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"Battle" Annie Walsh: Queen of Hell's Kitchen

Let’s talk about Battle Annie, one of the more notorious female gang leaders who was active in Hell’s Kitchen, New York in the late 1800s.

I couldn’t find too much about her early life. In fact, a lot of the information that I was able to find was more related to the gang that she was a part of then Annie herself. So we’re going to do a little trip down history lane and see what, exactly, this gang she was a part of was up to in the late 1800s.

But first-some backstory.

I don’t think it’s any secret that early NYC was home to some big name gangsters and mafiosos. Hell’s Kitchen, especially, earned its name during this time period. I always think it’s funny when people talk about their nostalgia for like, how life used to be and missing the old ways of New York City, or any place in general. If you look at history, you’ll find a lot of the same problems of today were just as if not more pervasive as what was happening back then. Literally, so many things.

But one of the things that I will admit to being nostalgic for is the sheer creativity and levels of ridiculousness that came with gang names. Not just names of the gangs themselves, but nicknames of their members. For example, our Battle Annie’s full name is Annie Walsh. So how do you go from having a name from a Jane Austen novel to “Battle Annie”? Because, as quoted from a policeman’s report, she was “one of the most feared brick hurlers of her time.” She was fierce when it came to fighting, whether that was against rival gangs over territory or policemen when they happened to push her gang a little too far.

This gang, spelled G-O-P-H-E-R, was apparently actually pronounced “goofer”. Called such because they tended to gather together in cellars or basements. Together, they controlled the middle West side, estimating from 14th to 42nd streets and 7th-11th avenues. For those who don’t know New York, like me, that includes areas that today hold Times Square, Grand Central Station, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Empire State Building. They were also especially active when it came to the New York Central Railway Yards, as they tended to rob the freight trains as they came through the West Side. This became such a routine tactic of theirs that eventually during the 1910’s New York began to establish a police presence along the railways to stop them. Their main source of illegal activity came from committing burglaries, running bordellos-aka brothel houses, and petty theft.

A saloon on Battle Row, which was located on 39th st between 10th&11th avenues was owned by Mallet Murphy, a pseudonym for the man who was considered to be the overall “leader” of the Gopher Gang when it officially combined in the 1890’s. He was called Mallet Murphy because of the wooden mallet that he was known to bring to brawls and break up fights with. The Battle Row Saloon was also a perfect name for the saloon itself, as it was located in an area that played battleground to many rival gang members in New York at that time.

See, there were 5 big name gangs that controlled the criminal world in New York between 1880-1920. These were The Hudson Dusters, the Five Pointers, the Whyos, the Eastman Gang, and our very own Gophers. Now, most of these gangs would eventually disband or fade away, but their division and overall makeup paved the way for many ambitious gangsters that followed their footsteps. Most notably, the Five Pointers, who were the predecessors of the Five Points Gang, where infamous criminals like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano-which, I love the alliteration there-, and Johnny Torrio made their start.

And as I’m sure we can guess, this made for a very violent time in New York City, to the point where Hell’s Kitchen basically earned its name because of the neighborhood’s violent reputation.

The Gopher Gang, and by association Battle Annie, was well known to be a “group of brawlers, muggers, and thieves.” And while it is assumed that they provided clandestine services to those who had the money, in 1908 they began to publicly advertise those services, which sidenote-may have also led to their downfall? Like if I was in a gang, I wouldn’t publicly advertise the illegal services I provide, because their illegal?? And I don’t want to advertise?? I do illegal things?? At least not publicly. Anyway.

I’ve used a converter because I was curious to see how these prices held up from back then to now, and this is what I’ve found. As advertised from The Gopher Gang and their associates, we have:

A slash on the cheek: $1-10 ($30-280), shot in the leg: $1-25(30-700), shot in arm: $5-$25(140.28-701.40), bomb: $5-$20(140-560)-which I have to say it’s crazy that shooting someone in the arm or leg is potentially more expensive than planting a bomb, but I digress. Finally, murder: $10-100 ($280-2800).

The committee, like a board of CEO’s, would meet regularly at the Battle Row saloon to plan their upcoming crimes as well as disperse funds gathered. These committee members are recorded as being Marty Brennan, Stumpy Malarkey, and Newburgh Gallagher. There seem to be almost two different phases of the Gopher Gang-the high point, during the late 1800s and then their decline around the 1910s.

Annie herself was notably active during the 1870’s-1880’s, during which time she formed and became leader of the Lady Gophers, more formally known as Battle Row Ladies' Social and Athletic Club. She started with 50 lady members, and then worked her way up to an estimated 200 that acted as reserve members for fights with rival gangs and police. This is where her second nickname, “The Queen of Hell’s Kitchen” was formed.

Unfortunately, 1907 came with the beginning of the end of The Gopher Gang, when one of the committee leaders Newburgh Gallagher began a 3 year feud with bartender William Lennon. Never let it be said that the Gopher Gang didn’t just hold grudges-they turned it into like an Olympic level feat.

The whole feud began over a card game, and came to an end on May 17th, 1910 when Gallagher and fellow Gopher Gang committee member Marty Brennan went to the bar where Lennon was working. An argument began almost immediately, and guns were drawn on both sides. Lennon shot Gallagher in the stomach and they left.

In some completely random turn of events, Brennan and Gallagher ended up in a different bar later that night, and ran into Lennon again. This time, Gallagher was the one to pull his gun, and he shot Lennon three times. Lennon died, and Gallagher and Brennan were arrested shortly after. Both received jail sentences. Gallagher received between 9-19 years, and even though he was the one who took full responsibility and claimed Brennan had no part in it, Brennan also received 19 years due to having a previous prison sentence.

After their arrest, the Gophers were officially led by One Lung Curran. Like I said, these names are ridiculous and amazing and I love them. He was known for orchestrating attacks on lone patrolmen, stealing the officers uniforms, altering them, and then wearing the stolen uniform around the neighborhood the Gophers controlled. Other gang members were inspired to do the same, until it became a common occurrence practiced among the Gopher Gang.

However, One Lung Curran died in 1917, and with his death, in addition to the increased police presence along the railway lines, the Gopher Gang soon disbanded into smaller factions before disappearing completely.

When it comes to Battle Annie and her actual deeds, it’s nearly impossible to find any information about her. Unfortunately, this tends to be a problem that’s continued all throughout history, which is why even though I know it’ll make this episode a little shorter than our usual ones, I still wanted to mention her.

Women have been active members of various gangs and gang life all throughout history. However, even today we still don’t know much when it comes to women in gangs, at least when it comes to the United States. I’m not sure of the similarities in statistics for other countries, but when surveyed in the U.S, over 25% of police departments didn’t have any data on female membership in gangs whatsoever. In a 2016 survey made by the National Gang Center, 71% of female gang members had committed violent acts, and this includes instances in which they were asked, forced, or volunteered.

Although there seems to be growing interest and demand when it comes to gathering data on women in gangs now, it is disappointing to find that the same problem that plagued me when trying to look up information about Annie Walsh is happening when it comes to women in gangs today. Maybe people didn’t realize how much of an interest there would be in the criminal syndicates of New York City, then or now, or maybe Annie Walsh’s life wasn’t considered important enough to record. Maybe the same problem is happening today. Whatever the reason, it definitely makes me more than a little sad that what seems like an extremely interesting person is reduced to nothing more than a little footnote in history.

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