Category: Pinkertons

Those Gutsy Women of the Old West

Never underestimate a woman doing a man’s job!

My passion is writing about the old west and the fabulous women who helped settle it.  Western movies helped establish the male hero, but depicting women mainly as bonnet saints, soiled doves and schoolmarms did them a terrible disservice.

The westward migration freed women in ways never before imagined. Women abandoned Victorian traditions, rigid manners and confining clothes and that’s not all; they brought churches, schools and newspapers to frontier towns and helped build communities.

Female barber wielding “man’s most sacred implement.”

Women today may still be banging against glass ceilings, but those brave souls of yesteryear had to break down doors. One newspaper reporter complained that “Women dared to lay hands on man’s most sacred implements—the razor and strop—and shave him to the very face.”

Ah, yes, women were barbers, doctors, firefighters and saloon keepers. Women even disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. With little more than their faith to guide them, they owned cattle ranches and gold mines and fought for women’s rights.

In 1860 Julia Shannon of San Francisco took the family portrait to new heights when she shockingly advertised herself as a daguerreotypist and midwife.  Cameras were bulky, chemicals dangerous and photo labs blew up with alarming regularity. It was a hard profession for a man let alone a woman.

Kate Warne dressed in Union soldier disguise

Forty years before women were allowed to join a police department, Kate Warne worked for the Pinkerton National Detective agency as an undercover agent from 1856 to her death in 1868. Not only did she run the female detective division, she saved president-elect Abraham Lincoln from a planned assassination by wrapping him in a blanket and pretending he was her invalid brother.    Her story is the inspiration behind my Undercover Ladies series in which the heroines were—you guessed it—Pinkerton detectives working undercover.

It took strong and courageous women to bury children along the trail; barter with Indians and make homes out of sticks and mud. It’s estimated that about twelve percent of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Utah were single women.  And yep, women even took part in the Oklahoma land runs.

An article in the San Francisco Examiner published in 1896 says it all: “People have stopped wondering what women will do next, for keeping up with what she is doing now takes all the public energies.”

These are the heroines for whom we like to cheer.  It must have been a shock to the male ego to have to deal with such strong and unconventional women—and that’s at the very heart of my stories. The gun may have won the west, but praise the Lord for the gusty and courageous women who tamed it.

Can you name a gutsy woman–either past or present?

 

Speaking of heroines of the Old West,

let’s not forget gusty Sheriff Amanda Lockwood,

who almost always gets  her man.

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Updated: October 26, 2017 — 6:39 am

The Pinkertons

I love TV westerns. From the good old days with Bonanza to more recent times with Longmire, I truly enjoy getting lost in a good western tale of cowboy heroes with grit and honor. Several months ago I discovered a new offering on Netflix that immediately piqued my interest. I love a good crime drama as much as I love my westerns, and here was a show that combined them both – The Pinkertons.

This beauty of a show was actually made in Canada even though it follows the cases of Pinkerton Detectives in Kansas City, Missouri following the end of the Civil War. My favorite thing about this show is that it is officially licensed with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and its episodes as based on actual cases taken from the Pinkerton Detective Agency archives from the 1860s.

While Allan Pinkerton, founder of the agency does occasionally make an appearance on the show, the two main characters are Will Pinkerton (Allan’s son and Pinkerton agent) and Kate Warne (a Pinkerton and the first female detective in US history).

Kate Warne was a widow by the age of 23 and joined the Pinkerton Agency in 1856.

Pinkerton, in his book, The Spy of the Rebellion: Being a True History of the Spy System of the United States Army During the Late Rebellion… described her as:

[a] commanding person, with clear cut, expressive features…a slender, brown-haired woman, graceful in her movements and self-possessed. Her features, although not what could be called handsome [beautiful], were decidedly of an intellectual cast… her face was honest, which would cause one in distress instinctly [sic] to select her as a confidante.

Warne walked into the Pinkerton Detective Agency in response to an advertisement in a local newspaper. When she walked into Pinkerton’s Chicago office, according to Pinkerton company records, he further described her acquaintance:

“[he] was surprised to learn Kate was not looking for clerical work, but was actually answering an advertisement for detectives he had placed in a Chicago newspaper. At the time, such a concept was almost unheard of. Pinkerton said ” It is not the custom to employ women detectives!” Kate argued her point of view eloquently – pointing out that women could be “most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective.” A Woman would be able to befriend the wives and girlfriends of suspected criminals and gain their confidence. Men become braggarts when they are around women who encourage them to boast. Kate also noted, Women have an eye for detail and are excellent observers.”

Warne’s arguments swayed Pinkerton, who employed Warne as the first female detective. Pinkerton soon had a chance to put Warne to the test. (source)

There is only one season available of this show, but it contains 22 episodes. I’m about halfway through them right now and savoring each one.

Click cover to order.

 

As it turns out, I have Pinkerton detectives in my most recent book, Heart on the Line. And in my story, the Pinkertons themselves are the mystery. Fraudulent identities and corrupt agents make it unclear who can be trusted. Yet in the end, I think Allan Pinkerton would be pleased with how things turned out.

 

Do you like stories about Pinkertons?

What historically set shows do you enjoy watching?

(I’m always on the lookout for something new to add to my queue.)

Petticoats & Pistols © 2015