Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi
by George H. Devol
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Smith saw it was of no use trying to explain. The train was moving off with his baggage on board, and he was left (in the hands of the two officers). They marched him up to the chief's office, and when they arrived everything seemed to be in readiness for an immediate trial; for there was Judge Wilson, the prosecuting attorney, and quite a number of witnesses.

Smith was found guilty of desertion. The judge fined him (a bottle), and ordered that he be confined within the city limits for one day. Smith paid the fine, but pleaded to be let off from the imprisonment. Judge Wilson was firm (for once in his life), so poor Smith had to serve out his time; but the Judge was kind enough to see that he did not suffer for the want of anything, and when he was set at liberty he was like some birds born and raised in a cage. They like the confinement, and when the door is open they will not fly away; but frighten the bird, and away it will go. It was so with Smith; he had already stayed too long. He got frightened and flew away to the sunny South.

The cold blasts of winter were sweeping over the North, when Judge Wilson remembered his promise made to Judge Smith to visit him in New Orleans, and he was soon on his way to make his promise good, for he is a man of his word.

He telegraphed Smith that he would arrive on a certain train, expecting, of course, that he would be received with a brass band, etc.

The train on which Mose was being transported from the land of snow to the land of flowers was about ten miles from New Orleans, when it passed a northern-bound freight, and in a few moments two large men, with brass buttons on their coats, came marching into the Cincinnati sleeper. They came down the aisle, closely scanning the faces of all the male passengers. They halted at the seat occupied by Mose. They looked at him and then at a photograph they had with them. Finally one of them put his hand on Mose's shoulder, and said:

"We want you's."

The Judge took in the situation at once, for he had not forgotten the time he played a similar joke; but he did not like the idea of all the passengers (especially as there were a great many ladies on board) thinking that he was under arrest in earnest. So he smiled one of those sweet smiles of his, and said:

"Officers, this is all a joke. I am Judge of the Police Court of Cincinnati, and I am well acquainted with the Judge of your Court. I expected to be received in New Orleans with a brass band, in place of brass buttons."

"Do yez hear that? He a Judge of the Police Court; expected to be received wid a brass band. Why, he's got more brass than there is in twenty brass bands. He's the biggest thafe in the whole country. Didn't we see the chafe go right straight to the rogue's gallery and get his picture; and didn't he tell Pat and meself to come out here and arrest yez, and didn't we's ride on a freight train?"

Mose saw it was no use trying to make the officers or passengers understand that it was a joke, so he said:

"All right, I will go with you."

"Of course yez will. Won't he, Pat?"

"You bet he will," says Pat.

The officers sat down facing him, so they could keep a watch on him, for they were afraid he would try to jump out the window.

When the train arrived at New Orleans the officers got a carriage (at Mose's request), and they were driven to the chief's office.

The chief pretended not to know the Honorable Judge, and told him to send for his friends. He called for an officer to take Mose down and lock him up, when in walked Judge Smith. Mose smiled and said:

"Smith, I owe you one."

Judge Smith told the chief he would be responsible for Mose while in the city, so he let him go. There was a carriage in waiting. They got in and were driven to Leon's restaurant, where they found a large number of Judge Smith's friends and a fine dinner awaiting them.

After dinner, while we were drinking to Mose's health and smoking cigars, Judge Smith requested me to show our honored guest the baby ticket. I did, and downed him for a bottle, but it did not cost him a cent, for his Queen City money was no good in the Crescent City so long as he remained with the Judge, for they were kindred spirits.


It is often said that faro banks are never broke, but I recall one incident that will prove the contrary. It was during the war, and a number of us were playing together at New Orleans at Charlie Bush's, my old partner. They were all high rollers, and when one of them, who was a big loser, went to get his checks cashed for $1,000, the cashier pulled out the drawer and found that the bottom had been cut out, and all the money was gone. Some snoozer had crawled under the table, and with a sharp knife cut the bottom clear out. Of course the proprietors were very mad, but the joke was such a good one that it wouldn't keep. Still, in spite of all this, I had rather deposit my money in faro banks than the Fidelity, of Cincinnati, and I guess all honest citizens feel the same way.


I met a man in a saloon one night at Cincinnati. He was a stranger, and he inquired of me if I knew of a good, big poker game. I told him there were no public games running at that time, that most of the hotels had games, but they were private. We took a drink or two together, and he again remarked that he would like a game. I invited him to my room, and we had a nice, square game from that time until morning. I won $900 from him, and as he was about broke I invited him to take breakfast with me. After we had finished breakfast and were smoking our cigars he began to kick. I told him if he was that kind of a man I would never play with him any more. I left him and went to bed. I got up in the afternoon and went out on the street, when I saw my poker friend in company with Detective Steve Mead. Then I knew he was a kicker, sure enough. Mead told me the chief wanted to see me, so we started for his office. On our way up Central Avenue we stopped to get a drink. I thought I could trust the good-looking barkeeper, so I just threw a roll over behind the counter, and was then ready to see his Honor. The chief asked me if I won the man's money. I told him I did.

"But," said Chief Woods, "he said you cheated him."

I replied: "Why, chief, how could I, a man that knows but very little about cards, cheat an old gambler like this fellow?"

"I'm no gambler," replied the kicker.

The chief asked Mead what he had learned, and he said:

"They were playing a square game of poker."

"That settles it," said the chief.

So I walked out and down to where I had left my roll. The good- looking young man handed it over, and since then I have always thought Billy Gruber was an honest man and deserved to own two of the finest saloons in the Queen City.


While in Chicago playing the bank one day I had some angry words with a fellow by the name of John Lawler, and I slapped him in the face. He did not resent it, but went out. About 2 o'clock in the afternoon I cashed in my checks and started to my room. I was walking down Clark Street, and was near the corner of Madison, when this fellow Lawler stepped out and began firing at me. The first shot would have hit me in the breast if I had not thrown up my arm; as it was, it struck me on the wristbone and ran up my arm near the shoulder. After the coward fired he began running backward, and kept it up until he had fired all six shots. I had nothing but a little cane, but I started after him, and just as he fired the last shot I struck him with my good arm and downed him. I was onto him, and was just getting that old head of mine ready when the police arrested me. There were thousands of people on the street, but you could not see a cop until the last shot was fired. The fellow was sent up for three years, and I signed a petition to get him out. I was mad when he shot me, and I guess I would have killed him if they had not taken me off; but I do not hold malice to any one, not even if he tries to kill me.

I was laid up for some time with my arm. The bullet was cut out, and was as flat as a half-dollar.

I went from Chicago to St. Paul to see my dear old mother and a sister, who were living there at that time.

My arm is as strong as ever; or, at least, some fellows who have felt it since, say so.


No one knows the difficulty that a man experiences who, having been a gambler for a long period of years, suddenly resolves to change his course, lead a new life, engage in a different business, and make a new man out of himself. It is all very well for moralists to say that all that is needed is will-power. There is something else. I well remember once that I resolved to leave the business. It was when I was living in Vicksburg. I saw an opportunity to start a beer garden. I rented a house and furnished it up in fine style, and stocked it up with liquors and cigars. My friends were glad to see this course I had taken, and promised to encourage me. They did so, and I could not complain for a lack of patronage. Beer I sold at five cents a glass, and as everybody before had been charging ten cents, I soon secured a large patronage. When the boats landed at the wharf the passengers and crew all came up and paid the garden a visit. Did I succeed in my new undertaking? No, of course I did not. The saloon-keepers all combined and kicked against me because I had reduced the price of beer. Two of them were members of the City Council, and two more of the Board of Aldermen. They sent spies to see if I sold liquor to minors, but being unable to detect me they resolved that I should not have a license. I had taken out my United States revenue license. I was compelled to sell out at a great sacrifice, and all my efforts at reform were unavailing.


When a sucker sees a corner turned up, or a little spot on a card in three-card monte, he does not know that it was done for the purpose of making him think he has the advantage. He thinks, of course, the player does not see it, and he is in such a hurry to get out his money that he often cuts or tears his clothes. He feels like he is going to steal the money from a blind man, but he does not care. He will win it, and say nothing about how he did it. After they have put up their money and turned the card, they see that the mark was put there for a purpose. Then they are mad, because they are beat at their own game. They begin to kick, and want their money back, but they would not have thought of such a thing had they won the money from a blind man, for they did think he must be nearly blind, or he could have seen the mark on the winning card. They expected to rob a blind man, and got left. I never had any sympathy for them, and I would fight before I would give them back one cent. It is a good lesson for a dishonest man to be caught by some trick, and I always did like to teach it. I have had the right card turned on me for big money by suckers, but it was an accident, for they were so much excited that they did not get the card they were after. I have also given a big hand in poker to a sucker, and had him to knock the ginger out of me, but this would make me more careful in the future. I've seen suckers win a small amount, and then run all over the boat, telling how they downed the gambler; but they were almost sure to come back and lose much more than they had won.

I have often given a sucker back his money, and I have seen them lose it with my partner, or at some other game on the same boat. I have won hundreds of thousands from thieves who were making tracks for some other country to keep out of jail and to spend their ill- gotten gains. I enjoyed beating a man that was loaded down with stolen money more than any one else. I always felt as if it was my duty to try and keep the money in our own country.

Young men and boys have often stood around the table and bothered me to bet. I would tell them to go away, that I did not gamble with boys. That would make some of the smart Alecks mad, and they would make a great deal of noise. So, when I was about to close up, I would take in the young chap. He would walk away with a good lesson. But when I had to win money from a boy to keep him quiet, I would always go to him and return the money, after giving him a good talking to.

I meet good business men very often now that take me by the hand and remind me of when I won some money from them when they were boys, and returned it with a good lecture. I have sometimes wished I had one-tenth part of what I have returned to boys and suckers, for then I would have enough to keep me the balance of my life.

I had the niggers all along the coast so trained that they would call me "Massa" when I would get on or off a boat. If I was waiting at a landing I would post some old "nig" what to say when I went on board, so while the passengers were all out on the guards and I was bidding the "coons" good-bye, my "nig" would cry out:

"Good-bye, Massa George; I's goin' to take good care of the old plantation till you comes back."

I would go on board, with one of the niggers carrying my saddle- bags, and those sucker passengers would think I was a planter sure enough; so if a game was proposed I had no trouble to get into it, as all who play cards are looking for suckers that they know have money; and who in those old ante-bellum times had more money than a Southern planter? I have often stepped up to the bar as soon as I would get on board and treat every one within call, and when I would pay for the drinks I would pull out a roll that would make everybody look wild. Then I was sure to get into the first game that would be started, for all wanted a part of the planter's roll.

I have downed planters and many good business men, who would come to me afterwards and want to stand in with my play; and many are the thousands I have divided with them; and yet the truly good people never class such men among gamblers. The world is full of such men. They are not brave enough to take the name, but they are always ready for a part of the game. A gambler's word is as good as his bond, and that is more than I can say of many business men who stand very high in a community. I would rather take a true gambler's word than the bond of many business men who are to-day counted worth thousands. The gambler will pay when he has money, which many good church members will not.


Hobbes, the philosopher, says man is the only animal that laughs. He might have appropriately added, he is the only animal that gambles. To gamble or venture on chance, his own property with the hope of winning the property of another is peculiar to him.

Other animals in common with man will fight for meat, drink, and lodging, and will battle for love as fiercely as the old knights of chivalry; but there is no well authenticated account that any of the lower animals ever chanced any of their property on "odd-or- even," or drew lots for choice of pasturage. No master has ever yet taught his dog to play with him at casino, and even the learned pig could never learn what was trumps. Hence gambling is a proof of man's intellectual superiority. Certain it is that men, from the earliest ages, have been addicted to some form of gambling, or settling matters by chance. It was by lot that it was determined in Biblical days which of the goats should be offered by Aaron; by lot the land of Canaan was divided; by lot Saul was marked out for the Hebrew kingdom; by lot Jonah was discovered to be the cause of the storm.

Even in legendary days there is a pretty story that Mercury fell in love with Rhea (or the Earth), and wishing to do her a favor, gambled with the Moon, and won from her every seventieth part of the time she illumined the horizon, all of which parts he united together, making up five days, and added them to the Earth's year, which had previously consisted of only 360 days, and was now 365.

There is not an age of the world, nor a people, who have not been gamblers. The Romans, the Greeks, the Asiatics—all have their games of chance. There was, indeed, a period in the history of the world when gambling was the amusement and recreation of kings and queens, professional men and clergymen. Even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, played cards. The Rev. Caleb C. Colton was one of the luckiest of gamesters. He was a graduate of Cambridge, and the author of "Lacon, or Many Things in a Few Words." At one time in Paris he won $100,000. He left a large fortune, part of which he employed in forming a picture gallery at Paris. General Scott, the father-in-law of George Canning, made one of the largest winnings ever known. He won at White's one million dollars, owing to his sobriety and knowledge of the game of whist.

Who loved his country more than Cato? And yet he was a great gambler. Guido, the painter, and Coquillart, a famous poet, were both inveterate gamblers.

The great philosophers Montaigne and Descartes at an early age were seduced by the allurements of gambling.

The generality of people throughout the world are of the opinion that gamblers are the worst people on the face of the earth. They are wrong, for I tell you there is ten times more rascality among men outside of the class they call gamblers than there is inside it.

Person that the generality of people class as gamblers are only those who play at games of chance with cards. What are the members of the Board of Trade but gamblers? The Board of Trade is just as much a gambling house as a faro bank. Do not the members put up their (and often times other peoples') money on puts, calls, margins, and futures? Do not some poor people have to wait a long time in the "future" before they get back the money some rascal has put up and lost? Talk about the morality of gamblers. They are not thieves and swindlers, and I never heard of one who ever served a term in the penitentiary, or was arrested for embezzling money.


"There goes one of the most remarkable men in the country," said a well-known gentleman standing in front of the Gibson House yesterday. The person referred to was a stoutly-built, sandy- whiskered individual of medium size. He is well known to most men about town, and his exploits on Southern rivers might fill a book. It was George H. Devol. "I have known him for thirty-eight years," the gentleman continued, "my acquaintance with him having been strictly in the South. Do you know that physically he was for years one of the best men we had down there?"

"No. Never heard that George was a fighter," added the reporter somewhat surprised.

"Well, he was, and as good as they made them, too. I never saw him take water in my life, and personally I know that for nineteen years they tried to find a man to whip him. They couldn't do it. He was a terrible rough-and-tumble fighter, and many a tough citizen have I seen him do up. George was a great 'butter.' He could use his head with terrible effect. One night at New Orleans a stevedore tackled him. It was a set-up job. The stevedore was a much larger man, but George got the best of it. During the fight the stevedore's friends stood over George with drawn pistols, threatening to kill him should he do any butting. He can kill any man living, white or black, by butting him. Although over fifty years of age, I don't believe there is a man living who can whip him. New Orleans sporting men will go broke on that."

"He made considerable money in the South, didn't he?"

"Yes, he has won more money than any sporting man in the country. He had the privileges for years on all boats on the Southern Mississippi. When Ben Butler took possession of New Orleans he confiscated all of George's horses and sent him to jail. That little affair cost George just $50,000. He retaliated, however, for he had not been released two weeks until he beat one of the General's paymasters out of $19,000. It was on the Red River. I see he has settled down and quit sporting, and I am glad of it. Had he never seen a faro bank he would have been an immensely wealthy man thirty years ago. One night before the war I saw him lose $13,000 at one sitting. He left the table without enough money with which to buy a cup of coffee."—The Cincinnati Enquirer.


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