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Two-time Pulitzer awardee Lukas's ostensible subject is the 1905 assassination of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg and the subsequent trial of three officials of the Western Federation of Miners, accused of ordering Steunenberg's death in retaliation for his role in the military suppression of a violent 1899 strike in Idaho's Coeur d'Alenes mining district. This is merely a jumping off point, however, for a ramble through the thickets of America's industrial, political, social, and cultural structures at the turn of the century. When Pinkerton operative James McParland (one of the book's many titanic personalities) emerges as a key player in the prosecution's efforts to convict William Haywood, Charles Moyer, and George Pettibone, Lukas pauses to recap the history of private detective agencies—in England as well as America. When Clarence Darrow enters as a defense attorney, we get 28 pages of biography before rejoining his clients in Idaho. The story of the army regiment that put down the Coeur d'Alenes unrest; the character and career of each major reporter covering the trial; the fractures within the Socialist Party—Lukas crams all this and much more into a massive, unwieldy text. Many of the digressions are fascinating, all of them showcase the author's superb analytic gifts and powerful prose, but Lukas fails to distinguish the relevant from the merely intriguing. The background material unquestionably gives depth to the book's grim depiction of a nation enmeshed in virtual civil war, with capital and labor equally willing to employ unsavory tactics and the government almost always on the side of the big boys. Without the aid of a coherent story line, however, the narrative ultimately suffocates in excessive detail.
Provocative, maddening, deeply disturbing—a fitting epitaph for a man who in everything he wrote asked Americans to look at their nation's unvarnished reality.
THE MAGIC CITY
It began to snow just before dawn, chalky flakes tumbling through the hush of the sleeping town, quilting the pastures, tracing fence rails and porch posts along the dusky lanes. In the livery stables that lined Indian Creek, dray horses and fancy pacers, shifting in their stalls, nickered into the pale light. A chill north wind muttered down Kimball Avenue, rattling the windows of feed stores and dry goods emporia, still festooned for the holidays with boughs of holly, chains of popcorn and cranberries. Off to the east, behind the whitening knob of Squaw Butte, rose the wail of the Union Pacific's morning train from Boise, due into the Caldwell depot at 6:35 with its load of drowsy ranch hands and bowler-hatted drummers.
Sounding up the slope of Dearborn Street into Caldwell's jaunty new subdivision of Washington Heights, the whistle brought an unwelcome summons to the former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, as he lay abed that final Saturday of 1905. The governor -- as he was still known, five years out of office -- had spent a bad night, thrashing for hours in sleepless foreboding. Now while the snow piled up beneath his cottonwoods, he burrowed deeper under the bedclothes.
One of his favorite boyhood songs had evoked just such a moment: "Oh, it's nice to get up in the morning, when the sun begins to shine / At four, or five, or six o'clock in the good old summertime / But when the snow is a-snowing and it's murky overhead / Oh, it's nice to get up in the morning, but it's nicer to lie in bed!" The Steunenbergs, though, were sturdy Hollanders imbued with a Protestant work ethic, and it offended the governor's temperament to idleaway even a weekend morning. So he hauled himself out of bed and put on his favorite six-dollar shirt with its flowered design. When it had shrunk so much he couldn't fasten the collar, his sister Jo, in her motherly fashion, had cut a chunk out of the tail to expand the chest. She was still looking for matching material to repair the back, but the governor liked the cheerful old shirt so well he donned it that morning anyway, short tail and all. Then he went down to the kitchen and built a coal fire in the great iron stove.
When his wife, Belle, joined him, she remarked that he seemed ill at ease.
"The good and evil spirits were calling me all night long," said the governor, who sat for a time with his face buried in his hands.
"Please do not resist the good spirits, Papa," his wife admonished. A devout Seventh-Day Adventist, Belle persuaded her husband, who generally eschewed such rituals, to kneel on the kitchen floor and join her in reading several passages from Scripture. Then they sang Annie Hawks's fervent hymn:
I need thee, O, I need thee!
Every hour I need Thee;
O, bless me now, My Saviour!
I come to Thee.
When their devotionals were done, Frank set out across the barnyard -- joined by his white English bulldog, Jumbo -- to milk his cows and feed his chickens, goats, and hogs.
The family's eccentric gray-and-white edifice, a hybrid of Queen Anne and American Colonial styles, bristled with gables, porches, columns, and chimneys. It was barely seven-eighths of a mile from Caldwell's center, but the governor, with one young hand to help him, maintained a working farm on the two and a half acres, replete with barn, windmill, well, pasture, livestock pens, and apple and pear trees mixed among the sheltering cottonwoods.
After feeding his stock, he turned toward the house for breakfast with Belle and the children -- Julian, nineteen, on Christmas vacation from the Adventists' Walla Walla College in Washington State; Frances, thirteen; Frank Junior, five; and eight-month-old Edna, an orphan the Steunenbergs had adopted that year -- as well as Will Keppel, Belle's brother, who was staying with them for a time while working at the family bank. Their hired girl, Rose Flora, served up the austere breakfast prescribed by Adventists: wheat cereal, stewed fruit, perhaps an unbuttered slice of oatmeal bread (the sect believed that butter -- like eggs, bacon, other meats, coffee, and tea -- stimulated the "animal passions").
Had the governor allowed his melancholy to infect the breakfast table that morning, it would have been out of character. With his children -- on whom he doted -- he generally affected a puckish humor, spiced with sly doggerel, such as the verse he'd composed a year earlier for his daughter: "Frances had a little watch / She swallowed it one day / Her mother gave her castor oil / To help her pass the time away."
After breakfast came a phone call from his younger brother Albert -- universally known as A.K. -- the most entrepreneurial of the six Steunenberg brothers and cashier of the Caldwell Banking and Trust Company, of which Frank was president. An important matter awaited the governor's attention, A.K. said: Edward J. Dockery, a Boise lawyer, a former Democratic state chairman, and now a business associate of the Steunenbergs, would be arriving in Caldwell later that day and expected to meet them at the bank. No, Frank said, he wasn't in the right frame of mind for such a meeting. He asked A.K. to tell Dockery he'd see him in Boise next week.
In days to come, the governor's disinclination to do business that day was much remarked. Some said it was the weather, which by late morning had turned nasty, four inches of snow driven by blustery winds drifting along the roadways, temperatures plummeting toward zero. But Frank Steunenberg was still young (forty-four years old), husky (six foot two, 235 pounds), and healthy (an avid hiker and camper who scorned the big eastern cities, with their creature comforts, their smoke, noise, and dirt) -- in short, not a man likely to be intimidated by a little Idaho snowstorm.
Others said his reclusiveness that day was merely a bow toward Belle's Sabbath, which lasted from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Although Frank was by no means an Adventist, some believed that he was gradually accommodating himself to his wife's recent conversion. Others who knew him well insisted he was profoundly skeptical of Belle's piety and would never have canceled a meeting on religious grounds. He might well have been weary. For only the day before he'd returned from a strenuous trip -- by train, buggy, and horseback -- to his sheep ranch near Bliss, a hundred miles to the southeast. With his business associate, James H. "Harry" Lowell, he'd also inspected an irrigation project along the Wood River. A. K. Steunenberg -- his brother's confidant -- believed there was a quite different explanation for Frank's behavior that day. Later he told reporters the governor must have received a warning late in the week, which would account for his "unusual" manner. On Friday afternoon at the bank, he'd walked the floor with a "meditative and troubled expression" on his face.
Whatever the reason, Frank clearly didn't wish to engage with the world that snowy Saturday. Toward noon, a young man called at the house, introducing himself as Theodore Bird of Boise, representing the New York Life Insurance Company. He'd come down from the state capital, he said, to renew the governor's $4,500 life insurance policy, which expired at year's end, barely thirty-six hours away. With some reluctance -- and only because the deadline was so close -- Frank agreed to meet Bird at the bank in late afternoon.
Most of the day, as wind-driven snow hissed at the windowpanes, the governor read and wrote in his study. At four o'clock he put on his overcoat, a slouch hat and galoshes, but no necktie: he was known throughout the state for his stubborn refusal to throttle himself with those slippery eastern doohickeys. Some said the habit began in the governor's youth when he was too indigent to afford a tie. In any case, for the rest of his life he'
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