Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gambling on the Old West Trains

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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"A Mule will be a Mule."

"It is sometimes amusing to observe the athletic wagoner hurrying an animal to its post--to see him heave upon the halter of a stubborn mule, while the brute as obstinately sets back, determined not to move a peg 'til his own good pleasure thinks it proper to do so--his whole manner seeming to say, "Wait till your hurry's over!" I have seen a driver hitch a harnessed animal to the halter and haul his mulishness forward, while each of his feet would leave a furrow behind until at last the perplexed master would wrathfully exclaim, "A mule will be a mule any way you can fix it."
--Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, 1844

Christmas dinner for a family, from a series of photos documenting Gen. John J. Pershing's 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico. ...