Sadie The Goat & The Female Gangsters of New York City
July 13, 2020 ~ By Shari Rose
In 19th century New York City, gangs ruled the streets as extreme poverty and violence choked neighborhoods. In these conditions, some women, such as Sadie the Goat, Gallus Mag, and Hell-Cat Maggie, became some of the most vicious gangsters of the New York underworld
Sadie the Goat
In 1869, Sadie the Goat joined the Charlton Street Gang, headquartered at a gin mill at the end of Charlton Street on the West Side. Though her real name was Sadie Farrell, she became known as Sadie the Goat because of her favored form of fighting: headbutting men in the stomach and having a male compatriot knock the victim out cold so they could steal his money and valuables without difficulty.
Before joining the gang, she prowled the streets of the Fourth Ward, and was known as a brutal mugger of passersby. However, after a terrible fight with another female gangster known for her proclivity for mayhem, Gallus Mag, Sadie the Goat lost her ear and she fled. Gallus Mag had bitten the ear off completely and stored it in a jar in a saloon she owned.
After Sadie the Goat’s defeat, she left the Fourth Ward and found a new home on the West Side with the Charlton Street Gang. The gang had previously decided to become pirates and wreak havoc along the shores of the Hudson River, but their pillages weren’t very lucrative. However with Sadie at the helm, things began to turn around.
With Sadie the Goat in command of the gang, they stole a ship and installed her as the captain of their pirate crew. These pirates patrolled the Hudson River to steal from and terrorize the shore’s inhabitants, greatly enriching themselves in the process. Asbury says Sadie the Goat was known for her ruthlessness, and made several of her own men walk the plank throughout the pillaging. True to form, her ship carried the Jolly Roger flag.
After a few months of the pirate life, local farmers along the river banded together and engaged the pirates in gun battles. As a result, the Charlton Street Gang decided to break up, and Sadie the Goat returned to the Fourth Ward. There, Asbury says she surrendered to Gallus Mag, the gangster who ripped off her ear in their last fight. Honored by the gesture, Mag returned Goat’s ear back to her, and it’s said Sadie the Goat wore it in a necklace the rest of her life.
Unlike other female gangsters of the time, it should be noted that the only evidence we have of Sadie the Goat’s existence is found in one source, Asbury’s 1927 book, “The Gangs of New York.” It acknowledges that much of the information about Sadie the Goat comes from folklore, which throws the veracity of Sadie’s adventures into question.
Gallus Mag was a formidable force in the New York City underground world. At 6 feet tall and always carrying both a pistol and large club strapped onto her wrist, Gallus Mag served as the bouncer for a popular saloon with gangsters, the Hole-in-the-Wall. Her real name was Margaret Perry, and she ran the bar with her husband, a fellow thief named Jack Perry. It’s said that she received her nickname based on her habit of keeping her skirt up with galluses, or suspenders.
As the Hole-in-the-Wall’s bouncer, Gallus Mag was known for her no-nonsense policies and violent removals of unwelcome patrons. After bludgeoning a rowdy patron with her club, Gallus Mag would often then drag the man out of the bar by his ear in her teeth. Occasionally, she would bite a man’s ear off completely, and keep it as a trophy behind the bar, as she had with Sadie the Goat’s ear. Asbury says that “the police of the period shudderingly described her as the most savage female they had ever encountered.”
Hell-Cat Maggie was a feared member of the Dead Rabbits gang, and widely known as one of the gang’s most fierce and formidable fighters. It’s said she filed down her front teeth to sharp points, and wore pointed, feline-like brass nails that protruded from her fingers.
True to her nickname, Hell-Cat Maggie would beat, scratch, stab, and bite any rival gang member who got in her way. In large gang battles, particularly in those involving the Bowery Boys, a hated gang among the Dead Rabbits, she “screeched her battle cry and rushed biting and clawing in the midst of opposing gangsters, even the most stout-hearted blanched and fled.” It would often take the interference of the National Guard and other federal armies to finally put an end to the gang riots.
Passing the torch to future female hell-raisers, Hell-Cat Maggie was also said to “have held classes in the art [of mayhem], giving her followers the benefit of her experience and researches.”
In the Gangs of New York movie, Hell-Cat Maggie is introduced to the audience during a massive gang battle, brass pointed nails, filed teeth and all, holding an ear she had just bit off another gangster.
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Ida the Goose
Ida the Goose was “a noted beauty of the underworld” and a prominent dance hall girl who enjoyed rolling with a tough crowd. Her real name was Ida Burger, and she spent most of her time with the Gopher gang, headquartered in Hell’s Kitchen. During her tenure with the gang, she had been found guilty of helping a prisoner named Alexander Devoe escape Sing Sing Prison after he was convicted of killing a police informant. However, Ida the Goose was released from prison after a short while.
The Gophers were greatly endeared to her, and she was very popular in Hell’s Kitchen. However, when Ida the Goose had been seen on the arm of a rival gang member, a young man named Lochinvar who was with the Tricker gang, the Gophers were enraged.
Incensed by the revelation, the Gophers ordered Ida to return to Hell’s Kitchen, but she refused. So, they hatched a plan to get her back and teach the Tricker gang a hard lesson. In October 1910, four Gophers entered the Cafe Maryland, a favorite haunt of the Tricker gang. Among them was a young man, who had been dating Ida until she moved on to Lochinvar.
About six Tricker gang members were enjoying themselves at a table, and Idea was seated with them. The Gophers ordered beers, and the Tricker gang “eyed them nervously” from across the cafe.
The first person to speak was Ida the Goose. She yelled to the Gophers, “Say! Youse guys got a nerve!” The gang ignored her until their beers were empty. Then, a Gopher stood and said, “Well, let’s get at it!”
The Gophers whipped out two pistols each, and quickly shot five of the six Tricker gangsters to death. The sixth one scrambled across the floor and hid behind Ida the Goose. It was Lochinvar, the Tricker gang member who was currently dating Ida and arguably the main target of the Gophers’ ire. Everyone waited to see what Ida would say.
With a shrug, Ida the Goose tossed the young man into the center of the fray, saying, “Say, youse! Come out and take it!”
While he lay trembling on the floor, the four Gophers shot Lochinvar dead. They all then left the cafe and walked into the street. Ida the Goose followed them outside, “glowing with pride that such a great battle had been fought for her favors. And nevermore did she stray from Hell’s Kitchen.”
Battle Annie was the leader of the Lady Gophers, an all-women gang and sister gang to the Gophers. They were officially called the Battle Row Ladies’ Social and Athletic Club, which is, of course, absolute perfection. The Lady Gophers were based at Mallet Murphy’s Battle Row saloon in Hell’s Kitchen. Asbury says Battle Annie was “the sweetheart of practically the entire Gopher gang” and stayed leader for a while.
One way that Battle Annie, whose real name was Annie Walsh, supplied her gang’s income was through playing both sides of labor union fights. She could put together a reserve battalion of up to 50 women for a brutal fight, profiting by supplying fighters for both businesses and labor unions.
In gang battles, Asbury says “it was the women who inflicted the most tortures.” The female fighters were known to stab men with butcher knives, rip out eyes and tongues, and even set some on fire after dousing them in oil. As the leader of the Lady Gophers, Battle Annie was “particularly gifted in the art of mayhem.”
After more than six years as the leader of the Lady Gophers, that Battle Annie officially became known as the “Queen of Hell’s Kitchen.”