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WEDNESDAY July 18, 1906
The lawyer lobbed a verbal spear across the courtroom, piercing the young man, pinning him to the creaky witness chair and tilting the twelve jurymen forward. Their brows rose in anticipation of a gore-laden response from the witness as he clutched his bowler, his face vacant toward the wood floor beyond his shoddy boots. When the judge cleared his throat, the plaintiff's attorney, Clarence Darrow, repeated the question. "Mr. Bullock, I know this is a strain upon you to recount that tragic day when fifteen of your brothers perished at the hands of the Stratton —"
"Your Honor! Point in question," barked the flint-faced defense attorney representing the Stratton Independence Mine, a nonunion gold operation near Cripple Creek, Colorado. On this warm summer afternoon in Denver, he and Darrow were the best dressed there, each wearing a three-button, vested suit over a white shirt and dull tie.
The robed judge gave a long blink, then peered at Darrow. With a chin waggle, his ruling on the objection was clear.
"Yes, certainly. My apologies, Your Honor," feigned Darrow, glancing toward the plaintiff's table where two widows sat in somber regard. Though his wheat-blonde hair and sharp, pale eyes defied his age of forty-nine, his reputation for cunning brilliance and oratory sorcery mitigated the power of his youthful appearance: it was no longer the disarming weapon it had once been. No attorney in the United States would ever presume nascence upon Clarence Darrow. Certainly not in this, his twenty-sixth trial. He continued at the witness. "Though as just a mere man, one among all ..." He turned to the jury. "The emotion of this event strains even the most resolute of procedural decorum. I am, as are we all, hard-pressed to —"
"Whole strides, shall we, Mr. Darrow?" grumbled the judge.
"Yes," Darrow said, turning once again to James Bullock who seemed locked in the block ice of tragedy, having not moved a fraction since first taking the witness seat. "Mr. Bullock, we must rally ourselves, muster our strength, and for the memory of your brothers, share with these jurymen the events of that dark day. You said the ride up from the stope, the mine floor, was a swift one, and there were the sixteen of you in the cage made to hold no more than nine — is that correct?"
"Yes, Sir," Bullock replied, his voice a faint warble.
"Please continue," Darrow urged.
Bullock looked up. "We kept going, right along, but it kept slipping. We'd go a ways and slip again."
"Slipping? It was dropping?"
"Yes, Sir. Dropping down sudden like, then stopping. Cappy was yelling at us to get to the center, but there was no room. We was in tight."
"By Cappy you mean Mr. Capone, the foreman?"
"Yes, Sir. Our shift boss that day." The witness sucked his bottom lip. "He was in the cage 'long with us." He sniffed in a breath then added, "And his boy, Tony. Friend of mine. No better fella."
"My condolences," said Darrow. "What do you think was the aid in getting the men to the middle of the cage?"
"Keep it centered in the shaft, I reckon. We was all yelling." Bullock took a slow breath before continuing, "Cappy was trying to keep the men quiet, but it wasn't making much a difference. Had his arms around Tony."
A muscle in Darrow's cheek shuddered. "Please continue."
"So we was slipping, going up. Then the operator, he took us up about six feet above the collar of the shaft, then back down again."
"Which is not the usual —"
"Not rightly. No, Sir. We should've stopped at the collar and no more. But later they said the brakes failed on the control wheel."
"Mr. Bullock, let's return to what you experienced. You were near the top of the shaft, the vertical shaft that we've established was 1,631 feet deep, containing, at that time, about twenty feet of water in its base, below the lowest stope, correct?"
"Yes, Sir. Before they pumped that water to get to em."
"By 'them' you mean the bodies of your dead companions?"
"Ok, you were being hoisted at over 900 feet per minute by an operator working alone on the surface — near the top of the shaft, when the platform began to slip and jump. Is that your testimony?"
"That must have been terrifying."
"Yes, Sir, it was. We'd come off a tenner too."
"A ten-hour shift?"
Darrow rounded on the jury, throwing the next question over his shoulder. "Oh, but Sir, how could it have been a ten-hour work day when the eight-hour day is now the law of this state?"
The defense lawyer's chair squeaked as he stood. "Objection, Your Honor."
"I'll allow it," barked the judge, adding, "But gentlemen ..."
The witness shook his head. "The Stratton is a non-union, gold ore mine. Supposed to be non-union anyway. Superintendent said owners weren't obliged to that socialist law."
"Hearsay, Your —"
"Keep your seat, Counsel. You're going to wear this jury thin."
Darrow stepped closer to the witness. "Mr. Bullock, as I said, let's steer clear from what you heard others say. The facts speak for themselves: you and your friends were compelled to work an illegal ten-hour shift. Let's continue. You were near the top, but unable to get off the contraption, and it began to —"
"Yes. We'd gone shooting up, then he stopped it for a second."
"By 'he,' you mean the lift operator?"
"Yes, Sir. He stopped it but then it must have gotten beyond his control, cause we dropped sixty, seventy feet all the sudden. We were going quick. We said to each other we're all gone. Then he raised us about ten feet and stopped us. But then, it started again, and this time it was going fast up and we went into the sheave wheel as fast as we could go."
"To be sure we all follow, Mr. Bullock, the lift is the sole apparatus that hoisted you from the Stratton Mine, where you work?"
"And the sheave wheel is the giant wheel above the surface, driven by a large, thirty-year-old steam engine, run by an operator. That sheave wheel coils in the cable" — he pantomimed the motion — "pulling up the 1,500-poundload platform, or lift, carrying its limit of nine men. And it coils out the cable when the lift is lowered. But that day the lift carried sixteen men — you and fifteen others. Probably over 3,000 pounds. Twice its load limit. Correct?"
"Yes, Sir. But, to be clear, I ain't at the Stratton no more."
"No?" asked Darrow, pleased the man had bit the lure.
"No. Seeing how I was one of Cappy's men. Federation. And, now 'cause this." His voice faded.
Darrow frowned, walked a few paces toward the jury, clapped once and rubbed his hands together. "The mine owners, a thousand miles away, won't let you work because you're here — a member of the Western Federation of Miners, a union man giving his honest testimony. Is that right?"
Again, the defense counsel came to his feet. "Your Honor, Mr. Darrow knows Mr. Bullock's discharge wasn't —"
The judge raised a hand, took a deep breath and cocked his head toward the seasoned attorney before him. "Swift to your point, Mr. Darrow."
"Yes, Your Honor." Darrow's blue eyes returned to the witness. "Mr. Bullock, you were telling us about the sheave wheel."
"Yes. It's a big thing up there, out over the top of the shaft. You see it on your way up. We all think on it — if we was to not stop and slam right up into it — which we did that day. We all knew it'd happen. I crouched to save myself from the hard blow I knew was coming. I seen a piece of timber about one foot wide there underside the sheave, and soon as we rammed, I grabbed hold and held myself up there, and pretty soon the cage dropped from below me, and I began to holler for a ladder to get down."
"Must have been distressing, up there, holding fast to a timber, dangling 1,631 feet over an open shaft, watching your fifteen brothers fall."
Bullock choked back tears. "Yes, Sir. That's what I saw." He paused. When he resumed, his tone was empty, as if the voice of his shadow. "I heard em. Heard em go. They was screaming. They knew their end had come. I heard em till I heard em no more."
* * *
Round-headed, forty-year-old Harry Orchard sat motionless in the Eagle Head Saloon of the tiny mining town of Wallace, Idaho, about a hundred miles up the track from Missoula, Montana, and about the same crow-flight south of the Canadian border. It was July and the mountain air carried a chill, though not enough for his bear coat — so it was in his trunk at the boarding house. Instead, he was in his clay-colored coat that bore a bullet hole in the back. (Though Orchard put the hole there moments before assuming the coat, he'd forgotten the prior inhabitant's name, or why he'd killed the man.) He fingered his pucey-black homburg hat on the planked bar. He knew what was about to happen and wanted to be ready. His partner, the younger, ferret-faced, infallibly ignorant Steve Addis, was about to spray a broth of blood and brain across the bar. The mess, once splattered, will have belonged to the quivering man standing beside Orchard: the vice president of the Bunker Hill Silver Mine and Concentrator, the largest of its kind in the world, located ten miles further up the Northern Pacific rail line.
"Hold on there!" protested the man, eyes bulging.
Addis gave a scurvy smile from under his green plaid cap and pressed the Colt against the man's forehead, indenting a circle there. Addis's other hand held a Bowie knife to the man's throat. "Which you rather? You're gonna die, so dealer's choice: bullet or blade? I pick blade. But I'm sportin, so you decide."
"You don't need to do this," the man cried, his face clammy and flushed. "I'll leave. I swear."
Orchard knew he needed to move, otherwise he'd have to pay a dollar to have blood cleaned from this coat, again. He lifted his drink and stood, muttering to Addis, "Outside."
"Please mister. I did nothing. My boys. My wife ..." He wept.
Addis clucked his tongue. "Family's everything, ain't it?"
"I'm begging you —"
"Take him outside," Orchard tried again.
"Tired of this talk," barked Addis, sticking out his chin.
"Do it in the street. Less mess."
Addis leaned, his pointy nose almost touching Orchard. "He might talk me confused if I go out."
Orchard paused on that. At least the weaselly fellow knew his weakness. He had to give him that. When they'd been introduced a month gone, the man gave his name as Steve Addis. Maybe it was. Maybe wasn't. Didn't much matter. These loose-gun killers were never around long. Like the men seizing the owners' train down at Missoula. Orchard knew nothing about them — only that they'd load it as he'd asked, then bring it there in an hour or so. He glanced at his pocket-watch and shrugged. "I'll finish my drink."
The man plead again, "I had nothing to do with busting that meet. I get on with Federation fellas. You tell em. You tell Bill." Another shuddering breath before he continued. "Oh, you think I'm a Pink! Well, Sir, I'm not! Most decidedly not! I'm a Wobbly, a union man, if anything. Can prove it, so you let me be. I ain't one of them snollygoster Pink spies!"
"Snollygoster?" mused Orchard.
The man began to tremble visibly.
"Bullet or blade?" Addis asked. "You gotta choose, friend."
"Or dynamite," Orchard added.
When Addis grinned toward Orchard, the mine vice-president attempted to swat the gun, but Addis reacted too quickly, leaving the man hitting air. Addis popped him on the forehead with the flat of the knife. The man recoiled, exclaiming, "Goddamnit! Leave me alone. You've got the wrong man."
"Bullet or blade?" Again Addis brought the pistol up and returned the knife to the man's throat.
The man didn't know — or perhaps he did — that Addis was hired to kill him. In fact, Addis had no knowledge of what the man had or hadn't done. It simply didn't matter. It was all for union gelt: twenty dollars a head.
The man sobbed uncontrollably.
"Bullet or blade? Pick your way. Or I'll let this sombitch decide," said Addis, indicating Orchard. "He'll strap a bomb to you."
The man bit his lip, urine streaming his trousers. "I don't want to die."
"Bullet or blade!" Addis screamed.
Addis returned his Colt to the man's face and pulled the trigger. Sure enough, bloody brain tissue exploded, covering the bar and its mirror, with some spattering Orchard's hat and coat.
"Well, shit on a cracker!" Orchard exclaimed, jumping back though not losing hold of his glass. Addis stood motionless, watching the body crumple and convulse. He holstered his pistol, sheathed the Bowie, repositioned his cap, and walked out the front door calmly, as if leaving church on a brisk Sunday afternoon. Orchard saw his glass and the whiskey in it were blood-misted. He pondered it for a second, wiped the rim with his sleeve, then downed the reddish drink as he left. In his wake, the saloon remained pin-drop silent though it held fifteen stunned miners and one unhappy barkeep, all of whom heard Orchard yell outside, "Addis! You owe me a dollar!"
The gruesome scene held its viewers in a paralytic grip. No one wanted to approach the dead man. Finally, the barkeep, a man named Clement, murmured, "One of you fetch Sutherland." Fetching the sheriff would do no good. Everyone knew it. The man missing a quarter of his head was mine management. The killers were identifiable by most everyone in the saloon, though not likely by their real names. Regardless, they were untouchable. A murder this bold was sanctioned by Big Bill Haywood in Denver, the dead-eyed union boss of the Western Federation of Miners — known simply as the Federation. It had been ordered and paid for, and no man who wished to again earn a miner's wage, however slight, wanted the attention of Big Bill. Neither his bad attention nor his good. Indeed, anyone who appeared to support the killing may find himself being conscripted to do similar work — a request not to be declined. Communicate disapproval of such blood-spillage and you risked having to flee to the other side: nonunion scab lines under the protection of the Pinkerton Detective Agency — or the Pinks — the bitter enemy of the Federation. Or worse, one day it might be you being asked, "Bullet or blade?"
So the men shuffled from the saloon in almost single file, their rhythmic boots plodding, their gaze to the back of the man ahead. Don't talk. Just leave. Don't look at the dead man. Step over the expanding pool of blood. Don't bother to pay your tab. And, most certainly, do not fetch Sheriff Sutherland.CHAPTER 2
The warm afternoon brought more testimony from a number of miners, operators, foremen, and laborers, as well as representatives of the owners of the Stratton Independence Mine. Darrow felt certain he had the jury. As the attorney for the Federation, Darrow had shown that the owners had allowed the lift to be overburdened by twice its designed load. That alone should be sufficient negligence to shift liability to the owners, regardless of the mine workers' presumed "assumption of the risk of death." The jury should go his way, especially as he was seeking an insultingly small sum from the owners: three-thousand dollars per miner killed. He needed only to close his case with the strongest witness he had: the lift operator, now squirming in the witness chair. Darrow approached him.
"Mr. Simmons, you're the operator of the —"
"The hoisting engineer," retorted the thin-faced, mustached man in his best sack suit and narrow tie.
"The hoisting engineer, yes. The hoisting engineer." Darrow slowed the word engineer so the jury could get a whiff of its importance. "You're much more than a mere operator. Please accept my apologies. You're a hoisting engineer. You're trained to operate the lift. The Stratton mine must have educated you for two weeks or more to perform your duties as the hoisting engineer."
"No, Sir. I'd been on that job for two days."
"Two days! Surely you'd operated, I mean engineered, a similar hoist at other lode mines before the Stratton?"
"No? Two days to become a hoisting engineer. Two days and the owners of the Stratton put you in sole control of the lives of the four hundred and sixty-three men who rode that shaft down to the stopes each morning. All right, Engineer Simmons, tell us: you had that platform coming up. What happened?"
The witness bounced his gaze off the jury then back to the floor before clearing his throat. "I seen the cage was at the collar of the shaft and moving quickly. I tried the brakes but they weren't slowing it none, so I went to —"
"Might the brakes failed owing to twice the load tolerance?"
The defense counsel's attempt to object was straightaway squashed by the judge's almost imperceptible shake of his nose.
"Might have. Might. But I wasn't aware sixteen had gotten on. Least not then. But it wasn't right in its working."
Excerpted from "American Red Kindle"
Copyright © 2019 David Marlett.
Excerpted by permission of Studio Digital CT, LLC.
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