Whyos: September 17, 1884

Apologies that these are a little out of sequence — I’m drawing from a number of different databases. This is the first mention of the Whos in the New York Sun, and it seems like all of the New York newspapers discovered the gang simultaneously in 1884. I include this in particular because of the names of the gang members, which will give a sense of just how Irish they were.

Mr. Jimmy Oliver’s Influence Powerful to Save Sheehan

(The Sun, September 17, 1884)

Assemblyman James Oliver of Paradise Parka gain asked Justice White, at the Tombs Court yesterday, to release Peter Sheehan, who was arrested by Policeman McManus of the Elizabeth street station for rescuing a prisoner and for disorderly conduct on Mulberry street on Sunday night, and who was sentenced to six months on the Island. Mr. Oliver persuaded the Justice to send for Policeman McManus, so that he, the Assemblyman, could cross-examine him in regard the Sheehan’s connection with the Whyo gang.

“There has been a good deal of newspaper talk about gangs,” said Justice White, as McManus stopped up before the desk, “and I want to learn something definite about them.”

Mr. Oliver asked the policeman if he did no tell the Justice that Sheehan was a member of the Whyo Gang.

“I did,” said McManus.

“What is the Who gang?”

“Young fellows who are always ready and willing to take prisoners from policemen.”

“Did Sheehan take a prisoner from you?”

“He did”

“I thought you accused him of disorderly conduct.”

“That was only a part of the complaint.”

“You didn’t say that Sheehan rescued a prisoner in your affidavit,” said the Justice. “That is a felony.”

“Yes, sir. I did.”

The Justice called for the affidavit, which showed that McManus was right.

“How do you know,” said Mr. Oliver, “that Sheehan is a member of the Whyo Gang?”

“Because he associates with them. He is a friend of ‘Red’ Reilly, who has served a term in the state prison.”

The Assemblyman fired a fuselage of questions at McManus, shutting him off whenever he attempted to say anything against the purity of Sheehan. The Justice finally said:

“Officer, you had better go back to the school of instruction. Mr. Oliver says he can produce two respectable citizens to prove the good character of Sheehan. If he brings them here I will discharge Sheehan.”

A crowd of rough-looking young men quitted the court-room with Sheehan’s champion and Policeman McManus.

Michael Hanley, a junkman of 133 Baxter, a friend and neighbor of Sheehan, and Denis Shea, another junkman, certified to Sheehan’s respectability in the afternoon, and Justice White discharged him. Mr. Hanlet said Sheehan had got drunk and had been taken out of a ball room by a policeman.

Policeman McManus said that he was forced to draw his revolver to keep back the crowd that followed him and Policeman McCarthy, who also had a prisoner, on Sunday night. McCarthy had first seized Sheehan, who threw him on the pavement. McManus afterward took charge of him.


James O’Neill and John Nolan, member of the Whyo Gang, robbed Ernest W. Dyett of his gold watch and chain at the Bowery and Canal Street on the night of Sept. 7. O’Neill pleaded guilty of grand larceny yesterday in the General Sessions, and Judge Gildersleeve sentenced him to State prison for three years. Nolan demanded a trial, but while Clerk Hall was impaneling a jury, he changed his mind and pleaded guilty of grand larceny instead. 

“Have you ever been in a State prison?” asked Judge Gildersleeve.

“Only twice,” he replied, apologetically.

Judge Gildersleeve sentenced him to State prison for four years.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.