Old Courthouse Museum
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Chapter 2 -- Following is the manuscript written by Mr. Russell Palmer in 1968. The pictures were inserted by this compiler.
This study of Allan Pinkerton and Larch Farm is finished with the hope that it may give pleasure and profit to all who read it. May it also bring to life our appreciation of this remarkable man, Allan Pinkerton, and show us something of what Larch Farm truly meant to him.
30 November, 1968
Handwritten: To Major Edward L. Davis, Ret. Compliments of Russell Palmer
Mary and I visited Mr. Russell Palmer and his niece, Miss Mary A. Wilcox in his home at DeBary, Florida. They had some furniture from the Villa of the Larch Farm (some beautiful pieces). Mr. Palmer sent a copy of this manuscript to Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois.
This study of Allan Pinkerton and his Larch Farm has been compiled at the suggestion of my cousin, Mrs. Wilbur Disosway, Sheldon, Illinois; and at the request of Major Edward L. Davis, Ret., Onarga, Illinois. Major Davis retired in 1965 after being a teacher at the Onarga Military School (Grand Prairie Seminary) for 44 years. For the past two years he has been interested in having the house at Larch Farm, near Onarga, Illinois, restored and taken over by the Illinois State Historical Society.
Major Davis has been most helpful in sending me several articles pertaining to Allan Pinkerton and Larch Farm. I have been most diligent in making a very careful study of the material supplied and in some instances have quoted brief passages.
However, the writer has not secured the approval of any of these authorities for any portion of this completed record. The responsibility for his interpretations and conclusions is entirely his own.
The value of any article of study is dependent upon the accuracy with which it has been compiled; otherwise it is not authentic. Many items in the aforesaid articles are only myths and legends. The facts were more prosaic. In compiling this study, I have taken the liberty of denying the accuracy of many items contained in the documents that I received from Major Davis, points which I know, from my own personal observation, are not true statements of fact.
Each of such items, the accuracy of which I have denied in this study, has been corrected by me without fear of successful contradition.
When I was a boy, our home was situated on a farm near Onarga on the public highway, about one-third of a mile due south of the western entrance gate to Larch Farm, and about one block south of the entrance gate to the site of the former Iroquois County Fair. Thus, for many years, in boyhood, I lived a neighbor to Larch Farm.
Today all indications of a once magnificent showplace have been eradicated. However, the people of Onarga can boast of the fact that within a mile of their village a dream of one man was nourished, became a reality, and faded with the passing of time.
Appreciation to Mrs. Karl J. Murr, for her substantial assistance in correcting the original manuscript, and to my niece, Miss Mary A. Wilcox, whose untiring efforts in behalf of this study, have been invaluable and indispensable.
Allan Pinkerton, founder of the internationally known Pinkerton Detective Agency, was born in Scotland, August 25, 1819, the son of a Glasgow police sergeant. As an apprentice cooper, young Allan became involved in the Chartist Labor Movement of the day. When threatened with arrest he left Scotland at the age of 28, with his wife, Joan Carfrae, a Scotch Lassie, one day after their marriage. Although shipwrecked on the way, the young couple reached Canada, but instead of settling there, they pressed on to the United States, and eventually arrived in Chicago by a horse drawn vehicle in 1842.
Chicago had been incorporated only nine years and was fast outgrowing its humble start of 43 houses and fewer than 200 inhabitants. Allan Pinkerton worked as a cooper in Chicago for a year and then moved to a Scotch community on the Fox River, at Dundee, Illinois, 38 miles northwest of Chicago, where he set up a cooper's shop. Soon after this his mother and his brother, Robert, joined Mr. Pinkerton's family in Dundee, and both brothers worked together for a time at the coopers' trade.
One day while cutting staves and hoops on an uninhabited island, Mr. Pinkerton detected signs that led him to suspect the place was the lair of a band of thieves. Instead of thieves, he discovered and later captured a gang of counterfeiters. It was the first step in his long career of crime detection, a career in which his uncanny insight into the motives of mankind, his courage, and his organizing ability, were all to flower in dazzling achievement.
This chance encounter with the law awakened his inborn talent for police work, and he acted as a part time deputy sheriff for Kane County. A series of successful cases, plus considerable acclaim, led him to take up detective work as a career. He moved back to Chicago and in 1846 became assistant to the sheriff of Cook County, where he was very successful. The U. S. Post Office put him on as a special agent, and in the reorganization of the Chicago Police Department he became the first official detective in the history of the city. In 1850 he opened his own detective agency, the forerunner of the world renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency.
Railroad management soon learned of the young detective and turned to him for help. Train robberies were all too frequent and at that time gold was transported only by railroads. The method of protection employed for the safety of such shipments was costly and unsatisfactory. In the early fifties a group of railroads asked Mr. Pinkerton to organize an agency of his own to provide the protection they needed to safeguard their gold and other valuable shipments. Three of such railroads were the Rock Island, the Galena and Chicago Union (later incorporated into the Chicago and Northwestern), and the Illinois Central.
In 1857, Capt. George B. McClellan, a brilliant young engineer who later led all of the armies of the North, became associated with the Illinois Central Railroad and formed an early working arrangement with Mr. Pinkerton. In a letter dated December 5, 1858, Capt. McClellan himself requested Mr. Pinkerton to assign "a smart detective" to hunt out "sundry small thefts of begars, wines, etc., that have occurred along the line."
In 1861, Allan Pinkerton was called upon to guard President Elect, Abraham Lincoln, from assassination. There had been a rumor going the rounds for several weeks that Mr. Lincoln would be assassinated as his train passed through Baltimore. Timothy Webster, one of Pinkerton's most trusted men, and other members of the organization were sent to various towns along the route Mr. Lincoln's train was to take him to Washington for the inauguration. These operatives obtained the information that certain elements planned to destroy sections of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, between Wilmington and Baltimore, the route over which Mr. Lincoln's train would travel. They also learned of the plot to assassinate Mr. Lincoln as he transferred from one train to another in Baltimore.
President-Elect Lincoln was informed by Pinkerton, Webster, and some of the other operatives, of the above plans. After much persuasion Mr. Lincoln boarded another train, protected by Mr. Pinkerton and his crew, arrived in Washington a day ahead of schedule, thus foiling the attempt on his life. This accomplishment brought Mr. Pinkerton national and international fame.
Shortly after the start of the Civil War, Allan Pinkerton, in 1861, was instrumental in founding the United States Secret Service and was appointed by the Federal Government as its Chief. General McClellan appointed him as Major, and it was at this time that he assumed the name of "E. J. Allen." Major Allen's agents ranged over the South, and his book, "The Spy of the Rebellion" portrays their activities quite vividly. The spy of the Rebellion, Timothy Webster, was hanged in Richmond, Virginia, by Confederates, and buried there in a pauper's grave. Sometime after the close of the War Between the States, Mr. Pinkerton secured the remains for reburial in the Onarga Cemetery.
In 1866, $700,000 stolen from the Adams Express Company was recovered and his agents in 1876 drove the Molly Maguire murderers from the Pennsylvania coal fields.
During the latter years of Mr. Pinkerton's life he wrote several books, probably the best known being "The Spy of the Rebellion," which contained considerable autobiographical material. The famous detective died on July 1, 1884, in Chicago and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.
Compiler's Note: This monument is inscribed as follows:
IN MEMORY OF ALLAN PINKERTON, BORN IN GLASGOW, SCOTLAND, AUGUST 25TH, 1819, DIED IN CHICAGO, ILLINOIS JULY 1ST, 1884, AGED 65 YEARS. A FRIEND TO HONESTY AND A FOE TO CRIME, DEVOTING HIMSELF FOR A GENERATION TO THE PREVENTION AND DETECTION OF CRIME IN MANY COUNTRIES. HE WAS THE FOUNDER IN AMERICA OF A NOBLE PROFESSION. IN THE HOUR OF THE NATION'S PERIL, HE CONDUCTED ABRAHAM LINCOLN SAFELY THROUGH THE RANKS OF TREASON TO THE SCENE OF HIS FIRST INAUGURATION AS PRESIDENT. HE SYMPATHIZED WITH, PROTECTED, AND DEFENDED THE SLAVES, AND LABORED EARNESTLY FOR THEIR FREEDOM. HATING WRONG AND LOVING GOOD, HE WAS STRONG, BRAVE, TENDER, AND TRUE.
Other stones in the Pinkerton burial ground at Graceland read:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR FATHER, WILLIAM ALLAN PINKERTON, BORN APRIL 7, 1846, DIED DECEMBER 11, 1923
IN LOVING MEMORY OR MY HUSBAND, ROBERT ALLAN PINKERTON, BORN DECEMBER 2, 1848, DIED CHICAGO, ILLINOIS JANUARY 22ND, 1887
JOAN CARFRAE, WIFE OF ALLAN PINKERTON, BORN EDINBURG, SCOTLAND, DECEMBER, 1822, DIED CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, JANUARY 22ND, 1887.
Compiler's Note: Although Timothy Webster's body lies in the Onarga Cemetery, Onarga, Illinois, there is a memorial erected in the Pinkerton Burial Plot in Graceland Cemetery which reads:
TIMOTHY WEBSTER THE PATRIOT AND MARTYR BORN IN 1821 IN NEW HAVEN, SUSSEX CO. ENGLAND EMIGRATED TO AMERICA IN 1833 AND ENTERED PINKERTON'S NATIONAL DETECTIVE AGENCY AT CHICAGO IN 1856. ON THE NIGHT OF FEBR. 22 1861 ALLAN PINKERTON, TIMOTHY WEBSTER, AND KATE WARNE SAFELY ESCORTED ABRAHAM LINCOLN, A CONSPIRACY HAVING BEEN DISCOVERED FOR HIS ASSASSINATION FROM PHILADELPHIA TO WASHINGTON WHERE HE WAS INAUGURATED PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. ON MARCH 4TH 1861. HE WAS THE HARVEY BIRCH OF THE WAR OF THE REBELLION AND WAS EXECUTED AS A SPY BY THE REBELS IN RICHMOND, VA. APRIL 28, 1862. HE ENJOYED THE CONFIDENCE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND SEALED HIS FIDELITY WITH HIS BLOOD.
The back of this same stone reads:
THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED BY ONE WHO APPRECIATED HIS TRUTH AND FIDELITY.
At the time of his death there were two divisions of the Pinkerton Agency. His son, William, became head of the Western Division at Chicago, and the other son, Robert, took over the operation of the Eastern Division in New York. When Robert died in 1907, William became the head of the entire agency. In 1923, William died, and the leadership then passed to Allan Pinkerton, the son of Robert. This grandson of the founder was gassed during World War 1, and died from the effects in 1930.
Thereupon, Robert A. Pinkerton, the great-grandson of the founder, assumed the responsibilities of the agency and drastically revised its style. He built Pinkerton's into a 71-million dollar a year business with 18,000 employees and branch offices in 63 U. S. and Canadian cities. Allan Pinkerton had started the business with 9 men in 1850.
On January 1, 1965, the name was changed from Pinkerton's National Detective Agency to Pinkerton's Inc. Its major job became provision of uniformed security forces for industrial and other projects, including top sport events. The largest job during his leadership was the recent New York World's Fair for which Pinkerton's, Inc. supplied 4,510 security personnel. Although this security service makes up 90 percent of Pinkerton's business, the firm has continued to operate as investigators and claimed to do more work in this field than any other operator. Pinkerton's "Private Eye" trademark has made that term synonymous with unofficial detection.
Robert A. Pinkerton, fourth generation of his line to head the world's most famous private detective agency, died on October 11, 1967 at his home in Bayshore, Long Island, New York. He was 62.
Early in the founder's detective career he adopted a few but unwavering rules for his agency. All Pinkerton services were to be purchased on a strict "per diem" basis, and all employees were to depend entirely on their salaries. No work was to be performed to obtain rewards which might be offered and no cases were to be accepted where pay-ment was contingent upon success. Another rule strictly adhered to was that no divorce or marital relation cases were handled; and no further investigations involving labor or governmental questions were undertaken.
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