May 9, 2012
Michael Cassius McDonald
Long before Al Capone stormed into Chicago, a violent little Irish-American ruled the mean streets of Chicago.
by Kelly Pucci
Though long-forgotten by many, latecomers like Capone, Torrio and Colosimo owe a debt of gratitude to Michael Cassius McDonald, the man who brought togethercriminals and elected officials, setting the stage for organized crime in Chicago. During a 50-year career in the underworld, journalists, gangster, mayors and even one president of the United States took orders from Chicago original crime boss.
Michael Cassius McDonald arrived in Chicago just before the Civil War. A teen-aged runaway from Upstate New York, McDonald knew no one in Chicago. His childhood friend and fellow freight train jumper, Henry Marvin, died en route and was buried by McDonald without fanfare.
In the 1850s Chicago became the nation’s railroad hub opening the city to a flood of eager young men with big ideas. Young men like Marshall Field, who opened a retail emporium in downtown Chicago, and George Pullman, creator of the eponymous sleeping and dining cars that made travel by train comfortable and later carried President Abraham Lincoln’s body on a final journey from the White House to Springfield, Illinois.
But when Mike McDonald rode the rails in the 1850s, passengers sat on hard wooden benches as they stared at an unchanging landscape through sooty windows. With little to occupy bored passengers after consuming lunches brought from home, passengers eagerly welcomed the sight of boys called “candy butchers” who trudged through the aisles. In exchange for a few pennies and free transportation to Chicago, runaways and orphans clad in ragged clothing peddled goods for the railroad. Sympathetic passengers, mistakenly believing that the boys received their fair share of profits, bought poor quality goods from the candy butchers. And Michael Cassius McDonald was the most successful candy butcher of his time.