Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: western vs noir, cowboy vs private eye

From: Patrick King (
Date: 10 Jul 2009

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          That's a lot of fictionalizing. The Molly Maguires weren't a union, let

    alone a corrupt union, and, more important, they were in Pennsylvania.

    Was the whole kit and caboodle reset somewhere in the Wild West?


    Well, there's a number of factors to take into account. First, THE VALLEY OF FEAR was written in 1915. McParland was very much alive and to many English speaking people he was a hero, while to many others he was the worst kind of traitor. The story is quite obviously about McParland based on newspaper accounts of the day, but Doyle fictionalized it sufficiently so that no one, McParland or more likely his adversaries, could sue him for libel, a frequent ploy in the early 20th Century.

    The story is set in "the gorge of the Glimerton Mountains," in the Vermissa Valley, Bartons Crossing, Helmdale, in the county of Merton. No state is designated. None of these places exist in the United States as far as I've been able to discover. Someone else may be more dogged than I am, however.

    The group described in the story is more like Freemasons than the Molly Maguires apparently were, although the Mollies were supposedly linked to the Hibernians. The industry in the book is iron mining. So, Doyle did take a lot of liberties with "history" in THE VALLEY OF FEAR.

    As to the Molly Maguires' so-called criminal activities, they were certainly vilified in the press in their day. They were very tough people who almost certainly did resort to physical violence as a means to their end. So did the mine owners and most especially the Pinkerton Agency hired by the mine owners to destroy the Mollies.

    Some writers, Joseph Rayback for example, question whether the Molly Maguires every existed in the United States at all! They maintain that the violent organization by that name in Pennsylvania during the 1870s was entirely a fiction based on the almost mythological Irish organization, The Molly Maguires, developed by Alan Pinkerton to break the coal workers' strike, which it did. The home invasion murder on December 10, 1875 by masked men whom McParland identified as Mollies may more likely have been Pinkerton agents. This episode is illustrated in Doyle's VALLEY OF FEAR.

    In any event, it's a fascinating subject. THE VALLEY OF FEAR is probably Doyles most neglected work.

    Patrick King


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