Gamblers and Gambling
Volumes have been written, first and last, on the subject of gambling on the Mississippi. In them a small fraction of truth is diluted with a deal of fiction. The scene is invariably laid upon a steamboat on the lower Mississippi. The infatuated planter, who always does duty as the plucked goose, invariably stakes his faithful body servant, or a beautiful quadroon girl, against the gambler’s pile of gold, and as invariably loses his stake. Possibly that may occasionally have happened on the lower river in ante-bellum days. I never travelled the lower river, and cannot therefore speak from actual observation.
On the upper river, in early times, there were no nabobs travelling with body servants and pretty quadroons. Most of the travellers had broad belts around their waists, filled with good honest twenty-dollar gold pieces. It was these belts which the professional gamblers sought to lighten. Occasionally they did strike a fool who thought he knew more about cards than the man who made the game, and who would, after a generous baiting with mixed drinks, “set in” and try his fortune. There was, of course, but one result—the belt was lightened, more or less, according to the temper and judgment of the victim.
So far as I know, gambling was permitted on all boats. On some, there was a cautionary sign displayed, stating that gentlemen who played cards for money did so at their own risk. The professionals who travelled the river for the purpose of “skinning suckers” were usually the “gentlemen” who displayed the greatest concern in regard to the meaning of this caution, and who freely expressed themselves in the hearing of all to the effect that they seldom played cards at all, still less for money; but if they did. feel inclined to have a little social game it was not the business