The Dead Rabbits Irish Street Gang

The Dead Rabbits Irish Street gang, of the middle of the 19th Century, was as vicious as any gang in the history of New York City. They ruled the squalid area of Lower Manhattan called the Five Points, and if a member of any other gang dare set foot in their territory, bad things happened to them very fast.

There is some dispute as to how the Dead Rabbits got their name. One version is that the word “Rabbit” sounds like Irish word raibead, meaning a “man to be feared.” “Dead” was a 1800’s slang word that meant “very.” So a “Dead Rabbit” is a “man to be very feared.”

Another version is that the Dead Rabbits were an offshoot of a older gang called the “Roach Guards.” Two factions within the Roach Guards constantly quarreled, and during a fistfight at an especially violent gang meeting, someone threw a dead rabbit into the room. When the fighting subsided, one group took the name “Dead Rabbits,” while the other kept the name “Roach Guards.” Predating the present street gangs the Crips and the Bloods by more than a 125 years, to mark which group a man belonged to, a Dead Rabbit wore a blue stripe on his pants, while a Roach Guard wore a red stripe on his pants.

Besides the Roach Guards, the Rabbits’ arch enemy was the Bowery Boys. On July 4th, 1857, the Rabbits and the Bowery Boys squared off at the corner of Bayard and the Bowery. The incident started, when a embattled policemen, being chased out of the Five Points by a group of Rabbits, ran into a Bowery Boy’s saloon. The Rabbits followed the policeman into the dive, and were beaten back by an angry group of Bowery Boys.

The Bowery Boys took offense at their turf being invaded, so a large group of Bowery Boys marched into the Five Points area. They were cut off by a battalion of Rabbits and a two-day war started, with as many as a thousand combatants fighting with hatchets, knives, stones, and even guns. The police sent in reinforcements, but they were beaten back by both gangs and told in no uncertain terms to mind their own business. The war swayed back and forth into both territories, with Canal Street being the boundary line.

By the end of the second day, the two gangs were near exhaustion, and the Seventh Regiment of the National Guard was called in by New York Mayor Fernando Wood. The National Guard, joined by the New York City Police, busted into what was left of the skirmish and started cracking the heads of the weary warriors. When the dust settled, eight gang members were dead and hundreds more were injured.

This did not end the animosity between the Bowery Boys and Rabbits. In August, 1858, on the corner of Worth and Centre Street, a small group of Bowery Boys were pummeled by a larger group of Rabbits. As the Bowery Boys ran off licking their wounds, two unsuspecting men exited a house at 66 Centre Street. They walked right into the path of the angry Rabbits, and thinking these two men were Bowery Boys coming back for more, the Rabbits descended upon them with a vengeance. One man was able to escape, but Cornelius Rady was not so lucky. He was hit in the back of the head with a rock from a slingshot and died soon afterward. Rabbit Patrick Gilligan was arrested for Rady’s murder, but it is not clear if indeed he was convicted.

The Civil War started two years later and many of the gang members were drafted, against their wills, into the war and sent to far away places, mostly in the South. When the war ended, the Rabbits were either dead themselves, or in no physical condition to continue tormenting the streets of Lower Manhattan. But in New York City, the creature that it was, and in some cases still is, other street gangs soon followed to take the place of the Rabbits.

American Mobsters – The Hudson Dusters Street Gang

The Hudson Dusters were an unruly street gang that ruled the Greenwich Village area of New York City, starting in the late 1890’s. They were formed by the trio of Kid Yorke, Circular Jack and Goo Goo Knox, who was a former gang member of the Gophers, a group that ruled Hell’s Kitchen a few blocks to the north. Knox tried to take control of the Gophers, failed, then moved south to terrorize a different neighborhood, which was open to whichever gang could take command. The Dusters crushed local gangs like the Potashes and the Boodles, then took control of the Greenwich Village and the business of plundering the docks along the Hudson River, a few blocks to the west.

The crooked streets of Greenwich Village were perfect for getaways after the Dusters committed one of their varied crimes. Their most accomplished thief was Ding Dong, who would roam the streets with a dozen or so youths. He would direct them to jump on passing wagons and toss to him any valuables they could get their hands on. Before the police could respond, Ding Dong was long gone, having disappeared down the maze of streets that comprise the Village.

The Gophers became street legends, but they were not particularly known for their fighting prowess, as were other brutal New York City gangs. They hung out in the taverns and gin mills of the Village, mingling with the famous writers and artists of their time. The journalists also favored the Dusters, and they were portrayed in the newspapers as nothing more than a fun-loving bunch, who drank more than they fought. One of the Duster’s party pals was playwright Eugene O’Neil, who frequented the gang’s hangout – the Hell Hole, on Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street. It was there that O’Neil garnered most of his characters for his most famous play – The Iceman Cometh – the Iceman being Death.

At their inception, the Dusters moved their base of operations frequently, finally settling on a house on Hudson Street, just below Horatio, later the site of the Open Door Mission. More interested in partying than pillaging, the Dusters installed a piano and they danced the nights away, in a cocaine induced stupor, with the prostitutes who prowled the West Side piers a few short blocks away. This annoyed the neighboring homeowners and business owners to no end, but all were afraid to make a complaint to the police, because the Dusters had the reputation of seeking revenge in a hot moment on anyone who would rat. After a night of carousing, the Dusters were known to parade in the streets, boozed out and hopped-up on coke, looking to cause mayhem on anyone, or anything in their path.

One night, the Dusters asked a local saloon keeper to provide them with a few kegs of beer for a party, on the arm, of course, meaning they did not expect to actually pay the man money for his stock. The saloon keeper refused and the Dusters descended up his establishment, wrecking the joint and carrying away every ounce of booze on the premises. The saloon keeper ran to his friend Patrolman Dennis Sullivan. Patrolman Sullivan decided to declare war on the Dusters. He rounded up ten of them, including their leader Red Farrell, and arrested them for vagrancy.

The Dusters decided to retaliate, and with the blessing of a Greenwich Village politician, who used the Dusters for intimidation on Election Day, they ambushed Patrolmen Sullivan as he was about to arrest one of the Dusters on a robbery charge. They attacked him from behind and stole his jacket, gun and shield, while beating him with stones and blackjacks. As many as twenty Dusters took turns kicking and punching the distressed policeman after he was down. When Patrolman Sullivan was finally unconscious, four Dusters rolled him onto his back and ground their heels into his face, causing permanent scars. Patrolman Sullivan was finally taken to the hospital, where he stayed, recuperating for over a month.

The Gophers Street Gang congratulated the Dusters on their cop-beating accomplishment, and Gopher leader, “One Lung” Curran, felt moved enough to write a poem, praising their actions. The poem read:

Says Dinny “Here’s me only chance
To gain meself a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters,
and reach the hall of fame.”
He lost his stick and cannon,
and his shield they took away.
It was then he remembered,
Every dog had his day.

The Dusters loved this poem so much, they printed up hundreds of copies and distributed them on the streets of Greenwich Village, even dropping one off at the Charles Street Station House, where Patrolman Sullivan was assigned.

By 1916, The Dusters had dissipated, as most of their gang members were either coke addicts, dead, or locked up in jail. Another Greenwich Village gang, the Marginals, led by Tanner Smith, took over the Duster’s rackets, and they controlled the Village until Tanner was killed by Chicky Lewis, inside the Marginal Club on Eighth Avenue, on July 29, 1919. For all practical purposes, that was the end of street gang presence on the Lower West Side.

How to Keep Your Teenager Away From Gangs

The current times demand that both parents work in order to raise a family. Most often, parents can get too busy with their jobs that the kids back home feel neglected or inadvertently lost in the daily shuffle of life. Parents may not realize it, but research shows that the primary reason why children join gangs is for a sense of belonging or to become part of a “family”.

Some children are not just as headstrong as others. Those who are not usually find themselves with no friends and are often bullied at school. They get frustrated, lonely and discouraged so easily that the lure of gang promises makes them an easy target.

Young people need to have their backs secure, and the weaker ones have the illusion that they are going to get this by being part of a gang. What they don’t know is that they don’t get much protection there; rather they are more susceptible to danger because when rivalries break loose, even their own families can become targets for retaliation. Most young people never really intended for siblings or members of their families to get into harm’s way. They simply were not aware that gang involvement gets to this extent.

Statistics show that gang involvement makes one 60 percent more liable to become a victim of homicide. The sad thing is that teens who get involved in gangs never really intended to mess up their lives. They simply were looking to belong somewhere and get some security – unfortunately, they get the exact opposite. They get into danger.

As a parent, you need not give up your career just to make sure your children don’t end up in gangs. You can get them involved in sports, art or music lessons, or anything creative and productive that is in line with their individual interests and inclinations. Our children simply need to be involved in self-fulfilling activities. When they discover their potentials and capabilities, they become secure about themselves and will not seek the need of getting involved in a gang just to know their self-worth.