Christopher Wallace shortly after being arrested, along with Monk Eastman, in 1904.
|Founding location||Lower East Side, Manhattan, New York|
|Territory||Manhattan, New York|
|Criminal activities||Armed robbery, theft, illegal gambling, extortion, prostitution|
|Rivals||Five Points Gang, Yakey Yakes|
The Eastman Gang was the last of New York's street gangs which dominated the city's underworld during the late 1890s until the early 1910s. Along with the Five Points Gang under Paul Kelly, the Eastmans succeeded the long dominant Whyos as the first non-Irish street gang to gain prominence in the underworld during the 1890s, and marked the beginning of a forty to fifty-year period of heavy Jewish-American influence within organized crime in New York City.
Under the leadership of Monk Eastman, a well known bouncer and hired thug, the Eastmans would spend the next decade establishing a criminal empire in Manhattan's Lower East Side through criminal activities, including prostitution and illegal gambling, specifically operating stuss games, as well as later establishing political connections through Tammany Hall.
According to an article in the April 26th, 1903 edition of the New York Daily Tribune, the gang that would become the Eastmans first came on the scene in the early 1890s. They started out in the notorious Corlear's Hook section of the lower east side on Rivington street in the vicinity of Mangin and Goerck streets. Another gang of the era, the Short-Tail Gang, had its headquarters in this same area, making it entirely possible that the Eastmans grew out of the Short-Tails. Originally composed of gentiles from the local slums, the gang quickly became almost exclusively Jewish with the influx of Jewish immigrants into lower Manhattan and nearby Brooklyn. When Monk Eastman himself entered the gang is unknown, but the fact that several newspaper articles refer to him as hailing from Corlear's Hook indicates that it was probably during this early era.
By the start of the 20th century the gang had expanded beyond Corlear's Hook and changed its criminal focus from petty theft to pimping, using the many "disorderly houses" (brothels) along Allen street to amass a small fortune. During this time the gang became known as the "Allen Street Cadets" ("cadet" being bowery slang for a pimp) and adopted the flamboyant lifestyle that came with their profession. According to one local charity worker "You never saw an Eastman without a woman." Aside from pimping they also kept their hand in other crimes, running gambling houses, peddling opium, and hiring themselves out as paid goons. One of the gang's "clubhouses" during this time was Silver Dollar Smith's saloon on Essex street. Monk Eastman himself worked as a "sheriff" or bouncer there, and he quickly became a favorite mercenary for the many Tammany Hall politicians and Wall street big wigs who frequented the place. As Monk's fame grew, his gang came to be known simply as the "Monk Eastmans" or the "Eastman gang".
Like many gangs of the time, the Eastmans were mostly dandies, well-groomed men who liked to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. According to Alfred Henry Lewis's 1912 book, The Apaches of New York, many of the gang members were also bicycle enthusiasts, owing to Monk Eastman's own interest in the riding machines. Lewis claims that Monk rented bicycles out of his Broome street bird shop, and that an associate even opened a club in Monk's honor called "The Squab Wheelman" (after the boss's twin passions—pigeons and bicycles).
Eventually, the gang became involved in rivalries with other local gangs such as the Yakey Yakes and the Five Points Gang, warring over both territory and work as political sluggers for Tammany Hall. The Eastmans dominated the gang war during the first year as gang members rallied under Monk Eastman in pitched battles in the streets of New York reminiscent of the gangs of the previous century. Eastman's charismatic leadership, who often lead his men into battle, caused many members of the Five Pointers to defect to the Eastmans including Richie Fitzpatrick and Max "Kid Twist" Zwerbach among others. However, as the gang war began to escalate, the gang leaders were forced by Tammany politicians to agree to a truce before losing control of the situation.
Reign of Kid Twist
After Monk Eastman's arrest for a street mugging in 1904, the gang threatened to disintegrate among warring factions all looking to assume leadership of the gang, and by the end of the year, the gang was split between former Eastman lieutenants Max Zwerbach and Richie Fitzpatrick.
Threatened by civil war during their war with the Five Pointers, Zwerbach and Fitzpatrick agree to meet for a truce in late 1904. However, possibly while attending a peace conference, Fitzpatrick was found shot to death at a local neighborhood saloon near Sheriff-Chrystie Street on November 1, 1904.
With the elimination of the remaining members of the Fitzpatrick faction by Zwerbach lieutenant Vach "Cyclone Louie" Lewis several weeks later, would leave the aptly named "Kid Twist" Zwerbach to assume leadership of the Eastmans.
He would continue his war against the Five Points Gang on and off during his four year reign however, Paul Kelly was eventually able to arrange the deaths of Zwerbach and Lewis using an altercation with underling Louis "Louie the Lump" Pioggi to set them up for an ambush on May 14, 1908.
Zelig and the final years
Following the deaths of Zwerbach and Lewis, "Big" Jack Zelig took over what remained of the Eastmans. Dividing the gang into three separate factions, with the other two operating as satellite gangs under saloonkeepers Jack Sirocco and Chick Tricker, the two eventually turned on Zelig leaving him behind for the police during a failed armed robbery.
The two factions were involved in gun battles throughout the city during the next year and, while a failed attempt on Zelig's life at the hands of Julie Morrell resulted in the assassin's death in December 1911, both Sirocco and Tricker would assume control of what was left of the Eastmans after Zelig was killed by "Red" Phil Davidson shortly before his testimony against Charles Becker on October 5, 1912.
- Asbury, Herbert (1928), The Gangs of New York, New York: Alfred A Knopf, ISBN 1-56025-275-8.
- Lewis, Alfred Henry (1912), The Apaches of New York, New York: GW Dillingham Co.
- Hanson, Neil. Monk Eastman: The Gangster Who Became a War Hero. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. ISBN 0-307-26655-9 OCLC 503041968