Tuesday, March 08, 2011


Occasionally, there are bits and pieces of information which didn't quite fit into my forthcoming book, America Walks Into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops. Such things, like my previous entry about the Jolly Corks, will wind up here.

Today is an important day in the history of the American bar - saloon-owning, Bowery Boys gang member Bill the Butcher died today in 1855, a result of the gunshot wound he suffered nearly two weeks earlier at Stanwix Hall - a very popular bar at 579 Broadway in New York. Although the film The Gangs of New York takes poetic license and portrays Poole as alive and well until the Civil War, William Poole actually died in 1855. Poole was also a boxer and a political leader, not an uncommon combination in that time when political power was consolidated by gang members in saloons. Poole campaigned for the Know-Nothings, an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic populist movement which was wildly popular in the 1850s but fizzled out soon after. On the other side, was John Morrissey, with whom Poole had a long-standing rivalry, on account of boxing, gambling, and political differences - Morrissey, an Irish-Catholic, supported the Democrats of Tammany Hall. Full details of the fight are described here, in this New York Times article:

"Terrible Shooting Affray in Broadway - Bill Poole Fatally Wounded - The Morrissey and Poole Feud - Renewal of Hostilities - Several Persons Severely Wounded. Broadway, in the vicinity of Prince and Houston-streets, was the scene of an exciting shooting affair about 1 o'clock yesterday morning, which is but a repetition of a similar occurrence that transpired a few weeks ago under Wallack's Theatre between Tom Hyer, Lewis Baker, Jim Turner and several other noted pugilists. It appears that about 9 o'clock on Saturday evening, John Morrissey and a gang of ruffians entered a saloon at No. 579 Broadway, called the Stanwix Hall, where they met Bill Poole. As might be expected, an altercation took place. The proprietor of the saloon, Mr. Dean, immediately gave information of the disturbance at the Eight Ward Station-house, and a platoon of Police was forthwith sent to the house, and they succeeded in quieting the belligerents. The crowd then dispersed and went in various directions, though seemingly bent on having a row. They returned to Stanwix Hall just after midnight, where they again encountered Poole and made a murderous attack upon him. The party was headed by the notorious Californian, Jim Turner, and was followed by a butcher named Charles Van Pelt, Patrick McLaughlin, alias "Pargene," (who is now under $5,000 bail for an attempted murder the night prior to the election last Fall,) C. Linn, should fight and as Poole was pushing Pargene away, the Californian interfered, while Pargene spit in Poole's face. This was about to be resented by Poole, when Turner aimed a six-barreled revolver at his head, crying out, "Come, draw your weapon," or words to that effect. Scarcely a minute elapsed before Turner fired, but as he did so he raised his arm and received himself the full charge which was intended for Poole. He fired off another barrel at Poole, and the slug took effect in Poole's left leg, which weakened him to such a degree that he staggered and fell on the floor. At this moment Baker jumped on top of Poole, exclaiming, "I'll put you out of the way now." Baker was also seen to fire off a pistol in the crowd, but it is not known upon whom the contents took effect. Poole cried to them not to murder him, but the mob paid but little attention. He was beaten and kicked in a horrible manner. The Police finally came and attempted to arrest the offenders, but failed in the effort, and both Morrissey and Baker are still at large. Meanwhile, Poole was placed in a carriage and conveyed to his residence in Charles-street, where his wounds were examined by a surgeon, but without finding the ball. Last evening Poole was visited by Dr. Casteny, under direction of Coroner Hilton, who thought it might be necessary to hold an ante-mortem examination. The physician returned and reported that Poole was entirely out of danger. A young man named Charles Lozier received a pistol shot in the back during the affray, which will confine him to his room for several weeks. Baker, one of the assailants, was also shot in the breast, but affected his escape. About daylight Capt. Turnbull succeeded in arresting Turner, Pargene and Van Pelt, at Johnny Lyng's gambling-house, in Canal-street, and they were locked up by order of Justice Brennan. Yesterday afternoon an investigation into the facts of the affray was commenced at the Second District Police Court, where the affidavits of some dozen witnesses were taken, but none of them are of sufficient importance to publish at length. In connection with the account above given, we annex the testimony of Mr. Dean, the proprietor of Stanwix Hall, where the shooting took place. The Affidavit Of John E. Dean - John E. Dean, sworn, says: I am keeper of the saloon at No. 579 Broadway, called Stanwix Hall; about 20 minutes after 12 o'clock last night, James Turner, Patrick McLoughlin, alias Pargene, Louis Baker, Charles Van Pelt, and Cornelius Linn, came into my house at the time Poole was standing against the counter, when Pargene approached him, and asked him "Who could lick him," and continued, "Come out doors and fight him;" Poole answered, "You are not worth fighting;" Pargene then seized hold of Poole and insisted upon him to fight; at this period Turner took hold of Pargene and asked him to let go of Poole; Pargene then spit in Poole's face; Turner then pulled his pistol, and exclaimed "Draw;" Poole then stood at the end of the counter, and Pargene was squaring off; Turner then presented his pistol at Poole and fired it off; the charge entered Turner's arm and he fired again; the contents of the pistol on the second firing entered Poole's leg, and he staggered and fell upon the floor; Lewis Baker then fell on top of Poole; I sent for the police, but the fracas was all over when they got there; I saw Baker fire off a pistol, but did not see who the contents struck. Since writing the above, we understand that Morrissey was taken in custody, but afterwards released by a police officer for some unexplained cause. The Chief of Police has expressed his dissatisfaction at such a proceeding, and is determined to call the policeman to account. The Chief of Police and several of the "Shadows" were engaged in council to a late hour last night, devising ways and means for the arrest of the guilty party. Postscript - 2 1/2 A. M. - Our reporter has just returned from Poole's residence in Christopher Street. Poole is much worse than in the early part of the evening. The surgeons have not yet succeeded in extracting the ball from his chest, - they say he cannot recover."