Do you remember the names Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longbough? Probably not, but you will recognize Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the names we associate with them. These two men take us back to the late 1800’s and the need to provide security and safety for passengers, cargo and crews when railroads were plagued by criminal gangs and crime sprees. The railroads began to contract private detectives like Bat Masterson and Allan Pinkerton to address criminal issues. Eventually, railroads recognized that sworn law enforcement officials were needed because of the flow of crimes committed against the railroads. The “railroad police” have come a long way from the time when employees were given a gun and a badge and “turned loose” to enforce the laws.
With an extensive history, the railroad police offer an over looked branch of law enforcement jobs. Duties that go beyond scolding small-town, rabbit-hunting kids who thought it was okay to be ‘jumping trains. See my opening post of this series.
By most accounts, the position of railroad officer was created in 1849 by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for the purpose of protecting the property and people that used the railways. The protection of cargo and passengers was a difficult task in those days when money, gold, and other valuables were transported by rail in very remote areas.
It took a certain kind of person to take on these duties. Catching bandits like the Dalton Gang, James Gang, and the Wild Bunch demanded long hours, good skills, and a willingness to work without backup.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency got its roots from railroad police work. Founded officially in 1850, the Pinkerton Detective Agency used their investigative skill and tenacity, to catch the villains. The Agency pioneered the first criminal intelligence database, which began as folders of newspaper clippings and photos they used to keep track of the outlaws. It is believed that Allen Pinkerton’s railroad detectives gave J Edgar Hoover and other police agencies a proven model to create their own teams of investigators to combat crime.