Boarding House Blues

Capone's "white sheep" Brother

1 May 2024

Chicago gangster Al Capone was one of nine children born to Gabriele Capone, a barber, and Teresa Raiola, a seamstress. James Vincenzo Capone was the couple's first-born child, and one of two born in Italy before the family emigrated to the U.S.
His U.S.-born siblings, Al, Savatore and Ralph, became members of the notorious Five Points Gang, before following their mobster mentor, John Torrio, to Chicago. There, Al "Scarface" Capone, Salvatore "Frank" Capone, and Ralph "Bottles" Capone became legendary for their quick — and bloody — rise in the rackets.

The eldest Capone could not have been more different from his brothers. While they terrorized Chicago and flooded the city with illegal booze, he became a prohibition agent, noted for his "cowboy" style and his participation in a series of successful raids against bootleggers.

Even before the younger brothers started learning the ABCs of bootlegging, prostitution, and racketeering, the eldest Capone sibling left home, aged 16, for a job on Staten Island, cleaning stables and learning how to care for horses. He learned to ride and styled himself with the “American sounding” part of his name, of “James”.

A year later, James' love of horses and fascination with Buffalo Bill Cody and the “Wild West” shows, led him to join a traveling circus as a roustabout. Choosing to distance himself from his Italian roots, he soon adopted the last name of his silver screen idol, William S. Hart, the leading Western-genre actor. He also adopted a personal style that included an embroidered vest, chaps, cowboy boots, and a wide-brimmed Stetson, not to mention his sharpshooter marksmanship.

He kept his real name, as well as his family history, a secret and settled in Homer, Nebraska, where he told people he was part Native American in order to explain his swarthy skin tone. He married and raised four sons. In the summer of 1920, Nebraska Governor Sam McKelvie accepted his application for a job as Prohibition agent. Hart received his official commission and went immediately to work, destroying stills and arresting area bootleggers. Officials at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took note and, before long, Hart was performing the more difficult—not to mention dangerous — job of liquor suppression on the reservations.

Hart became proficient in Lakota and Omaha dialects. It is said that tribal leaders called him “Two Gun”, after the twin revolvers he wore, though some members of the Oglala tribe called him “Soiko”, a name roughly translating as “Big hairy boogie-man”.

By 1927, Two-Guns Hart had achieved such a reputation as to be appointed bodyguard to President Calvin Coolidge, on a trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota. The Boy Scouts of America also named him a district commissioner.

Many years later, in 1951, Hart's true identity and double life was revealed when attorneys subpoenaed him to appear before a grand jury in Chicago to testify against his brother in Ralph's tax evasion trial.

James Vincenzo "Richard James 'Two-Gun' Hart" Capone died aged 60 of a heart attack in 1952.

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