Back in 1881, the Pinkerton’s agency was keeping track of its employee’s strengths and weaknesses. Below is an excerpt from the book Pinkerton’s Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland by Beau Riffenburgh.
In the midst of these changes and traumas, McParland was required to submit an agency form entitled History of Detectives, in which he detailed his background. The supplement to the form, completed by Chicago superintendent Frank Warner, gives an intriguing look at how the famous operative was seen by his superiors, including his strengths and weaknesses:
|General deportment and appearance||Genteel Irishman|
|Classes of society can become readily adapted to; whether higher orlaboring class, sporting men or thieves||Both|
|Class of “Roper”; whether makes acquaintance easily, and ability to obtainfriendship and confidence||Good|
|Class of “Shadow”||Not good|
|Ability for making investigations||Good|
|Knowledge of criminals||Not good|
|Whether Moderate in expenditures or inclined to be extravagant||Medium|
|Impulsive or cautious||Impulsive|
|Determined or timid||Determined|
|Secretive or talkative||Talkative|
|Self-reliance and ability to originate a plan of operations beyond instructions||Good|
|Failings to be guarded against||Operating too fast|
The report is as interesting for what it says about the attitudes at Pinkerton’s as what it records about McParland. To the hierarchy of the agency, “Genteel”- refined or well-mannered-differentiated McParland from the stereotype it long had held of the common Irishman: the low-class, hard-drinking, undesirable thug personified by some of the men in the Molly Maguires. The report also shows that McParland was not particularly good at one of the basic skills of being a spy-“shadowing,” or tailing a suspect-and that he clearly was not guarded enough, as he was listed as both “impulsive” and “talkative.”
In his remarks, Warner noted that “whilst in Philadelphia Agency [while undercover] he acquired the habit of excessive drinking. He reformed however and married previous to joining Chicago Agency. He is suspected of having fallen from grace since employed here, but no harm resulted,’?’ The abstemious Pinkerton abhorred drinking, and in 1875almost fired even Bangs for being intoxicated on the street.” It is almost certain that McParland’s “fall from grace” -a term used by those in the temperance movement-referred to his heavy drinking, which, although curtailed again, is rumored to have reap- peared on and off for the rest of his life.