January 30, 2016

Another Example of the Power of the Underachiever



Last July, I wrote an article about how two huge publishing empires were almost brought to a standstill by a group of impoverished teenage boys.  It is only one of many stories behind numerous events and industries.


Through sheer, dogged determination, the little guys can and do win. That’s all there is to it. Unexpected success happens; we just don’t always hear about it. It’s the people who never say never that win the race. The gold medal doesn’t always go to the athlete with the most obvious resources. It often goes to the survivor who overcame childhood polio and deformity, injury, and chronic illness. (Please see these stories, and more, in my book, Accept No Trash Talk: Overcoming the Odds.)

Blood Feuds

This a reality mini-series on American Heroes Channel. Each episode deals with an iconic rivalry in American history. One episode featured the battles between William Poole (aka Bill the Butcher) and John Morrissey. Both of these men lived in the poorest, most dangerous part of New York City, Five Points, in the mid 1800’s.

This area was a dropping ground for the poorest of the poor. That meant it was a seething cauldron of immigrants and lawless, able-bodied men who really made their living through violence.

In fact, Five Points was so dangerous that there wasn’t a big police presence. Policing the area must have felt like a death sentence. Therefore, residents meted out their own kind of justice.


William Poole was a butcher by trade. He was also the head of a nationalistic gang called The Bowery Boys. Let’s just say that his skills with a knife came in handy.

Hundreds of immigrants were pouring into his neighborhood from Ireland at that time due to the potato famine. These were often poor Irish farmers who no longer had a way to make a living, or enough food to eat, in their own country. They were penniless.

People like Poole, called Nativists, resented anyone who wasn’t white, Protestant, and born in America. Since the majority of the local newcomers were Irish, the Bowery Boys especially had a vendetta against everything they stood for: their religion, their culture, and their presence in the Bowery Boys’ cherished country.



John Morrissey was a recently arrived Irish Catholic immigrant. He was a burly professional boxer. From the beginning, he crossed swords with Bill the Butcher. One of his first feats was to boldly step into the bar frequented by Nativists like Poole and challenge anyone and everyone to a fight. America was his country now, too. He was willing to fight for his rightful place.

He knew that the Irish would get no respect if they didn’t go on the offensive. So, he launched a counterattack to bigotry immediately upon his arrival in New York City. He finally succeeded in making the voting process more equitable.

He didn’t become a hero the easy way. The Bowery Boys and Morrissey’s gang, The Dead Rabbits (?! Historians still don’t know the meaning of the name), were constantly at odds. They made the Five Points neighborhood a literal battle ground. The butcher and the newcomer took turns winning and losing tremendous struggles. Poole seemed to have the upper hand when he beat Morrissey so badly that it took him a month to heal.

But, wait; that’s not all! This story ends with a surprising win for the underdog.  William Poole was killed, and John Morrissey went on to become a successful politician. He became a member of Congress.

This underdog overcame poverty, bigotry, and a lack of education. He became a hero to Irish Catholics throughout the country.

My Conclusion

“…Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him; for the Lord seeth not as a man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”--1 Samuel 16:7 (KJV)

These are turbulent times of widening gaps between viewpoints and the level of resources. That’s why it’s helpful to remember that the little guys really do win. Big time!!!!!


How have you won unexpectedly?