William Poole better known as “Bill The Butcher” was a champion pugilist in 1855 when kicking, biting and eye-gouging were acceptable tactics and fighting to the death, meant just that. It was a time when challenging your opponent was issued out of pure hatred.

When John Morrissey, the Irish enforcer for Tammany Hall challenged Bill Poole to a fight it promised to be the fight of the century. It would be Bill “The Butcher” Poole’s last fight.

Bill Poole and John Morrissey first crossed paths in a brawl at the Americus club in the Bowery where Bill Poole was an up and coming champion. John Morrissey was also a prize fighter and claimed the title of Heavyweight Champion of America after beating Yankee Sullivan in 1853, this result was not accepted by some people.

Morrissey alone was no match for Poole, another fighter Tom Hyer and the rest of Pooles gang. Morrissey became the muscle behind Tammany Hall, organizing a group of toughs including Blacksmith Dan Edgar, Lew Baker, Jim Turner, Paudeen McLaughlin who had his nose bitten off during a brawl, and the Dead Rabbits a violent gang from the Five Points neighborhood in Lower Manhattan.

After months of tension between Morrissey and Poole. John Morrissey felt the time was right to challenge Poole to a fight with nothing barred. It was a match-up that sporting men had been longing to see. Both men were over six feet tall and both weighed more than two hundred pounds. Bill Poole was considered the more ferocious, but Morrissey had the greater technique and speed.

After months of tension between Morrissey and Poole. John Morrissey felt the time was right to challenge Poole to a fight with nothing barred. It was a match-up that sporting men had been longing to see. Both men were over six feet tall and both weighed more than two hundred pounds. Bill Poole was considered the more ferocious, but Morrissey had the greater technique and speed.

Morrissey found Poole in a Broadway saloon and bet $50 that Poole wouldnt name a place where Morrissey would not fight him. Poole suggested Christopher Pier, in the heart of the neighborhood controlled by Poole’s gang. Morrissey knew he would not be safe there and paid the bet without as much as an argument. A few minutes later he asked Poole to name another place. Poole named the Amos Street dock, one block north of Christopher. This time Morrissey agreed to meet him at 7:00 the next morning

The next day Morrissey accompanied by a dozen Tammany men. When they arrived they were met at the Amos Street dock by a large amount of Bill The Butcher’s supporters. Most accounts say it was an ambush, that Poole never showed up and Morrissey was severely beaten by the crowd.

On February 24, 1855, Morrissey was in the backroom of the newly opened Stanwix Hall, playing cards. Morrissey heard Poole’ s voice then ran up and began swearing at him. Morrissey pulled a pistol and fired three times at Poole’s head, but the gun misfired each time. Poole drew his own revolver but a man named Mark Maguire intervened saying, “You wouldn’t kill a helpless man in cold blood would you?”

Poole threw his pistol to the floor, grabbed two carving knives from the lunch counter and hurled them into to the bar, inviting either Maguire or Morrissey to a knife fight. Both men declined, knowing Poole’s skills and efficiency with a knife.

Shortly after midnight, Baker, Turner, McLaughlin, and several other Tammany men entered the Hall. Last to come in was Paudeen McLaughlin who locked the door behind him and turned to Poole saying
“What are you looking at, you black muzzled bastard?”

McLaughlin grabbed Poole by the lapel and spit in his face and dared him to fight. Poole very coolly took out five golden eagle coins and offered to wager he could beat any one of them. At this point Turner pulled out a Colt revolver and began to shoot. Turner managed to shoot himself in the arm before hitting Poole in the leg.

Poole reacted either by attacking Baker or falling on him after being shot. They scuffled and while Baker was over Poole, Baker pulled out his own revolver saying, “I guess I will take you anyhow.” He shot into Poole’s chest putting a bullet in his heart. Baker fired again at Poole, then escaped from the saloon. Poole got back on his feet, grabbed a knife and began chasing Baker but fell before he could reach the door.

Bill The Butcher Poole was taken to his home and, to the amazement of his doctors, managed to live for two weeks with a bullet in his heart.

Bill The Butcher had one of the largest funerals ever seen in the city of New York at that time, where thousands of mourners followed the casket form Christopher Street to the Battery where a ferry took the remains to Green-Wood Cemetery.

Baker was indicted along with John Morrissey, James Turner and “Paudeen” McLaughlin, for the murder of William Poole. The trial lasted for fifteen days, the jury deliberated for just over a day but were unable to reach a verdict. Baker was tried twice more but each time resulted in a hung jury. 

Sources:
http://www.murderbygaslight.com/2010/11/killing-of-butcher-bill.html
Herbert Asbury – Gangs of New York – Arrow Books

Owen Forsyth

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