The Eye That Never Sleeps

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Allan Pinkerton grew up in a tenement in the Gorbals, a former leper colony on the south bank of the river Clyde. He was the second Allan Pinkerton born to Isabella, who was the second Isabella married to William Pinkerton.

It was a rough neighborhood. Allan played when and where he could, always with an eye open and fists ready. They say his father was a cop, crippled putting down Chartist riots. But he was really just a poor factory man who died of illness when Allan was a boy.

At the age of twelve, Allan Pinkerton bound himself to a cooper just to have some food in his belly. His apprenticeship was cut short by a depression, so he went on the tramp.

The man who would become America’s most famous cop, spent his youth as a homeless, unemployed punk, flaunting authority and breaking the rules. He slept in barns, beneath bridges, in open fields, always with an eye open for the vigilantes that preyed on unemployed workers and radicals.

Allan scrounged for food and demonstrated in the streets, for temperance and against slavery, for universal suffrage and the rights of man. He was pugnacious, short-tempered and arrogant. He detested the propertied class and politicians. Most of all, he hated the cops, and Tory thugs, whom he loved to battle in the streets.

He became a Physical Force man and made Jacobin speeches. He was a vandal, an arsonist, an armed insurrectionist. But then things became too hot and he fled to America with his 15-year-old wife.

In Dundee, Illinois, he built barrels for sixteen hours a day and had two daughters named Joan. He won the respect of his neighbors and clients because of his Protestant work ethic and sobriety.

Pinkerton, left. McClellan, right. Lincoln, center . Public Domain

One day, while collecting wood on Bogus Island, he discovered a gang of counterfeiters. Because of this, Allan Pinkerton was hired as Chicago’s first detective.

He became friends with John Brown, General McClellan and Abe Lincoln. He helped negroes escape to Canada, always with an eye open for Copperheads and snitches. Yet he treated his wife and daughter like slaves.

The Eye That Never Sleeps always got his man: Corrupt postal workers, presidential assassins, Wild Rose, the Renos, the Molly Maguires. Even 20 years after Allan’s death, the Pinkertons got their man, Frank Little, in spite of Dashiell Hammett’s refusal to help. But they couldn’t make murder charges stick on Big Bill.

The Eye That Never Sleeps foiled assassination attempts on his own life. The Renos sent Dick Barry, who aimed at the back of Allan’s head, but Allan had eyes back there, too, and grabbed the gun from Barry’s hand and beat him to a pulp.

In 1868, The Eye had a stroke that paralyzed half his body. But then he taught himself to walk and talk again, and imported 85,000 larches from Scotland for his new mansion, replete with guard towers manned by uniformed guards and The Snuggery, a wine garden next to his own private racetrack.

The Eye That Never Sleeps always got his man, except for Jesse James. He tried to bomb Jesse’s house, but killed his baby brother Archie, instead, and blew the arm off their mother, while Jesse rode away threatening revenge.

One day, the Eye That Never Sleeps wasn’t looking where he was going. He tripped on the sidewalk and bit himself, and died from a gangrenous tongue.