The Hudson Dusters were a rebellious street gang that ruled the Greenwich Village area of New York City, beginning in the late 1890s. They were made up of the trio of Kid Yorke, Circular Jack, and Goo Goo Knox, who were a former member of the Gophers gang, a group that ruled Hell’s Kitchen a few blocks north. Knox tried to take control of the Gophers, failed, then moved south to terrorize a different neighborhood, which was open to any gang that might take command. The Dusters crushed local gangs like the Potash and the Boodles, then took control of Greenwich Village and the business of looting the docks along the Hudson River, a few blocks west.
The winding streets of Greenwich Village were perfect for getaways after the Dusters committed one of their various crimes. Their most accomplished thief was Ding Dong, who roamed the streets with a dozen young men. He would instruct them to get into the passing carts and throw whatever valuables they could get their hands at him. Before the police could respond, Ding Dong was long gone, having disappeared through the maze of streets that included the Village.
The Gophers became street legends, but they weren’t particularly known for their fighting prowess the way other brutal New York City gangs were. They hung out in the taverns and gin mills of the Village, mingling with the famous writers and artists of their time. Journalists also favored the Dusters, with newspapers portraying them as nothing more than a fun-loving group, drinking more than fighting. One of Duster’s friends from the party was playwright Eugene O’Neil, who frequented the gang’s hangout: Hell Hole, on Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street. It was there that O’Neil brought most of his characters together for his most famous play, The Iceman Cometh, the Iceman being Death.
Initially, the Dusters moved their base of operations frequently, eventually settling in a house on Hudson Street, just below Horatio, later the site of the Open Door Mission. More interested in partying than looting, the Dusters set up a piano and danced the night away, in a cocaine-induced stupor, with the prostitutes prowling the West Side docks a few blocks away. This upset neighboring home and business owners tremendously, but they were all afraid to file a police report, because the Dusters had a reputation for seeking revenge in a hot moment against anyone who whistled. After a night of revelry, Dusters were known to parade through the streets, drinking and drinking coke, seeking to wreak havoc on anyone or anything in their path.
One night the Dusters asked a local bartender to provide them with some kegs of beer for a party, on the arm, of course, which means they weren’t expecting to pay the man money for his actions. The innkeeper refused and the Dusters descended on his establishment, smashed the joint and took every last drop of alcohol from the place. The innkeeper ran to his friend, the 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 to intimidate them on Election Day, they ambushed the Sullivan troopers as he was about to arrest one of the Dusters for a theft charge. They attacked him from behind and stole his jacket, pistol and shield, while beating him with stones and clubs. Up to twenty Dusters took turns kicking and hitting the distraught cop after he fell. When Patrolman Sullivan was finally unconscious, four Dusters turned him on his back and dug their heels into his face, causing permanent scars. Patrolman Sullivan was eventually taken to the hospital, where he remained recovering for more than a month.
The Gophers Street Gang congratulated the Dusters on their achievement in beating the police, and the Gopher leader, “One Lung” Curran, was moved enough to write a poem, praising their actions. The poem said:
Dinny says “This is my only chance
To earn a name;
I’ll clean up the Hudson Dusters
and get to the hall of fame. ”
He lost his staff and his cannon,
and they took away his shield.
It was then that he remembered,
Every dog had his day.
The Dusters loved this poem so much that they printed hundreds of copies and distributed them through the streets of Greenwich Village, even leaving one at Charles Street Station House, where Patrolman Sullivan was stationed.
By 1916, The Dusters had dissipated, as most of their gang members were coca addicts, dead, or locked up in jail. Another Greenwich Village gang, the Marginals, led by Tanner Smith, took over Duster’s rackets and controlled the Village until Tanner was assassinated by Chicky Lewis, inside the Marginal Club on Eighth Avenue, on July 29, 1919. For all practical purposes, that was the end of the street gang presence on the Lower West Side.