and Other New York City Gangsters!
“Gangsta Talk” Of The 1800’s
Bill the Butcher pads the hoof searching furiously for Jake, a Dead Rabbit slugger. Suddenly, he spies Jake coming out of a diving bell on Canal Street. Bill ducks into a nearby alley. Unsuspecting, Jake saunters down Canal Street and passes by the alley. Bill lunges out, grabs Jake by the shoulders and draws his knife across Jake’s gutter lane. Bill growls at Jake: ” I heard you was mowing my jomer. She said you buzzed dat gold fawney I gave her and you fenced it!” Bill pierces Jake’s skin with his butcher knife and drops of blood ooze down the front of Jake’s chest. At this point Morrissey, a slugger for Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed, comes upon the scene. Morrissey pounces on Bill and begins fibbing his idea pot unmercifully, causing Bill to drop his knife.
Jake, slightly injured, screams at Bill: “Your jomer works in a goosing slum and picks up blokes from a flash panny!”
Enraged, Bill kicks Morrissey away and draws his barking irons from his talma. “I’m gonna send youse to your ground sweat!”
The commotion on Canal Street has attracted a crowd. A crusher walks up and orders them to break it up or he will send them to city college.
Bill snarls at the crusher: “I know your hamlet!”
A faker from a nearby shop warns Bill that the crusher wears a joseph’s coat. Bill backs off, puts away his barking irons, and quickly leaves to search for reinforcements. The crowd fades into the grimy cobblestone streets, back to various shops or places of entertainment.
Bill cools down and decides not to snitchel Jake and Morrissey into black ointment.
His jomer is really just a laced mutton. He is ready for a new moll, a shakester who will look good at his side when he promenades Broadway and City Hall Park. Bill thinks about Rose, a dimber mort with blonde fanny blair. He has been marking her for several weeks. She is a very sweet moll and helps the local autum bawler feed the orphans hanging around Paradise Square. Bill is planning on taking Rose to dinner at a restaurant on Park Place next Saturday. She will delight in the terrapin, Canvasback duck and fresh lobster salad. Rose’s father, Frank, is a prominent member of the Native Americans and owns a popshop on lower Broadway. Bill plans to curry his favor by bringing him choice silks that he has acquired from a turkey merchant.
Bill’s thoughts shift to the bull-baiting sport scheduled late this afternoon at Bunker Hill. All of the butchers will be there and large amounts of brass will be wagered on the number of dogs the bulls might gore. Bill decides to get a shot of bingo before he goes to the sport. He stops at the Fountain House on Park Row.
Bill flings open the doors of the Fountain House and finds Rose talking to Harry, a rumbeak. Black rage envelops Bill. Tom Hyer, standing at the end of the bar nearest the doors, tells Bill that Rose is collecting for the orphans of Paradise Square and the Old Brewery. The dark shadows surrounding Bill evaporate and he takes his place at the bar. Rose comes up to Bill and softly whispers in his ear that she will see him next Saturday. Then, with a swirl of her skirts, she leaves.
The bartender, Jerry Thomas, asks: “Hob or nob?”
Bill replies: “Blue Blazer!”
Bill has heard about Jerry’s skill in concocting the Blue Blazer and he is eager to see the show. Jerry takes two large silver-plated mugs and puts one wineglass of Scotch whiskey and one wineglass of boiling water into one of the mugs. He then ignites the mixture. While it is blazing, Jerry tosses the ingredients back and forth from one mug to the other. After about five tosses, he pours the concoction into a tumbler, sweetening it with 1 teaspoonful of sugar and adding a sliver of lemon peel. Jerry places the Blue Blazer in front of Bill who slaps his rhino on the counter and tosses the drink down in a couple of swallows.
There is a sudden, loud commotion at the entrance to the club. John Morrissey charges in, swinging his fists, gagers blazing, and threatens to lay the Fountain House to waste. Bill shouts to Tom: “That addle-cove is John Morrissey, slugger for Tammany Hall!”
Bill and Tom both go after Morrissey and quickly dispatch him to the floor, brutally kicking him until he passes out. Tom hauls Morrissey off to a sleeping room to recover.
Bill hails a Hansom cab and starts to leave for the bull-baiting sport. Tom calls out: “Meet me at Stanwix Hall tomorrow for a game of faro.”
The next day Bill, flush with chink from his sport wagering, leaves his ken cautiously. He has heard that Morrissey, Baker, Paudeen, and others are planning to take him. Bill weaves in and out of alleys, his barking iron drawn, checking to make sure the street is clear before he hails a cab.
Bill arrives at Stanwix Hall, a new bar-room on Broadway, and joins Tom Hyer and other Native Americans at the bar. Bill orders a drink. “Sky blue, no blue ruin.”
The bartender, sporting a friday face, insists: “No baptized bingo here!”
While Bill and his friends are drinking at the bar, Morrissey, Baker, Paudeen, and other Tammany fighters enter the saloon. Paudeen goes up to Bill and dares him to fight. Bill slaps five golden eagles on the counter and offers to fight any Tammany gladiator who will cover his brass. Bill snarls at Paudeen:
“You hackum, you ain’t worth fighting!”
Baker draws his pistol and shoots Bill the Butcher twice, one bullet penetrating his heart. Bill stands swaying and then he seizes a huge carving knife from the bar. Staggering towards Baker, Bill screams: “I’ll cut your heart out!”
Bill flings the knife and then collapses. The knife hits the door jamb and quivers as the Tammany gladiators flee!
Bill the Butcher lived for fourteen days after the shooting. With his last breath Bill gasped:
“Good-bye, boys: I die a true American!”1
The Native Americans gave a huge and magnificent funeral for Bill. Five thousand men rode in carriages or walked behind the hearse and thousands of spectators filled the streets.
This fictional vignette was written by Frances Carle(Asbury)and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, copied or redistributed in any form without permission.
1The information and direct quote on Bill’s last hours and funeral came from Herbert Asbury, “The Gangs of New York”, 1928. The slang used by criminals of the 1800’s is from George Matsell, “The Secret Language of Crime: The Rogue’s Lexicon”, 1859. The drawings are original and are owned by Frances Carle.