By Thomas Ruys Smith
In 1836 Benjamin Drake, a midwestern author of well known sketches for newspapers of the day, brought his readers to a brand new and quite American rascal who rode the steamboats up and down the Mississippi and different western waterways—the riverboat gambler
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Extra resources for Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories (Southern Literary Studies)
And as for presenting one of the son’s bills to his miserly father, were we an honest storekeeper, we should much prefer to bear in patience with the wrath of the hot-headed juvenile, than to run the risk of encountering the supercilious frowns of his honorableÂ€sire. When the rich Southern Bully comes into the possession of his estates, his first care is to fill his cellars (in case he has any, otherwise his storeroom) with barrels of Old Rye, as well as brandy, gin, rum, and other kinds of strong waters, but rarely with any thing in the shape of wine.
Crew all on a ‘bender’ in the engine room, firemen all drunk on the boiler deck, and every body generally enjoying themselves” (169). At other times, the intent of gambling stories was more serious. Accounts of riverboat wagers could serve as cautionary antigambling diatribes, as they often did in the works of Jonathan Green. ] was far above intrigue,” and unwittingly “lost over sixteen hundred dollars” to gamblers on the Mississippi (65, 68). Blackleg stories were also a favorite source of melodrama for the writers of sensational frontier tales, like Emerson Bennett and Justin Jones, whose work prefigured the dime novel fashion of the late nineteenth century.
At the same time, real-life riverboat gamblers like John O’Connor, Mason Long, and particularly, George Devol began to publish autobiographies that immortalized their youthful escapades. They evoked a world that, though dominated by cheating, double-dealing and eventual poverty, had enough gallantry, romance, and sentiment to fire the imagination. Mark Twain famously asserted that the antebellum steamboat pilot “was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth” (166).
Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men: Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories (Southern Literary Studies) by Thomas Ruys Smith