Towns sprung up quickly in the 19th-century American West, sometimes starting out as mining camps, wagon train river crossings, or army fort support areas. Many times these little towns were comprised mostly of men. Those men needed recreation. Usually that recreation consisted mainly of drinking and gambling. It’s no surprise that saloons or gambling halls were the first buildings to go up in these fast growing towns.
These places seemed to appear almost overnight. They might be tents with dirt floors with flimsy tables and mismatched chairs and a make-shift bar. None of these establishments were high class by any means. They didn’t need to be. The activities they offered were enough to draw the clientele needed to keep them going.
Finally, as a rough neck town grew and began to prosper, the rickety shanties were replaced with wooden or brick buildings. Some of the saloons in what would have been considered a city were rather ornate with elaborately carved bars and high class chandeliers.
There was a time when gambling was considered an occupation. While there are professional gamblers today, a gambler back then lived a much different life. And it must be said that any man who decided to leave what he knew in the east and move to an uncivilized place had to be a gambler at heart. It made sense that there were more than a handful of gamblers moving around from place to place and card game to card game.
In the years prior to the War Between the States, gambling along the Mississippi River flourished. Riverboats running up and down the river from St. Louis to New Orleans offered gamblers the perfect place to practice their trade.
The California Gold Rush attracted some of the riverboat gamblers to San Francisco where money was flowing like water. Gambling halls opened all over offering more than card game. These halls were open all day and night and enormous amounts of money changed hands each and every day.
With the success of the halls in San Francisco, more similar establishments started in Nevada City, Sacramento, and other boom towns in the west. Shootings, stabbings, and killings in general weren’t uncommon in the areas near the gambling meccas. Violence finally reached a level that became unacceptable to the people living in the areas. They called for law enforcement to stop the criminal activities that surrounded the gambling profession.
In the 1860s, the Comstock Lode in Nevada brought men there to prospect and seek their fortunes there. Just like had happened in San Francisco, gambling houses opened up all over. Accounts report that gambling was rampant in Virginia City and surrounding areas. In fact, a report from an agent of the U.S. Geological Survey found that the town of 18,000 people had a gambling house for every 150 citizens.
Gamblers might have been unruly and predisposed to cheating, but that didn’t keep them from holding important positions. One famous gambler in Nevada was William DeWitt Clinton Gibson. William was elected to the Nevada Senate once he slowed his gambling career down. And some of the men who ran the gambling halls also ran banks or held other important financial positions in town.
One of the most important events of the late 1860s was the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The small towns that sprung up along the tracks were the perfect spots for the lower class swindlers to gather. As the railroad moved west, the less reputable gamblers loaded up the tricks of their trade and moved with it ready to take the money of the new and naïve men they would soon meet.
Most of the low rent crowd who preyed on the unsuspecting railroad construction workers were forgettable small-timers, but a few went on to prominence among the gambling men of the West. Most claimed to follow the respected profession of gambling, but really just fleeced their victims with well-honed tricks and crooked gambling games. When the steel rails at last spanned the country, many of these sure-thing gamblers continued to work their swindles on railroad passengers, using the rail center of Omaha as headquarters.
The 1870s brought the great cattle drives from Texas up through Kansas and even further north. Some of the most revered names in Western history are part of this period. Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp were lawmen and well respected for their fearlessness. All were well known gamblers. History shows that they spent more time at the tables than they did keeping law and order.
It’s no surprise that many of the most prolific gunfighters of the Western frontier were also well known gamblers. And along those lines, men who had developed reputations as good gunfighters were in high demand as dealers at the tables. Where large amounts of cash was changing hands, a man with gun skills and nerves of steel were needed. It wasn’t uncommon for a gambler’s reputation to spread and locals were quick to join games to try to match wits with the likes of the celebrity gamblers.
The truth is, that gambling was romanticized in spite of the danger and lawlessness it brought with it.
In A Life Transformed, our former gambling hero tells how he learned he was a good gambler during his time in the mining camps. Find out a little more about this new Hero Hearts release here:
Ellie Brown is on her own and she's got a successful ranch to prove she'd made her own way without the help of her father or a husband. She's proud of what she's done in spite of the fact that it's been a difficult and lonely road paved with hard work and some disappointment thrown in for good measure.
Ross Miller is an opportunistic gambler who's just won a mighty big pot. Though he has a tough exterior, he's got a soft heart. The pot includes something that will be hard to take away from it's owner, but a deal's a deal. He's going to be sure to get his pay out, but he's trying to find a way to get it without too much damage to the person it will affect - Ellie Brown.
He comes up with an idea that Ellie accepts, though she doesn't really have an option other than to not have a place to live. She goes along with the marriage of convenience, but finds a big hurdle to get over. Ross is handsome and deep down he's kind. As she gets to know him, she realizes he's not the soulless man she thought he was at first.
Can these two put their rocky past behind them and find true love and happiness together?
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Annie Boone writes sweet western historical romance with a happy ending guaranteed in every single story. Inspiration comes in many forms and Annie finds more than one way to make her stories entertain and inspire.
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