New City (Back of the Yards)

Origins Settled in 1865 and annexed in 1889
Area Southwest Side

Pershing Road on the north, Garfield Boulevard on the south, railroad tracks on the east near the Fuller Park park, Western Boulevard to the railroad tracks on the west; Back Of The Yards: Pershing Road on the north, Garfield Boulevard on the south, Halsted Street to the railroad tracks on the east, Western Boulevard to the tracks on the west; Canaryville: Pershing Road on the north, 49th Street on the south, railroad track on the east near the Fuller Park park, Halsted Street on the west

Gangs founded Saints, City Knights, Latin Souls, Party Players, Rebels,
Gangs headquartered Saints, City Knights, Latin Souls, Party Players, Rebels,

The New City neighborhood is the second site of extreme Chicago poverty and extreme gang activity that dates all the way back to the 19th century, second behind the south west quadrant of the Near North Side neighborhood.

The area was first platted and settled in the year 1865 when the construction of the Union Stock Yards began that opened on Christmas Day of that year.  The area was a part of Lake Township that was developed in the year 1850 and now Lake Township would offer a major stock yard, slaughterhouse, and meat packing plant that offered to employ thousands of newly arrived immigrants.  Irish and German immigrants were the first to arrive and settle in this area as they had no means for transportation nor could they afford public transportation.  The area was platted with several cheap homes and apartment buildings that could easily house the impoverished immigrants for a cheap rate.  The city of Chicago heavily discriminated against the Irish back in these days but the town of “Lake” was perfect for them as they had to live in these shanty towns.

The stock yards dumped gallons of carnal waste of animal remnants and refuses into the Chicago River polluting the water giving it the term “Bubbly Creek.”  The stock yards would dump other waste in the streets and all around because there was no regulation due to the area being severely impoverished and neglected.  The streets were not paved and there was no sewage system in this town as trash was strewn about in the streets and especially the alleyways.  Workers lived in already dilapidated buildings with no toilets or running water.  Many slept on dirt ground over pieces of cardboard.  These horrid conditions gave rise to Irish street gangs that roamed the neighborhood looking to steal food and other items and to also brawl with other Irish gangs.  Crooked ward bosses, business men and crooked politicians found the area to be ripe with young thugs looking for any opportunity to make even a penny by doing a dirty deed.  The Irish gang members would be paid to terrorize voters, cause damage to businesses or even hurt someone in exchange for a small payment from the crooked ward bosses, and the cycle would continue once these Irish gang members grew older and became active in politics in Chicago’s corrupt political machine.

Irish gangs bullied the German youths in the neighborhood and also newly arrived Czech youths in the 1870s.

The Irish gangs were controlled by crooked politics and by the Irish Mafia that originated in the Near North Side neighborhood.

In the 1880s Polish immigrants made their way into this town of Lake and took up employment in the stock yards, the yards loved employing them because they were seen as “strikebreakers,” which were newer employees that were more grateful to deal with low pay and the harsh and long working hours.

The gangs of Lake were harsh and violent even back in the 1880s; Irish gangs like the Bearfoots, Hamburgs, Old Rose Athletic Club, Shielders, Dukies were the dominating forces in the neighborhood and now had influence in Canaryville and Bridgeport.

In the 1880s the first generations of Irish gang bangers had grown up and were in alumni versions of these gangs as they took up many political positions while still being gang affiliated.  In the year 1889 the town of Lake was annexed into the City of Chicago and the community near the Union Stock Yards became known as the “Back of The Yards” while the mostly Irish neighborhood to the east was known as “Canaryville,” the whole area that encompassed both neighborhoods became the official neighborhood of “New City.”  The Back of The Yards name came from the fact that the community was built around the Union Stock Yards, it also referenced how the stock yards dumped all their waste into the back yards of the residents.

In that same year of 1889 Samuel Gross built several “working man’s Cottages” that were small, affordable homes for workers; however, they would soon deteriorate just like the rest of the neighborhood.

In the 1890s African Americans began taking up employment in the stock yards and in the 1900s decade Lithuanian and Slovak immigrants also began employment in the yards and took up residence.

In the 1900s decade many of the Irish and Germans had achieved some upward mobility and moved to Canaryville and Bridgeport or elsewhere.  Many achieved that mobility from getting government jobs or becoming involved in organized crime.

During World War I a small cluster of Mexican immigrants came to live and work in the Back of The Yards community making the yards and the neighborhood even more of a cultural melting pot.  The cultures would clash throughout the years in the neighborhood and in the stock yards among workers.

On July 27th 1919 a massive race riot broke out in Chicago when a black teenager was drowned to death at 29th Street and Lake Michigan in the Douglas neighborhood.  This neighborhood was struggling with black and white race relations since the neighborhood was changing from white to black.  The beach in Douglas had an unofficial racial divide at 29th Street and a black teenager accidentally crossed that line, and a group of white youths felt justified in drowning the boy which sparked a massive war on the south side between whites and blacks that even resulted in shootings and deaths.  15 white men were killed in the riots while 23 blacks were killed.  The police did very little to stop the rioting as they were on the side of the white man.  The state militia needed to intervene since the city had no interest in putting down the uprising.  The rioting and brawling happened all around the New City neighborhood.  The Irish gangs of Canaryville gained a major reputation for battling invading gangs of blacks that were trying to cross over into the neighborhood or near it during the riots.  The Irish gangs fought savagely and from there on, Canaryville gangs became well known, and Canaryville was said to be one of the toughest of neighborhoods when in reality the Back of The Yards was much crazier as Canaryville has always been a neighborhood that tried to remain stable and middle class.

In the 1930s the Great Depression era threatened to make conditions worse for workers and for this community living standards as a whole, but the now mostly Polish populace decided they had enough of this and began forming the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee and the Back of The Yards Neighborhood Council that worked tirelessly to force the stockyards to provide better working conditions in the yards and also to regulate the yards from polluting the neighborhood to death, by 1939 they had achieved their goal and better conditions and pollution control helped better the community.  The Union Stock Yards employed over 40,000 Chicagoans by their peak in the 1940s but by 1952 the development of trucking routes to export and import meat around the country called for a closing of several meat packing houses and as the 1950s progressed employment in the area began to downsize causing more poverty and socioeconomic problems this brought about another breed of street gangs known as greaser gangs.

The Back of The Yards and Canaryville had the most violent greaser gangs in the entire city that were known to be the toughest in the city.  Puerto Ricans had also settled in the Back of The Yards in the south east section of the neighborhood near Sherman Park.  The later 1950s brought even more gang violence as racial tensions between blacks, Latinos and whites in southern Back of The Yards and in the Englewood neighborhoods brought about the rise of new gangs and severe gang violence.  African Americans were settling along Garfield Boulevard on the Englewood/Back of the Yards border as early as the mid-1950s but gangs like the “Rebels” fought viciously to keep blacks and other undesirables out.  The Rebels fought the “Blackstone Raiders” in the mid 50s which was the precursor group that would later become the Black P Stones.

The 1960s saw the formation of several more greaser gangs and also the formation of the Puerto Rican and Mexican gang called the “Latin Souls.”  The “Saints” Polish and Mexican gang took form in the central part of the Back of The Yards.

African Americans were attempting to settle in the southern part of the community south of 51st Street by the later 1960s and early 1970s and this created a race war between whites and blacks in the community after blacks began to cross the Garfield Boulevard line this brought settlement of Black P Stones and Cobrastones in the area.  The Hispanic youths also felt strongly about blacks moving in as well. The intersection of 54th and Bishop especially became a haven of black families and the Cobrastones took over that intersection.  Groups of  Black Disciples (now Gangster Disciples) settled south of 51st Street as well.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a larger influx of Mexican migration into the neighborhood and the last of the greaser gangs were active at this time including the Sherman Park Gaylords that arrived in the 1960s but where gone by the later 1970s.

The Back of The Yards community had a very high rate of poverty especially after the stock yards closed in 1971.

By the late 1970s the Saints and Latin Souls completely dominated all of the Back of The Yards community as white greaser gangs had completely faded out, the neighborhood was pretty much all Souls and Saints and these gangs swelled into hundreds maybe even in the thousands in membership by the early 1980s.  Freshly arrived Mexican migrants began moving into the neighborhood north of 51st Street as Mexican gangs from other neighborhood infiltrated the area causing conflict with Latin Souls and Saints.  Two Six, Satan Disciples, Latin Counts and Latin Kings were among the first of the migratory gangs to settle in the Back of the Yards in the late 1970s heading into the early 1980s.

In the mid-1980s gang violence would escalate as migratory street gangs from other neighborhoods migrated into the Back of The Yards such as: Gangster DisciplesLa Raza and the Party People.  This sparked more Back of the Yards made gangs to form like the City Knights and Party Players.  The El Rukns took out the Mickey Cobras from 54th and Bishop and this intersection ended up becoming the capital of the Jet Black Stones, a Black P Stone branch.

The Gangster Disciples and Black P Stones settled between 51st Street and Garfield Boulevard as this part of the Back of The Yards was becoming more African American.  The houses in this part of the Back of The Yards became the home of severely impoverished black Chicagoans which resulted in many of the homes to become run down and many became vacant deteriorating properties.

The Latin Kings, Satan Disciples, Two Six, La Raza and Latin Counts settled among the original Back of The Yards gangs between Pershing Road and 51st Street and they fought heavily with Saints, Latin Souls and Party Players.  The outside gangs grew in numbers by the late 1980s and heavily recruited.

The neighborhood turned into a worse war zone especially as the 1990s rolled in.  The Back of The Yards is one of the first gangster neighborhoods and still is an area full of gangs and violence.  The neighborhood has not experienced much renovation over the years but has also not fallen into a severe state of decay unless you are looking at south of 51st Street.

There are many abandoned and deteriorated buildings south of 51st Street, this southern part of the Back of The Yards in pretty much an urban slum that is often not spoken about.  This area is highly distressed with several vacant lots and long shuttered homes and buildings.  The southern part of this community borders the Englewood and West Englewood neighborhoods which are the most blighted and dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, the crime and gang activity from these two neighborhoods has been crossing over the Garfield Boulevard border since the 1960s and has intensified since the 1980s, mainly because gangs that protected that border like the Gaylords and Latin Souls had left that area by the late 1970s, allowing black street gangs to take over.

The neighborhood is mostly Mexican in the northern part north of 51st Street and has very few shuttered homes and businesses, this is not a blighted area.

Most of the white populace of New City is in Canaryville.  New City is still one the harder and more violent neighborhoods in Chicago and is the home to many hardened gang elements.  New City, more specifically Back of The Yards is the birthplace of the Latin Souls, Saints, Party Players and the City Knights.


All images below are of vacant buildings at the time of the photo.  All photos are courtesy of Google Maps