Tuesday, December 30, 2008

This Date in History at the Old Idaho Penitentiary

On this date in 1901, inmate Samuel Bruner and the prison's fastest horse, Old Selam, were found missing from the former-Idaho State Penitentiary. Ironically, it was the horse's second (though presumably against its will) such escape that week. On December 24, one of Idaho's most famous prisoners, Bub Meeks who rode with Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang, had made a similar attempt. Meeks had been tracked by the prints left behind in the snow and was recaptured only a day later. Bruner was more successful as he and the horse were never seen again. Today, the legacy of the horse is celebrated in the annual Old Selam Endurance Ride, which originally sought to retrace the possible escape route of both Meeks and Bruner, but has since been moved away from the old penitentiary.

December 30 has another tie to the Old Idaho Penitentiary as well. On this date in 1905, former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was assassinated when a bomb rigged to his front gate exploded at his home in Caldwell. The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of one Harry Orchard who ultimately confessed to the crime and, in doing so, implicated three leaders of the Western Federation of Miners. According to Orchard, the three men had hired him to take out Steunenberg (along with seventeen others) as payback for the apparent favoritism shown towards mine owners during Steunenberg's time in office. The case led to one of the most famous trials in Idaho history that even pulled in famed-lawyer Clarence Darrow to help defend one of the accused. In the case of Orchard, he was incarcerated at the prison where he would remain until his death.

These stories only crack the surface of the history and tales of the Old Idaho Penitentiary. In its over-a-century of use, the prison housed the famous and the infamous, was the site of riots, executions, and escapes, and today is considered a hotspot for accounts of paranormal activity. The former penitentiary was even recently featured on a recent episode of the Travel Channel series, Ghost Adventures.

Serve time with the ghostly history of the Old Idaho Penitentiary.

-Casey H.

1 comment:

John T. Richards said...

Thank you for posting "This Date in History at the Old Pen" and mentioning the connection to the assassination of Ex. Governor Steunenberg on this same date." The old pen is one of my favorite places to hang out, search for the ghost of Harry Orchard and imagine being there 100 years ago. For more information on both the pen and Frank Steunenberg, go to my blog at: