In the days of the Old West, traveling by train was a vacation in itself. It was a new form of travel, exciting and adventurous. Passengers could peek through the curtained windows of their train cars catching visions of the Wild West as they raced across the landscape at speeds never before imagined.
They could also meet new people, the type of people they probably would not encounter in their everyday lives, like performers, outlaws, and gamblers. In fact, according to Keith Wheeler's The Railroaders, historians estimate that more than 300 cardsharps called the Union Pacific Railroad system "home," and a deck of cards was colloquially referred to as a "railroad Bible."
The British cardsharp Poker Alice Ivers, a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty, made her name running gaming tables in the mining camps, but spent her vacation days playing high-stakes poker games on trains. She was so successful in her travels that she finally retired to Deadwood, South Dakota and invested her winnings in a moral bordello, closing her doors on Sundays to teach Bible lessons to her employees.
George Devol was one of the most well-known railroad cardsharps, reportedly winning more than $2 million from his fellow passengers playing popular games such as three-card monte, but he liked to take chances and lost most of his winnings. Devol also marked his deck when playing cards and was known to be involved in more than one gun battle in defense of his life. He was also known to have jumped from more than one speeding train, dodging bullets.
Canada Bill Jones may have been the only gambler who tried to make a deal with the railroads in order to legitimize his trade, offering the Union Pacific Railroad $10,000 for one year rights to all three-card monte games on the line, promising he would only target "traveling salesmen and Methodist preachers." The railroad turned him down.