|Founded||Founded in 1954 in or near Near West Side|
|Formerly known as||
Egyptian Cobras 1954-1966; Cobra Stones 1966-1977; Mickey Cobras 1977-present
|Colors||Black, Red, and Green|
|Primary ethnicities||African American|
|Symbols||Cobra, Whip, Flail, Crescent Moon, Pyramid, Eye, and 13-3|
Cobra snake, whip, flail, crescent moon 1966-present, 21 brick pyramid 1966-present, eye 1966-present, 13-3
The Mickey Cobras were formerly known as “Egyptian Cobras” in the 1950s, 1960s and some of the 1970s until all became known as “Mickey Cobras.” Legend has it that the Egyptian Cobras broke away from the Imperial Chaplains street gang that traces all the way back to 1948 in the “Jew Town” section of the Near West Side neighborhood. The name “Egyptian Cobras” was chosen because the black Egyptian Cobra snake is the most dangerous snake in the world that has venom that can kill quickly. The Egyptian Cobra dominated Africa and is the most common deadly snake in the continent. The Egyptian Cobra is also known to appear in other continents around the world including North America. This snake is also known to be the largest sized venomous snake in Africa. Not only was this name chosen because of the deadly and dominating nature of the reptile itself but also because in ancient Egyptian culture the Egyptian Cobra snake was an iconic symbol in Egyptian mythology and was the symbol of sovereignty of the pharaohs.
The breakaway happened at the intersection of Halsted Street and Maxwell Street in the year 1954 in the Near West Side community, on the same corners that the Champlains operated at on Halsted Street from Maxwell up to Roosevelt resulting in a rivalry. The founder of the Cobras may have been James Cogwell (Not Mickey Cogwell) or perhaps it was Arthur “Fox” williams, or maybe even Walter Caffey.
The Egyptian Cobras, just like the Imperial Chaplains, were not created to be a “gang.” Just like the original purpose of the Imperial Chaplains, the Cobras were created as a social group that also stuck up for the mistreatment of fellow black residents on the west side of Chicago as they were treated like second class citizens. What differed between Chaplains and Cobras is that Cobras were more vocal and extreme than the Chaplains, thus, what led to a fracturing in 1954. Any positive activities the Cobras may have done for the black community are lost in history as this organization was not reported in the newspapers until they started acting bad by 1958.
In the year 1955, most of the Cobras moved to the neighboring North Lawndale neighborhood where Imperial Chaplains and Clovers had already settled in the very early 1950s and this resulted in a clash especially after more rebel groups broke away from the Chaplains and Clovers in 1955. New splinter groups formed like: Dirty Sheiks, Wailing Shebas, Continental Pimps, Imperial Knights, Barons, Comanches, Roman Saints, Imperial Roman Cobras and the Van Dykes. The Egyptian Cobras colonized the Fillmore district at the intersection of 14th Street and Kedvale outside of William Cullen Bryant School located at 1355 South Kedvale (now closed down and removed). The Cobras also congregated at Franklin Park located down the street at 14-15th and Kolin. After the breakaways all hell broke lose in North Lawndale as clubs that used to only be involved in sports and singing groups now converted into gangs and the Cobras were swept into this and soon became one of the more violent and dominating clubs/gangs of the area.
Starting in 1955, North lawndale became economically depressed as white flight now was running it’s course in full swing closing businesses and allowing predatory landlords to buy several buildings and rent them out without maintenance, thus, making them slumlords. As more poor black southerners arrived in the neighborhood they soon fell into the trap of being rented out apartments by these predatory landlords that did not set the example of how to properly maintain these tenement apartments causing these buildings to fall into disarray and dropping the value of the whole community making North Lawndale the next black ghetto.
Cobras had already come from slums and poverty in the Near West Side which had rows of long time slums and dilapidated buildings caused by extreme poverty. North Lawndale was supposed to be the escape from this poverty but in 1955, North Lawndale was heading down the same path. Youths were bored and left with not much of an existence due to how badly their redlined neighborhoods were left with causing them to act out and join gangs. The gangs took over ownership of all public recreational areas in North Lawndale and the Near West Side making it impossible to go to the pool, theaters, parks, baseball fields, stores without gangs harassing youths. In order to use these facilities you had to join certain gangs which drove most youths to join gangs. The Cobras became one of the main gangs that aimed to swallow up as many spots as possible so their members had more access than other clubs, this is what caused the ambitious Cobras to grow into an army in the later half of the 1950s.
Back on Halsted Street the Cobras battled Italian gangs like the Taylor Street Dukes and the two gangs became bitter enemies. If any members of the Cobras could afford it they purchased black sweaters with a cobra snake emblem on it.
By 1957, Egyptian Cobras were now in a negative spot light by the city officials and the police. Much of this resulted in many frustrated members acting out violently as other gangs tried their hand at dominance on the streets. During the 1957 to 1958 Chicago police sweeps of North Lawndale the Cobras were the second most targeted group besides the Clovers as several members were arrested, beaten and tortured by Chicago police. The Clovers especially were targeted by these sweeps and these sweeps single handed destroyed much of the Clover’s power allowing the Egyptian Cobras to gain the upper hand on the west side by 1958.
In the year 1958, the Egyptian Cobras became the dominating gang in North Lawndale as they now swelled into the hundreds in size. This is when Cobras became increasingly aggressive and began rapidly recruiting new members into other parts of the city. A December 8, 1959 Chicago tribune article reported that Cobras had invaded the territory of a south side gang and they were going to fight at the Dan Ryan Woods. When the fight didn’t happen, the Cobras wondered to the north side of the city to the North Center neighborhood where they played catch with a shotgun at the Riverview Park festival scaring the crowd to death. This was perhaps the year that Cobras began their conquest of the south side of the city and the Cabrini Green projects on the north side, this is how Cobras got into Cabrini Green. The Cabrini Green branch was started by Soloman “King” Taylor. Legend has it that “Joe Bob” was the leader of the south side Cobras and they developed their first south side section at 43rd and Princeton in the Fuller Park neighborhood. From Fuller Park the Cobras spread to 45th and State in the black belt slum apartments near State and Federal Streets then they soon branched out to take over most of the Grand Boulevard neighborhood in the late 1950s.
The Cobras branched out into Englewood, West Englewood, Woodlawn, Hyde Park and Washington Park in the late 1950s upsetting many south side gangs that were already rooted in these communities, however, none of the south side gangs had the momentum and strength of the Cobras nor were they as dangerous. The only gang that gave great competition to the Cobras was the Devil’s Disciples of Englewood that formed in 1958 that successfully kept Cobras out of Englewood, Kenwood and parts of northern Hyde Park; therefore, the Englewood branch of the Cobras was gone by 1962 when the Black Stone Rangers moved in, but West Englewood remained and/or the Cobras moved into West Englewood after they left Englewood in 1962. One of the reasons the Black Stone Rangers formed in 1959 was the fight off Cobras that invaded Woodlawn.
Englewood, at one, time was a major stronghold for the Cobras. Soloman “The King” Taylor and Leonard Johnson settled in Englewood in the late 1950s and by 1959, they had established a major stronghold of the gang. Taylor lived in Cabrini Green but was still the “Supreme Chief” about Johnson but Johnson was the day to day leader. Even after Johnson was jailed in December of 1959, the gang was still very dominating on these streets until 1962 when the Black Stone Rangers came into this southern Englewood area and took over. From 1958-1962 the Cobras were the main gang to contest the Devil’s Disciples in Englewood.
Cobras also spread deeper on the west side as they invaded West Garfield Park and East Garfield Park in the very early 1960s. West Garfield Park would especially be a stronghold as it bordered their K-Town territory in North Lawndale.
By 1960, according to the Terre Haute Tribune Star newspaper July 17, 1960 issue, it was reported there were 500 members of the Egyptian Cobras on the south side of Chicago and hundreds more in two chapters on the west side of the city. The article stated the Cobras were on three sides of the city indicating they had migrated up north, the only likely area up north would be Cabrini Green. (Source: Terre Haute Tribune Star July 17, 1960) According to another May 8, 1960 newspaper article, the Cobras only had 54 members left in the Jew Town area as most of the focus was now gravitating toward North Lawndale and the south side by 1960, however, the North Lawndale spot light was more focused on the Vice Lords. The spot light was mainly put on the south side Cobras.
In the year 1960, all branches of the Egyptian Cobras went on violent and murderous rampage living up their name. As I said the Egyptian Cobra snake is deadly, dangerous and dominating and that is exactly how the Cobras acted in 1960 and 1961 as their legendary rampage soon engulfed the newspapers with tales of violent crime and murder. Gang member addresses in the papers showed anywhere from the Jew Town area to North Lawndale to Englewood, Hyde park, Woodlawn and a lot of them in Grand Boulevard. Even a case of Cobras beating one of their own in Jew Town made the news in August of 1960 where leaders were even arrested and charged with the crime. What wasn’t highlighted in this story is the fact that Jake Jones, the young man they beat to death had just raped a 14 year old girl and this was a violation beating. This is the gang taking justice into their own hands on a rapist which is usually a crime that people despise and love hearing about vigilante justice but since this was a gang doing the beating and it was a gang of black men doing it, everyone ignored the justifiable reason for the beating and scorned the Cobras more.
After the Egyptian Cobras settled fully on the south side by 1960 they came across another gang that was very similar to them called the “King Cobras.” The King Cobras were led by Theotis “Emperor Thee” Clark. Both gangs decided on a merger in 1960 that would combine their concepts. The two Cobra gangs had something in common besides being both named “Cobra.” The King Cobra is also known to be one of the longest and most venomous snakes in the world. Another interesting fact is that the characteristics of both types of snakes are often combined when used in Indian Chakra mythology: the Serpent of kundalini. Both organizations had strong beliefs about the betterment of the black community and this brought both leaders together to combine concepts. The King Cobras still operated under their own name but were still part of the same organization as the south side Egyptian Cobras. Cabrini Green and west side Cobras had nothing to do with this merger.
In 1960, Henry “Johnny Ringo” Ponder was only 16 years old but already proving to be a dangerous leader as he led groups of Cobras on a murderous crime spree in the Hyde Park area between 1960 and 1962. The spree started on November 23, 1960 when Ponder, James Braden and Johnathan Phillips robbed a tailor shop at 53rd and Woodlawn beating the 72 year old shop owner Lester Wolf to death. In March of 1961 the three were said to have robbed and killed a cab driver at 51st and Cottage Grove. When Ponder was arrested in February of 1962 he was already on trial for the murder of Lucious O’Neil, a security guard at a laundromat at 51st and Cottage Grove on August 19, 1961. Four other members of the Cobras were also apprehended for shooting a man at 54th and University that refused to give up his money when he was robbed (Hyde Park Harold, February 21, 1962).
After Ponder was convicted of his crimes in 1962, 17 year old Henry “Mickey” Cogwell stepped up to lead the south side Cobras. Mickey was a fast-talking hustler overflowing with charisma and was heavily involved in the Policy racket that was controlled by the Italian mafia. This early relation tapped the Cobras in with organized crime. Mickey was related to possible founder James Cogwell but Mickey was not the founder. The Cogwell family moved to the south side in the year 1961, but the west side remained populated with Egyptian Cobras even after Mickey’s departure but they would operate more separately over time.
Henry Cogwell shifted the Cobra main focus to the south side of the city especially now that the city had just completed the construction of the Robert Taylor public housing projects that was built directly over the old territory at 45th and State, now Cobras moved back into 45th and State and took the 4555 and 4525 buildings. Cobras also took the 4101 building near 40th Place and Federal. The Cobras near 51st and Wabash in Washington Park immediately moved into the 5326, 5322 and 5323 buildings that formed a “U” shape that became known as “The Hole.”
After the conviction of Henry Ponder was followed all over the news the Cobras went into seclusion more of less and were not in the paper as much between 1963 and 1968. During this time period the south side Cobras still remained quite strong but the west side was slowly shrinking as now the original chapter in Jew Town had closed down and North Lawndale forces were shrinking very slowly over the course of the whole decade. The Vice Lords would now steal the spot light out went while Black P Stones stole it on the south side.
In May of 1966, Mickey was approached by Eugene “King Bull” Hairston and his Black Stone Rangers to meet at a picnic with over 20 other gang leaders on the south side. This picnic was a proposed merger for all the gangs to come together under one alliance known as the “Black P Stone Nation.” Mickey accepted just like all the other gangs at that picnic because they all had a common enemy, the Black Disciples. Theotis Clark did not agree with joining the BPSN and opposed it but he had to go along with it. The long standing war of Woodlawn between Cobras and Rangers would at last end and this would begin a more organized era for the Egyptian Cobras. The Egyptian Cobras were then known as “Cobra Stones” on the south side. Although this name was not heavily thrown around by members or even identified much by the press or law enforcement at first.
On the west side the Cobras were still going at it hard with the Vice Lords, and Vice Lords and Stones were somewhat allied due to deep family ties of the leaders of both organizations. The West Side Cobras still went by the name of Egyptian Cobra as did the Cobras in Cabrini Green. In Cabrini Green the Cobras there were part of the King Cobras. You see, even though Theotis Clark had to go along with technically being part of the BPSN he refused to become of Cobra Stone like Mickey did, so any Cobras that were under Clark, including Cabrini Green, where King Cobras or could be known as Egyptian Cobras in Cabrini.
By the later 1960s, the Cobras were able to take over more of the Robert Taylor homes while still being led by Joe Bob. The Cobras now opened at the 4844 building at 48th and State that extended down to 49th and State, these Cobras became known as the “Fidel Castro Cobras.”
The late 1960s, gave more rise to the Egyptian Cobras than ever and not as Egyptian Cobras but more as Cobra stones. The BPSN became very active in politics, community outreach and the obtaining of thousands of dollars in government funding. This even lead to Henry Cogwell making an appearance in the white house to speak for Jeff Fort that turned down the invitation.
Mickey Cogwell was now the official spokesman for the BPSN. Cogwell had more of a seat ever since his younger brother Jerome “Pony Soldier” Cogwell was killed on September 7th or 8th 1968 at 5244 State street right outside the entrance of the Robert Taylor homes, he was killed the same weekend as Jeff Fort’s younger brother Leroy Hairston. The murders were done by the Devil’s Disciples which was the main gang allied with the Black Disciples alliance. In December of 1968 Jeff Fort led a massive march down State Street demanding that the city rename State Street after Jerome Cogwell. The Stones proceeded to smash windows, cars and rioting all up and down as they marched causing destruction. This march was meant to protest the disorderly conduct charge that police were using to harass residents.
also in 1968, on the west side in North Lawndale near their original territory, the Cobras also became angry over the death of “Crazy Baby” that was killed by a white police officer. Five members of both the Egyptian Cobras (still known as Egyptian Cobras on the west side) and Soul Brothers gangs targeted a white woman living at 14th and Keeler. According to court documents in the case of People vs. Montgomery in 1972, the boys stormed Marie Smrz’s home forcing the door open by breaking the glass then they demanded money. When Smrz said she had no money they proceeded to beat her violently then poured alcohol on her then set her on fire. Apparently the motive for the crime was to get revenge on a white person by killing them. The plan was said to have been put together by Walter “Maniac” Montgomery who was the one that first stormed the house, he was convicted of murder. (Sources: People vs. Montgomery, 1972 and A Report on Chicago Crime, 1966, Chicago Crime Commission).
Other than this negative action in 1968 from the west side Cobras, many of the older Egyptian Cobras were involved in positive community relations in collaboration with the Vice Lords. Just like the Vice Lords Cobras were creating job training programs and opening legit businesses, the Cobras were also politically active in the late 60s. There were still hundreds of members in North Lawndale in the late 1960s.
Beginning in the year 1970, The Cobras in Cabrini Green began to take their war with the Black Deuces and Black Gangster Disciples to another level as the guns were blazing in these projects for the next two years causing many deaths including two Chicago police officers that were picked off by sniper fire in 1970. All the smaller gangs in the projects were caught in the crossfire and by 1972 they all either flipped to Disciples or Cobras, some became Vice Lords.
In 1972, Jeff Fort was brought up on several charges for mismanaging government funding and he was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Before he left he appointed Mickey Cogwell to be the interim leader and to keep Eugene Hairston out of power if he got paroled. Cogwell at that point was running the entire BPSN on the streets and became well known along with the Cobra Stone name. By the early 1970s the Egyptian Cobras left North Lawndale and were strictly concentrated on the south side. The Egyptian Cobra name disappeared and the Cobra Stone name was all the way used even in Cabrini Green when Theotis Clark came there and officially declared them Cobra Stones. This was the new identity especially since the west side chapter was closed and Cogwell was running the whole BPSN and also he was the last boss of the numbers racket.
Although Cogwell was heavily tapped into the numbers racket he was still more known as an activist that involved himself in the political side of helping the black community and this caused the press to have less interest in him because he didn’t fit the full mold as the gangster kingpin the public wanted from black street gangs. The black man doing wrong and killing in the streets is what interested people and the press not a man trying to help his people move forward.
Another reason for the extinction of the west side Cobras was after the F.B.I closed in on all the funding to street gangs and the federal indictments began in 1971, there was no more money going into legitimate causes for the Vice Lords and Cobras and this meant Vice Lords turned back to violent crime and heavy drug dealing. The Vice Lords now became much more violent and stocked up on more weapons than ever due to heavy drug sales, the Egyptian Cobras didn’t stand a chance and were completely gone from the west side by the mid-1970s.
In March of 1976, Jeff Fort was released from Leavenworth federal prison. He made a big announcement that he had converted to the nation of Islam while he was in Leavenworth, now he expected his entire BPSN to convert to the nation of Islam and become the “EL Rukns.” There was no ifs’ ands or buts about it. Members were not allowed to retain any Christian, Catholic or Baptist beliefs. This also meant no eating pork, swearing or consuming alcohol. Many Stones were not happy with this at all and wanted to object but they had to hold their tongues because Jeff Fort said if there were any objections it meant death especially for his council. Mickey was the only one to speak up about it because he felt he was close enough to Jeff Fort to say something. Jeff Fort did not become enraged so everyone thought it was all good until February 25, 1977. On this day Mickey was walking home at 3:45 in the morning to his home after he had been dropped off. An assassin came up behind him and Mickey started to run, the assassin fired his 9MM pistol into the back of Cogwell, after Cogwell collapsed the gunman shot him two more times in the back then fled. No one was prosecuted or identified as the killer but the Cobras accused Jeff Fort for ordering the hit. It was said Mickey was killed because he spoke out about the new Islamic doctrines but that was never verified. The Cobras then changed the organization’s name to the “Mickey Cobras” and declared a full scale war on the EL Rukns. The war did not die down until April, 1978 when the Mickey Cobras joined the People Nation alliance with enemies EL Rukns and Vice Lords.
In the late 1970s after Mickey Cogwell’s death, the Mickey Cobras lost most of their Robert Taylor project territory to the Black Disciples with the exception of The Hole.
Henry “Mickey” Cogwell was greatly missed by the Cobra Nation as he was a clever hustler and big time numbers racket Chief. For the first time since Teddy Roe, a black man was back in charge of the numbers racket since the Outfit took it over after Roe’s death in 1952. Mickey ran the racket like a mob boss while still helping the community and being active in politics. It was Mickey that repaired this damaged organization that originally taught the black man to stand up to white gangs in the 1950s, but the organization missed the mark on how to truly create a mob-like empire that the Vice Lords had figured out and that is why the Vice Lords crushed the Cobras in North Lawndale, but Mickey rebuilt the nation when he took over, however, Mickey’s legacy still remained with the Cobras’ leadership that continued to operate in an organized fashion.
After the killing of Henry Cogwell relations between Cobras and El Rukns were not good even after being bound by the People alliance. Cobras still used the name “King Cobras” to distinguish the part of the organization led by Theotis Clark and Herman “Moose” Jackson. In 1985, Jeff Fort ordered the murders of several King Cobras in April of 1985. According to court documents in the case of United States vs. Andrews, Jeff Fort wanted complete control of the heroin trade at 54th and Bishop in the Back of the Yard neighborhoods and 67th and Stoney Island in the Woodlawn neighborhood. The King Cobras stood in the way of Jeff Fort’s progress, and the indictment stated that Fort summoned the “Guerilla Family” hit squad of the El Rukns to kill off the leadership of the King Cobras. This resulted in the death of Herman “Moose” Jackson and the attempted assassination of Theotis Clark, Andre Chalmers and Tredis Murray. Rico Chalmers, Glendon McKinley, and Vicki Noldenand were all killed by the El Rukns in this conspiracy. Tredis Murray was in charge of the Cobras at this point in time.
As the 1980s progressed, the Mickey Cobras grew in numbers spreading in many more areas on the south side and into some suburbs by the 1990s and 2000s. I think the King Cobra name diminished after the assassinations and attempted assassinations in 1985 as they all seemed to go by “Mickey Cobras” going forward.
In the 1990s and 2000s, much of Cobra territory was removed due to the demolition of the Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor public housing projects which were the two biggest sections the Cobras had. 53rd and State “The Hole” was a big time piece of turf that brought in many thousands of dollars from the drug trade in these buildings. When they tore The Hole down in 1998 Cobras were forced to moved further norther above 51st Street living amount Black Disciples and Gangster Disciples resulting in a bloody war. Cobras also had a stronghold in the Dearborn projects since possibly as far back as the late 1950s as they battled heavily against the Gangster Disciples, when the buildings were renovated some time ago many members had moved out of the buildings decreasing their numbers further. Cobras still remain active in Fuller Park, Woodlawn and West Englewood. Much of Grand Boulevard is going through renovations so many Cobras have left that area in recent years.
Please send in 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s pics! 1950s pics especially wanted!
- What happened to Joe Bob?
- What exact year did south side Cobras begin?
- What exact year did Cobras leave North Lawndale?
- What was the time line of leaders to the year 2000?