You will instantly recognise the man in the middle in the picture above – the rail-splitter from Illinois, President Abraham Lincoln. Unless you are a student of the American Civil War, you won’t recognise the military man on the right – Major General John McLernand.
But who’s the wee man on the left, at the right hand of the President, with one hand suspiciously inside his coat – not a Napoleonic pose, more like readiness for a fast draw with a derringer?
If I told you he was from the Gorbals, was a cooper by trade,a power loom dresser, had been a violent left-wing activist, and was the son of a Glasgow police sergeant who exited Glesca hastily to avoid prosecution, you would understandably say Aye, right …
If I said he married a singer called Joan Carfrae some thirty years before you could get a car frae anywhere in Glesca, you might say Gie’s a brek, Peter – huv ye been at the electric soup?
But it’s all true, because there he is - Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, familiar often as villains to anyone who who is addicted to the Western movie genre, the Wild Bunch, the Molly Maguires, Jesse James, train robberies – and he or his agents were involved in all of them and more besides.
American history tends to gloss over the circumstances of Allan’s hasty departure from Glasgow. He would have given a wry Glesca grin at this sanitised little extract from About - American history
“Born in Scotland, August 25, 1819, Allan Pinkerton was a cooper or barrel-maker in his native land. He immigrated to the United States in 1842 and settled near Chicago, Illinois. He was an industrious man and quickly realized that working for himself would be a much better proposition for himself and family”
In a short speech – always the best kind – last night at my Edinburgh Western SNP branch St. Andrew’s Night event, Kenny MacAskill spoke on a ‘My Scotland’ theme, about how struck he was in his travels abroad by the reputation of emigrant Scots in their adopted land who were virtually unknown back in Scotland. One of them was Allan Pinkerton, and Kenny said that although history had tended to give him a bad press, most of the bad things happened after he died, when the agency figured in anti-labour activities against the nascent trade union movement in the United States. (I was able to tell our Justice Minister later in the evening that the wee cooper frae the Gorbals had been the son of a Glesca polis, something Kenny didn’t know about Allan Pinkerton …)
The Pinkerton Detective Agency is still very much around, part of Securitas - History of Pinkerton Detective Agency
I have an image of Allan Pinkerton shouting at Jesse James “Jist haud oan a minute, pal - Ah widnae dae that if ah were you. An’ by the way, watch yer back when ye’re hangin’ pictures …”
He’s buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, but I have no evidence that Elvis had Pinkerton in mind when he built his home. Nice thought, though …