The Magazine of History and Fiction

Pinkerton Style Strike Prevention by Charles Rector

Agent Bradford Torgenson of the Pinkerton's Detective Agency got off the train in Sheridan, Wyoming. Being a Pinkerton's agent was the best job there could ever be he thought.

Sheridan was a small town near where there was some serious zinc mining going on. Zinc may not have been as glamorous as gold or silver, but it paid the bills for a decent number of miners and their families. There was something in the air. There was a sense of foreboding in the town. You could see it on people's faces, the way that they looked at him. Not that they had any reason to fear him since he blended in with the crowd, despite the way that the dime novels portrayed Pinkerton's men as dressing like a bunch of pansies. No, Agent Torgenson figured that he was taking things too personally since they probably looked at everyone else the same way.

Torgenson knew what was going on. The year was 1894 and the Great Railroad Strike had broken out. It was mostly in the Midwest, although Southern California was also affected. Railroad company officials were concerned that it was going to spread to the Rocky Mountains, hence the contract to the Pinkerton's Detective Agency. The railroad wanted the radicals suppressed before they could disrupt commerce out here on the far frontier. While Torgenson was walking towards the town's business district, he could see some other Pinkerton's men who had arrived before him.

Agent Thomas Kratzman came up and asked, "Hey, why the long face?"

Torgenson replied, "There's a danger in the air. I can feel it."

Agent Kratzman looked at him with a grin and said, "Cheer up, this is an adventure."

Torgenson replied, "I'll be happy if we can execute our mission without loss of life."

"And we get paid,” Kratzman added cheerfully.

“And we get paid," Torgenson added. He hated talking about stuff like that since it made him feel like a mercenary instead of a private sector law enforcement agent which is how he preferred to think of such things. Meanwhile, two gentlemen were eyeing the Pinkerton's agents. They were with the railroad company that had hired the services of the Pinkerton's Detective Agency in the first place. After biding their time, they started pushing through the crowd to reach Torgenson. One of them was short and squat while the other was tall and thin, both of them wore clean tailored suits. They both came off to the townsfolk as being dandies.

“Excuse me, sir. Are you the celebrated Pinkerton's man Bradford Torgenson?" the short one asked. Before Torgenson could respond, the man was shaking his hand exclaiming, "I can't believe such a famous Pinkerton's agent here!" The thin man looked around and said, "Keep quiet about the Pinkerton stuff, David."

The short man introduced himself saying, "I'm David Birdson of the railroad company and this rude fellow is Mr. John Ringsley from the governor's office."

Normally, it was not all that unusual for someone of Torgenson's position to receive this sort of greeting from important people. However, there was something about the manner by which the two big shots were acting that gave him the idea that these were not normal times.

Torgenson took the initiative asking, "What is the latest news? From your telegrams, it just seemed like you wanted us to take precautionary measures to prevent the strike from spreading out here."

The railroad man looked at him gravely. We've been hearing stories about anarchists from back East showing up and causing trouble among the working class around here. Also, a stalwart railroad man, Anthony Weisskopf was murdered recently. The town Marshal David Weberly suspects that radicals were behind it."

Birdson paused and then added, "I assumed that you would be accompanied by others and that you would be bringing lots of ammunition and fancy weapons." At first, Torgenson stared at the man as if he were from Mars, then regained his composure and replied, "Other Pinkerton's men came with me as did some ammunition, but we don't need huge quantities of it or any unusual weapons as you seem to think. This is a routine law enforcement operation, not a war."

Ringsley scowled and said, "The anarchists, radicals, and socialists are calling for class warfare, yet you seem to think that its just a lot of bluster. Is that right?


Whenever there was a threat to the common peace by some gang of outlaws, the common response was to gather up a group of good men to form a posse. That often worked, but tracking down outlaws was dangerous, time-consuming work and some of those good guys didn’t come home.

Anarchists, radicals, and socialists were a different breed than common outlaws. Not only did they engage in criminal activities, they also went around stirring up trouble with their clamoring for class warfare in America the land of the Free. This made them harder to deal with than outlaws. In times of labor strife such as these massive railroad strikes, what was needed was a professional response such as that provided by the Pinkertons. The Cleveland Administration had empowered the U.S. Army and state militias to suppress the strike. However, the military proved to blunt an instrument for strike breaking. What the situation called for was a civilian response such as the Pinkertons.

Strikebreaking did not come naturally to Bradford Torgenson. His father was a railroad conductor and from what his father told him about working conditions on the railroad, the Pinkerton's agent felt more than a little bit of sympathy for railroad strikers. In fact, it was because of his father that he chose at an early age to avoid ever becoming a railroad worker and through a series of events, he wound up being recruited by none other than Allan Pinkerton himself. In time, he came to serve the agency with other agents in strikebreaking activities. Before joining the agency, Torgenson never had ambitions for leadership, however, Allan Pinkerton sensed that Torgenson was the right man to lead others. That being the case, the legendary founder and namesake of the Pinkertons groomed him for leadership within the agency.

Eventually, Torgenson came to be regarded as being one of the best leaders within the agency. He came to be an expert in the areas of dedication, knowledge, and preparation and on top of all that, he showed a remarkable ability for adapting to unforeseen developments. Many of the agents who served with him believed that he was one day destined to become the top dog in the national agency.

* * *

The railroad company had secured rooms for the Pinkertons at a local hotel. Torgenson could count on his men staying out of the saloons and keeping to the hotel and its special room where meals were served. The Pinkerton agency only recruited the best men who were sober and disciplined at all times. That's what separated them from the kind of person who made up most members of posses. That and the Pinkertons were much better shots than the local yokels. After all, the agents had far more time for practice than did the local folks.

Bradford Torgenson sat alone at a table in the hotel dining room looking through some telegrams from his secret weapon Dr. Paul Walther.

Walther was a medical man, but he had taken a special interest in radicals and their ways after reading the book Das Kapital by Karl Marx. Walther came away from reading that book feeling that Marx and his ideas were dangerous to the American way of life and that any adherents of Marxism had to be severely dealt with. Torgenson grew up in the same town as Walther and the doctor basically served as a kind of unofficial advisor to the Pinkerton's agent. Whenever Torgenson got a bonus, he always sent a portion of it to Walther although the good doctor never asked for any money.

Despite a distinct lack of background in matters relating to intelligence gathering, Walther's advice and information generally proved to be right on target.

The first telegram had been sent while Torgenson was still on the train.


Torgenson smiled. Being a cultured man Dr. Walther used "raise Cain" when most other folks would have said "raise hell." Torgenson had heard of this Resnick character and reckoned that he would be a challenge to deal with. The most recent telegram had arrived yesterday.


Torgenson sipped on his ginger ale looking around the room to see if there was anyone who was alone and was not a Pinkerton's man. Since there was not, the agent assumed that the man had not arrived in Sheridan yet. He heard a boisterous fellow enter the room and looked up from his telegrams to see that Charles Ganley had arrived. Ganley was one of the Pinkerton's best shots and had distinguished himself as a sharpshooter during the Civil War. He was an indispensable agent.

“Telegrams? You heard from Doc Walther?”

Torgenson invited him to sit at his table and added, "Things are getting interesting. A dissident socialist of all people is going to help us."

"A dissident socialist? What's that?"

Torgenson replied, "I don't rightly know, but I assume that Walther thinks he's a real help."

Ganley responded, "With Doc's track record, I don't doubt that he'll help us. Problem is I don't know how."

Torgenson leaned back in his chair and said, "The railroad gents have been telling me about how company brass have been treating the workers. I can understand what attracts men to radicalism. While I was waiting at the train station in St. Louis, I overheard some railroad men talking about workers prying up tracks, derailing trains. Makes you wonder if we're on the right side."

Ganley smiled and replied, "Whoever pays me is the right side as far as I'm concerned."

Torgenson smiled back and said, "Spoken like a true mercenary."

Before Ganley could respond, two women came up to the table, One was clearly a dowdy, matronly type. The other looked about twenty and wore a gun belt and two six-guns over her skirt.

"Which one of you is Agent Torgenson," the older one asked.

Bradford Torgenson replied, "I am.'

She replied, "My carnival shootist daughter wants to join your agency."

Torgenson was confused. The girl looked too young and innocent to be a "dissident socialist" and what was this about a "carnival shootist" anyways? He had conversations like this plenty times before. In times of crisis, there were always young people who wanted to do their part to preserve peace and quiet, not to mention law and order. But this was a young lady, if not, in fact, an actual girl wanting to join.

Seeing the confusion on his face, the girl said, "I'm Deanna Durbin. Surely you've heard of me. The newspaper men all say that I'm the best female shooter since Annie Oakley, maybe even better than she." Charles Ganley turned to Torgenson and said, "I saw her in Duke Pennell's Wild West Show last year. She's the real McCoy."

For once in his life, Agent Bradford Torgenson didn't know what to say. He had been apprised by headquarters that this was a top priority case, that if he felt that he needed any more men, all he needed to do was ask and they would be sent his way. And it was completely unprecedented that a mere female would want to join the Pinkerton's, but yet she was a great shot and the agency always needed more of those.

Seeing the senior agent in an unusual state of confusion, Ganley interjected, "We need to sleep on this tonight and we'll make a decision on it tomorrow."

"Well, that's a lot better than the way that all the sheriffs and U.S. Marshals that I've talked to have treated me. At least you seem willing to consider me on the merits instead of dismissing me as a silly girl," Miss Durbin said as she and her chaperone turned around and walked away.


When Torgenson retired to his hotel room, he was in for a second surprise. There was a man who was waiting for him. Torgenson asked him, "Are you Dr. Walther's dissident socialist?" And the man nodded in the affirmative.

"How can you help us?"

"I know that a lot of radicals don't trust this Eugene Debs character who runs the railroad union and anyways they don't think that the time is ripe for a worker's uprising," the obsidian haired and bearded man said. He added, "I think that I can talk some of them at least into desisting from a radical action and can give you the lowdown on the radicals that you are likely facing out here."

"Who is this Loren Resnick who's supposed to be coming out here?"

"Resnick is this wild guy who wants to die a martyr for the working class. He's been implicated in a number of violent actions including bombings and murder, although nothing has ever been proven against him. Meanwhile, he has somehow retained the respect of the movement elders," the man said.

"And what's your name?"

"Peter Flint," the man replied.

Torgenson winced. Now there was a name he had heard before and not in a good way. However, if Dr. Paul Walther said that he was the real deal, then he needed all the help that he could get. Upon that realization, he decided to both accept Mr. Flint's help and to accept Miss Durbin's help as well. Besides, it would be nice to see how he really stood with agency brass by taking on both a radical with a bad reputation and a lovely young lady gunslinger at the same time.


That morning, both Ganley and Torgenson went down to the dining room for breakfast. They were joined by some other Pinkerton agents who had been sent to Wyoming. They were also joined by Peter Flint and by both Miss Durbin and her chaperone.

Torgenson looked around and said, "I think that we'd best prepare to ride out today, get a feel for the land and try to find out what we can about our adversaries. Any objections?"

"I have one," Durbin said. "You haven't said if you're willing to take me on as an agent or not,' she said petulantly.

"I'll take you, but the other lady has to stay behind. Also, this is a temporary thing until headquarters decides on whether or not to take you as a regular agent," Torgenson replied.

"Fair enough," the young lass from the wild west show replied. Turning to the older woman, she said, "You can wait here, nanny."

She turned to the Pinkerton's agent and said, "Thank you for taking me on. I hope I can prove to you that I'm not just a showgirl, but someone who can really help you."


Agent Thomas Kratzman drove the wagon carrying food and supplies including ammunition. Agent Bradford Torgenson hoped that it would not be necessary to use any of the extra ammo, but he figured that when you're on the frontier, you have to be prepared for anything. The other agents rode horses while Miss Deeanna Durbin was in the wagon with Kratzman. If she really was as good a shot as her reputation had it, then it would be best to have her guarding the wagon in case there were any surprises.

As the agents moved along the dirt road, Torgenson pondered something he had read in the newspaper about those fancy contraptions called "automobiles." Torgenson had been in the presence of one of those infernal machines once and could hardly see why anyone would ever want one. After all, horses were magnificent beasts while autos were noisy and stunk the place up. He shook his head not understanding why anyone in their right mind would prefer an auto over a horse.

He had a map. It was clear where the zinc mines were. It was also clear where the railroad tracks were. It was the miners and the railroad workers that the agitators were targeting. If they could be persuaded to join the Great Railroad Strike, then the task of keeping the peace, not to mention law and order would become that much harder.

The Pinkerton's agents rode into the countryside and found an abandoned farm. The fact that the family's money had not been taken even though it was easily found suggested that the family fled believing that they were in imminent danger. "This may be Resnick's doing," Peter Flint told Bradford Torgenson, "he's always pushing the notion that workers and farmers who don't join the cause of violent revolution are traitors who need to be put to death as an example to others who may be hesitant to join. The family here, I believe, saw that and they decided to get the hell out of Dodge, so to speak."


That night at the farm, the Pinkerton's agents set up a defensive position. Agent Torgenson also sent word to Sheridan for the town marshal to send help to take the bodies to town and provide extra firepower in case the radicals decided to attack. If they didn't attack, then the patrol would resume the next day and, barring the discovery of any new atrocities, they would reach the zinc mines by nightfall.

Durbin looked ant the toiling men and said, "I think that you're just wearing these men out for no good reason. Those bomb-throwing anarchists are just a bunch of cowards."

Torgenson frowned. After thinking over the proper choice of words to use in front of a young lass he said, "These men are veterans of either the Civil War, the Indian Wars or both. This kind of work comes naturally to them."

Miss Durbin scowled but said nothing.

* * *

After the night sky was pitch black was when the radicals attacked the Pinkerton's camp. Unfortunately for the attackers, the Pinkerton men and one little lass were ready. They had slept with their clothes and boots on with their guns at their side.

Miss Durbin looked completely worn out and found it difficult to raise her eyelids. It was clear that for all her big talk, she had lived a sheltered life and was unfit for this kind of work.

Agent Bradford Torgenson, on the other hand, had but little problem responding to the provocation. Although it was nearly three full decades since the Civil War ended, he had plenty of experience with this sort of thing and it showed. He saw what appeared to be a moving figure in the night and aimed his repeating rifle and fired a few rounds, resulting in a cry of pain from a stricken radical.

When you've been in plenty of night fighting, you can tell if there is someone in front of your camp. After a way, it comes naturally to you. At least that's what Torgenson thought of it.

"This is horrible!" Miss Durbin exclaimed. She asked, "How can you stand this ruckus?"

Torgenson and the men ignored her and concentrated on fighting off the radical attack. Torgenson realized that this was not some ordinary raid. This was the radicals giving it their all. This engagement would set the stage for the rest of Wyoming. Either the strike would extend out here or it would be suppressed right here and now.

The radicals shot wildly, reflecting their lack of military experience. The Pinkerton's agents, at least the older ones, did not have that handicap. The attack was disjointed and failed to gain any ground. As time wore on, the radicals became demoralized and increasingly melted away into the night. Torgenson's men had won the day despite the surprise attack. This was a night that would go down in Pinkerton's history as one of the greatest nights in the detective agency's history.

However, Miss Durbin did not share in the glory, The tough-talking waif had hidden under the wagon in a state of abject terror. She would not be able to use her service in the Pinkerton ranks to promote her show business career. Nor did she have any kind of future as a Pinkerton's operative.

When dawn broke out and the sky became increasingly lit up, the Pinkerton's men cautiously advanced on the field of the engagement. Surprisingly, they could find only one dead body.

"That's Resnick all right," Peter Flint said adding, "he always wanted to die a martyr and now he has. That being the case, the radical revolt out here has been broken. The railroad strike will not extend out here after all."

Torgenson looked at him quizzically. He asked Flint, "How can you be sure?"

"Loren Resnick was always the rabble-rouser. Before he came out here, he was always sending out telegrams urging union supporters to break out in violent revolution. Now with the firebrand's death, the spirit of revolt has been dashed and without Resnick to urge them on, they will go back to their homes and sulk," Flint replied.

"I'd like to believe that, but I'm doubtful," Torgenson replied.

During the ensuing days, as the Pinkertons visited the mines and railroad facilities, it became apparent that Peter Flint was right. The spirit of radical revolt was broken. However, the Pinkerton's success did not last more than a decade. In time, the railroad companies and other clients of the Pinkertons would face a new adversary in the Rocky Mountains area in the form of the International Workers of the World (IWW) aka the Wobblies. As for Miss Deanna Durbin, her failure with the Pinkerton's gnawed at her and she came to desperately wish to prove herself the equal of any man in dangerous deeds. In time, she and her boyfriend left Duke Pennell's Wild West Show and take up a new career, robbing banks. When she did that, she like the IWW crossed paths with Agent Bradford Torgenson and the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

However, those are two different stories for later.