The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland

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 Pinkerton's Great Detective: The Amazing Life and Times of James McParlandDetectives, 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.

One thought on “The Amazing Life and Times of James McParland

  1. wow thats wow *_* indeed books make you fall into it! hi! i’m new to this blogging thing so it would mean alot id you check oug my page and even follow me ( i’ll follow back ) and i’ll also be giving out signed books real soon! yay

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