The English essayist Charles Lamb once said, “Man is a gaming animal.” If he had known the American frontier gamblers depicted in this book, he might have added “in spades,” referring to the avidity with which these “knight of the green cloth” pursued their profession.
All of the pioneers who ventured into the American West of the nineteenth century were gamblers in a sense, betting on the land, the future, and themselves. They risked their fortunes and, sometimes, their very lives. And for those too impatient to wait for the bonanza of a rich ore strike, or for the cattle to multiply, or for the town to develop, the gambling table offered an opportunity for instant riches. The almost universal acceptance and popularity of gambling games on the frontier was predictable, and the rise of the professional gambler inevitable. It was a time of almost unlimited personal freedom in a tolerant society, with few to call gambling a sin, a crime, or a folly.
The American public was introduced to the frontier gambler very early when a number of them became folk heroes and were interviewed in the popular press of the time. Later, fictional characters made known the western gambler stereotype now seen in movies and on television. Seeking to separate the myth from the reality, Robert K. DeArment gives us more than fiction in this book. Here we meet the long vanished and almost forgotten historical frontier gamblers who, between the years 1850 and 1910, were to be found playing their trade in every settlement from the Gulf of Mexico to the Klondike, Not many found fortunes, but some discovered at the tables an exciting way of life, a calling true and real for them as the law, medicine, or the clergy was for others.
DeAement’s research into the lives of the well-known and less-known frontier gamblers provide a story replete with the color and excitement if the Old West. The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and their women—wives, mistresses, and colleagues in gambling establishments—are here, honestly described in a refreshing, readable manner.