Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Pinkerton's Great Detective by Beau Riffenburgh
For folks who imagine themselves interested in working for the Secret Service, Homeland Security, the FBI, or as a spy, this book can tell you what it was like in the way back in America. You may find you don’t have the constitution for it after all.
This book is subtitled “The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland,” if that really was his name. McParland began his undercover career in the anthracite mines of Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania reporting on the murderous Molly Maguires in 1875. Remarkably, he was so intent upon keeping himself alive amidst the mayhem, he didn’t get to reporting on killings until after the deeds were done. Such was the violence of the crimes that first-hand observer McParland got physically ill…the stress of undercover work gave him severe intestinal problems and his hair fell out in handfuls.
Years of trials and testimony regarding events in Pennsylvania followed and then McParland went West, presumably to get away from those that knew his face. He pursued Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and worked to bring down strikers working with the Western Federation of Miners. Almost from the start, I admit I found myself disliking this “devout Catholic” who came to be “powerful, successful, and respected…Even decades later the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was still honoring him for his work…as well as for his devotion to the [Denver] parish and his many contributions to the building of Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.” My reservations about the man and my conflicted feelings about law enforcement in the early days of the West undoubtedly tell more about me than McParland. Perhaps popular movies about the period influence me still.
This dogged and detailed history is a must read for those interested in the Molly Maguires, The Wild Bunch, or the beginnings of Pinkerton’s undercover investigations and expansion out West. For those with a more cursory interest, flipping through will yield nuggets that stay with you on your journey to understand our historical underpinnings.
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