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American Mobsters – The Hudson Dusters Street Gang
The Hudson Dusters were an unruly street gang that ruled the Greenwich Village area of New York City, starting in the late 1890’s. They were formed by the trio of Kid Yorke, Circular Jack and Goo Goo Knox, who was a former gang member of the Gophers, a group that ruled Hell’s Kitchen a few blocks to the north. Knox tried to take control of the Gophers, failed, then moved south to terrorize a different neighborhood, which was open to whichever gang could take command. The Dusters crushed local gangs like the Potashes and the Boodles, then took control of the Greenwich Village and the business of plundering the docks along the Hudson River, a few blocks to the west.
The crooked streets of Greenwich Village were perfect for getaways after the Dusters committed one of their varied crimes. Their most accomplished thief was Ding Dong, who would roam the streets with a dozen or so youths. He would direct them to jump on passing wagons and toss to him any valuables they could get their hands on. Before the police could respond, Ding Dong was long gone, having disappeared down the maze of streets that comprise the Village.
The Gophers became street legends, but they were not particularly known for their fighting prowess, as were other brutal New York City gangs. They hung out in the taverns and gin mills of the Village, mingling with the famous writers and artists of their time. The journalists also favored the Dusters, and they were portrayed in the newspapers as nothing more than a fun-loving bunch, who drank more than they fought. One of the Duster’s party pals was playwright Eugene O’Neil, who frequented the gang’s hangout – the Hell Hole, on Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street. It was there that O’Neil garnered most of his characters for his most famous play – The Iceman Cometh – the Iceman being Death.
At their inception, the Dusters moved their base of operations frequently, finally settling on a house on Hudson Street, just below Horatio, later the site of the Open Door Mission. More interested in partying than pillaging, the Dusters installed a piano and they danced the nights away, in a cocaine induced stupor, with the prostitutes who prowled the West Side piers a few short blocks away. This annoyed the neighboring homeowners and business owners to no end, but all were afraid to make a complaint to the police, because the Dusters had the reputation of seeking revenge in a hot moment on anyone who would rat. After a night of carousing, the Dusters were known to parade in the streets, boozed out and hopped-up on coke, looking to cause mayhem on anyone, or anything in their path.
One night, the Dusters asked a local saloon keeper to provide them with a few kegs of beer for a party, on the arm, of course, meaning they did not expect to actually pay the man money for his stock. The saloon keeper refused and the Dusters descended up his establishment, wrecking the joint and carrying away every ounce of booze on the premises. The saloon keeper ran to his friend Patrolman Dennis Sullivan. Patrolman Sullivan decided to declare war on the Dusters. He rounded up ten of them, including their leader Red Farrell, and arrested them for vagrancy.
The Dusters decided to retaliate, and with the blessing of a Greenwich Village politician, who used the Dusters for intimidation on Election Day, they ambushed Patrolmen Sullivan as he was about to arrest one of the Dusters on a robbery charge. They attacked him from behind and stole his jacket, gun and shield, while beating him with stones and blackjacks. As many as twenty Dusters took turns kicking and punching the distressed policeman after he was down. When Patrolman Sullivan was finally unconscious, four Dusters rolled him onto his back and ground their heels into his face, causing permanent scars. Patrolman Sullivan was finally taken to the hospital, where he stayed, recuperating for over a month.
The Gophers Street Gang congratulated the Dusters on their cop-beating accomplishment, and Gopher leader, “One Lung” Curran, felt moved enough to write a poem, praising their actions. The poem read:
Says Dinny “Here’s me only chance
To gain meself a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters,
and reach the hall of fame.”
He lost his stick and cannon,
and his shield they took away.
It was then he remembered,
Every dog had his day.
The Dusters loved this poem so much, they printed up hundreds of copies and distributed them on the streets of Greenwich Village, even dropping one off at the Charles Street Station House, where Patrolman Sullivan was assigned.
By 1916, The Dusters had dissipated, as most of their gang members were either coke addicts, dead, or locked up in jail. Another Greenwich Village gang, the Marginals, led by Tanner Smith, took over the Duster’s rackets, and they controlled the Village until Tanner was killed by Chicky Lewis, inside the Marginal Club on Eighth Avenue, on July 29, 1919. For all practical purposes, that was the end of street gang presence on the Lower West Side.
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