Brass-Knuckle Crusade: The Great Know-Nothing Conspiracy, 1820-1860

Brass-Knuckle Crusade: The Great Know-Nothing Conspiracy, 1820-1860

Brass-Knuckle Crusade: The Great Know-Nothing Conspiracy, 1820-1860

Brass-Knuckle Crusade: The Great Know-Nothing Conspiracy, 1820-1860

Excerpt

BIG BILL POOLE, "Bill the Butcher," lay dying on New York's Christopher Street, a bullet through his heart and a bullet through his guts, but his hulk of a carcass, two hundred pounds plus, and his mad fightingness wouldn't let him die. A week, two weeks went by. At his bedside heavyweight champ Tom Hyer and other ham-fisted cronies, downing whisky and blubbering, relayed news of Bill's condition to the crowd of anxious toughs outside in the raw March weather of 1855.

For years the Butcher had been the mightiest slugger of the Bowery and Atlantic Guard thugs; then he had formed his own West Side gang. No one among the rival Five Point bruisers from Paradise Square -- the Dead Rabbits or other lawless outfits -- could match him. He could drive a butcher knife through an inch-thick pine plank from twenty feet and he was quick on the draw. In close-up fights, he gouged out eyes and bit off noses and ears, and the slash of his hobnailed boots into the groin was death agony. No more puissant bully ever came out of lower New York City's limbo of sewer slums, beer gardens, saloons, rat-and-dog arenas, music halls, cancan shows, whorehouses, sailor crimp joints, and gambling dives.

Above all, Butcher Bill was "a true-blooded Amer-

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