon and ordered a drink. However, on this job, he was clumsy. He did not dispose of the wire in his room that matched the wire on the Governor’s gate, nor did he depose of the different explosive materials. While Orchard was at the bar, his room was searched. Charley Siringo had him. After killing 19 men in Idaho and Colorado, he was apprehended and after a trail, he was given the death sentence. His cooperation in fingering Big Bill Haywood, and others, commuted Orchard’s sentence to life in prison. Toward the end of his life in 1954 at age 88, some have written that he lived in a little house by the prison and raised vegetables.

Orchard’s 64 pages of confession nailed Bill Haywood. There was trial; Haywood had the best of lawyers, Clarence Darrow. Haywood was not convicted of being any part of the violence or murder in Idaho and Colorado. Haywood went on to form the International Workers of the World. In 1918, he was convicted of sabotaging war industries and sentenced to 32 years. While out on bail and waiting appeal, he escaped to Russia, where he died in 1928.

Jack Bailey’s historical fiction, Orchard, is a very good read. For readers not familiar with the mining history of the Pacific Northwest, this historical fiction will enlighten them to the dark aspect of the mining industry in America, but at the same time, they will enjoy a good story.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Whiskey River Ranger, The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw

Whiskey River Ranger, The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw
By Bob Alexander
University of North Texas Press

There are numerous fiction and non-fiction books written about the Texas Rangers and how they evolved into a significant law enforcement agency in post-Civil War Texas. Bob Alexander, author of Whiskey River Ranger, The Old West Life of Baz Outlaw is one of them.  In his non-fiction book, Alexander chose a little known Texas Ranger, who, as it turned out, had all the real life characteristics that many authors of western fiction work hard to incorporate into their tales of the “wild west.” With such material, Alexander crafted a wonderful story that in many ways reinforces the images and legends created by western authors since the genre became popular after the publication of Owen Wister’s the Virginian in 1902.

After the American Civil War ended in 1865, adventurers, entrepreneurs, farmers homeless, roughens, foreigners, and your every-day criminals headed West to find new opportunities, or to simply escape what they did not want to confront in the place they called home. Immigrating to the post-Civil War West presented an interesting challenge for all, especially the hardy souls, who tried to fashion frontier settlements from a rough environment and to established law and order. The challenge was also to survive the strong opposition from the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apaches, who did not like competing with white settlers for areas of the West that Native Americans believed to be their traditional homelands. The Texas Rangers filled a law enforcement vacuum needed to keep settlers safe in an otherwise unsafe environment.

The Texas Rangers started in 1823 to protect settlers in Stephen Austin’s new colony in Texas, then a Mexican province.  The Rangers disbanded and reorganized several times before the Civil War. Their reorganization after the Civil War was primarily to fight the Comanche and other tribes, who were threatened by settlement in Texas after the Civil War. Once the “Indian” problem was taken care of, the Rangers became a force to help tame what was depicted as a lawless frontier. Baz Outlaw joined the Texas Rangers in August 1885.

Baz Outlaw was born into a prestigious southern family in or around 1854. His father, Meshack Napoleon Bonaparte Outlaw was trained as a doctor at the Medical College of New York City. The slave holding Outlaw family lived in Lee County, Georgia. As far as the author can discern, Baz had an uneventful childhood and youth. His mother, Morning Temperance (Mona) Smith Outlaw died soon after his birth; Baz grew up in the South with his brother, Y. P., named after an uncle, Young Pinckney. The grieving Meshack Napoleon Bonaparte Outlaw soon married his wife’s niece, eighteen-year old Mary Ann Elizabeth. 

Baz Outlaw grew to adulthood in the South, where he was “educated, cultured and courteous.” He also was efficient in handling firearms. He worked in his father’s dry goods store in Slatenville, Georgia until he found himself in a confrontation, or as the author points out a “dustup,” with a relative, whom he purportedly killed.  Outlaw hightailed it out of Slatenville for Guadalupe County, Texas, where his uncle, Y.P Outlaw lived. Baz worked as a cowboy until he signed on with the Texas Rangers in 1885.

Baz Outlaw lived a colorful life, and his life story fits nicely into the western genre. Although a work of non-fiction, Alexander’s true story of Baz Outlaw equals fictional works that glorify Indian raids, train robberies, gamblers, drunken brawls, prostitutes and shoot-em up main street gunfights. Baz Outlaw was associated with all these things; He drank too much, drank too often; he died in 1894 in a brawl outside Tillie Howard’s Brothel in El Paso, Texas.

I like Bob Alexander’s method of presenting his narrative in an engaging, but also, at times, humorous way. Alexander also gives the reader several guidelines to why one would read his book. First, the book  “looks at the criminal justice system in flux.” The reader is seeing the transition from frontier lawlessness after the Civil War to a more organized system of justice. And, the author believes that his study of Baz Outlaw provides another view into law enforcement in the West. Finally, Alexander has what every writer strives for—he mines primary and secondary sources and writes a fascinating history that reads like a novel.   

Bob Alexander started a law enforcement career in 1965. He retired as a special agent with the US. Treasury Department.   He is the author of several western histories published by the University of North Texas Press, including the WWHA Best Book Award for Rawhide Ranger, Ira Aten.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Edge of Nowhere

The year is 1992 and Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene—reviled matriarch of a sprawling family—is dying.

After surviving the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Victoria refuses to leave this earth before revealing the secrets she’s carried for decades.

Once the child of a loving family during peaceful times, a shocking death shattered her life. Victoria came face to face with the harshness of the world. As the warm days of childhood receded to distant memory, Victoria learns to survive.

No matter what it takes.

To keep her family alive in an Oklahoma blighted by dust storms and poverty, Victoria makes choices—harsh ones, desperate ones. Ones that eventually made her into the woman her grandchildren fear and whisper about. Ones that kept them all alive. Hers is a tale of tragedy, love, murder, and above all, the conviction to never stop fighting.

The Edge of Nowhere can be purchased at the following retailers:

Barnes & Noble

Link to Video Trailer
About the Author:


C.H. Armstrong is an Oklahoma native transplanted in Minnesota.  A 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, “Cathie”is a life-long lover of books, and staunchly outspoken on subject of banned and challenged books.  The Edge of Nowhere is her first novel and was inspired by her own family’s experiences during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and The Great Depression.