Sunday, March 21, 2021

Deadly Encounter Between Two Chicago Bridge Tenders. One of the Combatants Badly Wounded. 1867

A desperate struggle, resulting almost in murder, occurred at one o'clock in the morning of November 2, 1867, between two assistant bridge-tenders at the State street crossing. That murder was not committed, was in no way the fault of the combatants, for there was neither a lack of intent nor were the weapons employed impotent to produce such a result.
The first State Street Bridge was completed in 1864. The bridge was 184 feet in length and cost $32,000. It was built of wooden braces and chords. State Street Bridge #1, Looking North from Lake Street in 1868.

Chicago's first horse-drawn streetcar began running along a single railroad track laid in the middle of State Street between Madison and Twelfth Streets on April 25, 1859. (Twelfth '12th' Street was renamed Roosevelt Road on May 25, 1919.) By 1866, the State Street horse car service was extended to South Water Street on the north to 39th street on the south. 

DATING THIS PHOTOGRAPH: John Van Buskirk and David Henry began their partnership in the "wholesale wine and liquors" business at 20 State Street in 1864. During 1867 and 1868, Van Buskirk became a junior partner, and the company name was changed from "Van Buskirk & Henry" to "David Henry & Co." In 1870, David Henry moved his business to 79 Wabash where he was listed as a distiller.


The names of the parties who were engaged in the brutal and desperate affair were John Gannon and Edward Williams, both employed as assistants by Thomas Lewis, the head bridge-tender. Gannon, it appears, was off duty during the early part of the night, and returned about midnight somewhat the worse for the liquor he had imbibed during his vacation.

When he made his appearance at the bridge-house, Williams, his fellow-assistant, who had also imbibed somewhat freely, began to upbraid him in terms more forcible than elegant for returning in a condition that would prevent him from attending to his duties.
State Street Bridge #1, Looking North from South Water Street. 1868


The party thus accused denied the "slander," and retorted in a manner equally impressive. From words, they soon resorted to blows, and a desperate struggle ensued in the little bridge-house, about which a number of persons now began to collect. At first, only blows and kicks were given and taken. However, nature's implements soon failed as mediums which to express their feelings. Willimas, being evidently the soberest of the two, had the advantage from the beginning, and during the struggle succeeded in laying hold of a club, with which he felled his adversary to the floor. However, he was down only for a moment, and the struggle was continued with redoubled fury.

Williams now sprang for an ax, standing in a corner of the little hut, and with this, he dealt a crushing blow on his adversary's skull. This more than sufficed to bring Gannon down. However, not satisfied with the punishment inflicted, Williams was about to repeat the blow and already was the ax descending, when Mr. Lewis and a young man sprang into the hut, and, after a desperate struggle, wrung the weapon out of the hands of the would-be murderer. At this juncture Officers Lull and Layman, who had been attracted to the scene by the crowd, made their appearance and took William in charge. 

The little shanty, after the struggle, presented a fearful scene. The walls, the floor, the bed, and everything about the place was thickly covered with blood, while the prostate body of Gannon was covered with gore from his head to his feet. By means of a generous application of water, he was eventually revived, and, when able to walk, both parties were conveyed to the Armory, where Gannon's wounds received careful attention.

The blow with the ax caused a gash on the back of the skull, and it was not at all improbable that it may prove fatal. His body and face were also terribly beaten and bruised. Williams' injuries were not so severe, although his face was badly cut up. Altogether, the two constitute an exemplary pair of bridge-tenders, who ought to receive promotion. Their case will receive proper attention at the Police Court this morning.  

Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1867
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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