Pinkerton Detective / Charlie Siringo

Trips Into History explores the old west and in particular a Pinkerton operative of the late 1800’s. A name that may not come up as often as it should is that of Charlie Siringo.Charlie Siringo was involved in old west law enforcement as much or maybe more than familiar names such as Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp and Bill Tilghman.

Charlie Siringo while Charlie Siringo gained much of his fame, and spent twenty-two years at it, as a detective for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. This was the detective agency started in the mid 1800’s by Allan Pinkerton, a one time bodyguard for Abraham Lincoln, that some called “America’s Scotland Yard“. It has been written that Pinkerton had as many as 2,000 detectives on the payroll and some 30,000 in reserve. This was a total larger than the U.S. standing army during the era.

pinkerton detective agencyCharlie Siringo was a onetime Texas cowboy, a Pinkerton detective and the author of some thirty books. Many would say that Charlie Siringo molded the cowboy image as it applied to private detective work. He worked largely in the era where a Pinkerton operative acted as a sort of quasi-lawman.

From Cowboy to Detective

Charlie Siringo who was born in south Texas was looking for adventure. He moved to Chicago and because he could furnish several good references, one reportedly being from none other than Pat Garrett, Charlie Siringo was able to get a job with the Pinkertons in 1886.  His hiring was also brought along by the fact that the Pinkertons were in the market for a “cowboy detective“. Western cattle ranches were in their heyday and the Pinkertons were busy. This was fine with Siringo since he had little interest in working in the east. He was destined to be assigned to Pinkertons Denver office.

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Charlie Siringo, circa 1890

Before that occurred however, Siringo would find himself involved with the Haymarket Riots in Chicago. What is referred to as the Haymarket Riots was a lethal labor altercation with anarchist overtones. It ignited with a bombiing that killed Chicago policeman. This was one of Chicago’s largest labor disputes only to be eclipsed by the violent Pullman Strike during the 1890’s financial depression.

Eventually Charlie Siringo did make his way west with the Pinkertons working out of their Denver office as an “operative“. That was the term used to describe the Pinkerton detectives. Back again in the west, Siringo was put to work in a variety of the things.

Chasing Rustlers, Thieves  and Outlaws

Siringo was said to have worked for the Pinkertons as far south as Mexico and as far north as Alaska. This must have worked well for the man that disliked desk jobs. It’s also been noted that Charlie Siringo worked undercover a good deal which was something fairly unique for the late 1800’s.

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Wild Bunch Gang photo. Kid Curry (Harvey Logan) is standing on the right.

Siringo was present in Dodge City Kansas when Wyatt Earp allegedly had his confrontation with Clay Allison. Charlie Siringo also provided the information for the capture of the wanted outlaw Kid Curry whose real name was Harvey Logan and was a member of the infamous “Wild Bunch Gang“.

Siringo also did work for the Pinkertons on behalf of the railroads. The railroads were big customers of the Pinkertons. One case involved theft from a railroad in Texas. Siringo’s work on this case covered both Texas and across the border into Mexico. The case was solved when Charlie Siringo found the guilty culprits to be the railroad’s own general manager along with some of the passenger conductors. This most likely was another undercover operation that Siringo proved so good at.

The Bloody and Violent Coeur d’ Alene Strike

Probably because of his experience with the Haymarket Riots in Chicago, Charlie Siringo was trying hard not to get involved with his company’s assignments in Idaho on behalf of  mine owners. He had been working in Denver at the time doing what he referred to as ” city work“. His preference was to work out in the open. Away from the office. City work was much more confining. Working out in the open let Siringo escape the heavy oversight of the Pinkerton office. The labor unrest in Idaho would eventually allow Siringo get out of the office. Charlie Siringo probably thought this was both good and bad.

During the national financial downturn of the early 1890’s, Idaho miners wages were cut and strikes and violence soon erupted. It’s important to note that just about every labor dispute in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s had to do with cut wages and hours. Unionizing was in full swing. The Pinkertons were hired by the mine owners to try to infiltrate the union and learn of their plans.

Charlie Siringo, probably as a result of his Haymarket Riots experience, developed a hatred for anarchists but at the same time he was sympathetic toward miner’s grievances. In many respects he was a man in the middle. Although this was work away from the office, Siringo didn’t want this Idaho assignment. After coaxing and pressure from Pinkerton and the Mine Owners Association, he agreed to accept the assignment. His job would be to pose as a mine worker at the Gem Mine in Wallace Idaho, work alongside the miners, and try to gain as much information about union activities as he could.

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Wallace Idaho after the Great Fire of 1910. This was the location of much violence during the 1890's miners strike.

The mine owners were trying to bring scab labor in by train. The workers and union organizers became aware and were determined to stop it by any means necessary. In one instance a trainload of scab workers was on the way and the miners in Wallace Idaho were preparing for the confrontation. Siringo learned of this and was able to tip off the mine owners who then ordered the train to proceed straight through Wallace without stopping.

Charlie Siringo eventually lost his cover and was a prime target of the union. Fortunately for the mine owners and for Siringo, the U.S. military was sent in to restore order. Charlie Siringo, by request of the military, pointed out the union leaders and they were rounded up by Siringo and others. They were placed in what was called at the time the “bull pen”. It’s important to note that Siringo pointed out the union leaders who in his judgement were the troublemakers. The ones inciting the workers. Not all of the union men fit that category. By the same token he pointed out mine managers who in his judgement aggravated the situation and in some cases incited the violence. This again was an example of Siringo’s sympathy for the plight of many workingmen even though he served at the behest of the Pinkertons and the owners.

1904 Cripple Creek Colorado, the scene of early 1900's miner strikes

The outcome of the Couer d’ Alene Strike was the 1893 formation of the Western Federation of Miners which was considered a radical union operating in the Western mining states. It would be nice to think that things settled down but trouble again flared in the late 1890’s and once again U.S. troops were brought into Idaho to restore order. The federal troops didn’t leave the area until 1901. Labor unrest was still a big issue. Violent miner strikes cropped up later in Colorado during the early 1900′s and, there too, the Western Federation of Miners were the unionizing force.

See our additional Trips Into History articles on the Pinkertons and Jesse James and the early 1900’s miners strike and Mass Deportation in Bisbee Arizona.

Charlie Siringo the Author

Charlei Siringo left the employ of the Pinkertons in 1907. Just like Allan Pinkerton he decided to write about his experiences. The Pinkertons however felt that Siringo was violating their confidentiality agreement and court hearings held things up for a few years.Eventually, Charlie Siringo agreed to delete the use of the Pinkerton name in the book titles and that settled the matter.

There were basically four themes that Siringo wrote about. These were,  his youth and life as a cowboy, Billy the Kid who he had both known and chased, his twenty-two years as a Pinkerton operative, and the outlaws with whom he had come in contact with. In addition to the above, Siringo worked as an advisor in Hollywood and even had a few bit parts.

Siringo’s writings about his many years with the Pinkertons caused a bit of a stir. The Pinkerton Agency initially blocked Siringo’s writings citing the confidentiality agreement all Pinkerton operatives signed. After a few years  the two sides reached an agreement and Siringo kept the “Pinkerton” name out of his book titles.

Charlie Siringo happened to live in an era of great change. It was the last years of the frontier, the industrializing of America, and the start of a new century. Other notables that lived through this era were Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, Theodore Roosevelt, Wyatt Earp and of course many others. What I find interesting is how these memoirs, written later in life, seem describe a time that is fascinatingly different than the twentieth century. The change during the years of about 1880 to 1915 was dramatic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the frontier officially ended in 1890. By the year 1910 people were starting to drive automobiles obtaining their horsepower from internal combustion engines fueled by gasoline. How times changed.

Books About and By Charlie Siringo

Among the books I’d recommend to explore more about the life of Charlie Siringo include…Charlie Siringo’s West: An Interpretive Biography by author Howard R. Lamar. Also, A Texas Cowboy by Charles A. Siringo and A Cowboy Detective: A True Story of Twenty-Two Years With A World Famous Detective Agency by Charles A. Siringo.

 

Belle Starr

 

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Belle Starr with pistol in 1880's

Carthage Missouri was a violent place during the American Civil War. Carthage is a locale today where interested people and history buffs can learn about Belle Starr, “The Bandit Queen“, her family and the circumstances of how a young lady from an upstanding and influential family could turn into one of the most notorious females of the frontier west. The Carthage Civil War Museum located at 205 South Grant Street offers a lot of history as to just how violent the Civil War was not only in that town but pretty much all over Missouri. Also, make a note to visit the Powers Museum at 1617 Oak Street in Carthage. The Powers Museum presents rotating exhibits on local and Missouri history..   You can even see a wax figure of Belle Starr on her horse at the Historical Wax West Museum in Colorado Springs Colorado.

In many ways Belle Starr was a product of the American Civil War. Amazingly, her story is about a young woman, who after being born and raised in a prosperous and influential family, turned into probably the most infamous female outlaw of the latter 1800’s. A young lady who received a private school education and learned to play the piano quite well would spend her later days in the company of murderers, horse thieves and cattle rustlers. How and why this all came about is an interesting story.

The Civil War in Missouri was extremely violent. Missouri had a mixture of both Union and Confederate supporters and partisan violence was widespread. This was the time of Quantrill’s Raiders, a band of pro Southern guerrilla fighters who killed many and destroyed more than one town. William Quantrill‘s raiding and pillaging became so bad and so bloody that the Confederacy publicly disavowed the group. Quantrill of course continued on until finally he was killed by Union troops. It was in this atmosphere that Belle Starr, real name Myra Maebelle Shirley, came of age.

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Image of Battle of Carthage Missouri, 1861

The Shirley family originally came to Missouri from Virginia. The family like many in Missouri were southern sympathizers. In fact, the very young Myra Maebelle was suspected as being a Confederate spy/messenger. She was smart enough not to be caught carrying messages so there were never any charges. Most Belle Starr historians point to the time when Starr’s younger brother Bud was killed in the war, as a Confederate,  as the time of her transition. The story is that Belle and her father went to retrieve the body and an enraged Belle grabbed her brothers gun and tried to shoot the Union soldiers present. Fortunately, the gun caps had been removed and nothing occurred however it was an omen of things to come.

The Shirley family decided to resettle in Texas and did so just to the east of Dallas. Belle’s father set up a farm and cattle operation. His farm was also well known as a safe haven for southern sympathizers. It was while living with her family in Texas that a second, even larger transitional event, occurred. The excellent book, High Spirited Women of the West, by author Anne Seagraves, gives a good description of what transpired. It seems that the Shirley farm was visited by none other than Cole Younger and his gang. During the visit, both Belle and Younger became close and, to the chagrin of her father, Belle rode off with Younger. Never again would Belle’s life be the same.

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Gallows at Fort Smith Arkansas

Eventually, Belle Starr would have a daughter by Younger who later ended up in the Minnesota penitentiary as a result of the botched Northfield Minnesota bank robbery attempt with his friend Jesse James. The relationship was over but there would be several times after his release from prison that Younger would pay a visit to Belle.

As a side note, Belle Starr was not the only female to enter a life of crime because of infatuation, love or whatever it may have been. You may be interested in reading another short article we’ve published about Pearl Hart, the female outlaw stagecoach robber.

Our article about Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok is also a very interesting story.

The person we know as Belle Starr would marry several times in her life. Throughout, she kept the surname of Starr even though she married several times and had even more affairs. Unfortunately, the spouses she chose wouldn’t be all that different than the likes of Cole Younger. All of their job descriptions could be summed up as stagecoach robbing, horse stealing, bank robbery, cattle rustling, gun play and general theft. These were the people Belle would chose to surround herself with and sometimes marry. The former private school student and piano player would go ahead and buy pearl handled revolvers.

Belle would go on to have another child, a son. Due to Belle Starr’s hectic life, unfortunately, or possibly fortunately for the children, there would be several times that the children would be taken care of by their loving grandparents, the Shirleys down in Texas.

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"The Hanging Judge", Issac Parker

There was one period that Belle Starr and her current husband Sam Starr were arrested for horse stealing. This was 1883 and both were tried by Judge Issac Parker, the “Hanging Judge” at Fort Smith Arkansas. Both were convicted and given nine month sentences which were fairly light in relation to the crime and the judge who tried the case. Belle was released early and Sam served his full sentence. When Sam was released, he returned to their ranch at Younger’s Bend. Youngers Bend of course was named as such by Belle who still felt close to Cole Younger. The couple stayed out of trouble for a while but the lure of horse theft lured them back into the world of crime.

Some interesting facts about Belle Starr and her offspring. The only time she went to prison was for the 1883 horse theft conviction. her son Ed who had grown up being sent back and forth to live with Belle, relatives and family friends grew up to be a deputy marshal married to a Cherokee schoolteacher. In 1886 he was shot to death during a quarrel with a saloon keeper. Belle’s daughter, Pearl, had a daughter Flossie who she put up for adoption. She later turned to prostitution and ended up as a madame with a house she ran for twenty-three years. She was known as Pearl Starr.

Belle Starr herself was killed on February 3, 1889 at 41 years of age near Eufaula Oklahoma. The exact circumstances were never uncovered, in fact some even suspected her son Ed, however lawmen had a fairly good guess as to what happened. Pearl’s husband at the time, Jim July Starr, was convinced by Belle to turn himself in at Fort Smith for the charge against him of larceny. She convinced Starr that the charges were so weak that an acquittal was eminent. Belle Starr was to accompany him halfway to the Fort and Jim would continue on alone. As Belle turned around to head back to Youngers Bend, a neighbor heard a loud shot gun blast. Belle Starr was later found dead by a shotgun blast to her back. Whoever the murderer was then shot Belle twice more with her own pistol. While just about everyone suspected, Edgar Watson, a neighbor of Belle and the man who claimed he heard the blast. The relationship between Belle and Watson was never good and he was eventually tried but was acquitted. The question of who killed Belle Starr has never been conclusively answered.

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Cole Younger as a young man

Jim July Starr, who Belle had been escorting halfway to Fort Smith Arkansas in 1883, was himself killed in 1890 by a young deputy who the story says was convinced that Jim July had murdered Belle Starr and was avenging her death. Probably one of the strangest of all tales coming out of the Belle Starr story concerns the outlaw and ex-convict Cole Younger. Younger was released from his latest incarceration in 1901 and became, of all things, a tombstone salesman. He somehow received a full pardon at which time he put together the Cole Younger-Frank James Wild West Show. Frank James of course being the older brother of murdered Jesse James. Apparently the world wide success that Buffalo Bill Cody attained with his Wild West influenced people from all walks of life.

Belle Starr’s life story, as was the case with the James and Younger families just to name a few, was influenced more than anything by the Civil War and the violence, bloodshed and partisan animosity resulting from it. This animosity lasted for years. The crime sprees of the James, Youngers and Starrs lasted for years after the Civil War. Many people contend that these crime sprees were in fact a continuation of that war, just more on a personal level.

The Pinkertons and Jesse James

There may have been no other train and bank robber in the 1800’s who was sought more than Jesse James. In fact, at one time he most likely was at the very top of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency wanted .

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency started in business in the 1850’s and during the American Civil War was quite active on the Union side in the capacities of both protection and spying. On the other hand, Jesse James and his cohorts were very active for the Confederacy. His cohorts included such infamous names as William Quantrill and his Quantrill’s Raiders who raised havoc with killings and massacres in the volatile Missouri and Kansas area. Also included with this group of irregular Confederate guerrillas was Bloody Bill Anderson who branched off with his own group and did much the same as Quantrill.

Jesse James, most likley taken between 1876-1882

When the Civil War ended in 1865, there remained strong differences that lasted for some time. The popular story of Jesse James was that his rampage of train and bank robberies after the war was his way of continuing the southern resistance. The James and Younger gang members were acquaintances from the Civil War with strong Confederate beliefs. A lot of this thinking was stoked by sensational newspaper and magazine stories which painted the outlaw as a crusader. Some people looked at it this way. The banks and railroads were extensions of the Union.They were the establishment.  Attacking them was, in a way, attacking the Union. This thinking prevailed in many quarters even though the Confederacy was gone.

It appears that the number one apologist for the James gangs crimes was an editor at the Kansas City Times by the name of John Newman Edwards. Edwards, originally from Virginia, was a southern sympathizer both during and after the war. From his Kansas City desk, Edwards clear objective was to instill pride in ex-Confederates and help orchestrate their return to political power. In his effort to accomplish this he lionization Jesse James within his articles and editorials. This is thought to be where the Jesse James  as “Robin Hood” myth began. I have never read any stories of the James and or Younger gangs giving out any of their monetary spoils to anyone but themselves. The Robin Hood comparison may have been from the mind of an author or news editor. The myth about James played well to large numbers of people from Missouri and Kansas since that area had a good number of ex-Confederates living there.

Cole Younger as a young man

The Pinkertons place in all this was that they were under contract from both the railroads and bank associations to apprehend the outlaws. This included James, Sam Bass, Butch Cassidy and several others. While the Pinkertons often worked in concert with whatever law enforcement group had jurisdiction, this was also an era where detective agencies like the Pinkertons operated as a type of unofficial police force. They were known to take matters in their own hands if need be. There has been a lot written about the Pinkertons and their work on behalf of big business. They were frequently hired by big business interests between the 1870’s and early 1900’s to counter and or prevent labor strike violence. There were other private detective agencies also involved in this type of work.

It is believed that the first robbery by the James Younger gang occurred on February 13, 1866 when $60,000 was stolen from the Clay County Savings Association in Liberty Missouri. This was also chronicled as the first daylight bank robbery during peacetime. A seventeen year old boy was accidentally shot and killed during the gangs escape.

Two of the most reported on crimes involving Jesse James was the attempt to rob the Northfield Minnesota Bank and later in his criminal career, the Blue Cut train robbery near Independence Missouri.

 

Robert Newton Ford, taken between 1882-1892

The Northfield bank robbery failed. It seems that the town was aware that a bank robbeyr attempt would take place and armed and prepared a defense. This was of course unknown to the James gang which included the Younger brothers. The bank robbery attempt took place on September 6th, 1876 ( just a little over two months after Custer’s defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn ). The bank targeted was the First National Bank of Northfield. The robbery was a complete failure.  A firefight ensued with the towns people and the robbery was thwarted. Jesse James and his brother Frank barely escaped. The remainder of the gang ( Younger Gang ) were either killed or captured. During the robbery attempt a bank employee and bystander were killed. Cole Younger spent many years in a Minnesota prison.

The one sure thing about the Pinkertons was that once they got on your trail they didn’t let up. They were well known for this and the outlaws knew it as well. Pinkerton agents traced James and many times would be seen in towns where James had recently been to. This was the major reason that at the end of James life he was living under the assumed name of Thomas Howard. The banks and the railroads had a large bounty on his head and the Pinkertons, including Alan Pinkerton himself, was putting more and more pressure on Jesse James. There was one incident where the suspected home of Jesse James was firebombed in an effort to either capture or kill him. The tale was that the Pinkertons were heavily involved in the attack. In fact, it’s been written that Allan Pinkerton took a keen interest in the James gang as a personal vendetta of sorts. This may have been because the gang had eluded the Pinkertons for so long. The attack occurred on January 25, 1875 at the James farm. An incendiary device that was thrown inside by the Pinkerton detectives exploded. The bomb killed James’s young half-brother and blew off one of James’s mother’s arms. After the incident, Allan Pinkerton denied that the raid’s intent was to burn the house down. Apparently the Pinkertons were given some tips beforehand by Union loyalists who resided near the farm. Jesse James was not at the farm at the time.

Allan Pinkerton, circa 1861

The last crime that Jesse James was involved with was the robbery of a Chicago and Alton Railroad train in Blue Cut Missouri. Blue Cut is an area very near to Independence Missouri where the trains slowed down at the curve making them more vulnerable to robbery. The Blue Cut robbery stepped up the efforts to capture or kill James and the bounty on his head was increased.

As portrayed in the recent movie regarding Jesse James and his death, he was shot from behind in 1882 at his home by Robert Ford, a member of his gang involved in the Blue Cut train robbery. To this day there are conspiracy theorists who contend that Jesse James faked his own death and lived a long life. DNA evidence on the exhumed remains in 1995 say otherwise. There also was a man who died in Granbury Texas near Fort Worth in 1951 who, at the alleged age of 104 and on his deathbed, claimed to be Jesse James. An exhumation took place by court order on his remains in the year 2000 . DNA tests in 2000 did not match to the DNA taken from an alleged James relative. Granbury believers say there are photos and artifacts that back up their claims. They also say that their Jesse James had a grandson who was a dead ringer for the outlaw. The people of Kearney Missouri where the other Jesse James ( according to DNA testing the real Jesse James) is buried totally discount the Granbury Texas assertions.

While the Jesse James debate continues into the 21st century, today, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency is called Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations, and is a subsidiary of Securitas AB, headquartered in Stockholm Sweden.

For those traveling to St. Joseph Missouri, there is the Jesse James Home Museum displayed on the grounds of the Patee House at12th and Mitchell. This is only two blocks away from the homes original location. There is also the Jesse James Farm located on Jesse James Farm Road  Kearney, MO.

(Photos shown are in the public domain)