I spent last week killing off Bill “The Butcher” Poole. He was a right hard bastard, hanging on for weeks after taking a bullet in the chest. Here’s a taste of the events leading up to that day 153 years and nine months ago. Mind you this is only a taste. You’ll have to wait for the book to read the more detailed version of what happened…
John Morrissey sat drinking with friends in the back room of Stanwix Hall, located at 579 Broadway, between Houston and Prince Streets. It was just after 9 p.m. February 24, 1855. The wine was flowing as Morrissey talked with several acquaintances that evening, including Samuel Suydam, Major Morten Fairchild and Captain Lorenzo Lewis of
the Louisiana Cavalry. Morrissey had come in after the others. Suydam, a gambling house proprietor, invited Morrissey to have a drink or two. They settled in and thew3e3wine began to flow. 15 minutes later William “Bill the Butcher” Poole walked in.
Poole was a nativist, hating all things Irish, including Morrissey. The 34-year old was a butcher by trade and had a stall down at the Washington market. He had a lot of patronage and did well for himself, owning a bar as well as a bank exchange. He was a notorious brawler but not a professional boxer. Morrissey and Poole’s mutual dislike for one another began when Morrissey made his permanent home in New York City in 1852. Morrissey was working for Tammany Hall, while Poole was working against them for the nativist Know Nothing party. They wrangled on more than one occasion, but never officialy fought in the ring.
The back room of Stanwix Hall was separated from the bar at the front by a piece of cloth hanging in the doorway. Morrissey didn’t see Poole and his cohorts enter the bar. Knowing that Morrissey and Poole had a longstanding feud, Suydam tried to distract his friend. “Morrissey was sideways to the barroom; I saw Poole before Morrissey did,” Suydam stated during a deposition. He poured Morrissey some more wine and began to sing a song. Morrissey sang accompaniment. The distraction didn’t last long. When Morrissey saw Poole he got up and moved towards the bar. Suydam tried to talk his friend down, begging Morrissey to let him settle the matter between the two men for him. “I have been badly treated by that person and cannot do it,” he responded. Another man, drinking alone, also tried to stop Morrissey. “Let me alone. I know what I’m doing,” said Morrissey. A few seconds later the clamor of loud voices drifted into the back room, which promptly emptied out.
“There you are you cowardly son of a bitch,” said Morrissey across the crowded room filled with close to 60 people. He walked up to Poole who stood at the counter with his friends. “You’ve tasted my mutton before. How do you like it?” responded Poole, a cold smile on his lips. The remark was a reference to a beating Morrissey had taken at the hands of Poole and his cronies the previous summer at the docks at Amos Street. It cut Morrissey to the quick. He rushed at Poole but was held back by several people including James Irving, a friend of both men who tried to ease the situation, but to no avail. Poole pulled a pistol from inside his coat and jumped up on the bar. He made a loud farting noise with his mouth as he stood there, gun loosely aimed at Morrissey. Morrissey backed away in the direction of the front door and shouted for a weapon. Several tense seconds passed. Poole jumped back off the bar and stood where he had been before. Suddenly Morrissey had an old revolver and was aiming it in Poole’s direction. A friend had secreted it to him. Poole looked at Morrissey with complete disdain. “Go ahead you coward, shoot,” he said with his gun still trained on him. A crush of people rushed at Morrissey trying to wrestle the gun away. Morrissey got his arm free and snapped the hammer on the ancient pistol. Nothing happened. He tried twice more, but the gun continued to misfire. Irving pulled the gun from Morrissey’s hand. “You damned fool, what are you doing?” Irvin shouted at Morrissey. “I had to. He would have killed me,” responded the visibly shaken fighter. Friends of Poole would later claim in court that Poole didn’t have a weapon. No guns were presented in court as evidence.
Two police officers from the 17th Ward, friends of Morrissey, took him outside. “Go home,” Officer John Rue told him. “I swear on my honor and by all that is sacred, I’ll go home,” said Morrissey, before promptly walking into a bar, Charlie Abel’s, just down the street from Stanwix Hall. Rue followed him. They were there for less than five minutes. Rue dragged Morrissey out after one drink and they continued walking down Broadway. Morrissey stumbled into the City Hotel further south on Broadway a few minutes after 10 p.m. He was still in the company of Rue. This was the second bar they had stopped in since leaving Stanwix Hall. George Harpell, the proprietor, took notice of how drunk Morrissey seemed, thinking he was drunker than he had ever seen him before. Lewis Baker, Thomas McLaughlin, known as Pargene, and John Hyler, all friends of Morrissey, soon came in as well, kicking up a racket as they entered. Morrissey went to two other bars that night before finally making it to his father-in-law’s house on Hudson Street around 1 a.m. and passing out.
While Morrissey slept a group of his friends went back to Stanwix Hall. Baker, Pargene, Hyler, Charles Van Pelt, Jim Turner and Cornelius Linn entered the bar, unaware that Poole and several of his friends, including Cyrus Shay, Charles Lozier and Jacob Acker, had come back after the earlier incident and were once again drinking there. It was 1:30 a.m. Baker walked up to the bar and ordered a round of drinks. Pargene came up as well, and whether by intention or accident, bumped into Poole. Poole gave him a cold look. Pargene infuriated grabbed him by his collar. “You are a pretty American fighting son of a bitch,” Pargene said in a thick Irish brogue, his face inches away from Poole’s. “Ain’t you a pretty American.”
“I’m their standard bearer,” said Poole proudly.
“I want to fight you.” Pargene said. Poole just laughed.
“Don’t mind him Bill, he’s just drunk,” Turner told Poole. Van Pelt came up behind Pargene and tried to separate the two men. Pargene backhanded him. Van Pelt, angry and embarrassed, walked out of Stanwix Hall. Pargene, still holding onto Poole, spit in his face. Poole broke away and moved farther back into the room, pulling a pistol from beneath his coat. Turner, seeing this, pulled his own gun and moved towards Poole. “You mean to shoot?” asked Turner, pushing Pargene aside. “Then draw, damn you.” He rested his gun on his other arm, took aim and fired, but somehow managed to hit himself in the arm. He dropped to the ground screaming in pain. Another shot from Turner’s revolver hit Poole in the left leg just above the knee. Poole staggered and grabbed Baker who had moved towards him. Both men tumbled to the ground. Shots were fired from several guns. Lozier was hit in the head, probably from the gun of his friend Poole. The bullet grazed Lozier but it was enough to drop him. A second shot hit Lozier in the thigh. Baker and Poole continued wrestling. Baker was hit by two bullets—one in the abdomen and one across the forehead. Poole was shot in the chest, just under the left nipple. Shay got hold of Baker’s pistol, but it went off, burning his left hand, the bullet going into the wooden bar. Baker then made a break for the door. He was stopped momentarily by Acker, but struggled free and was gone. Shay took several shots at him and missed. The rest also made their escape.
Poole stood up and stumbled towards the door, pale and shaken. “Bill, come sit down, you’ve been terribly wounded,” Shay told him. “ No, I was only hit in the knee, I think,” responded Poole. Shay then explained to him that he had been hit in the chest. A few minutes later Poole collapsed. Poole was placed in a carriage and driven to his residence in Christopher Street. Doctors were unable to find the bullet that had pierced his heart.
Poole lived for more than two weeks before finally dying around 5 p.m. on March 8. He laid the blame on Morrissey. “I think I’m a goner,” he said on his deathbed. “If I die, I die a true American; what grieves me most is to think I was murdered by a set of Irish—by Morrissey in particular.”