Back to Notorious Chicago
Chicago Tribune, November 8, 1948
Hairtrigger Block, a nickname of wild west atmosphere, we are of the opinion that, if used in the 1890s, it merely reflected the grotesque humor of an earlier period. It was a designation for Randolph st. between State and Dearborn sts. in the 1860s, and it became a civic jest largely because of the antics of two characters of the underworld, gamblers and consorts of demi-mondanes, Samuel H. “Cap” Hyman and George Trussell. Each of these flamboyant wretches believed that he was the king bully of the town, and each talked about shooting the other on sight.1
There were occasional exchanges of pistol shots between Hyman and Trussell when they were drunk, but no harm was done except to window panes and signboards. This feud between two obnoxious exhibitionists was regarded more of a bore than a nuisance by the tolerant constabulary. It ended when Trussell died with his boots on in the middle of Hartrigger Block and in front of the Times newspaper office, but Hyman could not claim the honor of killing him. The shot was fired by Trussell’s woman, named Mollie, on Sept. 3, 1866, in an episode that might have been the maudlin origin of the song, “Frankie and Johnny.”
Hairtrigger Block Area
Looking north on Clark street from Randolph street
History of the Chicago Police, by John J. Flinn, 1887
One of the characters of the time was a certain “Captain” Hyman, a professional blackleg and gambler, who was wont while in liquor to go about town intimidating people by whipping out a revolver and threatening death to anybody who crossed him in any way. One evening during an exciting political contest in 1862, “Captain” Hyman took possession of the Tremont House office, and, revolver in hand, defied anybody to arrest him. The guests fled and the house police, as well as the officer on that beat, were afraid to go near him. He walked to and fro at the top of the high flight of steps leading up from the Dearborn street entrance, and refused to allow anyone to leave or enter the house. Word was sent to Captain Jack Nelson at the detective headquarters, corner of Washington and La Salle streets. The captain jumped into old “Shang” Noyes’ hack and drove rapidly to the hotel. He was told the situation, and with out the slightest hesitancy stepped into the stairway in full view of the desperado. Hyman did not recognize him, and was about to shoot when Nelson said, “Put up that gun and come down here! “Hyman recognized the voice and cried out, “Don’t shoot, Jack; I’ll come down,” and imitating Captain Scott’s squirrel, he descended and was driven to the station. The siege of the hotel had continued for upwards of an hour, and Hyman afterward said that he would never have been taken by anyone but Nelson. Said he: “Jack is a brave man, knows no fear, and can shoot too quick for
Chicago Tribune, March 27, 1866
ANOTHER HAUL OF THE FANCY—Sergeant of Detectives, Wells Sherman, shortly after noon yesterday, at the head of a detachment of his staff, made descent upon the gambling rooms of the notorious George Trussell, located in the second story of the brick building No. 155 Dearborn street, opposite the Postoffice. The whole affair was so quietly conducted that the gamblers, sixteen in number, were completely taken by surprise, and together with the paraphernalia of their profession, were removed at once to the Central Police Station (Madison street, between Clark and La Salle), where Justice Milliken admitted them to bail in the sum of $200 each for their appearance before the Recorder’s Court. The following are the names of the delectable crowd: George Holt, alias John O’Brien, Robert S. Filkins, alias Robert Spence, George Bronley, Jefferson Fergusen, alias George Decker, Eugene H. Fish, alias RWalter S. Fitch, George Walker, Louis Yates, alias George H. Harris, Francis Marrion, John Tyler Page, Walter Winchester, John N. Hunter. alias “Dutch Nick,” David S. Hancock, Lewis D. Smith, Henry Geib, alias Henry Jones, Charles Bonfanti and George M. Noyes.
Chicago Tribune, September 5, 1866
The present week has already been signalized with more than one event of startling character. Murder and bloodshed is rampant in the city, and “one doth tread upon another’s heels.” Last night, about eleven o’clock, a murder was committed which will probably cause a wider and deeper excitement in the community than any recent event, owing to the notoriety of the parties, and the circumstances under which the affair took place.
George Trussell, the notorious gambler, whose name has been a familiar one to most of our citizens for several years past, was shot dead in a saloon by his former mistress. Mollie Trussell, a name almost equally notorious. It was the consummation of a protracted quarrel of two years standing, the last act of a tragedy, a not unnatural termination to such a career.
The mere facts connected with the assassination may be given in a few lines, but the event itself calls up a long and painful history, the recital of which would occupy many pages. Trussell had been all day at the race course, and was spending the evening with a number of his sporting friends around the city, drinking in the saloons and making arrangements probably for the great match which was to come off on the morrow. About half-past ten o’clock he went into Seneca Wright’s saloon, No. 75 Randolph street, and while there he met a Mr. Austin, of the Circus Company, and several companions, with whom Trussell was acquainted. Mr. Wright, he asked him to go out with her. He refused, and as she would not be put off with a refusal, he took her by the shoulders and gently pushed her from him ou of the door. Without saying another word, Mollie drew a revolver from her pocket, levelled it, and fired. The shot evidently took effect, for Trussell immediately pressed his hand to his side, and retreated to the saloon of the saloon. Mollie pursued him and fired a second shot, placing the muzzle close to his back. He cried out “I am shot,” and staggered to the side entrance and fell dead on the spot. Mollie, who was partially intoxicated, rushed out and with a frantic scream, threw herself upon the prostrate form, crying out
O my George! my George! he is dead.
While she was indulging in bitter lamentations of a maudlin character, Mr. Yelverton, of the First Police Precinct, and Detective William Douglas, came to the spot and took her to the Central Police Station.
The sound of the pistol shots soon attracted an immense crowd around the saloon, and when it became known that it was George Trussell that was shot, the excitement grew intense. Every one wanted to see him, and it required all the energies of the police to keep the place clear.
The dead man was carried into the office of Mr. Price. There he lay stark and rigid, with his eyes dreadfully staring, and an expression of pain upon the face. A few moments before, he was in robust health and chatting familiarity with his friends around the bar. Now he was but a piece of inanimate clay. Those who had known him familiarly were inexpressibly shocked at the awful contrast, and many of them exhibited signs of real emotion, while others were apparently struck speechless, as if unable to realize the fact.
Randolph Street, Between State and Dearborn Streets
GEORGE TRUSSELL’S CAREER.
Thus, shamefully and sadly terminates the career of a man, who at one time promised to be a useful and honorable member of society, but who, falling first into habits of dissipation, and then into vice, degenerated into a gambler, and met with a death which is by no means unfrequent in the annals of that profession.
Trussell was in the prime of life, being not more than thirty-two years of age, at the time of his death. He was a tall, slim, but a well formed man, and had a rather prepossessing expression of conntenance. Of his history prior prior to his advent into this city we possess very little information. As up to that time he was a young man of good character and regular habits, it probably contains little of striking interest or consequence, He was formerly a bookkeeper in a commission store in Chicago, and from that he went into a banking house in the capacity of a bookkeeper. While there he became associated with a number of the fast characters of the city, the members of the sporting fraternity, and was initiated into the mysteries of Faro. He soon lost all the money he had saved, and very seriously impaired the reputation he had earned. He lost his situation in the bank, and soon after started a gambling house on his own account. from that period, and during the past three of four years he has kept this gambling house, and was considered as one of the most prominent members of his profession. His principal place of residence has been Chicago, alternating with visits to St. Louis, Memphis and other cities. Trassell was known among the black profession as what is termed a “square man,” and was universally liked by his companions and acquaintances, among whom he numbered a pretty wide circle not members of his profession, but men of some standing in respectable walks of life. He was considerably addicted to drinking, and for weeks together he would be seen in a kind of maudlin state of inebriation, not so much as to make him frequently lose control over his temper which was naturally warm and excitable.
He was noted here as having been the only gambler who had acquired the notoriety of quarreling with the editors of the two city papers. One of these quarrels was occasioned by an altercation between him and this same woman who has now murdered him, and within a block of the self same spot. Even then Mollie was pursuing him, and he endeavoring to free himself from her. One day she seized him on the street, and wanted him to go with her, just as she did last night. Trussell got angry and beat the girl badly. The affair created a good deal of excitement at the time, and is still remembered by many of our citizens. Last night she had her revenge. But the probability is that the act was unpremeditated on her part, and was more the result of a sudden blaze of rage and jealousy, with drunkenness combined. No sooner did she see him stretched dead on the ground before her, than “her wrath was changed to wailing,” and when she was removed to the Central Station she became quite hysterical, and threatened to commit suicide.
The career of this unfortunate woman has been a wild and chequered one, like that of thousands of her class. Ten years ago she was a chamber-maid in the American Home. She came from Columbus, Ohio, where she had been seduced from the paths of virtue. Being of an attractive figure, and possessing more than ordinary beauty, she soon became a favorite with the fast young men of the town. Among others, Trussell cast his eye upon her and by and by adopted her as his own. She was devotedly attached to him, and his estrangement from her seems to have caused her the bitterest disappointment and sorrow. Several years ago she had a child, whom she claims as his offspring, and who is now at school at South Bend, Indiana, unconscious of his mother’s degradation and guilt. For the last two years Mollie has been proprietor of a house of ill-fame on Fourth avenue.
AT THE STATION HOUSE
the ravings of the murderess were piteous to listen to to. It was impossible to obtain any of the motives which induced her to perpetrate the crime. This was partly, perhaps, the result of her intoxicated condition, and the horror awakened in her mind by the knowledge of her guilt. She exclaimed:
Oh, my God! he is dead, he is dead. I know it, for I saw him laid out. My dear George, he is dead, and oh, how I wish I was dead with him. I know I cannot live now, and I don’t want to; but I cannot go to heaven. I know I have been wild, and now I will never have any more peace.
In this way she continued her wild amentations, refusing to listen to anything that was said to her. Suddenly speaking of her child, she broke out with the passionate exclamation:
I have a son, a little boy at school. O, my God, do not let him know what his mother was. He will never, never on earth know that. Tell Captain Nelson to sell my property at auction, after I am dead, and give the money to my boy.
Among other things, she gave vent to an expression of regret that the bystanders did not interfere.
I was mad and they ought to have known it. They should have knocked me down. O, my George! if I could only have died with you!
With such expressions, she continued to rave and sob during the whole night.
The body of the deceased was, by order of the Superintendent, placed in the hands of Mr. Jordan, the undertaker on Clark street, where Coroner Wagner will hold an inquest this forenoon.
The great trotting match which was to have taken place to-day at the Driving Park, will be postponed on account of the tragic occurrence above narrated. Trassell was half owner of the famous “Dexter,” and in respect to the memory of the deceased his companions have concluded to substitute some other horses to fill the trot of the day.2
Chicago Tribune, September 24, 1866
ANOTHER ASSAULT ON A GAMBLER,—The notorious Captain Hyman, a gambler of this city, was assaulted last evening by Annie Stafford, a woman whose bounty he has subsisted for some time, and hurled down a flight of stairs at 81 Randolph street. The assault was caused by jealousy on the part of the woman, Hyman having attempted to run away from her a week ago. Except giving the “Captain” a terrible fright, no harm was done.3
Chicago Tribune, February 3, 1867
As announced in our issue of Saturday, Mollie Trussell, or Cosgriff, was pardoned out of the penitentiary after a confinement of one month within the walls of that institution. We did not, however, chronicle the fact that during the whole time of her incarceration there the rules of the prison were violated in her case by allowing her to wear her own clothes, to occupy a private room, to receive many visitors, and to fare sumptuously.4
Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1866
An Openig Dance Two events are alleged to have recently occurred, which may not be very widely known. One is the purchase, by “Captain” Hyman, of a resort known as Sunnyside, situated two or three miles from the city limits, on the Evanston road. It had become noised abroad that this was to be opened as a first class hotel in consequence of this event, and anticipation of pleasant sleigh rides and delightful dancing parties already dawned upon the minds of some sanguine people. Nearly simultaneously with the purchase of Sunnyside a small portion of the world became possessed of the fact that “Captain” Hyman and Annie Stafford, of Wells street notoriety, were actually married. What prospects were entertained by the newly married couple—whether they should still continue to maintain a house in town, rusticating at intervals at Sunnyside—or whether the Wells street mansion should be closed—did not transpire to the curious. Some, however, who doubtless considered themselves as among the more favored ones, were invited to an opening party at Sunnyside, on Wednesday night. The list was select, embracing chiefly the women keepers of some of the more fashionable brothels, and those who contribute most liberally to their support. The exclusiveness of the affair in no manner prevented a large attendance, the women dressed in the most unexceptionably fashionable style. The gathering, for one of its kind, was for a time exceedingly harmonious, but the extreme agreeableness of everybody was portentous. About midnight a group, consisting of several ladies (?) and a few gentlemen (?), became quite animated in conversation. Something was said which was construed by the person addressed to be a reflection upon her character as a lorette. The person addressed replied that she was as good as the rest, she thought, and clinched the observation with a very strong epithet. These researches into character naturally those whose sensibilities were most tender, and it was but a few moments before some of the more ingenious in the use of language uttered expressions provocative of blows. One of the young women, Ellen McMasters, residing on West Madison street, was constrained to wear her eyes in mourning for the remainder of the evening. Another, whose name was not ascertained, is represented to have had her face left in the condition of dissolving views, the red, white and blue each striving to be the predominant color. A third is reported to have had her nose changed from a pug to a Roman. How much hair bestrewed the floor, what became of the waterfalls and the hoop skirts in the conflict, will never be known. The row was quieted after a time, and the wounded retired to repair damages. This was a feature in the dedicatory party given to the demi-monde, at Sunnyside, on Wednesday night.
Evanston (Broadway) Road and Belmont Avenue
1 Samual H. “Cap” Hyman eventually got so nervous of his gunfights with George Trussell, that he complained to The Tribune, which agreed with him in an editorial that it was a shame. Actual editorial has not as yet been located.
2 The trotting horse “Dexter” was so famous that the Chicago Driving Park at 42nd Street & Halsted Street name was changed to the Dexter Trotting Park in June, 1867.
3 With “Cap” Hyman—Trussell being out of the way, and he now undisputed cock of the walk—shortly after the tragedy took to wife Mollie’s most ambitious rival (Annie Stafford).
—”Bygone Days in Chicago: Recollections of the ‘Garden City’ of the Sixties,” Frederick Francis Cook, 1910
4 It is believed Mary A. “Mollie” Cosgriff resumed her life as a prostitute in California. Supposedly a horse was named after her.