February 7

This Day in History

Old West

Feb 7, 1855:

Cowboy celebrity Charles Siringo is born

Charles Siringo, one of the most famous contemporary chroniclers of the cowboy life, is born in Matagorda County, Texas.

When Siringo was only 30 years old, he published the first authentic autobiographical account of the cowboy life, A Texas Cowboy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Cow Pony. The book was an immediate success and played a pivotal role in creating the enduring American fascination with the Western cowboy.

Unlike some of the subsequent popular accounts of western ranching written by eastern greenhorns, Siringo based his memoir on his authentic experiences as a Texas cowboy. While still only a teen, Siringo had registered a brand and begun building his own ranch by the then still acceptable practice of claiming "mavericks," unbranded cows wandering the open range. Siringo was never able to build much of a herd, but his years spent on trail drives and roundups provided perfect material for a genuine, if somewhat romantic, portrait of the short-lived golden era of the open range.

A few years before he wrote A Texas Cowboy, Siringo had abandoned the footloose cowboy life to become a husband and storekeeper in Caldwell, Kansas. Siringo, though, seemed incapable of staying out of the action for long. In 1886, he hired on as a detective for the infamous Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Working out of the Pinkerton's Denver office, Siringo's career as a detective for hire was every bit as dramatic as his earlier years on the open range. In 1892, he infiltrated the radical labor movement in the mining region near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where conflicts with management had become bitterly violent.

Around the turn of the century, Siringo spent four years pursuing the famous Wild Bunch at the behest of the railroad companies angered by the gangs' repeated train robberies. Siringo traveled more than 25,000 miles around the West chasing after Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other gang members. When Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled to South America, the Pinkertons finally forced Siringo to abandon the case.

In 1907, Siringo left the Pinkertons and turned again to writing about his past adventures. In 1912, he published A Cowboy Detective, an account of his 20-year career as a detective. Three years later, Siringo attacked the often violent and illegal Pinkerton methods he had witnessed in Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism. Legal threats from the Pinkertons forced him to eliminate such overt attacks from his subsequent books, and he instead returned to the Wild West themes that had won him his first success.

Siringo lived out his later years in California, and died in 1928 at the age of 73.

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