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Lithuanian Gangs in Chicago


"Chicago's Gangland," by Frederick M. Thrasher, from his 1927 book "The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago," Univ. of Chicago Press, as a map folded in a pocket in the back of the book.. Map image from the P.J. Mode collection of persuasive cartography, #8548. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library: https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/ss:3293910


"Chicago’s first street gangs developed among White immigrants along ethnic lines in the 1860s — particularly Irish, German, and Lithuanian people. Following the 1919 race riot, Black males formed gangs to confront hostile White gang members who were terrorizing the African American communities. In the 1920s, gangs became entrenched in the patronage networks operated by ward politicians, with notorious criminals and rum-runners. “History of Gangs in the United States,” https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/43455_1.pdf


"By the early 1900s, Chicago was a cauldron of warring factions, according to Hartfield’s “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919,” (Clarion Books). More than 1,300 gangs were fanned out across the city, organized largely by ethnicity. After World War I, the blacks who flooded to Chicago for jobs at the start of the Great Migration suddenly found themselves blocked from the workforce in favor of returning white veterans. Over the course of just four months in 1919, the number of employed blacks plummeted from 65,000 to 50,000, fueling resentment. Tensions boiled over in late July when a white man threw a rock at a black boy, who then drowned, at 29th Street beach. The murder set off a weeklong riot. On the second day, white men, women, and children waited outside the Union Stock Yard with switchblades and baseball bats to attack black workers, and disabled streetcars so the occupants had no choice but to wade into the mob. Rumors spread quickly amid the chaos, inflaming the hostility. About a thousand black people then swarmed the Angelus, one of the few all-white apartment buildings in the Black Belt, after hearing that a white person had shot a black boy from a window. Police searched the building but didn’t find any suspects. Unsatisfied with the investigation, someone in the crowd threw a brick at one of the cops. The police fired back, killing four. The uprising culminated with the torching of a pocket of Lithuanian homes near the stockyards. Members of Ragen's Colts (a predominatly Irish gang that by the late 1920s became part of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit) in blackface perpetrated the attack to fuel hatred of blacks. The Lithuanians didn’t fall for it, though, and the riot ended — but not before 38 people were dead [23 black and 15 white), and more than 1,000 injured. ChicagoMag.com, Lauren Williamson, January 3, 2018 https://www.chicagomag.com/chicago-magazine/january-2018/1919-race-riot/


Six Lithuanian gangs were identified in 1920's Chicago by Univ. of Chicago sociology professor Frederick M. Thrasher. I will quote from his book ("The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago,) about Lithuanians a bit later on, and show you detailed images of where he determined Chicago Lithuanians lived and where their gangs met, but first, Chicago Lithuanian gangs in the context of nationality:


"The Gang," Table IV, page 192.


The other gangs: 351 gangs of mixed nationality in which proportions of various stocks are unknown; 855 gangs consisting of 45 "Native white parentage," 63 "Negro," and 747 "Foreign extraction."


What sort of individuals were in these gangs? "Children (10 - 24) of parents -- one or both of whom are foreign-born immigrants." "The Polish, Italian and Irish furnish many more gangs than might be expected from their population groups, while among the Swedish and Germans there are relatively few gangs."


What areas made up Chicago's 1920's "Gangland"?

  1. "North Side jungles"

"North of the Loop and the Chicago River, east of the north branch of that stream, constituting a portion of the unique area known as the 'Grand Canyon of Chicago' because of the great diversity of its 'social scenery'...a mosaic of little worlds which touch but do not intersect...All the gangs of this region together are known as the 'North Siders,' and they wage continual warfare across the river bridges with their enemies the 'West Siders.'"

  1. "West Side wilderness"

"Most extensive of gangland domains: south and west of the north branch of the Chicago River, west of the Loop, and north and west of the south branch of the river...Across these turbid, sewage-laden waters lie the crowded river wards...The gangs of this area have formed a general alliance, the 'West Siders against their rivals in [Polish] 'Pojay Town' across the river...Here there is a gang on almost every block."

  1. "South Side badlands"

"South of the Loop and southeast of the south branch of the Chicago River lies the third [and oldest] major division of gangland...here [the old settlement of Bridgeport] is the first gang of which we have secured a record had its beginnings. The earliest settlers in Bridgeport were the Irish, who retreated before the influx of Germans. The latter, in turn, gave way to the Poles who are in the majority today."


Detail images of the maps, north to south, with locations of gangs:


Detail 1: See the Polish, German, Swedish and Hungarian areas.


Detail 2: See the Jewish - Polish frontier, and the Italian, Negro and Dutch areas west of the Loop.


Detail 3: See the two Lithuanian areas, along with the Bohemian, and Polish areas, "Back of the Yard."


Detail 3a. What's there today? A Mexican area.

Detail 3b: Lithuanian gangs with and without clubrooms, surrounded by well-known gangs. What's there today? Kucinski-Murphy Park, and Chicago Fire Department - Engine 39.


Detail 4: See the Bohemian, Polish, Negro, Jewish, Italian, Dutch and American areas, and Marquette Park.


All Mentions of Lithuanians in the book "The Gang:"

  1. "In the southern portion of the 'Ghetto,' [part of the West Side wilderness] is an area known as the 'Valley' -- the cradle of a powerful gang of robbers, bootleggers, and beer runners...South of the Valley, in a Lithuanian colony, are a large number of street gangs. West of the Lithuanian settlement and north of the river is 'Little Pilsen,' a Bohemian area from which many of the residents are rapidly moving before an influx of Croations and Poles." (p. 14)

  2. "South and east of the older portion of Bridgeport is a Lithuanian colony in which many of the boys belong to lawless gangs which break windows, steal, and hold up children and drunken men on the street." (p. 18)

  3. "A still later invasion of this territory [the Valley] has been the Lithuanian. Gangs of Lithuanian boys and some Russians have become active, and the Maxwell Street district possesses a number of Jewish gangs. The Irish and the Jews have come to a sort of accommodation in the course of their dwelling together in the district. The Jew lets the Irish do his fighting, and Irish women often get employment from Jews, working in Jewish homes on Saturdays [when Orthodox Jews, on the Shabbat, avoid doing things like baking and cooking, travelling, kindling fire, using electric appliances, switching lights on or off, gathering wood, buying and selling, and bearing burdens from one domain into another.] The Old World antagonism between Lithuanian and Jew, however, has been carried over, and the Lithuanian and Jewish elements clash in Stanford Park, which the non-Jewish gangs call "Jew Park," and which they claim is monopolized by the Jews" (p. 200)

  4. Regarding the April 13, 1926 primary election in Cook County and Chicago: "Recounts of the April primaries revealed startling and wholesale ballot thefts, particularly in the Republican vote and in favor of the candidates of factional machines. In many precincts it was shown that the judges and clerks of election, including persons of both political parties, did not even take the trouble to count the ballots, but simply wrote down imaginary results in accordance with the instructions they received from their 'bosses.' In some cases ballots were taken from the polling places and later returned and put into the ballot box by the politicians, who then checked off an equal number of names of persons, few of whom had entered the polling places. One of the first wards to be recounted was the 20th, which is located in the heart of gangland. This area includes a Lithuanian colony at its southern end, part of Little Pilsen on the west, the Valley, the Ghetto, in which there have been several previous election scandals., and the southern portion of the Little Italy section which surrounds Hull House. It is one of those congested areas where gangs abound; in addition to adult gangs, our census showed about 50 gangs and gang clubs of younger and older adolescents in the ward." [p. 468]

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