The Apaches

Memories
Musette today
Look and learn
Contact us
And more...
Links

Accueil - Version française

Welcome - English Version

 
In general
In brief
"Casque d’or"

Bottom of page

In general

The epoch of the Apaches spanned the period from about 1900 to 1920.

What ?

Le MATIN or Le GAULOIS newspaper (depending on the source !!!)
13th September 1907

« In modern Paris lurks an individual who Eugène Sue and Balzac didn't know but whom they could have described down to the last detail, a rascal who Vidocq ignored but against whom he would have loved to deploy his force and his cunning : the "Apache". One no longer knows whether the "Apache", a recent creation, is a product of a particular literature or whether a particular literature produced the "Apache"... With this nickname we include the fraudster, the filcher, the prowler at the barrier, the burglar, the cad with the concealed dagger, the man who lives at the edge of society ready to do any dirty work to avoid a regular job, the wretch who picks the locks on doors or gores a passer-by, sometimes for nothing, just for the pleasure of it...»  

The origin of the word "Apache" lie with Arthur Dupin or Victor Morris, both journalists, in 1902.

Initially, the expression "Apache" is essentially parisian.
In Marseille, one talked of "nervis" (thugs) and in Lyon, of "kangourous" (kangaroos).

In the popular spirit of the moment, the term embraced all the louts of the French capital.
Nevertheless, the Apaches differ from the underworld and hardened criminals by their manner of flaunting themselves, their attitudes and their customs.

Two points are important here :

  1. A peaceful population, partly Auvergnat (people from the Auvergne region of France) lived alongside the louts throughout the "Apache" period,  whose destiny was neither Guiana (a french penal colony), nor the guillotine platform. 

  2. The disappearance of the Apaches shouldn't be confused with the disappearance of the "underworld"... 

What ?

Françoise RAISON-JOURDE      P110
The Auvergnat Colony of Paris  

« At the dawn of 1914 and particularly the day after the first World War, the rue de Lappe (Lappe Street) had a bad reputation amongst the immigrants (Auvergnats) themselves as far as the "Musette" dance-halls were concerned because they attracted numerous Apaches. The Auvergnats of the quarter have always tried to have nothing at all to do with them but, in the eyes of the parisians, a certain contamination has happened and it is said that the 11th district  is populated by Auvergnats and is of doubtful fame. »

Top of page

In brief...

The Apaches are young.
They begin around the age of 11 or 12 and it can happen that 15 year-old boys prostitute 20 year-old girls.

What ?

Pierre DRACHLINE & Claude PETIT-CASTELLI
Casque d'or and the Apaches

« A census in 1907 counted over thirty thousand delinquents, prowlers, vagabonds and pimps of which two-thirds were aged between fourteen and nineteen. A youth with nothing to do, trying to escape  the rules imposed by society. »

They form into gangs which take their names from their leaders or from a particularity of the group (the Manda gang, the black clothes, the Charonne guys..).

Language, clothes and tattoos are the signs of membership differentiating the gangs which, towards 1900, mushroomed and often fought each other.

Coming from the Ménilmontant (slang : Ménilmuche), la Villette (Villetousse), Belleville or the Montmartre hill areas, the Apaches would besiege the quarters in the centre of the capital in the evenings : Maubert (slang : la Maub), Montparnasse (Montparno), the rue Mouffetard (la Mouff), the Bastille (la Bastoche) and the Les Halles area.

They were concerned about the honour that they placed in their reputation (acquired "by the force of fists") and in their clothing, most particularly in their shoes !!! (for more on this subject, see: "They said this one day")

Depending on their age, the Apaches were active in : large and small-scale theft, prostitution, the "bonneteau" (street game : "find the bean") and murder, if necessary...

The Apache women helped and protected their men.

What ?

Pierre DRACHLINE & Claude PETIT-CASTELLI
Casque d'or and the Apaches

« The Apaches also shock by the freedom of their morals. They practice free love quite simply because for them, love cannot be anything but free! Their female companions submit to this shame because they don't wish to hide their taste for pleasure, for celebrating. In dance halls, they don't hesitate to provoke the men and it doesn't displease them to be the "subject" of a brawl. »

« Apache women, branded by the prejudices of a dominating social class which wasn't their own and free from the fatalism of workers' wives, were out of place in a time when the bourgeois thought themselves to be decent because they satisfied their vices in the maids' rooms. These urban amazons came and went about the quarters of Paris and knew their standing at the bistro, that "lounge of the poor". If needed they acted as look-outs or messengers for the gang and if necessary turned words into actions. They could often handle a knife well and were not afraid of going to prison. »  

For entertainment, they went to fairgrounds and the "musette" dance-halls.
This is why one easily links together the terms : musette, accordion and Apaches.

From 1902 to 1907 the press wrote a lot about their "exploits".

The police remained powerless against them for a long time : they are more or less supported by the ordinary people during arrests (and this, despite the attacks, aggressions, rapes and insults... which the Apaches subjected them to) and sheltered by the keepers of bars, brothels and dives...

From 1907 and for different reasons (sometimes political), the newspapers (in particular the daily "Le Matin") roused public opinion against them.

Despite the measures taken by the law, the phenomenon did not die out.
It was only World War I that succeeded, by transforming the Apaches from "guillotine fodder" to "cannon fodder"...

After 1920 the expression "Apache" disappeared from everyday language.
Visiting "Musettes" became less dangerous.

Top of page

Casque d'or

The trial which took place at the beginning of the century, then Jacques Becker's film, brought Amélie Hélie out of anonymity and made her into one of the prime figures in the world of the Apaches.
Her surname "Casque d'or" (golden helmet) was, according to her, given her by a nurse.

Here's a résumé of her story...

Amélie is born in Orleans on the 17th June 1879.

At the age of 13 she moves in with a young worker aged 15 whose surname is "le Matelot" ("the Sailor").
They harbour their juvenile love at the "Trois Empereurs" ("Three Emperors") hotel... a little too "juvenile" for Amélie's father and for the police who lose no time in finding them.
There follows a period of alternation between reform school and running away to find "le Matelot".
Fourteen years later she leaves her young lover for good because she finds that their love is sinking into a dismal routine.

Straight after she meets Hélène de la Courtille, who offers her hospitality at her place in the rue Dénoyez... and her protection on a street corner!
The two ladies are to be seen all over Paris.
They love each other, laugh and dance...
One morning, the beautiful Hélène takes Amélie to the "Pomme au Lard", one of the meeting places of the underworld.
There, Amélie meets Bouchon, a pimp who has just left prison.

Charmed by "his grey suit and his yellow shoes" and, above all, tired of Hélène's jealousy, she quickly accepts Bouchon's offers of "protection".
Conscientiously, Amélie continues to be a prostitute.

What ?

Pierre DRACHLINE & Claude PETIT-CASTELLI
Casque d'or and the Apaches

« Amélie Hélie seemed to be particularly attached to the social and cultural dimension of her profession and so she wrote the "commandments" referring to herself indirectly by using the third person singular :

She delivered dreams to those men who had an urgent need.

She relieved many wives who are thankful today, that's obvious.

She harmed no-one, on the contrary.

She welcomed young hard-working apprentices and pampered them for five minutes.

She was a means of circulation for public wealth.

She prevented pretty concierges from being raped at any moment in the stairs.

She was the goose of the poor, whilst the rich jealously keep the turkey of Montsouris park for themselves - which doesn't stop them tasting the goose of the poor from time to time.

She consoled the widower in his widowhood, the priest in his wishes.

She made men love the beautiful, the good and the just, and also saved many families. »  

Some time later Bouchon becomes too demanding with his cut and turns very violent.
Amélie flees the Charonne quarter where she is working and roams Paris.

For four days she manages to avoid the searches initiated by her "man" and by a man called Ballet a.k.a. "Bouboule" to whom Bouchon has "ceded" her.
Finally at the Place de la Contrescarpe (Contrescarpe Square) she meets Joseph Pleigneur, 22, known, feared and respected at La Courtille under the name of Manda.
He is the leader of the "Orteaux" gang which, amongst other celebrities, included Paulo "Cou Tordu" ("Twisted Neck"), Julot Ménétrier, Heill "le Boulanger" ("the Baker"), Polly "le Dénicheur" ("the Unearther") (from the song!), Echapies "Son-Pied" ("His-Foot")...

Manda offers to help Casque d'or...

Returning to La Courtille that same evening, the new lovers are quickly located by Bouchon and Ballet.
Bouchon, wary of Manda, prefers to leave things be without causing a fuss.
As for Ballet, he ends up in the gutter, a knife lodged between his shoulder blades...

Amélie changes her patch and takes up her lucrative daily activities again.

Manda, charming in private, lives very well from his own activities (especially the racketeering of businesses) which sometimes take him on longer journeys.
On these occasions Amélie, who doesn't like to sleep alone, goes out with other men... or women.
For his part, Manda is at the same time jealous (not of the clients, of course!) and not very faithful.

It's indeed as a result of an infidelity that Casque d'or decides to leave.
She leaves La Courtille for Charonne where she hopes that Manda will come looking for her, but he doesn't!
Her first meeting with Dominique Leca, 27, leader of the "Popinc" gang happens by chance, and takes place in a cafe on the boulevard Voltaire.
She sees him again at Les Halles.
She has an idea for a wonderful "show" - a fight over her beautiful eyes between Manda and Leca !

Amélie decides then to move in with Leca, which Manda cannot let go by without tarnishing his honour as a gang leader.

When he takes me in his arms...

The next day, Leca receives a first stab wound.
Manda is arrested immediately but Leca, observing the  law of the underworld, refuses to recognise him...
Manda is released.
On 2nd January 1902, Manda and Polly attack the hotel where Amélie and Leca are sleeping : only material damage results.
On 5th January, a pitched battle between the two gangs is organised on the fortifications (the remnants of the barriers).
Leca is hit by two bullets from a revolver in his thigh and left arm.
It's not until the 8th January that he accepts being admitted to Tenon hospital in the 20th district.
He is operated on the next day and questioned by the police : he says nothing...
At his request, he obtains permission to leave at 3 pm.
Accompanied by Casque d'or and three of his men, he gets into a hackney carriage.
But the carriage is attacked in the rue de Bagnolet (Bagnolet Street) : Polly stabs Leca three times before fleeing.
Leca is urgently taken back to the Tenon hospital.

The press of course, seize upon the affair...

What ?

Arthur DUPIN
Le Petit Journal 

« There you have the morals of the Apaches and of the Wild West, unworthy of our civilisation. For half an hour in the middle of Paris, in the middle of the afternoon, two rival gangs fought each other over a girl from the fortifications, a blonde with her hair in a high bun, hair done like a dog's! »

And with that, Arthur Dupin invented, without doubt, the expression "Apache"...

During this time, Leca is again visited by the police.
He still won't talk, but his parents give the name of Manda without remorse.
Manda therefore flees.
After having hidden in the 13th district with a protégée of Albert Jupeau, a.k.a. "Bébert la Jupe" (Bébert the Skirt), a pimp, then a week in London, he finally ends up in Alfortville at a place called "île Saint Pierre" (St. Pierre island).
It's there that he is recognised, denounced and then arrested by no less than fifty police officers!

The Parisian editors have their "headlines" for the following day.
Amélie is in demand to give interviews.
Press articles, a portrait by Albert Dupré, theatre plays, songs : it is the beginning of glory which of course shocks certain good consciences...
After all, Amélie is but a prostitute...

Leca, who is considered a victim, continues his life with his new leading lady once he leaves hospital.
He shares a bit of her success and a lot of her money.

Then inevitably, one day they meet members of Manda's gang and there are renewed gun-battles.
Leca, wanted by the police, takes refuge in Belgium where he is captured.

Manda's trial takes place on the 30th and 31st May in front of a packed crowd, who have come to see Amélie on the witness-stand, amongst other things.
Manda is sentenced to perpetual hard labour.  

Leca is extradited from Belgium.
His trial, less popular than Manda's, takes place on the 20th October.
He is sentenced to 8 years' hard labour and banishment.

They leave the same day for Cayenne.
Neither of them will ever return...

As for Amélie, she does not return to the street.
She works for a while with an animal trainer, has numerous lovers, and finally marries and raises her four children and her husband's nephews.
She dies on 16th April 1933 and "re-emerges" in 1951 in the masterpiece by Jacques Becker, with Simone Signoret playing her role.

What ?

Pierre DRACHLINE & Claude PETIT-CASTELLI
Casque d'or and the Apaches

« Amélie Hélie believed she was changing jobs. She in fact only passed from one pimp to another since, no matter whether they were a theatre director, photographer, painter or animal trainer, they all behaved like pimps towards her, more or less conscious of their role.
For a time, Casque d'or thought she had become someone but she was nothing more than an object passing between all those pairs of hands.
»

And this is how the "fabulous" destiny of Amélie Hélie ends...

Top of page