Gunman Charles L. Carter, the newest member of Butch Cassidy’s notorious Train Robbers Syndicate of his Wild Bunch Gang, kept to himself and resisted forming solid friendships.

Detective Charles Siringo

As far as anyone knew, Carter joined the gang while on the run from a murder charge. But Carter wasn’t his real name.

The alias belonged to Pinkerton detective Charles Siringo who managed to infiltrate the gang in the 1890s.

He spent a year undercover and gathered enough information to help disrupt the gang’s operations but didn’t make many arrests.

Several years later, in 1899—following the legendary Wilcox, Wyoming, train robbery—Siringo drew the assignment of once again pursuing the Wild Bunch.

According to his estimate, he spent four years tracking the gang from Wyoming to Arkansas, logging around twenty-five thousand miles on horseback.

Charles Angelo Siringo was born February 7, 1855, in Matagorda County, Texas, the son of an Irish mother and an Italian father.

When he reached 15, he struck out on his own and worked on several ranches. 

He also helped drive a herd of 2,500 cattle from Austin, Texas, to Kansas.

In 1884, Siringo wanted a change of pace. So he married and moved to Caldwell, Kansas, and opened a merchant business.

A year later, Siringo wrote A Texas Cow Boy or, Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony, which provided a glimpse of actual cowboy life by someone who lived it.

Entertainer and political pundit Will Rogers said Siringo’s book “…was the Cowboy’s Bible when I was growing up.”

In 1886, perhaps out of boredom, Siringo moved to Chicago. Armed with Sheriff Pat Garrett’s name as a reference, he landed a job with Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

Siringo spent twenty-two years in the west, tracking outlaws sometimes as far as Alaska and Mexico City. On occasion, he went undercover in outlaw gangs and labor unions.

He was a man of confidence. He believed his reputation for marksmanship and cleverness gave him an advantage and enabled him to bring in fugitives with a minimum of violence.

Siringo retired in 1907 and wrote a book about his exploits as a Pinkerton detective. 

But the agency objected to the details he shared and forced him to retitle it as A Cowboy Detective: A True Story of Twenty-two Years with a World-Famous Detective Agency (1912).

He also had to substitute fictitious names for real ones.

Siringo countered with pen and paper and published Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism.

The book stripped away the secrecy of Pinkerton’s methods and deception, especially in providing services for management in labor disputes.

Pinkerton, however, proved formidable and succeeded in suppressing the manuscript. 

Operatives fanned out to newsstands to purchase all available copies and won a court order confiscating the book’s printing plates.

Pinkerton was able to flex a significant amount of influential muscle.

The agency employed two-thousand active agents and thirty-thousand reserves—more extensive than the nation’s standing army of the late-19th century.

Siringo gave up and deleted Pinkerton’s name from the book title. Despite the setbacks, he kept writing and published Riata and Spurs in 1927, a composite of his first two autobiographies.

But, once again, Pinkerton stepped in and threatened a lawsuit and succeeded in stopping publication.

Later that year, the book eventually found its way to publication but with a revised subtitle. Editors reworked the manuscript and watered down many of Siringo’s exploits as a detective.

The book also included material that fictionalized his experiences and often had irrelevant stories of outlaws. Siringo also wrote The Story of Billy the Kid.

Charles Siringo died in Altadena, California, on October 18, 1928.


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  • Charles Siringo was someone I always wanted to know more about as a youngster, I first encountered his name as someone allegedly trying to chase down Jesse James. Don’t know if there was any truth in that one. But what a life? Could be made into a great mini series ( if Allowed ) I can’t imagine the Pinkerton reasons for watering down his exploits still stand today

  • Frank Kelso

    Graet Post, Tom.
    Pinkerton of old was the forerunner of the Secret Service, who guards the POTUS and chases counterfiters.
    Politics and power plays hasn’t changed much in 100 years??

  • Hi Frank. Glad you enjoyed it. And, no, politics and powerplays haven’t changed and are always interconnected.

  • Hi Bob–I’m not sure about that Jesse James story. But he had no need to embellish the kind of footprint he made on the Old West. And, Pinkerton was ferocious about protecting its turf and connections.

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