The Pinkerton Investigations

The Pinkerton's became the force that smashed many of the west's most notorious gangs. Find out how they did it.

The Pinkerton Detective Agency, forerunner to the FBI, was the inspiration of a Scottish immigrant by the name of Allan Pinkerton. Born in Glasgow in 1819, Pinkerton, a determined, hulk of a man, settled in Chicago, Illinois in 1843. He immediately became involved in the Abolitionist movement, helping many runaways on their run for Canada.

Pinkerton's life changed forever when he stumbled across a gang of counterfeiters and assisted the police in their capture. Having whet his appetite, this episode prompted him to join the Chicago Police Force as it's first detective. He served them well in this capacity, establishing a reputation as a indefatigable investigator. In 1850 he left the force to form his own detective agency.

The Pinkerton's soon established themselves as a real force in the crime busting scene. Their distinctive logo, with it's all seeing eye inspired the phrase "ňúprivate eye.' Pinkerton established new methods of crime fighting including psychological warfare. He became a master at messing with the minds of his quarry. A notable example of this was in 1856 when a bank teller was murdered in a bungled hold up attempt. Pinkerton had a prime suspect but nothing concrete to hang on him. So he hired a detective who bore a remarkable physical resemblance to the dead man to shadow the suspect. The detective doggedly stuck with the man who thought that he was being hounded by the ghost of his victim. Eventually he broke down, confessed to the crime and then committed suicide.

Pinkerton soon became involved in fighting Railroad crime. He hired out a permanent guard force to scare off outlaws. Then in 1861, the Pinkerton's scored a major coup by being appointed to set up a secret service for the Union Army. Pinkerton agents were deployed around strategic areas of Washington, D.C. and further afield in the Confederate strongholds. Before long Pinkerton had uncovered a kidnap plot against President Lincoln. The kidnap attempt was thwarted when Pinkerton switched Lincoln to an earlier train from Baltimore to Washington. Another Civil War victory came thew ay of the Pinkerton Agency when it's all seeing eye uncovered a plot to break out all 8000 prisoners of war at the South Side's Camp Douglas.

Successes like this firmly established the Pinkerton Detective Agency as a major force. By many people they were seen as an official arm of the Federal Government. In 1871 a conglomerate of bankers approached Pinkerton to help them get rid of a new gang who had been terrorizing their establishments. The gang was headed a couple of ex-Confederate Geurrillas by the names of Frank and Jesse James. The James Gang would provide the Pinkerton's with their toughest test and, ultimately, their first taste of failure. The locals in the areas where the gang operated were sympathetic to the gang - who they saw as latter day Robin Hoods - and the Pinkerton's were never able to break the code of silence that existed.

In 1884, Allan Pinkerton died. The Agency was then headed by his sons Robert and William. In 1896 they managed to break up the infamous Wild Bunch gang in a classic Western shoot-out. Many members of the gang were arrested and it's leaders - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid - were forced to flee to South America.

The Pinkerton Agency flourished for many years, breaking up one crime syndicate after another. William and Robert left the business to their own sons and, as the 20th Century developed, the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency was to give rise to a new Federal Agency - The Federal Bureau of Investigations.

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