Dorothy Sloan -- Books


Two Evil Isms: Siringo’s Suppressed Diatribe against the Pinkertons

505.     SIRINGO, Charles A[ngelo]. Two Evil Isms. Pinkertonism and Anarchism by a Cowboy Detective Who Knows, As He Spent Twenty-Two Years in the Inner Circle of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. By Charles A. Siringo, Author of “A Texas Cowboy” and “A Cowboy Detective.” Price 25 Cents. Chicago: Charles A. Siringo, Publisher, P.O. Box 396, 1915. [4], 109 [1, ad] pp., frontispiece plate (photographic with images on recto and verso). 12mo (19.3 x 13.2 cm), original grey, red, black, and white pictorial wrappers illustrated with dramatic image of Uncle Sam being strangled by two huge snakes labelled “Pinkertonism” and “Anarchism,” stapled as issued. Other than very light soiling to wraps, a very fine, choice copy with light pencil signature of Chas. W. Ayres on frontispiece and title.

     First edition. Adams, Guns 2033. Adams, One-Fifty 126: “Because publishers were afraid to publish this book, Siringo was forced to publish it himself…. Exceedingly rare.” Dobie, “Siringo,” p. xxxii: “More than anything else that Siringo wrote, this book reveals the workings of his matured mind towards society. In the beginning, his sympathies were with labor, and it was only when he saw anarchists betraying labor that he sought a job with Pinkerton’s…. Very soon his eyes were opened. The falsities in reports about anarchists made by Agency men ‘would make a decent man’s blood boil.’ He boldly says that [Tom] Horn was hired by the Agency to help ‘wealthy cattlemen get rid of small ranchmen at six hundred dollars a head.’” Dykes, Rare Western Outlaw Books, p. 9. Dykes, Western High Spots (“My Ten Most Outstanding Books on the West”), p. 22. Howes S519. Reese, Six Score 99n: “After the first edition of A Texas Cowboy, [Siringo’s] rarest work is Two Evil Isms.”

     During the late nineteenth century, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency had two thousand active agents and thirty thousand reserves, making Pinkerton’s forces larger than the U.S. standing Army. Siringo (1855-1928) was a native Texan, Italian-American, and cowboy supreme, whose “experiences as the quintessential cowboy and determined detective helped romanticize the West and its myth of the American cowboy” (Ben E. Pingenot in Handbook of Texas Online). When Siringo moved to Chicago in 1886, he joined the Pinkertons as a secret operative. There he witnessed first-hand Chicago’s labor conflict, which he attributed to foreign anarchism. When Pinkerton sabotaged the publication of his cowboy memoirs, Siringo published the present exposé of Pinkerton’s deceptive methods and corruption, out of spite and possibly as blackmail.

     Ben E. Pingenot describes the Pinkerton attorney’s reaction to the cover art and Siringo’s defamatory manuscript:

The cover illustration accompanying the manuscript was like waving a red flag in front of an enraged bull…. John A. Brown, the Pinkerton attorney…immediately wrote Siringo…that the publication of Two Evil Isms would be grounds for not only civil but criminal prosecution. Brown stated in his letters that the typescript contained considerable matter that had been suppressed in The Cowboy Detective case, and that it was “false, scandalous, malicious, and libelous.” Brown [asserted] that Siringo’s notice “savors strongly of blackmail and an attempt on Siringo’s part to have Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency purchase his manuscript from him” (Ben E. Pingenot, Siringo, Texas A&M Press, 1989, p. 80).

     Siringo showed his manuscript to Charles Darrow, who told him that if he were convicted, the “worst penalty in Illinois for criminal libel would be a $500 fine and a year in jail,” to which Siringo replied: “That wouldn’t kill me.” Siringo was not a man to be cowed and chose to publish the book himself in defiance of threats and despite his dire financial straits. By March, Two Evil Isms was on the newsstands in Chicago. A Pinkerton operative picked up a copy and gave it to his boss, who ordered Pinkerton employees to scour Chicago and buy up all the copies they could find. The Pinkerton attorney went straight to court and charged Siringo with “rabid, open and flagrant violation of the injunction.” Pinkerton roistered around trying to find the rest of the books, which gave no publisher and only Siringo’s address in Chicago. A break came when the binder of the book told an undercover detective trying to buy copies to check with J. Thomas Printing Company who had printed the book. At the printing office the manager said he had no copies, but the undercover agent noticed a paper on his desk asking the printer to deliver the books to Garfield Park Storage Agency. There they found the plates for the book and the remaining copies. While the Pinkertons were getting their legal bullets loaded and arranging impoundment of the books and plates, a Chicago daily reviewed the book, calling it “a Big Squeal.” With those developments Siringo decided it might be a good time to take the train from Chicago to Santa Fe and wait for things to settle down. The Pinkertons attempted to extradite Siringo from Santa Fe to Chicago to face charges of criminal libel, but New Mexico governor William C. McDonald, a personal friend of Siringo’s, refused and the matter was dropped. Eventually, Pinkerton prevailed and the plates and remaining books were turned over to them and destroyed.

     Occasionally some of the colorful lore of the trade on rarity, suppression, and such turns out to be true. Pingenot’s final words on Two Evil Isms are: “Two Evil Isms is the rarest of all of Siringo’s books, with the possible exception of the first edition of A Texas Cowboy in paper wrappers. Of the eleven hundred copies that were printed, most were handed to the Pinkertons by court order, thereby assuring their destruction. Only those copies that Siringo had sold to Chicago bookstores and newsstand dealers, plus the copies he carried with him to Santa Fe, got into circulation; and the Pinkertons bought up many of the former. When the Steck-Vaughn Company reprinted the book in 1967, the Library of Congress copyright copy was used as a model” (Pingenot, p. 188). See Item 475 herein.