“…the Fourteenth Street gang, under the leadership of Al Rooney, successfully maintained its hegemony for several years, as did the Yakey Yakes, the Lollie Meyers and the Red Onions. The Yakey Yakes operated around Brooklyn Bridge under the leadership of Yakey Yake Brady. They finally left the field when Yakey Yake died of tuberculosis.” –Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York, Chapter XII, Section 4.
The above lines represent the entirety of Asbury’s remarks about the Yakey Yakes, one of the ferocious New York City gangs of the early years of the Twentieth century. The Yakey Yakes ruled the Cherry Hill section of the Fourth Ward, the area between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge on the East River waterfront. They were held together by the charisma of their leader, John “Yakey Yake” Brady, who was given his gang name from the attempts of a German bartender to render his nickname, Jack.
Brady was an unusual and interesting gangster. Less than five feet tall, he had once trained as a jockey. Unlike his followers, his preferred weapons were not revolvers, but fists and knives. He was not only gainfully employed, but a successful tradesman: he was a cooper, and also owned a combination candy store/pool room that was the headquarters of his gang. He split off from other neighboring gangs, it was rumored, because he didn’t condone the girlfriends of his neighborhood gang members being pimped out (and, in fact, the female auxiliary of the Yakey Yakes earned their own way mugging sailors).
Asbury missed out on recounting the 1902-1903 battle among the Monk Eastmans, the Five Pointers, and the Yakey Yakes. In the newspaper morgue of the New York Sun, Asbury could have found the following classic example of crime reporting from its March 15, 1903 edition. [The unknown author might have been Alfred Henry Lewis.] The article is titled, “A Wild West Feud in New York,” and within the space of two newspaper columns outlines a script of a great gangster saga:
The Monk Eastman-Five Points feud, of which the Monk Eastman-Yakie-Yake feud is an outcropping, is a slimy bit of city history. There isn’t anything in it to recall the husky fighting days of the old-fashioned New York gangs. Consider for a moment Monk Eastman, the leader of the upper East Side gang. Eastman got his name from the expression of pleasant human intelligence which does not adorn his countenance. He is reverenced by the idle youth of Allen street, Division street, and East Broadway. He earns their affection by managing East Side balls, with great profit to himself and great opportunities for the campaigns of that unsavory organization, the subdued, but not disorganized, Allen Street Cadets.
In the dives of that part of the city where the Monk Eastman gang is strong, innocent strangers are frequently lured into pool games at 2 1/2 cents a cue. If the stranger is willing to drink, he usually wakes up the next morning in a tenement hallway with his pockets turned inside out and no money left. If he will not drink, a fight is started over the game and he is clouted over the head and his clothing is ransacked in the confusion. The police have never had the slightest evidence that Monk Eastman himself has ever indulged in any of these reprehensible affairs. But many young men who have been accused of such crimes and have been arrested for them have been proud to describe themselves as members of “the “Eastmans” and have threatened the gang’s vengeance against all who helped to press a charge against them.
One day last September the Monk Eastmans gave a racket at New Irving Hall. to this ball came Tung Tung Bertini of the Five Points Social Club in White street, and no small company of retainers. Their very presence was an act of hostility. For in the matter of the murder of one of the Yakie Yakes in a resort with a foul nickname in East Broadway and Catherine streets many months ago, the Five Pointers had made common cause with the murdered man’s friends. The man was murdered, by the way, for having turned State’s evidence in a pocket picking case in which he had been arrested with a member of the Monk Eastmans. That feud was followed by three deaths. But they were deaths that were met in battle. The feud was carried on for some months as a family matter.
Nevertheless the Five Pointers had in the opinion of the Monk Eastmans “butted in.” The appearance of the Italians at the ball was distinctly a storm signal. Tung tung immediately laid siege to the affections of the sweetheart of one of Monk Eastman’s most respected henchmen. The young woman before the ball was half over transferred her allegiance to him, and gave token thereof by dancing with him a turning a glazed eye on “Becky’s Ike,” the henchman. Now this was more than an injury of the heart. Ike’s fine raiment, and indeed his means of subsistence, depended on the young woman’s loyalty to him. He lived on her earnings.
He drew a revolver and fired at Tung Tung. The Italians drew stilettos. The hall was full of smoke and screams in a minute. The private policemen and the special policemen who had been providentially sent to watch the ball by the captain of the precinct rushed in, and the combatants rushed out. The police, as is their wise custom on such occasions, made more of a point of giving everyone present a good drubbing than of making any arrests. If there were any actual casualties, the police records do not show it.
Two days later, the Monk Eastmans, declaring that the insult of “the breaking up of the racket” was one to be wiped out in blood, went down to the Chatham Club, in Chinatown. There they found Mike Bove, one of Tung Tung’s lieutenants. They beat him into unconsciousness and retreated to their own headquarters before the Five Pointers could gather. Bove, whose father was a well-known Italian banker, died of his injuries. Tung Tung sent word that they didn’t dare to come back. The Eastmans answered this challenge by invading the Five Points district on the night of Sept. 29.
There was a running fight in White street, Center street, Franklin street, and Broadway for two hours, despite the best efforts of forty policemen from three precincts to stop it. Hundreds of revolver shots were fired. In the morning, five or six revolvers were picked up, and twenty or more long iron T-bars, such as builders use. Many of them were stained with blood. But there were no wounded found by police. The next night Isadore Foster of the Monk Eastmans was chased through Clinton street by a crowd of Italians and was beaten to death. Three nights later the Tung tung forces went to Smith’s poolroom, in Suffolk street, the headquarters of the Eastmans, and started to wreck the place.
The police interrupted. But Samuel Levinson of 93 Monroe street was killed. Al Fryer was disabled for life. These crimes could not be brought home to anybody, though numbers of both gangs were sent to the workhouse for six months for disorderly conduct and the carrying of concealed weapons. The police interfered so much with the personal liberty of gatherings of the Five pointers and the Monk Eastmans for a while after this that they veered over into the oak street precinct, where both sides were more or less affiliated with the Yakie Yakes.
The Yakie Yakes took their name from one Yake Yake Brady, who keeps a most inoffensive looking candy store at 112 Roosevelt street, right around the corner from Cherry street, with a two-and-a-half-cent poolroom attached. With this place as a storm center the fighting was renewed. Two men were taken to the hospital with pistol shot wounds. Both refused to tell who shot them.
Then it was that Big Tom Foley, the boss of the Second Assembly district, was besought by the law-abiding citizens of Cherry Hill to step in and stop the trouble. He brought Eastman and Tung Tung and Yake Yake together and told them to be good. There was peace for almost two months. But within a month, as newspaper readers know, there has started another reign of terror on Cherry Hill. one afternoon in broad daylight, for instance, a man was shot in Yake Yake Brady’s. He said in a moment of carelessness that Yake Yake himself had shot him.
A policeman went after Brady, and Brady snapped a revolver at him twice. Magistrate Breen, who didn’t know Yake Yake as well as he should benevolently discharged him. Then the night fights began. Another mysteriously shot man was taken to Gouveneur Hospital within ten days. Almost every night, on the slope of Cherry street, in Roosevelt street, under the bridge, revolver shots have echoed by twos and threes and by hundreds.
It is told among the members of the gangs that eight or ten men have been hit and have been carried away by their friends. The police are skeptical. They say that the gangs are worse shots than the Spanish navy. They invariably stand up to one another if numbers are anywhere nearly equal and shoot at arm’s length. But they shoot low, and as may be inferred, with habitual inaccuracy.
It is likely that peace has come again to Cherry Hill. Certainly there are few of the Yakie Yakes left to carry on the war. On two different afternoons last week, Rounderman Mulhall took a squad of police to Yake Yake Brady’s and arrested everybody in the place on the broad ground of disorderly conduct. Magistrate Barlow, who is in sympathy with the movement, sent thirteen of the prisoners to Blackwell’s Island for a month. Jim Cassidy, a famous Yakie Yake, was tried for highway robbery in Special Sessions on Friday. Policeman Fallon had caught him in the act of robbing a drunken sailor and had taken two large revolvers from him after arresting him.
The police harassment of Yakey Yake Brady continued throughout 1903. He was finally forced to shutter his Roosevelt Street candy store and took over a cooperage in Jersey City, New Jersey. A year later he died of tuberculosis.