The Apaches of Paris

Journal of Manly Arts
January 2005

Anonymous article from National Police Gazette, October 21, 1905, p. 3


They Engage in Fierce Battles with Knives on the Public Thoroughfares in Broad Daylight.


They Are Loyal to One Another Under All Circumstances, Make a Good Living by Their Wits, and Are United Against Society.

In Paris, that model city, well policed by the gendarmes, there are streets that are less safe than the streets of any city in the world. And that is because of the audacious Parisian thug.

Fifteen years ago the songs of the toughs of Paris were so new to the public that they made a hit. They dealt with the then unknown under life of the "eccentric" quarters; the scarcely policed fortification and the suburbs beyond them, and to the Parisians it was al extraordinary and far off.

Today the ruffians have come to the center of the capital. They are at home in the heart of the old Cite, beside the cathedral of Notre Dame; not a day passes without they distinguish themselves in the Rue St. Martin, the Fauborg Montmartre and Newspaper Row; the Boulevard Sebastapol and the streets around the Central Markets also witness their daily violence; and the Place de la Bastille was the scene of a veritable pitched battle between them and the police that surpasses anything heretofore dreamed of.

It sounds like a tale from the Mexican order. In the Rue de la Roquette some twenty toughs were fighting together with knives and pistols-two bands, one against the other. Eight policemen, requisitioned by the frightened shopkeepers, tried to separate them.

Then what always happens, happened. The thugs at once forgot their personal differences to make common cause against the "agents'" and one explanation of their insolent daring is found in a really too humane police regulation. While the toughs use knives and pistols freely, the police may draw their revolvers and sword bayonets only in the last extremity; and then they often hesitate, fearing to hear the next morning a veritable howl set up in the Socialist newspapers and the "Extreme Left" pf the Chamber of Deputies-enemies of all authority.

So it happened that for a full hour the Place de la Bastille in central Paris, was a bloody battle ground on which the police did the bleeding. From a dozen tough bars came reinforcements to the Apaches-as the toughs delight to call themselves, and the name has stuck. They fight with knuckle dusters, called "American punches," with blackjacks, leaded canes, sword canes and revolvers. But their really favorite weapon is the long, thin, sharp knife called the "zarin." Which they handle with a ripping stroke.

An American darky stranded in Paris, who saw the battle from the windows of a wine shop. Where he worked, quit that day without asking from his wages.

"Dat's too sporty foh Dan,: he confided to a friend: "dah kick 'em in dah groin wit dah big boots and tramp on dah haid and dah shoot and slash scandalous!"
Certainly French street fighting knows no fair play, and kicking is a part of French boxing: but what troubles the police is the recent advent of the revolver. Of the eight original policemen six were finally carried to the St. Antoine Hospital, and all with bullets somewhere in them; and the battle would have ended in the triumph of the toughs had not policemen off duty, plain clothes men, detective inspectors, soldiers and firemen come to the rescue. Nine wounded Apaches were left on the ground by the fleeing bands.

Should a battle half this size take place in the Park Row district of New York-or should we say Union Square?-the papers of all Europe would ring with the tidings. Here the incident will be forgotten tomorrow, because, for one thing, there is a new one every day.

The Rue de la Navarin is in the respectable North center of Paris, not far from the Trinity and neat the Casino, so well-known to Americans. But it is also an artery leading to Montmarte; and in one of its wine shops a detective named Gallet and an inspector named Suinat arrested and handcuffed a much wanted young thug.

They were starting him off for the station house, when toughs of both sexes surrounded them as by magic. Gallet was knocked senseless with a loaded cane and Suinat was shot in the chest. And here is a detail that caps the climax-they actually searched the pockets of the two inspectors for the key to the handcuffs, found it and unlocked the laughing prisoner before the police could arrive.

That is the reason why nearly every young Parisian carries a revolver. Newcomers in Paris, thinking they know better, scoff at the precaution. Paris is the one great capital in which allusions like that to the "Coup de Pere Francois" (the trick of Uncle Frank) are joked about and understood by the entire population.

It was a vigorous young Parisian who was known very well, and he had his revolver in his pocket at the moment!

It might happen to any tourist. The Avenue des Champs Elysees, though in the center of the fashionable section, does not even look safe at night. Until midnight, truly, it is lit up by the countless colored lamps of the open-air cafes; but it runs half its length through a veritable woods, and when the fairy lamps go out it is a lonesome spot. A young man was walking home at 1 A.M., when two hard-looking citizens briskly approached hi.

One stopped and asked him" "What time is it?" while the other continued walking on, and so got behind the victim, while the questioner remained in front of him. The Parisian backed and reached for his revolver, but at that moment a heavy silk handkerchief was thrown over his head from behind. The second thug had done it. Immediately afterward he pivoted round and humped his back against the victim's back-back to back. Then, holding the two ends of the handkerchief at the height of his two shoulders, the thug tranquilly bent forward.

It was the "Coup de Pere Francois." The handkerchief tightened on the Parisian's neck and made his tongue stick out. The more the thug bent forward the more he pulled his victim backward-backward on the thug's back, sprawling there as in a barber's chair, with his feet off the ground and his arms tossing aimlessly-a quick case of spinal curvature. Reclining helplessly on the thug's back, lifted bodily form the sidewalk, with all the blood of his body throbbing in his cranium, he felt the other robber going calmly through his pockets. He remembers that the rogue in front then pulled his arms out straight with one hand; and then he lost consciousness. When he came to he was lying in the shadow of some bushes with a strained neck, but not otherwise damaged.

This used to be considered the strong point of the "Coup de Pere Francois." Its original inventor was a mild and bookish person, given to reading the Latin poets when not working, in the days of Louis Philippe. He is said to have possessed a refined, gentle speech.

"Why risk the guillotine?" he would argue. "Why soil your consciences with murder? No man can tell how he is going to feel with murder on his mind."
A reconstruction of the Coup de Pere Francois, published in a French self-defence manual, c1900 - with thanks to Craig Gemeiner

This argument would have no weight at all with the impatient and bloodthirsty young thugs of the present day Apache. The knife and the pistol are their ideal weapons, and they really enjoy using them. All this is new in France, where there were always criminals who would resort to violence, but where ingenuity and slickness were valued above brute directness. That the Apaches are brutal trouble hunters is seen by their interminable fights among themselves, while the columns of the Paris daily papers testify without cease to their willing use of the knife on passing citizens of the night.

It is wonderful how the Parisians stand it. The police claim that the Public Prosecutor's Office sets the scamps free as soon as they have been brought into the Central Station by the dragnet methods "on suspicion" that might be the most effective if properly sustained, and the Parquet answers, on the one side, that the prisons are full, and on the other, that the police bring them prisoners without evidence.

As to the obtaining of evidence, it is rendered wonderfully difficult by the unfailing faithfulness of the Apaches to each other-in the midst of this most desperate battles and in spite of tempting money bribes-"beef" being the one unpardonable Apache crime. Furthermore, there is a Mafia-like "let the poor fellows alone" sentiment rife in all the under-population of the gay capital, a kind of proud-flesh growth of Socialism which puts one class against the other.

Men have been stabbed and robbed on the Boulevard de Capucines, in front of the Grand Opera, in the Rue Royale, between Maxim's and the Madeleine, and in the Place de la Concorde, in the lights of the Automobile Club windows. It is not this that sets Parisians talking about the Apaches. What raises their interest is the Apaches' street fighting-so much so that there is not a "Review" (of Paris local happenings) in a single café-chantant this present Summer that has not its Apache street battle in it for picturesqueness.

Recently a Montmartre celebrity called "The Panther," was released from the hospital, only half cured of some ugly knife wounds concerning whose author he consistently professed ignorance.

The "Panther's" sweetheart, "Pale Berthe" and a sinister young scamp nicknamed "His Feet" came for him in a cab. It is the cabman who tells the story. Shortly after leaving the hospital they made "His Feet" get out, and took in his place one Doumergue, surnamed "The Viper." They did not trust "His Feet," Berthe testified later-they "feared lest he should direct them to an ambush"-this in the big streets of central Paris in broad daylight.

"All at once," said the cabman, "I saw a man rush out from a doorway in the Avenue Gambetta, throw himself on the cab step and plunge his arm three times into the cab. Each time I saw a long and bloody knife in his hand." Then the unknown man fled. It was done so quickly that "The Viper" on the box beside the cabbie had time to draw and fire on the retreating figure only when the distance was too long to make the shot effective.

[National Police Gazette, October 21, 1905, p. 3]

From the Street Swing website -

Apache dancers, from the film Chinatown (1924)
"The Apache (pronounced A-Posh or A-Poe-Shay) dance originated in the Parisian lower classes. A domestic street fight between two men and a woman in the Montmartre section of Paris in front of a night club, was indirectly responsible for the name "Apache." A local gazette journalist reported that "The fury of a riotous incident between two men and a women rose to the ferocity of savage Apache Indians in battle." These participants, proud of their deed, formed "Apache Bands" which were actually street gangs. These gangs created their own type of dancing which reenacted the actions of that night. The apache was billed as the "Dance Of The Underworld". ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Julot The Apache
First published in "Ballads of Bohemian" by Robert Service, 1921

You've heard of Julot the apache, and Gigolette, his mome (EN1) . . . .
Montmartre (EN2) was their hunting-ground, but Belville was their home.
A little chap just like a boy, with smudgy black mustache, --
Yet there was nothing juvenile in Julot the apache.
From head to heel as tough as steel, as nimble as a cat,
With every trick of twist and kick, a master of savate.
And Gigolette was tall and fair, as stupid as a cow,
With three combs in the greasy hair she banged upon her brow.
You'd see her on the Place Pigalle on any afternoon,
A primitive and strapping wench as brazen as the moon.
And yet there is a tale that's told of Clichy after dark,
And two gendarmes who swung their arms with Julot for a mark.
And oh, but they'd have got him too; they banged and blazed away,
When like a flash a woman leapt between them and their prey.
She took the medicine meant for him; she came down with a crash . . .
"Quick now, and make your get-away, O Julot the apache!" . . .
But no! He turned, ran swiftly back, his arms around her met;
They nabbed him sobbing like a kid, and kissing Gigolette.

Now I'm a reckless painter chap who loves a jamboree,
And one night in Cyrano's bar I got upon a spree;
And there were trollops all about, and crooks of every kind,
But though the place was reeling round I didn't seem to mind.
Till down I sank, and all was blank when in the bleary dawn
I woke up in my studio to find -- my money gone;
Three hundred francs I'd scraped and squeezed to pay my quarter's rent.
"Some one has pinched my wad," I wailed; "it never has been spent."
And as I racked my brains to seek how I could raise some more,
Before my cruel landlord kicked me cowering from the door:
A knock . . . "Come in," I gruffly groaned; I did not raise my head,
Then lo! I heard a husky voice, a swift and silky tread:
"You got so blind, last night, mon vieux, I collared all your cash --
Three hundred francs. . . . There! Nom de Dieu," said Julot the apache.

And that was how I came to know Julot and Gigolette,
And we would talk and drink a bock, and smoke a cigarette.
And I would meditate upon the artistry of crime,
And he would tell of cracking cribs and cops and doing time;
Or else when he was flush of funds he'd carelessly explain
He'd biffed some bloated bourgeois on the border of the Seine.
So gentle and polite he was, just like a man of peace,
And not a desperado and the terror of the police.

Now one day in a bistro that's behind the Place Vendôme
I came on Julot the apache, and Gigolette his mome.
And as they looked so very grave, says I to them, says I,
"Come on and have a little glass, it's good to rinse the eye.
You both look mighty serious; you've something on the heart."
"Ah, yes," said Julot the apache, "we've something to impart.
When such things come to folks like us, it isn't very gay . . .
It's Gigolette -- she tells me that a gosse is on the way."
Then Gigolette, she looked at me with eyes like stones of gall:
"If we were honest folks," said she, "I wouldn't mind at all.
But then . . . you know the life we lead; well, anyway I mean
(That is, providing it's a girl) to call her Angeline."
"Cheer up," said I; "it's all in life. There's gold within the dross.
Come on, we'll drink another verre to Angeline the gosse."
And so the weary winter passed, and then one April morn
The worthy Julot came at last to say the babe was born.
"I'd like to chuck it in the Seine," he sourly snarled, "and yet
I guess I'll have to let it live, because of Gigolette."
I only laughed, for sure I saw his spite was all a bluff,
And he was prouder than a prince behind his manner gruff.
Yet every day he'd blast the brat with curses deep and grim,
And swear to me that Gigolette no longer thought of him.
And then one night he dropped the mask; his eyes were sick with dread,
And when I offered him a smoke he groaned and shook his head:
"I'm all upset; it's Angeline . . . she's covered with a rash . . .
She'll maybe die, my little gosse," cried Julot the apache.

But Angeline, I joy to say, came through the test all right,
Though Julot, so they tell me, watched beside her day and night.
And when I saw him next, says he: "Come up and dine with me.
We'll buy a beefsteak on the way, a bottle and some brie."
And so I had a merry night within his humble home,
And laughed with Angeline the gosse and Gigolette the mome.
And every time that Julot used a word the least obscene,
How Gigolette would frown at him and point to Angeline:
Oh, such a little innocent, with hair of silken floss,
I do not wonder they were proud of Angeline the gosse.
And when her arms were round his neck, then Julot says to me:
"I must work harder now, mon vieux, since I've to work for three."
He worked so very hard indeed, the police dropped in one day,
And for a year behind the bars they put him safe away.

So dark and silent now, their home; they'd gone -- I wondered where,
Till in a laundry near I saw a child with shining hair;
And o'er the tub a strapping wench, her arms in soapy foam;
Lo! it was Angeline the gosse, and Gigolette the mome.
And so I kept an eye on them and saw that all went right,
Until at last came Julot home, half crazy with delight.
And when he'd kissed them both, says he: "I've had my fill this time.
I'm on the honest now, I am; I'm all fed up with crime.
You mark my words, the page I turn is going to be clean,
I swear it on the head of her, my little Angeline."

And so, to finish up my tale, this morning as I strolled
Along the boulevard I heard a voice I knew of old.
I saw a rosy little man with walrus-like mustache . . .
I stopped, I stared. . . . By all the gods! 'twas Julot the apache.
"I'm in the garden way," he said, "and doing mighty well;
I've half an acre under glass, and heaps of truck to sell.
Come out and see. Oh come, my friend, on Sunday, wet or shine . . .
Say! -- it's the First Communion of that little girl of mine."


  1. "Mome", analogous to a gangster's "moll"
  2. Montmartre was also the home of the famour Moulin Rouge nightclub, where the Apche dance first gained notoriety

January 2005