Gamblers of the Old West

There were two kinds of professionals, the gamblers who stayed in one town for months or years, and itinerant gamblers who traveled so they could play opponents they might never see again. Guess which type cheated more often.

Resident gamblers made their home in a town or city. They often worked in boomtowns, where a gold or silver strike or the coming of the railroad had caused a “boom” in population. Resident gamblers, like all good Victorian-era Americans, guarded their reputations. These men were seen as upright members of the community, men with a skilled profession, even though they may have worked in raucous saloons and gambling halls.  They were called “square dealers.” Square meant fair, honest, and straightforward. We still say “square deal.” Some resident gamblers were women.

They were skilled at the games, and they made a good living without cheating. Many of them probably cheated occasionally, for instance, they might if they realized an opponent was cheating them (The Gamblers, Time-Life Books).

Roulette Table. After 1900. Roulette Table. After 1900.
A portable roulette game from the 1860s. A portable roulette game from the 1860s.

 

The roulette table above is heavy, with the layout, the area where people placed their chips, painted on the table. By contrast, the roulette setup at right has a separate wheel and the layout is enameled canvas, which the itinerant gambler could roll up for travel, great when he needed to make a quick getaway.

Roulette wheels were sometimes rigged.

Itinerant gamblers liked playing travelers on the great Mississippi riverboats, river towns and trains. Travel was slow compared to today, so travelers had time, they carried money, and many had come west looking for fortune and adventure. Camps of miners and prospectors were prime territory for itinerant gamblers. Prospectors hoped to get lucky and strike it rich by finding silver or gold, or at a game of chance. The cheating, fly-by-night gambler was happy to play them.

Scarlett in “Mourning”

The month of Halloween, people often bring up Victorian mourning practices. Back then, it was an elaborate system, as was etiquette in general. I’ll talk about it another time, but here is something much more upbeat, a great movie clip from Gone with the Wind. The clip is four minutes, 45 seconds. At the end, Scarlett is a teenager in Deep Mourning, the first stage of mourning, which includes relative isolation. Note that even her jewelry is black. The other woman in mourning is her mother. Hattie McDaniel gives her Oscar-winning performance as Mammy. This clip sounds gloomy but is fun.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/281096/Gone-With-The-Wind-Movie-Clip–Savannah-Would-Be-Better.html

 

Restored Film of 1906 San Francisco

This is before the earthquake, but Market Street looks chaotic:  cable cars, autos, horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians dodging all of them. You see the Ferry Building, which still stands, at the end of the street. The camera was mounted on the front of a cable car, so the people and cars crossing the tracks are crossing in front of a cable car.

This was shot only about four days before the catastrophic earthquake and fire, but by that time the film was safely on its way to New York to be developed. I wish all the people in the film had also been out of town.

This excerpt is sharper than the longer versions on YouTube.

1895 Mail-Order Catalog

Just think what life was like in rural America before and after the mail-order catalog. Aaron Montgomery Ward used the trains in Chicago to get goods to far-flung parts of the country. Mr. Ward and his partners stocked goods to launch their first mail-order catalog, but his stock was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. He did not give up but started over, an inspiration to us all, and the Montgomery Ward Catalog debuted the following year. It was a single page long, basically a price list with ordering info.

I own a replica of an 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalogue, published by Dover. I am writing a novel set in the West in 1894, so an 1895 catalog is fantastic for me, but some of the items are remarkable. For example, it offers music boxes, the kind we had as children for our jewelry, but these played three songs, or six or eight, depending on how much you wanted to pay … it was the days before radio.

I bought it brand new several years ago. Wearing it out.

We’re all familiar with old butter churns where the person pushed a pole up and down. In 1895, people ordered butter churns that were boxes or barrels with a side crank. Everything’s up to date in Kansas City! If you could spend another fifteen or twenty-three dollars, you could buy a treadmill to attach to the churn’s crank and put your sheep, goat or one or two dogs walking on it, and they’d churn the butter.

The latest styles:  those little hats women wore, with lots of bows on them. Corsets. Stereoscopes — here’s a link to my post on those .  At over 600 pages, it offers thousands of items. It had no competition at the time, years before Sears & Roebuck.

Aaron Montgomery Ward used his fortune to sue the city of Chicago twice to remove and prevent structures in Grant Park, shown below, a lovely park between the skyscrapers and the lake. Bully for you, Mr. Ward.

1200px-Chicago_Downtown_Panorama

 

 

Roller Skating in the Old West

In History of Wyoming, T.A. Larson writes that roller skating rinks operated in Wyoming cities in the 1880s. They were popular with adults as well as youngsters, and in the eastern U.S. as well. I suppose most rinks in Wyoming had wooden floors, the same as most sidewalks of the 1880s.

Wyoming has cold winters, but the plains have few ponds for ice skating.  Indoor roller skating rinks provided fun all winter long. Imagine — cowboys roller skating on their trips to town.

Phenakistoscope: Moving Pictures

The phenakistoscope is an early animation device.

 

1024px-Phenakistoscope_3g07690u
Disc by Eadweard Muybridge (1893).

 

There were variations on the device, but the principle is of a spinning wheel with slots between the images, as you see above.   Note the hole in the middle where a handle attaches.

 

 

Phenakistoscope_3g07690b

Say you face a mirror and hold the disc in front of you. Spin the disc and look through the slots. You catch each image as it whizzes by, and the persistence of vision creates the moving picture.

 

Snapshots of Fourth of July, 1903

Happy Fourth! In 1900, town picnics and other community events, like church picnics, were the order of the day.

I love zooming in on online digital photographs.  Below is a link to a candid shot of people enjoying the Fourth of July at Alpine Park in Salida, Colorado, in 1903. The lone man in the bandstand may have just finished reading the Declaration of Independence aloud, which was usually part of July 4 celebrations. Two women talk under a parasol. People are dressed up, and girls wear ruffly dresses.

Click here  to open the link to the photo. (Trouble linking? See end of this post.)

Zooming in amazes me.  Here’s how to do it:

  • Locate the yellow bar with a minus and plus sign at each end. Beside the plus sign is an icon that says Full Browser when you scroll over it.
  • Click on Full Browser. (If you want to return to previous view, just click this again.)
  • Move the blue square along the yellow bar, toward the plus sign, but not all the way. This enlarges the center of the photo.
  • Hold the mouse key down and drag the picture up. As you move, wait for the new parts of the photo to load. You can drag from side to side.

Here’s another photo of the same celebration with a carriage draped with flag bunting and the decorations on the horses’ heads. Check out the little girls in their best hats!

I will start posting on Thursday mornings. Happy Fourth of July!

Trouble linking? Type in digital.denverlibrary.org and search for:  City Park Salida 573 and Alpine Park Salida 574