Monday, April 1, 2013

They Never Sleep: The Pinkertons

by Kathleen Y'Barbo
Allan Pinkerton was a Scottish immigrant and barrel maker who accidentally discovered a talent for catching criminals—in his case counterfeiters using a neighboring island in the Fox River as their base. Meanwhile, Allan’s brother, Robert, was also using his wits to catch bad guys, first as a railroad contractor and then as a provider of guards for the Wells Fargo coach line.
            The brothers joined forces in 1850, and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency was born along with the motto “We Never Sleep”. Their three-story Chicago building boasted their logo, an eye painted in black and white, that was the origin of the term private eye.
            According to the Pinkerton Agency’s website,, the Pinkerton Code is as follows:
  • ·      Accept no bribes
  • ·      Never compromise with criminals
  • ·      Partner with local law enforcement agencies
  • ·      Refuse divorce cases or causes that initiate scandals
  • ·      Turn down money rewards
  • ·      Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge
  • ·      Keep clients apprised on an ongoing basis

            Pinkerton agents were well trained and well paid. Their expertise in surveillance was beyond comparison. Allan Pinkerton was an early proponent of using female agents, determining that often it was the lady who was least suspected of being a detective.
            One famous lady Pinkerton was the widow, Kate Warne, thought to be the clean-shaven person standing behind Mr. Pinkerton in the photograph from the Library of Congress archives. Kate Warne, a woman who it is claimed walked into the Pinkerton offices seeking a secretarial job only to leave as a detective, is one of the more memorable Pinkertons, and definitely the first female agent.
            Among Mrs. Warne’s many accomplishments was the detection of a plot against President-elect Abraham Lincoln. Not only did she learn of the plot, but she also saved the president’s life by helping to smuggle him into Washington DC for his inauguration disguised as her invalid brother. Later, during the Civil War, it has been alleged that Mrs. Warne was quite adept at fitting in on both sides of the lines and brought back valuable intelligence to the Pinkerton offices. Quite the accomplishment considering women were not yet accepted as valuable members of any other crime fighting organization.
            Such is the legacy of agents such as Warne and her fellow Pinkertons that the agency is still in existence today. Now called Pinkerton Government services, they employ more than 4,000 security officers and claim a 90% government security clearance rate. Thus, even today, Pinkertons are on duty. 

Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee of forty-five novels with almost two million copies of her books in print in the US and abroad. A Romantic Times Top Pick recipient of her novels, Kathleen is a proud military wife and an expatriate Texan cheering on her beloved Texas Aggies from north of the Red River. To find out more about Kathleen or connect with her through social media, check out her website at

Flora Brimm, a not so prim and proper Natchez belle with four fiances whose untimely deaths kept them from arriving at the altar has just discovered she is the subject of a Pinkerton investigation and just may be engaged to a jewel thief. Meanwhile Pinkerton agent and inventor Lucas McMinn is trying to decide whether the lovely lady is part of the solution or the problem. Southern historical with a dash of steampunk, Flora's Wish is in stores now.


  1. I've always read about the Pinkertons in one book or another one. Would love to know more about them.

  2. Okay, this is one of the most interesting posts so far. Wow, if you look closely at the photo, it does look like a woman. Great article, Kathleen!

  3. I hadn't realized that the Pinkertons were still in existence today until I read this, and then when I mentioned it to my husband, he said that his father was in charge of the Pinkertons where he worked! Very interesting!

  4. Enjoyed this, Kathleen. Thank you. I have an idea for a story that will involve a detective of the era, so this goes into my hand-dandy little folder. :)

  5. Yes, the Pinkertons are still doing their job all these many, many years later. They have a fascinating history.

  6. Thanks for this, Kathleen. So interesting! You piqued my interest in the Pinkertons in Anna Finch and the Hired Gun, and it's neat to learn more here.

  7. Thanks for the opportunity to learn more, Kathleen. That was most interesting. The Pinkertons have always been very interesting, and I too, did not realize they are still working today. (Of course, this was NOT news to my

    I am enjoying this blog so very much! Please pass my heartfelt thanks to whomever administers this and to all contributors!!


  8. I love this book and the Pinkerton hero.

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  10. I learned two things reading this today. I did not know there were women back in the agency also I did not realize they were still in existence.It is neat that you did this post today. I have a little story for you. When we were watching Ripper Street my 20 year old son asked who/what the Pinkerton's were. My first response was "you don't know who the Pinkerton's are" the second was to explain to him who they were. I was kind of shocked that he did not know this information. So thank you for the article today

  11. Good information. Interesting!

  12. This was son interesting. It's always fun to learn about women doing a job that was probably perceived to be done only by males.


  13. "One famous lady Pinkerton was the widow, Kate Warne, thought to be the clean-shaven person standing behind Mr. Pinkerton in the photograph from the Library of Congress archives."

    This is so interesting ~non-detected with those delicate arms and trim wrists. What an interesting post! Thank you.

    Here is a fun quote from author Carol Cox ~ She tilted her head, then added, "They made a good choice. With your nondescript looks, you'll be perfect at fading into the background. Nobody will even remember you were around." --page 48, Love In Disguise" for her lady Pinkerton.

    Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

  14. Interesting - never knew much about the Pinkerton agency!

  15. Good afternoon, Ms. Y'Barbo!! :)

    This was a highly illuminating post, because the Pinkerton's Agency of Detection is something that *pops* up a bit if your a hearty fan of cozy mysteries!! I haven't ever had the chance to track down infomation on the agency, and this is one reason I was intriqued by your topic this month! On the other hand, having the chance to learn about a real life woman detective who was in a league of her own and far ahead of her time, was most welcoming of all! :) I love uncovering these kernals of historical perspective that are either lost to time OR hidden, and are difficult to find on our own! What a blessing to have the CFHS to help us learn more about pages in history that are both intriquing and good examples of the unique characters who achieved such an interesting life whilst they were here! :)

    Thank you!
    I hope to one day read Flora's Wish, because of the Pinkerston angle you've enclosed!