By Thomas Ruys Smith
In 1836 Benjamin Drake, a midwestern author of renowned sketches for newspapers of the day, brought his readers to a brand new and rather American rascal who rode the steamboats up and down the Mississippi and different western waterways—the riverboat gambler
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Extra resources for Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories (Southern Literary Studies)
An American version was produced in the 1860s and reprinted 23 Bl ack legs, Ca r d Sh a r ps, a n d C on fidence M en well into the twentieth century. According to its editor, “Americans rarely play games which have been introduced from Europe according to European methods” (Dick iv). As a result, William Dick’s The American Hoyle remains the most useful guide to the games played in these pieces. Even then, readers should beware. As reformed gambler and antigambling activist Jonathan Green cautioned, gamblers didn’t always play by the rules: “Mr.
Disrespect! ” 42 From Col. —and have you allowed a hint to drive you from the pursuit? For shame. ” “No, no, never! a hint is sufficient for a man of my gentlemanly feelings. ” “Well, what followed? ” “So I thought. ” “Why, then, he kicked me down stairs; and ordered his slaves to pump upon me. ” As Thimblerig’s new coat became rather too seedy to play the part of a gentleman much longer in real life, he determined to sustain that character upon the stage, and accordingly joined a company of players.
However, the Mississippi Gaming Control Act, as Matt Dowd explains, also “limited the area where gaming would be allowed to the regions where the activity had historically taken place: the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi River” (325). With no little irony, therefore, eager gamers now board ersatz, land-locked steamboats—with employees dressed in what Frederick and Stephen Barthelme have described as “paddle-boat quaint: cheap tux shirts, black bow ties, red cartoon suspenders” (9)—where professional gamblers were once lynched.
Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories (Southern Literary Studies) by Thomas Ruys Smith