Charlie Siringo, circa 1890
February 7, 1855|
Matagorda County, Texas
|Died||October 18, 1928
|Known for||Lawman, Pinkerton detective|
Charles Angelo Siringo (February 7, 1855 – October 18, 1928), was an American lawman, detective and agent for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Siringo was born in Matagorda County, Texas, to an Irish immigrant mother and an Italian immigrant father from Piedmont. He attended public school until he was 15, when he started working on local ranches as a cowboy.
In March, April and May 1877, Siringo was in Dodge City, Kansas, during an alleged confrontation between Clay Allison and Wyatt Earp, who was a deputy marshal at the time. Earp later claimed, after Allison's death in 1887, that he and Bat Masterson had forced Allison to back down from an impending confrontation. Siringo, however, later gave a written account of that incident which contradicted Earp's claim, stating that Earp never came into contact with Allison, and that two businessmen, cattleman Dick McNulty and the owner of the Long Branch Saloon, Chalkley Beeson, in Dodge City actually defused the situation.
After taking part in several cattle drives, Siringo stopped herding to settle down, got married in 1884 and opened a merchant business in Caldwell, Kansas. He began writing a book titled A Texas Cowboy; Or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Pony. A year later, it was published, to wide acclaim, and became one of the first true looks into life as a cowboy written by someone who had actually lived the life.
In 1886, bored with the mundane life of a merchant, Siringo moved to Chicago, where first-hand observation of the city’s labor conflict (which he attributed to foreign anarchism) moved him to join the Pinkerton Detective Agency, using gunman Pat Garrett's name as a reference to get the job, having met Garrett several years before. With 2,000 active agents and 30,000 reserves, the forces of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency were larger than the nation’s standing army in the late 19th century. The Pinkertons provided services for management in labor disputes, including armed guards and secret operatives like Charles A. Siringo.
He was immediately assigned several cases, which took him as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico City. He began operating undercover, a relatively new technique at the time, and infiltrated gangs of robbers and rustlers, making more than 100 arrests.
In the early 1890s he found himself assigned to office work in the Denver, office of the agency, work which he greatly despised. During that time, he worked with noted Pinkerton agent, gunman and later assassin Tom Horn. He greatly admired Horn's talents and skills in tracking down suspects, but reflected later that Horn had a dark side that could easily be accessed when need be.
In 1892, Siringo was assigned to a case in Idaho, where he went undercover, working as a miner to feed union information to the employers. Siringo at first turned down the assignment, telling his boss, James McParland, that he sympathized with the union miners. McParland later asked him to go anyway, with the agreement that Siringo could leave if he still felt the same way after seeing the situation. Siringo infiltrated the union, and decided that the leadership was in the hands of anarchists, and so stayed on the job. His undercover work undermined the Western Federation of Miners in northern Idaho during the 1892 Coeur d’Alene strike.
Despite his dislike for the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM), whom he called anarchists, he also stood against a lynch mob to protect the WFM's attorney Clarence Darrow from being hanged.
In the late 1890s, posing as "Charles L. Carter", an alleged gunman on the run from the law for a murder, he infiltrated outlaw Butch Cassidy's Train Robbers Syndicate. For more than a year, using information he would gather, he severely hampered the operations of Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang, but without a large number of arrests. After they committed the now-famous train robbery near Wilcox, Wyoming, in which they robbed a Union Pacific train, he again found himself assigned to capture the Wild Bunch. On that case, Siringo often coordinated with Tom Horn, who was by that time working for large cattle companies as a stock detective but who also was retained by the Pinkerton Agency on contract to assist in the robbery investigation. Horn was able to obtain vital information from explosives expert Bill Speck that revealed to investigators who the suspects were who had killed Sheriff Josiah Hazen, who had been shot and killed during the pursuit of the robbers.
Several members of the gang were captured as a result of information Siringo gathered, including the capture of Kid Curry, who escaped but was again cornered and killed during a shootout with law enforcement in Colorado. It was Siringo's information that help track him down on both occasions. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid both fled to South America, feeling their luck was running out in United States. They were later allegedly killed by Bolivian police in a shootout there following a mine payroll robbery. During the work on the Wilcox train robbery, he first came into contact with lawman Joe Lefors, who later would arrest Horn for a murder that Horn has since been largely vindicated for. Siringo crossed paths with Lefors several years later while working other cases. Siringo found Lefors incompetent, at best, and greatly despised him.
After the Pinkertons
Siringo retired in 1907, and wrote another book, Pinkerton's Cowboy Detective. The Pinkerton Detective Agency held up publication for two years, feeling it violated their confidentiality agreement that Siringo had signed when he was hired and objecting to the use of their name. Siringo gave in, and deleted their name from the book title, instead writing two separate books, A Cowboy Detective and Further Adventures of a Cowboy Detective.
Angry with the agency after it sabotaged the publication of his cowboy memoirs, Siringo published Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism, a revealing chronicle of Pinkerton methods and deception. Siringo wrote that he had been instructed to commit voter fraud in the re-election campaign of Colorado Governor James Peabody. Siringo said, "I voted eight times, as per [Pinkerton supervisor] McParland's orders—three times before the same election judges". The election was unique due to fraud by Democrats and Republicans, resulting in Colorado having three different governors seated during the course of one day.In the book, Siringo defended his work against the leadership of the Western Federation of Miners. But he admitted "one dark blot on my conscience" for his work as an informant among the coal miners of southern Colorado, for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company: "... I hated to report their threats against the greedy corporation which treated them as slaves." 
The Pinkerton Agency once again succeeded in suppressing the book. It tried to have Siringo prosecuted for libel, requesting extradition from his ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Chicago. However, the governor of New Mexico denied the extradition request.[who?] Pinkerton operatives bought up all copies available at newsstands and obtained a court order confiscating the book’s plates.
In 1916, Siringo began working as a New Mexico Ranger to assist in the capture of numerous rustlers causing problems in the area, holding that position until 1918. His health began to fail, and his ranch was failing due to his having been away for some time. He moved to Los Angeles, where he became somewhat of a celebrity due to his well-publicized exploits. He renewed his relationship with Wyatt Earp during this period. In 1927 he released another book, Riata and Spurs, a composite of his first two autobiographies. The Pinkerton Agency again halted publication, resulting in a whittled down and revised copy being released the following year, with many fictional accounts rather than the true accounts that Siringo had envisioned.
Siringo died in Altadena, California, on October 18, 1928. He was buried at Inglewood Cemetery in Inglewood California. His activities remain some of the first examples of the use of undercover work in the capture of fugitives.
In popular culture
- In Sergio Sollima's 1967 Spaghetti Western film Face to Face, a character patterned after Siringo (but with his first name being spelled "Charley") is portrayed by William Berger. Siringo's appearance in the film is a anachronism as Face to Face takes place in the American Civil War, when the real Siringo was only a child.
- Charles Siringo also appears as a character in Leif Enger's So Brave, Young, and Handsome (2008; ISBN 978-0-87113-985-6).
- Siringo Road, a major thoroughfare on the south side of the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is named for the former detective and writer.
- In Larry McMurtry's novel Streets of Laredo, Call reads Siringo's first book and tells Charles Goodnight that it's mostly yarns.
- Mike Blakely's original composition and song titled "Charlie Siringo" was about the life of Charlie Siringo.
- Actor Brad Johnson portrayed Siringo in a 1994 made-for-TV film, Siringo.
- Actor Dennis Farina portrayed Siringo in a 1995 made-for-TV film, Bonanza: Under Attack.
- In the Leverage episode "The 10 Li'l Grifters Job", the character Eliot Spencer (played by Christian Kane) dresses up as Siringo for a murder mystery costume party.
- Charles Siringo appears as a character in the novel Sundance by David Fuller, published in 2014.
- Charles Siringo appears with Dashiell Hammett as a main character in the novel Ragtime Cowboys by Loren D. Estlemen, published in 2014. Hired by Wyatt Earp to find his stolen racehorse, they find themselves coming up against other real-life characters, including Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Jack London's widow and daughter, and those involved in the Teapot Dome Scandal. Historically true events woven into fiction of the Old West and early Hollywood.
- Charles Siringo also appears in a counter-history to the Lizzie Borden story in the 2015 Lifetime series, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, played by Cole Hauser.
- — (1885). A Texas Cowboy: Or, Fifteen Years On The Hurricane Deck of A Spanish Pony. Chicago: M. Umbdenstock and Company. ISBN 0-14-043751-7. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- — (1886). A Texas Cowboy: Or, Fifteen Years On The Hurricane Deck of A Spanish Pony [2nd edition]. Chicago: Siringo & Dobson. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- — (1912). A Cowboy Detective: A True Story of Twenty-Two Years With A World-Famous Detective Agency. Chicago: W. B. Conkey Company. ISBN 0-8032-9189-2. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- — (1915). Two Evil Isms, Pinkertonism and Anarchism: By aA Cowboy Detective Who Knows, as He Spent Twenty-Two Years in the Inner Circle of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. ISBN 1-4297-6551-8. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- — (1919). A Lone Star cowboy. Santa Fe. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- — (1919). A Song Companion of A Lone Star Cowboy. Santa Fe.
- — (1920). A History of "Billy the Kid". Charles A. Siringo. Retrieved 2014-04-09.
- —; Gifford Pinchot (1927). Riata and Spurs: The Story Of A Lifetime Spent In The Saddle As Cowboy And Ranger. ISBN 1-4179-1067-4.
- Barclay, Donald A. "Charles A. Siringo". Nineteenth-Century American Western Writers. Ed. Robert L. Gale. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 186. Detroit: Gale, 1997. ISBN 978-0-7876-1682-3.
- Lamar, Howard R. (2005). Charlie Siringo's West: An Interpretive Biography. University Of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-3669-8.
- Peavy, Charles D. (1967). Charles A. Siringo: A Texas Picaro. Austin, Texas: Steck-Vaughn Company. 2019759
- Pingenot, Ben E. (1989). Siringo: The True Story Of Charles A. Siringo, Texas Cowboy, Longhorn Trail Driver, Private Detective, Rancher, New Mexico Ranger and Author. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0-89096-381-9.
- Blum, Howard (2011). The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush. Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-307-46172-8.
- "Charlie Siringo". Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- "Italian American Contributions". Archived from the original on 2013-05-20.
- "Siringo, Charles Angelo". The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 2009-07-08.
- Siringo - Thrilling Detective.
- Charle. A. Siringo, Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism (Chicago: publ. by the author, 1915) 36-38.
- Josiah Hazen - Officer Down Memorial Page
- Wilcox Train Robbery - TomHorn.com
- Martin, MaryJoy (2004). The Corpse on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor 1899–1908. Montrose, Colorado: Western Reflections. p. 267. ISBN 978-1-932738-02-5.
- Charles A. Siringo, Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism(Chicago: publ. by the author, 1915) 71, 108-109.
- Dworkin, Mark. "Tombstone History Archives - Charlie Siringo, Letter Writer". Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- "Siringo, Charles Angelo". The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved 2015-01-16.
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