Professional Gamblers of the Old West were known for many things. Such as; being the best dressed of all the towns people, most generous with their money, cool under threat, and able to work magic with the cards, to name just a few of their traits.
They were also the best armed. We’re talking concealed weapons of all kinds. A boot knife, a derringer hung from a pocket watch chain, a shoulder holster housing a cutdown .45, a knife hanging around his neck, a set of knuckles in his pocket, even a loaded cane.
As a person who made a living by the turn of a card he had to perfect two skills, that of “working the cards” and that of “defending himself”.
Working the cards has been addressed in previous blogs so let’s focus on “defending oneself”. Some may recall the time Doc Holliday used a cane on fellow gambler Henry Kahn in Dallas, Texas. Later that same day Kahn shot Doc, seriously wounding him. The lesson here is if you don’t kill the other guy you better expect him to come looking for you. And speaking of Doc, how about the time Ed Bailey failed to heed Doc’s warning to “stop monkeying with the deadwood ( discards)”. Bailey went to the well once to often and Doc claimed the pot which was the customary thing to do. Bailey took exception to Doc’s action and jerked out his six-shooter. Doc managed to pull a knife from his breast-pocket and with a single stroke opened up Bailey’s belly. Bailey never got a shot off.
Saloon fights with either hands or weapons was a common occurrence, what else could be expected? You had a bunch of young men who just spent the last three months pushing cattle out of Texas and spending 12 hour days in the saddle who had money to burn and little knowledge of how to gamble. On the other side of the table you had a man who had spent most of his adult life learning the finer points of gambling who also would spend 12 hours and much more in the saddle at a poker table. The youngster didn’t have a chance of winning at cards and mix that with the rot gut he was just getting to know, well bad things were very likely to happen and they did.
There was the time that Luke Short shot and killed Charlie Storms, a gambler and gunhand, outside the Oriental Saloon, Tombstone A.T. Some say the dispute was over a gambling debt but the fact is that Storm’s had been hired to cause trouble in the Oriental in an attempt to drive its customers away. Storm’s being the bully he was went after the littlest guy in the place, Luke Short who stood just 5′ 6″ and weighed a slim 130lbs. What Storm’s didn’t know was the Luke was a seasoned fighter having been an Army scout, buffalo hunter, trader with the Indians and having grown up on the very edge of the Western Frontier. Luke also had a tailored suit with a custom made holster concealed in his hip pocket. Unlike Holliday, when Short had to jerk his six-shooter into action he shot to kill and he shot until his assailant was dead. In the Storm’s shooting Short put 5 shots into Storm’s. Storm’s was dead before he hit the ground.
How about the time in Denver when Bat Masterson was managing The Denver Exchange, a first rate saloon. Soapy Smith, owner and operator of the Orleans Club and a bunco artist decided to kick up some dust in Bat’s place. Smith took roost at a Faro table in which Jeff Argyle was dealing and Tom Crippen was acting as lookout. At some point Soapy went for his gun and yelled, ” Argyle, you’re through as dealer in this game. You pull that card and you’ll pull the next one in hell! I want a change of dealers.” Argyle held his ground and stated, ” If Bat Masterson tells me to pull, I’ll pull it.” Just then a known outlaw and train robber by the name Peg Leg Charlie Adams stuck his nose in the mix siding with Smith. Now Adams had a reputation and no one cared to challenge him. Besides, he was wearing a pair of six-guns on his hip, had a derringer in his vest pocket and another in the palm of his hand. That’s a lot of fire power for just shooting across a poker table or for that matter shooting inside anywhere.
Those Old West Saloons and Professional Gamblers sure would have been something to see.
Stop by Old West Antiques and check out all the “new” items added this week. Who knows you may find that one item you just can’t live without.