The word "gang" comes from "gonge,"
a term originally meaning a journey, but later referring to a "gonge"
of sailors in the fifteenth century. "Gangs" of outlaws or wild
young men came into common usage by Shakespeare's time. The "Father
of Gang Research," Frederic
Thrasher, gave the word its industrial-era meaning in the 1920s and
made “gang” into a term which meant kids of the street. But
US gangs had other predecessors than unsupervised street urchins.
are four kinds of "gangs" which were predecessors of the
street gangs of today. 1. Secret Societies; 2. Gangs of Outlaws
in the Wild West; 3.Racist gangs like the Klu Klux Klan; and 4.
"Voting Gangs" tied mainly to the Democratic Party in
1. SECRET SOCIETIES
Two Secret Societies are especially important for
US gangs, as well as gangs around the world. Both the Chinese Triads
and the Italian Mafia and Camorra have existed at least since the
Chinese Triad member
. Is he representing?
Triads had their
origin in anti-Manchu resistance in China, the term "triad"
coming from the three dots which form part of the Chinese
character for the Ming Emperor Hung Wu. Triads began as "Men
of Hung." The were both part of the political resistance
of the Han Chinese to the Manchu dynasty, as well as outlaws
who "Ta fu — chih p'in" (Hit the
Rich and help the poor).
Triads spread all over the world and control
much of the illegal and informal economy in overseas
Chinese communities. Thrasher wrote about "tongs"
in Chicago, defining tong as "protective society."
The largest was the On Leong, that also had chapters in New
York and San Francisco
movie, Gangs of New York,
was taken from Herbert Asbury's sensationalist stories of New York
City thugs.(see NYT
Review; and a Gotham
Gazette review with a list of books on the gangs of New York
City; and the
review in the New Yorker).It shows one important type of gang
in the early years of the US.
Like all gang movies, the violence is wildly over-exaggerated,
except for the depiction of the civil war draft riots, which turned
into a racist pogram.
How do these gangs compare to Chicago's. Click
The Dallas Morning News
of January 1, 1912 reports on Chicago's wave of Black Hand terror.
The Mafia also are made up of extended
kinship groups. These groups originally maintained an ideal of manliness
developed during the 1600's, when Sicily was ruled by Spain. The
ideal called for refusal to cooperate with authorities and self-control
in the face of hardships. In personal quarrels, a mafioso took the
law into his own hands and gained respect by using violence. Any
offense might trigger a campaign of vengeance called a vendetta.
Mafiosi unofficially ruled part of western Sicily in the 1800's
and early 1900's. Similar crime groups, such as the Camorra in Naples
and the Onorata Societa (Honored Society) in Calabria, developed
in other parts of Italy. The Black Hand was a secret society which
practicied extortion on Italian immigrants.
Black Hand were responsible for large numbers of murders in Chicago
in the early 1900s: 10 in 1910; 40 in 1911; 33 in 1912; 31 in 1913; and
42 n 1914. The Mafia
never really developed in Chicago, as it did in New York or Boston.
By the mid-twenties, Capone
had turned Torrio's vice operations into what is know today as the "Outfit."
2. OUTLAWS IN THE WILD WEST
As the cities
were growing in the 19th century, the wild west spawned a male culture
of violence. This male culture included the gold rush of 1848 where
90,000 men poured into California with a ratio of twenty men to
every one woman. Rates of violence were astronomical, and an outlaw
culture soon formed alongside the rough male culture of the gold
Gang and many others have been the prototypical "gang"
for America, up until the Capone years. Hollywood has had made a
deep impression on Americans. The tough guy, cowboy
culture of "shoot first and ask questions later" has
been drilled into the American psyche.
The outlaw has a long history in other cultures as well. Gangs
of “highwaymen” are written about in Ireland and elsewhere.
Often people were seen as being forced to become bandits by "bad
guys,", especially foreign oppressor. “Social bandits”
like Robin Hood or Zorro were part of national resistance
Jessse James in 1876 at
height of his career
.3. THE KLU KLUX KLAN AND RACIST GANGS
gangs of armed young men were racially mortivated. Racial tensions
in cities, like New York, were constant, and racist conflict was
almost everywhere more violent and vehement than nativism. During
the civil war, “draft
riots” in NYC were thinly disguised anti-black Irish gang
violence and about a thousand people were killed or injured and
over a million dollars damages.
While competition for jobs was a source of hostility between many
ethnic groups, no other group was so brutalized and dehumanized
as Black people. Gangs of young men who fought each other over turf
and honor, turned vicious and murderous when fighting Blacks. The
were little more than a pogram.
After the civil war, the Ku
Klux Klan arose as a “secret society “ of men, and
in the beginning not poor men, but former Confederate officers.
The KKK institutionalized in the south as an extension of the power
of the planters, part of the overthrow of reconstruction. The KKK
was the violence of armed young men enforcing segregation and a
racial order of domination in the south.
lynch a Negro in 1863.
New York Public Library Picture Collections
4. VOTING GANGS
Voting Gangs in New York
New York Public Library Picture Collections
Racism was not
the property of just the South. The final predecessor of gangs were
what Eric Monkkonen calls “voting gangs” in New York
City and the east. This was an Irish invention, using the pub culture
of males to help the Irish become politically dominant. Gangs of
roughs, were encouraged, organized, paid by politicians to “help”
in elections. Opponents were beaten up, voters intimidated, and
voting booths destroyed (see left) and votes stolen.
It was these mainly Irish“ gangs” which were the core
of the draft riots of 1863. Chicago's Democratic Party formed "Social
Athletic Clubs" modelled after New York's
Tammany Hall thugs.
It was at this time that Hull
House was working with young boys (and girls) to keep them off
the streets. The writings of Charles Dickens, especially Oliver
Twist (1839) were widely read and Hull House, founded in 1889, was
fashioned after London’s Toynbee
Hall which had started in 1884 and which Jane
Addams visited in 1888.
In Chicago, the Democratic Party, already
dominated by the Irish, borrowed the New York "Voting Gangs"
custom and took them to new heights, or lows. “Social Athletic
Clubs” were groups of young men, oftened organized in sports
and sometimes had clubhouses. Politicians used the SACs as they
had in New York, to make sure the favored candidate won. In doing
so, they built clubhouses for their favorites, and sometimes named
the gangs after themselves such as the Ragen’s
Colts at right.
was an ominous year. In cities around the US, returning soldiers
used their weapons to put the blacks who had been recruited to the
factoris in the north as the war ended immigration, in their place
and took their jobs back. Blacks, many of whom had seen social equality
in France and had also kept their weapons, responded to violence
Major riots rocked East St. Louis and Chicago as Irish and other
white ethnic gangs spear-headed the murderous assaults in both cities.Black
gangs formed defensively and actively defended the Black Belt.
The famous clubhouse of the Ragen's Colts
4. CONCLUSION: A TYPOLOGY
To summarize, before Thrasher, there were four types of predecessors
to his gangs. 1. Secret Societies, like the Mafia, Camorra, and Triads;
2. Gangs of the Wild West and the tradition of highwaymen; 3. Racist gangs,
like the KKK, which persisted from the end of the civil war to today;;
and 4. Voting gangs, began in NYC and taken to violent heights in Chicago.
From this discussion, we can conclude that gangs then and now roughly
fall out into four categories. 1. There are gangs of oppressed groups,
which form because of lack of opportunity, and often take it by outlaw
means (original Mafia; western outlaws); 2. There are gangs which are
used by dominant or rising groups to enforce their power by violence or
terror (KKK, voting gangs; some Triad and Mafias); 3. There were gangs
which lasted only a short time, usually until the leader is killed or
grows up (James Gang; most social athletic clubs and urban gangs) and
4. Those gnags which persist for decades, and sometime longer (Triads;
Mafios; Chicago’s SACs, the KKK). These gangs are said to have institutionalized,
or taken permanent form.