Friday, March 6, 2015

Grab a spot in the shade of the hanging tree and learn something new about American history

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So you thought the Godfather movies showed how organized crime "really" was.  You believed that the "mob" came from families with Sicilian roots.  Well, say hello to my little friend, Philip Alston.  Never heard of Alston?  Then you might not know as much about organized crime as you think.

One thing that all criminals look for is opportunity.  The new world that was to be known as the United States of America would have been like a light to a moth.  Alston began counterfeiting before the American Revolution - laying down the groundwork for counterfeiters, horse thieves, prison escape artists, and those who hunting them for more than a century after him.

"Counterfeit Justice" by Eric Alli may have the distinction of being the definitive book when it comes to the origins of organized crime in America. Don't believe me - look at the appendix and you will find a lengthy list of characters who were involved in giving Al Capone a blueprint on how to operate. 

How did Alli become interested in such an eclectic topic?  Well - you could say he is "family".  As in a blood relative of one Gregor McDougall - whose execution at the hands of a mob of "Regulators" may have been the start of the downfall of the Blacklegs.  

What is a Blackleg, you ask?  That depends - he could be a horse thief, a counterfeiter, a person with a double life and multiple identities, a snitcher of fellow Blacklegs once a noose was placed around his neck, or just a cold blooded murderer.  One thing that they did all have in common was the shared fear that turned into hatred by everyone not associated with them.  Having to sleep in a barn with a shotgun just to make sure you still have horses in the morning will eventually do that to you.

Fortunately for you, instead of living through the terror of pioneer organized crime syndicates, you can choose to read about them instead. I am a fan of history, and I thought I had a pretty good handle of US History.  A book like "Counterfeit Justice" is an exciting reminder that there is always something interesting to learn.

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