Lewis Baker was a patrolman in the New York Police Department who was employed as a “slugger” for Tammany Hall. He was involved in voter intimidation and election fraud during the 1840s and 1850s but he is mostly known as the man who shot & killed William “Bill the Butcher” Poole.
Born in 1825, Lew Baker emigrated to the U.S from Wales sometime around 1840 where he became an officer with the NYPD. It was around this time that he became acquainted with “Old Smoke” John Morrissey and joined him as a “slugger” for Tammany Hall, a vastly corrupt political organization based in Manhattan.
“Old Smoke” John Morrissey, himself a champion bare knuckle prize fighter and a leader in the Dead Rabbits gang in the Five Points neighborhood was, became the muscle behind Tammany Hall, who organized a group of toughs including Blacksmith Dan Edgar, Lew Baker, Jim Turner & Paudeen McLaughlin. Baker became a close friend and associate of John Morrissey as they frequently fought the supporters of the nativist Know-Nothing Party for over a decade.
They had developed a rivalry with none other than William Poole or “Bill the Butcher”. Bill The Butcher was the leader of the Bowery Boys a rival gang from the Five Points neighborhood, a boxer himself and also a member & political enforcer for the Know-Nothing Party. The Know Nothing Movement emerged as a major political party in the form of the American Party in the 1850’s. When Congress assembled on Dec. 3, 1855, 43 representatives were members of the Know-Nothing party. Members of the movement were known to reply “I know nothing” when asked about its specifics by outsiders, thus providing the group with its name.
John Morrissey, Lew Baker and the rest of the gang would become involved in violent fighting against the Bowery Boys. In January 1855, Lew Baker and Jim Turner were at Platt’s Hall and had gotten involved in a altercation with a prizefighter named Tom Hyer “calling the fighter vile names”. The argument escalated until Turner drew his pistol and shot Hyer in the neck. Tom Hyer fired back but missed Turner hitting the wall instead. Putting away his weapon, Hyer attacked the two and dragged Baker out into the street but the fight came to an end when the police arrived. The fight was broken up, but no charges were brought against the three.
A month later, on the night of February 25, 1855, Baker entered the Stanwix Hall saloon with Jim Turner and Paudeen McLaughlin to confront Poole having threatened Morrissey with a gun during an argument only hours before. Baker shot Poole in a Broadway saloon during a brawl and left the saloon and the City. Morrissey and another man present, Dan Kerrigan were accused as accessories to the murder, and suspected of helping Baker escape the city, but neither were ever indicted. Baker was tried 2 times but each time ended in a hung jury.
The New York Times covered the events of Stanwix Hall almost every day for a month. A local newsman reported Poole’s last words were, “Good-bye boys; I die a true American.”
Bill the Butcher died two weeks and was buried on March 11, 1855 in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery in an unmarked grave. A tombstone was erected in 2004.