The Valley of Fear  

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Historical Note

The two-part device used here serves exactly the same role as it did in A Study in Scarlet, the book which introduced Sherlock Holmes to the public.

Part One deals with Holmes' solving of a murder-case.
Part Two gives the historical background to the reasons for the murder and does not involve Holmes at all.

In A Study in Scarlet, the background is a general account of the very earliest days of the Mormons.

In The Valley of Fear, the background is a re-telling of a particular incident in the coalfields of Pennsylvania in about 1876.

At that time many of the miners were Irish immigrants and, it must be admitted, they were pretty badly treated by the mine-owners. In order to get some improvement in their conditions the miners formed themselves into large gangs and perpetrated many acts of sabotage and violence (including murder).
These gangs were known as 'The Molly Maguires' or 'Mollies'. This name came from similar gangs which had been founded in Ireland to fight back against an entirely different kind of injustice, involving property and rents. The gangs did not refer to themselves as 'Molly Maguires'; that title was only applied to them by those against whom the gangs were fighting.

The whole thing was getting out of hand (violence ruled) to the point that 'something had to be done'.
That 'something' involved hiring an undercover agent, from the newly-formed Pinkerton's Detective Agency, to get in among the miners and collect enough evidence so that the police could arrest the principal offenders and try them. It worked very successfully and effectively broke the power of the gangs so that ordinary folk could resume a 'normal' life once more.

The man who did the undercover work was Detective James MacParlan who, unlike Conan Doyles' account, was not subsequently murdered in an act of revenge. A film was made, based on this true incident, in 1970. Richard Harris played the part of MacParlan and Sean Connery was the (fictitious) gang leader, Jack Kehoe.

Conan Doyle renamed the 'Molly Maguires' as 'The Scowrers' which was an old name (in England) for some gangs of an entirely different kind.

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