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Full text of "The confessions of a con man as told to Will Irwin"

1 






"We showed a few poor trape/e and bareback turns 



THE CONFESSIONS 
OF A CON MAN 



AS TOLD TO 

WILL I R W IN 



Illustrated by 
W. GLACKENS 



NEW YORK 

B. W. H U E B S C H 

1913 



Copyright, 1909, by 
The Curtis Publishing Company 

Copyright, 1909, by 
B. W. Huebach 



GIFT 



Printed in U. S. A. 



555*7 

R 



Acknowledgment is hereby made to 
the publishers of The Saturday Evening 
Post of Philadelphia for their courtesy in 
assenting to the arrangement by which 
the text and illustrations of this book are 
reissued in their present form. 



956 



PREFACE 

When these confessions appeared se 
rially, friends and distant enquirers took 
it for granted that they were fiction; that 
I had stitched together, from the experi 
ences of many grafters, the biography of 
a typical one. I hasten to assure the 
reader that this is a genuine confession; 
that I figure in it but as the transcriber 
of a life story told me I believe with 
every conscientious effort at truth 
during a month of pleasant association in 
New York. As a reporter, a little skilled 
in distinguishing the truth from the lie, 
I believed, when I wrote, in the sincerity 
of this story. Since then letters from his 
old companions of the road, who wished 
to be put into communication with him 
again, have confirmed detail after detail. 
I have disguised a name or a locality here 
7 



8 PREFACE 

and there ; otherwise I have set down only 
what he told me, trying through it all to 
give some flavor of the man and his vo 
cabulary. The vocabulary is not the 
least interesting thing about that person 
ality of mud-and-rainbows. Uneducated 
and unread, he has a keen perception of 
the value of words, and especially of those 
Latinate words which express an intellect 
ual idea. He pounces upon a new phrase ; 
he makes it his own upon the moment. I 
mention this, lest I be charged with dress 
ing these plain tales of the highway in a 
vocabulary too pretentious for the sub 
ject or the man. 

WILL IRWIN 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER PAGE 

I. I LEARN TO CHEAT WITH MARKED 

CARDS . . . . .13 

An Optical Illusion in Anilin Dye Off to 
St. Louis for a Good Time Lumber Swede s 
Squeeze Wheel The Phony Poolroom Enter 
priseA Winter at Hot Springs The Luck of 
Slippery Sills. 

II. I JOIN THE CIRCUS AND ELOPE WITH 

MINNIE, THE ELEPHANT . . 51 

Wheels Within Wheels The Booster and 
his Business Working the Railroad Train In 
troducing Jakey, the Grafter Working on the 
Sheriff s Sympathies Good-Natured Little Min 
nieThe Circus that Disappeared. 

III. I BECOME AN EMINENT FIXER AND AN 

ADEPT AT BIG JOINT . . .81 

Why Twenty-Three Means Down and Out 
Squaring the Mayor and His Minions Trouble 
in a Lumber Camp Clanking Days in Texas A 
Wild-Goose Chase to Australia. 

IV. I REJUVENATE THREE-CARD MONTE 120 

How I Worked the Day Coaches I Play 
the Part of a Texas Cattleman The Tough Citi 
zen of Breathitt Working a Bluff What Mr. 
Belmont Missed. 

V. WHY I CUT IT OUT . . .159 

The Collapse of the Gold-Brick Industry 
An Alliance with Soapy Smith The Yellow 
Diamond Game Cutting It Out for Keeps. 



ILLUSTRATIONS 



We showed a few poor trapeze and bareback 
turns ..... Frontispiece 

OPPOSITE PAGE 

So I dropped out of school early, and went to 
work in a billiard hall . .16 

I must have taken three hundred dollars from 
Pat that winter . .20 

I made myself so useful that they gave me an 

interest in one of the shell games . 56 

He draws from the pile the envelope which I 
have marked with my thumb-nail, and takes 
out the card . . .116 

And show them, very awkwardly, how a dealer 
manipulates three-card monte . . 136 

"I want back the thousand dollars which I gave 
you yesterday on some fake diamonds," 
said he. - 176 



11 



THE 
CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

CHAPTER I 

I LEARN TO CHEAT WITH MARKED 
CARDS 

AT seventeen or thereabouts I de 
liberately picked my vocation in 
life and became a grafterA By that I 
don t mean, probably, what you mean. 
The word "grafter" has been pulled into 
politics, and its original sense is lost. On 
my side of the police fence, we mean 
by it any one who uses skin games as a 
vehicle for stalling through life. I began 
as a card cheater, and for thirty years I 
dallied with all the games phony poker, 
three-card monte, gold bricks, big joint, 
wire-tapping and a dozen others which 
haven t any names. I cleaned up thou 
sands on single tricks in those thirty 
is 



14 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

years and mussed them up as fast as 
I d cleaned them. I put into my business 
the industry, the hard thought, the energy 
and the brains to succeed in pretty 
nearly any legitimate line. When I quit 
the game over night, about two years ago, 
I had just ten thousand dollars. And, 
even then, I was luckier, a great deal 
luckier, than most of them. A grafter s 
dollar is greased. I m not what you 
would call converted, either. I played 
the game, but I never carried around any 
conviction of moral wrong. My meth 
ods were peculiar. ExcspJLin my early 
card-cheating days, the other fellow was 
always out to do me a great deal harder 
than I was out to do him. I beat him to 
it that is all. \ 

^1 was arrested once for skinning a 
drummer in three-card monte one of 
the few times I was ever in jail, even for 
an hour. I sent for the young district 
attorney he was the moral leader of a 
reform spasm and I said: 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 15 

"See here. As far as this com 
plaint goes, you ve got me to rights. It 
don t go far enough that s all. That 
fellow did go up against me in three-card 
monte, and I did skin him out of his roll. 
But he ain t telling the rest. I knew he 
was a city man of easy means ; he thought 
I was a poor granger from Texas who had 
sold my farm and was bringing the money 
East to put my wife into a sanitarium. 
Believing that, he put his roll up against 
mine under the impression that I would 
be easy. Now who s the worst of us 
two that drummer or me?" The dis 
trict attorney couldn t help seeing it my 
way, and he let me go. 1 

My reason for giving up the business 
proceeded from every-day horse-sense. 
An honest dollar is the only dollar that 
don t do stunts on your pillow at night. 
No matter how they stall about it, the 
grafters, big and little, are haunted men. 
For one thing, they re always afraid of 
the penitentiary. I know about prisons, 



16 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

though I ve never boarded in one, and 
let me tell you they are punishment, all 
right. No matter how clever you may 
be, you will make your slip. Guns are 
another horror to the profession the per 
centage of mortality by violence is high. 
It s of no use for a grafter to go heeled 
against that danger. Suppose I had 
trouble with a sucker I d skinned, and 
killed him to save my own life ? What 
chance would I, a professional gambler, 
stand in court ? They d hang me before 
I could get off my collar and tie. I had 
escaped penitentiaries and guns by some 
pretty narrow margins; and at forty-six 
I determined to lead such a life, from 
then on, that I would dare to look over 
my shoulder in the dark. That s all there 
is to my reformation. 

I began in a small way as a no-account 
boy of seventeen. We ll call my home 
town Windville, because that isn t how 
it reads on the map. Most of the way 
I m going to disguise names, anyhow. 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 17 

Windville is a child-size college city in 
Illinois. Parts of it were pretty tough 
at the time. My father was as good a 
man as ever walked, but too indulgent 
with me; and as for my mother, I could 
always get around her. So I dropped 
out of school early, and went to work 
in a billiard hall. I made good money in 
wages and tips, and I took to losing my 
earnings in poker. My steady hang 
out was a little room over a saloon. 
Professional card cheaters came into 
our game from time to time. I looked 
on them as heroes; and I used to watch 
them work. Some of the town boys 
knew how a professional stacks cards 
or gets a cold deck on the table, and they 
taught me. I began to practice. When 
I was pretty proficient I tried out my 
skill in haystack games for small money. 
I found that I was good enough to de 
ceive the average gambler of Windville. 
When I was sure of this I opened a 
little poker room of my own up over 



18 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

a saloon. My first crooked deal 
wasn t done with the cards, however; 
it was straight stealing. Strange, but 
it was the only real stealing I ever did, 
except the justifiable larceny of an 
elephant. A professional gambler named 
Pat Malloy showed up in town and 
began to play in my room. I spotted 
him for a cheater the first night, and I 
refused to play with him; but I let him 
come and cheat the others while I 
watched how he did it. Cold-decking 
was his specialty. By "cold deck," I 
mean the substitution of a deck, already 
stacked, for the one which has just been 
shuffled and cut on the table. The 
cold-decking process is always helped 
by a lot of draperies, and Pat, who wasn t 
a very smooth operator, generally wore 
his overcoat when he was playing. As 
he raked in each pile he d drop the chips 
in his overcoat pocket; and I d reach in 
every night and extract a few. I must 
have taken three hundred dollars in 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 19 

chips from Pat that winter, and I stole 
in such small amounts that he never 
tumbled. By that time I d gained, from 
watching him, the confidence to cheat 
on my own account. 

A rich grocer came in one night, half- 
drunk; I knew that he had a roll in his 
clothes. 

"Here is the time to begin," I thought. 
When I dealt out the fixed hand to 
him I felt like a young lawyer before 
his first jury. But he never suspected; 
and on my next deal I had more confi 
dence. I played him along, winning 
small stakes until I was sure of myself. 
Then, about midnight, when he could 
hardly see his cards, I dealt him three 
kings and myself three aces. His roll 
was about four hundred dollars, and I 
took it all on that hand. 

From that moment I never sat in a 
square game I cheated all the time. 
It brought in the money like water. 
They were running a railroad through 



20 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

town. The construction foremen and 
gang bosses came into our place with 
their pay, and I figured to clear at least 
one hundred and fifty dollars every 
Saturday night. Between times I took 
smaller winnings from the town sports. 
The next fall I gave up that room and 
started a larger one over the opera house. 
But it wore out. While they couldn t 
get me dead to rights, I had the reputa 
tion of a cheater, so that no one would 
play with me. Almost all that I had 
saved from the profits of the little card- 
room I lost paying for rent, light and 
boosters to keep the big place going. 
There I learned my first inside lesson 
concerning my business don t keep a 
crooked game long in any one place. 
Your very success makes people shy 
of it. 

Along in the time when my custom was 
running down to nothing, I first met Jim 
Ross. He was an old-time gambler, and 
his specialty was marked cards. Once he 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 21 

figured as the best man in that depart 
ment of the business, but he was getting 
old and his eyes were growing dull. You 
must have good eyes to play marked cards. 
I was already working a little in that line 
with an old deck of plaid-backs. I had 
strengthened certain lines in the plaid 
pattern to designate numbers and suits. 
Ross was barred from our game, but he 
used to sit and watch me play. One night 
after the game he caught me in the hall. 
I was a little scared, being just a kid, 
when he flashed on me some wornout cards 
which he d picked up from the floor and 
showed me the lines where I d marked 
them. 

"Your system s no good," he said. "You 
come along with me. I know the only way 
to mark cards. I ll make you rich." 

When I saw he meant business, I 
agreed. My poker-room was just about 
busted, and I was flattered by the offer. 
Ross gave me three packs marked on his 
system, and set me to practicing. 



22 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

There are a hundred ways of marking 
cards. As in any other graft, people 
keep introducing improvements. Some 
times you take a very sharp knife and 
make dents in the devices of the scroll 
work. Sometimes you make similar dents, 
not in the scroll work, but along the 
white edge which runs around the back of 
almost all cards. The last system has a 
great many advantages. For one thing, 
you can always see, by tilting the deck a 
little, just what cards are buried before 
the draw. In other systems you can spot 
only the hands and the top card. But it 
can be easily detected. A suspicious 
sucker has only to squint along the cards 
horizontally to spot the knife marks at 
once. 

AN OPTICAL ILLUSION IN ANILIN DYE 

All things considered, Jim Ross had the 
best method I ever used. You know how 
most playing-cards are made red or blue 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 23 

backs with a scroll work in white. The 
operator takes a very thin and light anilin 
dye, of the same general color as the backs, 
and marks over all the white figures in the 
scroll work except one the one which 
designates the number and suit of the 
card, according to a code which -he has in 
his mind. Look at it all you want unless 
you know where to look you could never 
tell that the color had been tampered with. 
It is just an optical illusion. 

After I got to traveling with Ross I 
discovered why he came into Windville, 
where he was known for a cheater and 
barred from all the games. A professor 
of penmanship in the business college a 
pillar of the church, too was the operator 
who colored his cards. The professor 
charged thirty-six dollars a dozen packs. 
Afterward, I got some anilin dyes and 
learned to do the work myself. 

To play with marked cards takes prac 
tice, good eyesight and concentration. In 
fact, I think it is one of the hardest pieces 



24 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

of manipulation in card cheating. It was 
a long time before I could really be sure 
of two hands at the table, and the man 
never lived who could keep accurate track 
of three. I was a keen boy, with quick 
eyesight, a natural card-player, and I was 
good enough to be pretty sure of two 
hands by the time Jim Ross and I got 
ready to travel. 

I m not revealing the whole game when 
I say "marked cards." For we were out 
to beat the gambling-houses, and the first 
problem was to land the cards in the game. 
Jim Ross attended to that part of it. 
Sometimes he would find where the house 
kept its cards, would steal them, and 
would substitute marked cards with simi 
lar designs on the back. We carried all 
the standard brands in our gripsacks. If 
that couldn t be done, he would find the 
stationery store or drug store where the 
house bought its supply, and would bribe 
the clerk to give them our marked decks. 
Sometimes he worked through the porter. 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 25 

That part of the game required great 
knowledge of human nature. Looking 
back at him now, after thirty years in the 
game, I see that knowledge of human 
nature was just what Jim Ross didn t 
have. We failed often at the very start 
because he made slips in handling men. 

I won my first big stake in Paris, Illi 
nois, and it came so easily that it gave me 
confidence to play the game anywhere. 
We had introduced our cards by bribing 
a steerer whom Ross happened to know. 
We started with poker. 

When I was about two hundred dollars 
winner, some of the losers quit and broke 
up the game. I had marked a traveling 
salesman as the good-thing of the party. 

When he proposed to me a two-handed 
game of casino I jumped at the chance. 
The losers stood around watching our 
play, and, by and by, they began to squab 
ble over the question whether any man can 
tell, before the final show-down, the last 
four cards in a casino hand. You know 



26 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

the best casino experts say that they can 
do it. I was no casino expert, but there I 
sat with a marked deck which I could read 
from the back as well as from the face. I 
spoke up and said: "That ain t very hard. 
I think I can do it." 

My opponent was getting a little drunk. 
He laughed at me and said: 

"Kid, here s twenty-five dollars that 
says you can t!" I covered the money; I 
dealt and we played down to the last four 
cards. Then I studied and figured and 
studied ; and finally I talked the four cards 
straight off and pulled in the twenty-five 
dollars. 

I was following a principle which Ross 
had laid down for me, and which all pro 
fessional grafters know. Never let your 
man win the first throw. You d think that 
making him win would be the best way of 
leading him on. Not at all. If he s got 
an ounce of sport in him, a small loss on 
the first throw makes him come back hard, 
to recover his money. So I won that stake, 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 27 

and my opponent wasn t satisfied. He 
wanted to bet I couldn t do it again. I 
said maybe I couldn t; I wasn t always 
sure; but I d try it again for ten dollars. 
I called one card wrong, purposely, and 
lost. By that time he was crazy for my 
money. Winning and losing, I led him on 
until he had five hundred dollars down. 
As that seemed to be the extent of his pile, 
I called the turn. Jim Ross and I got 
away before he had time to think it over. 
We went on from town to town, getting 
barred from games sometimes and some 
times winning all the house money in the 
place. The combination of an old grafter 
with a young apprentice is very common 
in my trade. The older man furnishes the 
experience, and the younger one, with his 
quicker eyes and hands, the manipulation. 
Then again, an old cheater gets barred 
from the games in many towns. In such 
places he can plant the cards, pipe off the 
good things, and send in his unknown to 
do the work. I saw the end of such a com- 



28 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

bination the other day; and though it s 
jumping a quarter of a century, I stop 
here to tell about it. "Young Michigan," 
who isn t young any longer, discovered a 
phenomenon about two years ago. This 
fellow he was a young ranch hand had 
a new device for getting a cold deck into 
the game. It worked like grease. Young 
Michigan took him up, and played him all 
over the Far West and along the Miss 
issippi. Never once was he caught. They 
coined money. Finally Young Michigan 
decided to break the big club games in 
New York. They came on, hired a suite 
of rooms in a good hotel, and went to it. 
Michigan was spotted in the metropolis 
on account of old connections with rou 
lette games. 

He sent his man in alone and waited 
outside. The first night the granger came 
back with no winnings, but with a fine 
yarn about a spectator who had thrown 
an eye at him whenever he made a motion 
toward that cold deck. The next night 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 29 

same result, only a different excuse. At 
the end of a week, Michigan cornered his 
assistant in the hotel and took him to 
pieces and found what made him tick. It 
was a simple case of cold feet granger 
fear of the bigness and richness of New 
York. He d got away with the game in 
Montana and Arizona and Oklahoma, 
where one false motion would have let the 
lamplight stream into him from three dif 
ferent directions. In New York, the 
home of the soft sucker, where he took no 
greater risk than of being kicked down 
stairs, he had fallen down complete. Mich 
igan Kid packed up that night and took 
him back to Arkansas. 

OFF TO ST. LOUIS FOR A GOOD TIME 

To return to Jim Ross : it was about the 
same story for nearly a year. He wasn t 
very clever, and he was a hard man to 
work for. His disposition was naturally 
surly, and he d let that trait grow on him 



30 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

as he got older. He was never satisfied 
with my playing. If I won a good roll 
he d always ask why I didn t work it dif 
ferently and make more. He had a good 
thing in me, and he knew it but not to 
the extent of treating me white. 

At Milan, Missouri, came the incident 
which made me run away from Jim Ross 
the first time. That was a prosperous 
town, with three or four good games. We 
registered at the hotel, and Ross went out 
to see what he could do about planting the 
marked decks. While he was gone the 
hotel proprietor came up to my room. He 
had been a gambler himself, and still took 
an interest in the game. He gave me the 
high-sign of the profession to show he was 
all right, and said: 

"You re too clever a kid to be throwing 
yourself away on Jim Ross. He s queered 
nearly everywhere. I ll tell you now that 
neither he nor any one he s steering can 
get into a game in this town. You ll do 
best to leave." I reported his advice about 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 31 

leaving town to Jim Ross. We packed 
and went. I determined right there to 
make the break. I dropped off the train 
at a way station, went back alone to Milan, 
and broke a poker-game with a cold deck. 
My winning that night was twelve hun 
dred dollars. Free as a lark, I started for 
St. Louis to have a good time on it. The 
second faro game I entered I bumped into 
Jim Ross. He d figured it out like Sher 
lock Holmes that I d go back to Milan 
and make a big winning, that I d streak 
for St. Louis to spend it, and that I d land 
sooner or later in a faro game. For two 
days he d been lying in wait for me. 

Although I hated him, Ross had a kind 
of hypnotic control over me. I handed 
over half my winnings and went back to 
him like a little lamb. So we passed on, 
through Missouri and down into Arkan 
sas. We lost our money about as quickly 
as we made it. A gambler s dollar is 
greased. One night you win a big stake ; 
the next night you start on a wild jag or 



32 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

go up against faro; the next morning 
you re worrying about your hotel bill. It 
is a curiosity of the business that card 
cheaters, who know how crooked all the 
games are, nevertheless blow in most of 
their winnings in gambling dog eat dog. 
The craving for excitement accounts for 
it, I suppose. Something must be doing 
all the time. In my day we played faro 
bank mostly, because that came nearest to 
being a straight game. The introduction 
of brace-boxes and high layouts has 
changed all that. 

I ran away from Ross twice more in 
that year. On one of these runaway ex 
cursions I hooked up with an old pro 
fessional whom we called "Neversweat." 
In his way he was a remarkable cheater. 
He lived a very correct life. Just what 
he did with all the money he made I never 
knew. I never saw him spend any of it in 
dissipation. I don t know yet where he 
came from, nor where he went after I left 
him. I ve always had a notion that he was 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 33 

just playing to make a great stake to meet 
some emergency. Holding out cards was 
his specialty. He had a hand twice as big 
as mine. He could palm a pair of kings 
and keep them palmed for ten minutes, 
while he dealt and played and made ges 
tures. I d have liked to stay with him 
but Jim Ross caught me. 

At the end of the year Ross and I were 
in Quincy with five or six hundred dollars 
apiece in our pockets . We went up against 
a faro game. When we woke next morn 
ing, broke, he laid it all to me. He acted 
so disagreeable that I punched him one 
for luck and went away from him forever. 
A few years later Ross died of heart fail 
ure in a Turkish bath. 

It was a good time for a visit home, and 
I beat my way back to Windville. My 
mother took me in hand. She had no exact 
knowledge of what I d been doing, though 
she knew that it was something pretty 
disreputable. I promised her to brace up, 
and I proved that I meant it by getting a 



34 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

job carrying water for a railroad camp. 
In two weeks I was timekeeper, and in six 
weeks gang boss. Before the end of the 
summer I had taken a sub-contract and 
was running thirty teams. I ve figured 
since what I might have been if I d 
stopped right there and stuck to straight 
business. But we finished that job. I took 
another contract farther up the line, was 
cheated by the man in charge, and drifted 
back to the old poker room in Windville. 
There I met "Lumber Swede," the best 
straight poker-player I ever knew. He 
was an ignorant Scandinavian I don t 
believe that he could write his own name. 
He d been a common lumber- jack, had 
learned poker in the camps, and had de 
veloped great card sense. Lumber Swede 
was a cheater, all right, but he could have 
come pretty near making a living playing 
straight. He earned his hundreds of thou 
sands, like the rest of us, and at one time 
he had saved a pretty good pile; but the 
race-track got him. When I saw him last 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 85 

he was working as booster in a Chicago 
poker club. You know the game has 
changed a lot in recent years. It s all in 
the hands of "clubs" entrance fee and 
qualifications for membership, a wink at 
the doorkeeper. These club games are all 
jackpots, and a quarter of the opening 
stakes is the percentage to the house. This 
rakeoff is so high that it doesn t pay the 
house to run a crooked game. But they 
need boosters to stimulate interest and to 
keep the game running. As soon as the 
place opens the Swede comes in and starts 
a game. When he has filled the table and 
accumulated a waiting list, he says some 
thing about going to business, cashes in, 
and retires to the saloon downstairs, where 
he stays until he s summoned to stir up 
interest again. Of course, being the best 
poker-player in the country, he wins more 
than he loses. He gets a percentage on 
all his winnings and a hundred dollars a 
month besides. So he s settled down in 
life with a steady job; and I must say that 



36 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

he has finished better than most of the 
cheaters I used to know. 



LUMBER SWEDE S SQUEEZE WHEEL 



When he met me in the poker-room at 
Windville he was all heated up over a 
"squeeze wheel" which he had just bought 
the device was new then. He thought 
there was a fortune in it. Being still pretty 
green, I did, too. When he proposed 
partnership I jumped at the chance. 

The squeeze wheel? It goes by various 
names. The gamblers call all such devices 
"spindles." Any one who has followed 
country fairs must have seen it in opera 
tion. It s a big pin, like a clock hand, re 
volving around a circle which is spaced off 
for prizes ten dollars in one space, five in 
another, a dollar in others, a lot of blanks, 
two spaces marked "conditional" and one 
"lose." The wheel goes around; wherever 
the little indicator at the point of the pin 
stops, there is your prize or your lemon. 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 37 

% 

It stops just where the operator wants 
it to stop. A clutch under the table guides 
the movement, slowing the wheel down 
or speeding it up. Sometimes the clutch 
is controlled from a knob which sticks out 
from the table, just where the operator 
is resting his arm, careless-like. Some 
times the knob is under a stack of gold- 
pieces upon which the operator keeps 
his hand while the merry wheel goes 
around. 

That was the country-fair season. The 
Swede figured on going from fair to fair, 
cleaning up the grangers and making a 
million. He was badly fooled. In some 
places the authorities stopped us; in 
others, we fizzled out because neither of us 
knew how to handle boosters. Fixing the 
authorities and shoving the boosters are 
the whole works in such a game. We were 
a ridiculous team for a squeeze wheel a 
green kid and a silent Swede. I laugh 
about it yet. By the end of a fortnight we 
had only four hundred dollars left between 



38 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

us, and we lost all that on a faro bank. 
I remember that expedition chiefly be 
cause on it I first met some three-card- 
monte men Jim Barnes and his gang. 
He was a great hero to me, for I was still 
only a small cheater, and he was the best 
"broad-spieler" on the road. He had in 
his gang the ex-city marshal of Leadville. 
When the vigilantes cleaned up that town 
and lynched two footpads, the marshal 
figured that they might be turning their 
attention to the city government next, and 
left between two days. Now he owns a 
cattle-ranch in Texas and gambles only 
for fun, and his pal is doing well in the 
hotel business. I mention this because such 
a finish is exceptional among professional 
gamblers. These were old-time monte 
men, who wore no disguises, and looked 
what they were. From hearing them talk 
I got a great hunch for that game. Years 
later, and after monte had got in pretty 
bad repute, I became a member of the firm 
which rejuvenated it, and made it one of 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 39 

the best-paying propositions on the road. 
I ve wished at times that I d stayed with 
Lumber Swede. He had a long, cool, 
scheming head and wonderful card sense, 
but he couldn t express himself. With 
him to pull things off and me to work the 
line of con-talk which I acquired in my 
later experience, we should have made one 
of the greatest combinations in the coun 
try. But I had to be going, and ba<ck I 
drifted toward Illinois, making for any 
town where I heard there was a good 
game, tying up with any older gambler 
who was willing to steer me. McCafferty, 
who belongs to that period, was the best 
all-around poker cheater I ever met, just 
as Lumber Swede was the best straight 
player. Marked cards, cold decks, stacks, 
glass all tricks looked the same to him. 
Hayden, with whom I cleaned up a game 
at Springfield, dropped the cards and took 
up general graft at about the time I did. 
For years we ran in and out of each other s 
operations. 



40 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 
THE PHONY POOLROOM ENTERPRISE 

Hay den is in bad just now. They have 
a new game in the West which hasn t been 
named as yet. It is a play for big money, 
and it needs an elaborate plant. The 
grafters hook some rich, old, country sport 
and tell him the story of a great prize 
fight winning they are going to pull off. 
They ve found a young phenom. He is 
going up against a man of established 
reputation. They want to get their money 
down on the unknown, but the poolrooms 
won t take bets from them because they 
are professional gamblers. Will Mr. 
Sucker act as their betting commissioner? 
They approach him because he is a man of 
standing, and also a patron of sport. 
They will pay his expenses to Chicago. It 
will only be necessary for him to take 
along a draft for twenty-five thousand 
dollars to show as a guarantee that he is 
what he purports to be. They lead him 
and his draft to the training quarters ; they 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 41 

give him a chance to see both pugilists at 
work. Any judge of fighters can perceive 
that it is a cinch. Gradually, and without 
any direct steer from the grafters, the 
sucker gets enthusiastic himself, cashes his 
twenty-five thousand, and bets it in a 
phony poolroom. The "fight" comes off, 
and his man lays down. Only the old- 
time "cross," though with fine, new varia 
tions. Hayden pulled this off two or three 
times; but something went wrong, as 
things are bound to go wrong in games 
which require so many cappers and con 
federates, and now he s under indictment 
and heavy bail. 

I had gained a reputation in the Middle 
West, and that led to my job at Hot 
Springs. That s still a pretty tough town, 
but it s Purity Village compared to those 
days. Everything was as wide open as a 
saloon door and as crooked as a corkscrew. 
Three different houses employed me as 
official cheater. In two of them I used 
marked cards. In the other my partner 



42 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

and I worked the glass. That device isn t 
used very often now. You know the 
"kitty" in a poker table the square hole 
or slit at the center into which you slip the 
house percentage? Well, on two sides of 
the kitty were little mirrors, so that a man 
sitting opposite either of them could see 
in them the underside of the cards as he 
dealt. Those mirrors rested away down 
in the kitty until wanted for use ; a touch 
on a spring inside the table-leg brought 
them to position. It was better than 
marked cards, in that it did not require so 
much concentration to follow the hands. 
On your deal, you could read and remem 
ber all the hands in a game of five players. 
I was kept in reserve to skin good- 
things rich Easterners with a roll, usual 
ly. When such a man showed up around 
any of the three houses they would send 
a hurry call for me. The house attended 
to all the steering and fixing; I simply 
performed the operation and got half the 
money. 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 43 

I have come, through experience, to be 
superstitious about one thing: a great, big 
stake will always slip through my fingers. 
I could land a moderate winning, up to a 
thousand or two; but whenever I started 
for a large roll something would happen. 
Those fellows who skinned that rich trust 
magnate out of a hundred and twenty 
thousand dollars, in one night of faro, 
sound like a fairy tale to me. I began to 
notice this at Hot Springs. The president 
of an Eastern flour company came into 
town on a tear, throwing his money right 
and left. One of my houses telephoned to 
me; they had him playing, and he was 
half-drunk. I worked the cold deck on 
him all that night. I won three hundred 
and fifty dollars in cash and his check for 
eight thousand dollars. I went to bed 
stuck on myself. 

But the gambling-houses were squab 
bling among themselves; my boss, whom 
we ll call Finnigan, had a quarrel over the 
privileges with a rival whom we ll call 



44 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Jones. The news of my killing got around 
that night. Jones, for revenge, telephoned 
to my sucker first thing in the morning, 
telling him that he had been cheated. The 
flour man had the check stopped. The 
same identical thing happened in the case 
of a young Englishman, holder of a minor 
title, whom I beat out of five thousand 
dollars with marked cards. 

A WINTER AT HOT SPRINGS 

I passed the next winter in Hot Springs. 
But I never did so well again. I was get 
ting too well known. My partner and I 
did find one rich sucker. We had him nib 
bling, when I came down with fever and 
nearly died. My partner, as I afterward 
learned, carried the deal through and won 
sixteen hundred dollars. He skipped with 
out dividing, leaving me broke and in the 
hospital. He used the money to pay off 
the mortgage on his mother s farm. 
You ve heard tell of honor among thieves. 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 45 

I ve found precious little of it. There is 
generosity, though. Gamblers are always 
staking their busted comrades. Now I 
met that very man two years later, when 
I d been against faro and was temporarily 
on my uppers ; and he gave me a hundred 
dollars. 

When I was broke or sick or in trouble 
I naturally turned back toward Windville. 
I was only a young boy, after all. I landed 
there without a bean, ready for any en 
gagement. And just then old Doctor 
Benedict came to town on his annual visit. 
He offered me a partnership, and I joined 
him. 

Old Doctor Benedict, America s Great 
est Optician, was a professional card 
cheater, who used the spectacle business 
as a blind. Ahead of his arrival he would 
insert in the town paper an advertisement 
which read something like this : 

Old Doctor Benedict, the Marvel 
ous Optician, is Coming With His 



46 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Australian Pebble Lenses, the Opti 
cal Discovery of the Age. Corrects 
Errors and Aberrations of Vision 
Which Have Resisted the Skill of the 
Greatest European Surgeons. Watch 
for Old Doctor Benedict and His 
Corps of Expert Assistants. Palace 
Hotel, Wednesday, from 10 to 4. 

I was the corps of assistants. We d 
arrive with five trunks four empty, and 
the fifth holding our clothes, together with 
a line of cheap, stock spectacles, graded by 
ages. The doctor would pose around the 
lobby in a tall hat and a long coat, and I 
would sit behind a big ledger which was 
one of our properties. When the customer 
appeared, Doctor Benedict would give 
him a fine lecture on defective vision, and 
would make him squint at a set of alphabet 
cards. I d be busy making phony entries 
in the ledger as the Doctor talked them off 
to me. In the course of his hocus-pocus 
he would slip in the real question : "How 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 47 

old are you?" We ll suppose that the 
sucker answered "Fifty-two." After a 
little more guff, Doctor Benedict would go 
over to our trunk and select the regular 
stock spectacles for a man of fifty-two. 
He d get them adjusted with a lot more 
phony talk, and collect whatever the 
sucker looked to be good for. 

From this public position we were able 
to spy out the poker-games and to pose, in 
towns where I wasn t known, as easy- 
marks. We did pretty well, but I hated 
him worse than a rattlesnake, for he held 
out profits and had disgusting habits. His 
finish was funny. He worked up such a 
reputation for his Australian Pebble 
Lenses that it paid him to cut out gam 
bling altogether, and devote himself 
wholly to the spectacle business. 

THE LUCK OF SLIPPERY SILLS 

My last regular partner in card cheating 
was Slippery Sills, with whom I d done a 



48 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

turn here and there ever since I broke in. 
Slippery was good at his trade, but an 
awful drunkard. He had the nerve of the 
damned. They tell this story of him: A 
little gambling-house in Missouri kept 
posted on the wall an offer of a silk hat for 
every straight flush. Let me tell you, a 
straight flush is an uncommon hand in 
poker. In all my experiences I ve never 
known one to be held on the square. Well, 
Slippery was playing cold decks there one 
night. He cleaned out every one in the 
place. I guess they knew he was a cheater, 
but the principle of that house was to let 
a man go for one sitting, and bar him 
afterward. When every one had enough, 
Slippery looked up and saw, that sign. 
"Let s play a sociable game for a quarter 
limit," he said; "I need a silk hat." On 
the second hand he showed a straight flush. 
Inside of an hour he had won eight silk 
hats on eight straight flushes and no one 
could tell how he did it. 

I was barred once from a good game in 



CHEATING WITH MARKED CARDS 49 

Springfield, Missouri. I went over to St. 
Louis and found Slippery. He was flat 
broke. I offered to stake him and take him 
into the Springfield game. He accepted. 
If I remember right, I gave him a hundred 
dollars. About midnight I wandered over 
to that house to see how things were going. 
While I was barred from playing, they 
were glad to see me personally. Slippery 
Sills was looking over a whole breastwork 
of chips. 

He didn t seem to need any assist 
ance from me ; so I went back to the hotel 
and turned in. I woke early. Slippery 
hadn t come in yet. I dressed and went 
out to look for him. I found him asleep on 
the billiard-table in the barroom, without 
a dollar in his clothes. He had been drink 
ing while he played. Along toward morn 
ing the booze had got to him. The house 
had rung in another cheater on him at this 
point, and had taken away all his win 
nings, and my hundred besides. 

One morning about eight years ago I 



50 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

stood on the station platform at Seymour. 
A freight train pulled in, and a frightful 
specimen of a hobo rolled off from the 
brake-beam. He saw me watching him, 
and he struck me at once for a quarter. 
His face touched a button in my memory 
somewhere. I looked him over carefully, 
and recognized what was left of Slippery 
Sills. He got five dollars. 

In the spring of 1886 I made acquaint 
ance with a grafter who ran the O Leary 
Belt for a circus. He persuaded me that 
circus graft had card cheating beaten 
forty ways. I listened to his spiel, and it 
ended in my taking a job as his booster 
handler with the promise of a partnership 
as soon as I learned the game. 

He gave me the circus fever ; for several 
years from that time I was never happy 
away from the smell of sawdust. 



CHAPTER II 

I JOIN THE CIRCUS AND ELOPE WITH 
MINNIE, THE ELEPHANT 

T GUESS what I have to say about 
* circuses will amount to exposing the 
show business. People in general know 
very little about it. They suppose that 
the profits come from the ticket wagon, 
with perhaps a little extra for short 
change, peanuts and pink lemonade. As 
a matter of fact, eight out of every ten dol 
lars of profit have come in the past from 
confidence outfits and crooked gambling 
games, which follow the show and are as 
much a part of its business as the ele 
phants. I know a retired circus man who 
is living quietly on the interest of a million 
dollars. Three-quarters of that, I figure, 
he made from the gambling games. 
Another old-timer pulled out with a for- 

51 



52 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

tune, which he has multiplied many times 
in real estate and theatrical investments. 
I believe that he made all his early fortune 
out of the graft end of his business. The 
three big shows which have survived 
Barnum & Bailey, Ringling Brothers and 
Buffalo Bill have never allowed gam 
bling. This proves what I ve said before 
the honest game is the long game. 

As a general rule, the smaller the circus 
the more corrupt it is in this respect. 
Many of the little ones have been run by 
confidence men simply as blinds for skin 
games. In my time there was a regular 
system of profit-sharing between the gam 
blers and the show. At the head of the 
outfit stood the "fixer," whose job it was 
to bribe or stall city officials so that the 
gamblers could proceed with reasonable 
security, and to square it with the suckers. 
He got ten per cent of the gross profits 
and he earned his money. The rest was 
divided on various plans, but the circus 
usually got from thirty-five to forty per 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 53 

cent of the net proceeds from all games. 

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS 

The show which I joined first was a 
smaller edition of one of the big circuses. 
It traveled under another name, but under 
the same management. The main show in 
this combination was somewhat cautious 
about gambling. The little show ran it 
wide open. Hambridge, my first boss, for 
whom I worked as booster handler, ran the 
O Leary Belt. If you have never seen this 
game worked it will be hard to describe it 
to you. The operator stood in a buggy. 
Cocked up in front of him was a circle of 
little boxes, strung around a wheel. He 
lifted the covers of the boxes and showed 
that one box contained a ten-dollar bill, 
three or four, five-dollar bills, and a few 
more, one-dollar bills. The rest were 
empty. Then he closed the covers, spun 
the wheel, and let the players touch, with 
a buggy whip, the boxes which they 
thought contained prizes. The first stake 



54 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

was fifty cents; but by working the old 
"conditional" racket you could make a 
soft sucker double and double until he had 
his whole pile staked. 

There was a false back and an inner 
wheel in this apparatus; that was why it 
was set up in a buggy the height pre 
vented the players from seeing the inner 
wheel at work. The operator controlled 
that inner wheel from a knob concealed in 
some inconspicuous place about the ap 
paratus. So after the outer wheel had 
stopped and the player had picked his box, 
the operator, by turning that inner wheel, 
could make him win or lose exactly as he 
pleased. 

THE BOOSTER AND HIS BUSINESS 

Good, scientific boosting is the secret of 
success in such a game. The smart gran 
ger is disposed at first to regard the propo 
sition as a fake. But when he sees Hiram 
Jones boy come up and play and collect 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 55 

he begins to think that there is something 
in it. As booster handler, I picked up 
four or five men in every town we struck, 
and gave them two dollars apiece and a 
ticket to the show for their services. I d 
have them grouped around me two or 
three in front and one on each side just 
where I could whisper them directions and 
pass money back and forth. It wasn t an 
easy job by any means. It needs as much 
art to steer the boosters properly as to run 
the game itself. You must know how to 
pick your sucker, how to see the opening 
to his mind like a flash of lightning, and 
how to choose the psychological moment 
to have your assistants pull off big win 
nings. It is a great term, that "psychologi 
cal moment." To know it when it arrives 
is the kernel of the business of grafting. 

In the first week I made a big mistake 
and learned a lesson. The boss told me 
to watch the boosters carefully, and take 
away their winnings the moment they 
collected, because some of them might 



56 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

walk off with a big wad. I said, "They 
haven t got the sand, those fellows." 
"Never you mind," said Hambridge; "you 
collar them just the same." Right after 
that I got interested in leading on a 
country sport. I tipped off one of my 
men. The booster kept doubling and win 
ning until he had fifty dollars. The sucker 
bit, and lost fifty dollars himself; after 
which he raised a big row and I had to 
stall with him to keep him quiet. When 
I had lost him, I looked for the booster 
who had made the winning. He was gone, 
and I never saw him or the fifty dollars 
again. Well, sir, I don t know when I 
ever felt so bad about losing a little money. 
I wouldn t have minded dropping it on 
faro, but to be done out of it that way! 
That was my last mistake. I made my 
self so useful that they gave me an interest 
in one of the shell games. I had no more 
than started when the big row broke out. 
Circus grafters have to be fighters; the 
trouble with them is that they will fight 




I made myself so useful that they gave me an interest in 
one of the shell games 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 57 

for the love of it even when a row is bad 
business. And that was an exceptionally 
tough lot Hambridge was about the only 
decent man among them. The head shell- 
worker had done time for manslaughter. 
He lost his foot through an accident in 
the penitentiary, and got pardoned out on 
account of it. Another, whom we called 
the Shanghai Kid, was a dope fiend, and 
not ashamed to admit it. When the stuff 
was in him he was pretty dangerous. At 
Fairbury, one Sunday afternoon, the kid 
and some of his pals got into a row in the 
park. They drew the town boys into it. 
It grew into a riot. That made so much 
talk that news of it reached the manager 
of the big show. He said, "If those fel 
lows can t behave, there is no money in 
them." And the next thing we were all 
fired. 

WORKING THE RAILROAD TRAINS 

I pieced out the season playing high 
hands on railroad trains. That was a good 



58 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

game once, but it had a short life. I can 
remember, though, when twenty or thirty 
gangs played it. Euchre was as popular 
then as bridge is now. We traveled to 
gether, Bill Ireland and I, and met, as 
old friends long separated, in the presence 
of the sucker. We d get up a four-handed 
euchre game. When we got ready for the 
joint ["the joint" is a term used by confi 
dence men to describe the actual operation 
by which the victim s money is taken 
away] I would deal my partner three 
kings, say, and myself three tens. My 
partner would laugh and say : 

"I m sorry we aren t playing poker." 

"So am I," I d say. "Suppose, with the 
permission of the rest, we pass this deal 
and make it a poker show down." 

"I m on for a five," my partner would 
say. We d show down, and he d win. 

Perhaps we d do it again before, off 
toward the end of the sitting, I d give the 
sucker a big hand and myself a bigger, and 
lead him on to play all his roll. 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 59 

The following winter I did the last 
thing approaching straight business that 
I touched for twenty years. I fell in with 
a newspaper man whom we call Howard. 
He was traveling through Ohio and Indi 
ana soliciting advertising write-ups, and 
he thought I would make a good assistant. 
I joined him not for the money in so 
liciting but on account of the blind it gave 
me for poker cheating. I will say that I 
landed more straight business that he did. 
He is editor of a city newspaper now; and 
I don t think he suspects yet what his as 
sistant did when we parted of nights. At 
Hillsboro, Ohio, I beat a New York 
diamond salesman out of his wad and three 
of his best samples a private game of 
poker cold deck. 

I got acquainted, on that trip, with one 
of the nicest, whitest girls I ever knew. 
She thought I was perfectly straight; and 
whenever I came to her town I was. I 
hadn t the heart to do any grafting in her 
neighborhood. The last time I came to 



60 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

visit her I found she had typhoid fever. I 
thought it all out, and determined to go 
away right there and never let her know 
where I had gone. It wasn t right for 
me to stay friends with her, because she 
was straight and white, and thought I was 
on the level. 

And when spring broke I was back with 
a circus again. 

This was a little, crippled, wagon-show. 
The man who owned it had been in the 
circus business years before, but not long 
enough to learn it thoroughly. He d made 
some money with vaudeville houses and 
used it to go back to the circus business, 
which fascinates every one who touches it. 
At the very beginning he was cheated on 
his stock. His horses were bony old plugs 
who had been starved all winter and 
started out in bad condition for a hard 
summer s work. Before we had traveled 
a week they were dropping by the road 
side, and we commenced to be late with 
our engagements. 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 61 

I began as fixer. Then the man with 
the gambling privileges proved to be no 
good. I volunteered to take that job in 
addition to my fixing. I managed to find 
a fair O Leary Wheel man, a good shell 
operator and a passable head booster from 
my acquaintances on the road. In a week 
or two the games were just about the 
whole show. 

It was a terribly hot, dry summer. 
More and more horses died. We hadn t 
the ready money to replace them all, and 
that overworked the stock we had left. 
We were forced to cut out towns in which 
we d been billed for three weeks, simply 
because we couldn t keep to our schedule. 
We lacked experienced men in every de 
partment it was all gilly help, with no 
one to educate the new hands. And the 
Boss was simply incompetent. There 
come times when a man has to take hold 
himself, regardless of his official position. 
My end of the show was the only bright 
spot, but every cent I made I poured back 



62 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

into the treasury to pay salaries and to 
kill attachments for feed and supplies. 
So I promoted myself to be general 
manager. 



INTRODUCING JAKEY, THE GRAFTER 

Troubles began to multiply just after 
the Fourth of July. We were playing 
along the Ohio River, making toward 
Iowa. The Boss had gone to Chicago to 
see about raising money. I was in practi 
cal charge. As we pulled up stakes in the 
early morning of the fifth, dead beat from 
the extra work of a holiday performance, 
I rode past the cage which held our two 
best lions we had only three. These were 
fine yonng males. I noticed that a boy 
was driving them. As I passed him I 
asked : 

"How s your stock?" 

"All right," he said. I had referred to 
the lions ; he took it that I was referring to 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 63 

the horses. I thought it strange that the 
menagerie superintendent would leave the 
lions to a kid, but I had other things on 
my mind, and I rode on forward. 

When we made camp the superinten 
dent came to me with his face all white, 
and said : 

"The lions are dead." 

The regular lion man had gone on a 
Fourth of July bat, and was dead to the 
world in the cook-wagon when the show 
moved. They d put on the boy because he 
was the only extra hand. He had care 
lessly closed the ventilators at the back. 
So the lions crowded up to the front venti 
lator for air ; and when they began to roar 
he had kicked it shut to keep them quiet. 
Then the lions just naturally lay down 
and died of suffocation. 

It wasn t my fault, and neither was I 
responsible, being only practical and not 
nominal manager of that show; but it 
bothered me a whole lot. I hated to think 
of breaking the news to the Boss. 



64- THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

The next day was a baking, boiling-hot 
Saturday. Five canvasmen were sun- 
struck getting up the tent, and the stock 
was absolutely exhausted. I determined 
to rest the show over Saturday night and 
Sunday, and to move to the next stop on 
Sunday night. As I rode out ahead, se 
lecting a road, those lions stayed on my 
mind. Actually, I got to grieving over 
them as if they had been people. It seemed 
such a deuce of a death for a lion! 

Before dark it began to rain. You don t 
know what irritation and misery are until 
you ve tried to move a crippled circus on 
a wet night. I had chosen a road which 
ran along the bluffs of the river ; and as we 
turned into it I lit a torch and rode up and 
down, directing the canvasmen who were 
digging out stalled wagons. I lost a shoe 
in the mud, fished for it, couldn t find it, 
and went on, mounting and dismounting 
in one stockinged foot. And somehow, the 
more miserable I got the more I thought 
of those two dead lions. 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 65 

A big baggage-wagon got stuck for fair. 
It made a gap in the procession. I rode 
down a pitch-dark piece of road to tell the 
leading wagons to wait for us. All of a 
sudden, my pony snorted and shied as 
though he had seen the devil. My stock 
inged foot flew out of the stirrup, and 
over his head I went. I landed splosh in 
the mud; my torch fell into a puddle and 
went out. I caught my pony s bridle, 
hooked it over my arm, started to jerk him 
toward me and fell over something big 
and warm and alive. I put out my free 
hand and felt a stiff, scrubby mane. I 
thought it was a lion. It flashed across me 
that the third lion had got loose and there 
I was alone with him in the dark. I threw 
off the bridle, and my hand hit the shaft of 
the torch. I grabbed it, backed up the 
hill, and prepared to poke it into his 
mouth whenever the gleam of his eyes 
showed that he was coming to me. 
And I yelled like a steam-boat whistle. 
It seemed like a year had passed before 



66 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

a boy came riding along with a torch. 

The thing I had fallen over was a camel 
a sick camel whose keeper had gone back 
on him. I had lion on the brain that was 
all. While I stood just gaping at him, he 
grunted and got up. It had been the big 
gest scare of my life ; and, at the sight of 
that old caricature of an animal, it turned 
into the biggest mad of my life. He was 
standing on the edge of the bluff over the 
river. I jumped into him with all my 
strength, and over the bank he went. 
Later the Boss put him down to my ac 
count. 

Years afterward I found that camel liv 
ing peacefully on the town common. It 
appears that he crawled out of the river 
and was captured next morning by a milk 
man, who presented him to the town as the 
nucleus for a zoological garden. 

By the time we reached Davenport, 
Iowa, we were about all in. I hadn t a 
cent to show for my summer. The Boss 
was ready to quit. But there it was, not 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 67 

yet August, with three months more to 
run, and the gambling worth five thou 
sand a month to me if we could ever get 
the show clear. I happened to hear that 
a grafter whom we ll call Jakey was in 
Iowa just then. To my certain knowledge 
Jakey had four thousand dollars. I got 
him by telegraph, and represented to him 
that, if he would put in his four thousand, 
we could load on to a train and make a 
fresh start in the South, where they were 
howling for a circus that summer. In 
return, I offered him half of the privileges. 
Jakey accepted. We proceeded by rail to 
a Southern city not far from Mason and 
Dixon s Line. 

WORKING ON THE SHERIFF S SYMPATHIES 

There our finish came suddenly. At the 
very railroad yards we were held up by a 
bunch of lawyers. They had attachments 
covering every hoof and claw, stitch and 
splinter. Maybe you don t like the way 



68 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I talk about lawyers, but you d feel differ 
ent if you d ever passed it out to them 
from the other side of the bars, the way 
I ve had to do. 

All that day I stalled around with the 
sheriff trying to see what could be done. 
He was a good fellow, and he sympathized 
when I explained to him that Jakey and 
I were the two creditors who couldn t 
recover anything from the wreck. But 
he couldn t suggest any way out of it. 
We were short of grub in the cook-tents, 
and the lawyers wouldn t even make us an 
allowance for anything to eat. Most of 
the canvasmen were fed at the almshouse 
that day. Along in the afternoon, while 
the sheriff and I were talking it over, I 
heard the sound of crying in the perform 
er s tent. I went in to investigate. The 
bareback rider was sitting with her sick 
baby on her knees, wailing, "What shall 
I do?" She hadn t eaten anything that 
day, and had just used up the last of her 
condensed milk for the baby. I went out 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 69 

and pawned my watch for twenty dollars 
and gave her half of it. While I didn t do 
that for a play at the sheriff, it helped a 
lot to soften him toward me and to make 
him hate the lawyers. After we d had 
some dinner together, I got him to admit 
that more was coming to me than was 
coming to the other creditors. When I 
brought him to that frame of mind I said : 

"Now, I ll tell you what I want you to 
do. Only one elephant in this show is 
worth a whoop. It s that little Indian, 
Minnie. Also, there are three or four 
ring-horses. Those lawyers haven t an 
inventory. The only person who will miss 
them if they happen to walk off in the 
night will be the Boss, and he will keep his 
mouth shut. Suppose the deputy you 
leave on guard tonight should go to sleep 
at his post?" 

The sheriff studied quite a while. 

"You ll have to make it good with him," 
he said. Without waiting for anything 
more I went straight to find Jakey. He 



70 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

had been around the show all day, telling 
his troubles to whoever would listen. I 
knew that Jakey, no matter how he hol 
lered about being broke, was one of those 
fellows who always kept a hundred dollars 
buried. I told him about the scheme. He 
was harder to persuade than the sheriff, 
especially when it came to the hundred 
dollars. But the more he swore he was 
broke, the more I swore that he had a bill 
buried; and, after a while, he dug it up 
from his watch-pocket. I passed fifty to 
the sheriff for his man, and kept fifty for 
current expenses. 

"Where are you going to sell her?" 
asked Jakey when I came back and re 
ported that the deal was framed. I had 
thought that out. I knew a horse-trader 
in Philadelphia, a former circus man, who 
would buy stock if he knew it was stolen 
from his own grandmother. 

At midnight Jakey and I proceeded 
past the sleeping deputy to the menagerie 
tent. First I cut out the four ring ponies. 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 71 

That was easy. When we got them out 
side Jakey developed a case of cold feet. 
He wouldn t go back with me for the ele 
phant, and he didn t want me to go. 

GOOD-NATURED LITTLE MINNIE 

"Look here," said I, "you know what 
happens to horse-thieves back in our coun 
try. Well, you re already a horse-thief. 
But stealing an elephant is stealing a 
circus, and stealing a circus is only plain 
grand larceny. If you don t want her, 
take those ponies along the road toward 
Baltimore, and I ll follow on with the 
elephant." Jakey was only too glad to get 
his discharge. I led out an elephant pony, 
tied him to a tent stake, found a hook, and 
went back for Minnie. She seemed to 
think the proceeding a little irregular, but 
some soft persuasion around the ear got 
her started. I didn t dare hook her under 
the trunk, because an elephant will some 
times trumpet if you do that. I don t 



72 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

think I should have taken risks with her 
if I had been longer in the circus business. 
Elephants are the most dangerous things 
about a menagerie. Ten men are killed 
by them to one that gets it from the big 
cats. But Minnie was a good-natured 
little thing without a trace of rogue in her. 
I drove her fast down the road, and in half 
an hour I caught up with Jakey and the 
ponies. 

I walked Minnie as hard as I could 
make her go, driving up with the pony 
part of the time, and, when she lagged, 
mounting her head and persuading her 
with the hook. The circus was placarded 
for about twenty miles. That, I figured, 
was the danger-belt; if I could get away 
from our paper the trick was half turned. 
By the time the sun was high we had 
passed the last poster. 

The day came off terribly hot. We 
were on a hard macadam road, and Minnie 
couldn t find a handful of dust to blow the 
flies off herself. She began to get irritated, 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 73 

but still I jabbed her on. Jakey gave me 
no help he hadn t any stomach for ele 
phants. She took to stopping and lifting 
her feet to show that her toes were sore. 
But I prodded away at her, trying to make 
all the distance that I could. 

Just when I began to wonder if I hadn t 
better give her a little rest for breakfast, 
Minnie looked over into a field and saw a 
duck pond. She turned and charged for it 
straight through two lines of snake fence, 
with me hanging by the hook to her ear. 
When we reached the water s edge I 
dropped her. She kept straight on to the 
middle of the pond, had a bath and a 
drink, and stood there, weaving. The 
farmer came along and collected seven 
dollars for the fence. It wasn t worth 
seventy cents, but we couldn t afford to 
dispute it with him. I made him throw in 
a half -bale of hay. I put that out on the 
bank and tossed it temptingly before 
Minnie. She cocked her little eye at it; 
but she saw through my steer and re- 



74 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

mained planted in the center of the pond. 
I mounted the elephant pony and tried 
to urge him into the water. He knew ele 
phants and their ways better than I ; when 
ever he got to the brink he d shy and 
refuse to go a step. 

Jakey sat on the fence and asked me 
why I didn t go in for her on foot. That 
was just like him. I cussed him; but I 
took off my shoes and tried it. Minnie 
waited until I had waded out to my hips ; 
then she sucked up a trunkf ul of water and 
let me have it square in the face. It was 
like standing up to a fire hose. I waded 
out again, and again she doused me. I 
came out spluttering and told Jakey that 
it was his turn. He took a pole, and stood 
on the edge of the pond, and poked at her. 
Minnie wheeled and doused him, too. It 
became plain that Minnie didn t propose 
to move until she got good and ready. 

So we bought some provisions of the 
farmer, established watches, and had a 
little sleep in our wet clothes. Minnie, 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 75 

standing up and weaving, elephant fash 
ion, had a nap on her own account. 

THE CIRCUS THAT DISAPPEARED 

Late in the afternoon, when it had 
cooled off, and when Minnie had soaked 
the soreness out of her feet, she just 
naturally walked out and stood by the 
gap of the fence and waited to be driven 
on. We gave her some hay, and resumed 
the march. I guess she had better sense 
than Jakey and I. Probably if we had 
kept on driving her at that pace we would 
have killed her. 

For five days and nights we drove 
Minnie toward Baltimore, making as much 
of the distance as we could by night. We 
told the farmers that we were circus men 
with a performing elephant act, going 
down to join our show at Baltimore. I 
found from them just how to avoid the 
towns, making the excuse that she scared 
the horses. 



76 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

We reached Baltimore without so much 
as a word from the lawyers. From there 
we shipped the whole outfit C. O. D. to 
Philadelphia, and sold out to the horse- 
trader for twenty-five hundred dollars. 
Minnie alone was worth three thousand 
dollars, but we had to take what we could 
get. In later years Jakey threw me down 
hard, and I might have foreseen it 
from the way he acted on that trip. Why, 
when we made our divvy he kicked on 
sending one hundred dollars to the 
sheriff! 

I guess that was the longest circus 
parade on record except one. An old- 
time circus man named O Brien once had 
his show attached in a town of Maryland, 
just over the border from Pennsylvania. 
It was tied up completely; but he was nice 
and cordial about it. He told the lawyers 
that he would go right on with the per 
formance, making as much money for 
them as he could until they sent some one 
else to take charge. When time came to 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 77 

get out the parade he went from wagon to 
wagon, saying to the boys : 

"Now get everything out and make as 
fine a showing as we can ; we want to help 
these people." The lawyers stood around 
and approved of his gameness. The boys 
got pretty nearly everything except the 
tents and the seats in that parade. The 
steerer stayed behind and entertained the 
lawyers in the big tent. When the parade 
had got to the end of the main street it 
kept right on over the bridge into Penn 
sylvania. The last wagon was safe out of 
Maryland before the lawyers woke up. 
O Brien couldn t show in Pennsylvania 
because he had left his tents behind; and 
O Brien s parade traveled one hundred 
and thirty miles into Philadelphia. 

That winter I did my only turn with the 
poolrooms. The game was the one from 
which wire tapping has been developed. 
The racing returns to the West used all to 
come through New York. Our gang had 
corrupted a New York operator. He was 



78 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

to hold back the winning flash from the 
Western poolrooms, and indicate, by a 
series of signals in the preliminary news, 
just what that winner was. One of the 
signals will stand as an example for the 
rest. Suppose the word came: "Scotch 
Plaid is kicking at the post." It meant 
that the horse two numbers down from 
Scotch Plaid on the official list, Visalia, 
we ll say, had won. After an interval long 
enough for us to get down bets, the real 
flash would come "Visalia Wins." 

The scheme Was hatched in Omaha. 
The members of the gang were too well 
known as grafters to do the playing them 
selves. They took up with a young real- 
estate man named Singleterry who had 
been a regular poolroom player, and sent 
him down to Kansas City. I was kept to 
work Omaha. By putting up an imperson 
ation of a gambler who is waiting for the 
latest odds before making his bet, and by 
avoiding the mistake of playing too high, 
I got away with my end of it for two days. 



I JOIN THE CIRCUS 79 

But Singleterry botched it. The first day 
he played, a ten to one shot won. He 
rushed up, all excitement, and bet two 
hundred dollars. His manner and the size 
of his winning attracted attention. When, 
a day or two later, he tried to put up a 
thousand on a fifteen to one shot, they re 
fused the money and started an investiga 
tion. Before it was finished a good many 
Western Union employees lost their jobs. 
Of course you know that wire tapping, 
as Larry Summerfield and others practice 
it, is only the reverse English on that 
game. You can t corrupt the Western 
Union employees any more. But the 
grafters persuade the sucker that they 
have done so, take him to a fake poolroom 
which they have fitted up themselves, make 
a "mistake" in the returns, get his wad, 
and have the place pulled by phony de 
tectives in order to lose him. I don t fancy 
that game. Too many people are in the 
secret. Your cappers, your boosters and 
your phony cops tell their girls, and their 



80 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

girls tell other girls, until it gets all over 
town. The fewer people there are in a 
graft transaction, the less risk there is. 
That was one of my reasons for favoring 
three-card monte as a steady game no 
one is involved except you, your one 
steerer, and the sucker. 



CHAPTER III 

I BECOME AN EMINENT FIXER AND AN 
ADEPT AT BIG JOINT 

A LL things considered, the toughest 
** circus in my experience was the one 
I joined in the spring of eighty-eight. To 
understand why it was so tough, and why 
I struck the troubles peculiar to that trip, 
I ll have to go hack and say something 
more about the underside of the old-time 
circus business. 

In my day on the road most little wagon 
shows like this one were nothing more than 
an excuse to draw the grangers into skin 
games. The grafters and the management 
had a regular system of profit-sharing. 
At the end of each day the various games 
pooled their returns. First they took out 
the "nut." That is the general term, 
among gamblers, for the expense account. 

81 



82 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Next the "fixer," who had begun the day 
by squaring things with city officials, took 
out his ten per cent. Thirty-five per cent 
of the remainder went to the show; and 
the rest fifty-five per cent was divided 
among the gamblers. The dealers or pro 
prietors of the various shell, roll-up and 
roll-out games paid their own help, and 
reimbursed the circus for their board and 
transportation. 

This circus was a little nine-car concern 
which had some territory in Indiana and 
Michigan we cut a zigzag course all the 
season. We showed a few poor trapeze 
and bareback turns, a small menagerie, 
and some clowns. It is an axiom in the 
circus business that first-class ring acts 
don t pay in the country. When you 
strike the cities you find them more critical. 
Farm people care mainly for the men 
agerie. A circus is always divided into 
two camps, the performers we call them 
"kinkers" and the gamblers. The kin- 
kers are the most retiring and exclusive 



I BECOME A FIXER 83 

people in the world. Half of them can t 
tell you the name of the town they re 
playing. They don t seem to have any 
interest in anything but their acts. They 
go to their bunks when the performance is 
over, get up next morning at the stop, 
practice, do their turns, eat, and back to 
the bunks again. They hate the grafters 
on principle, because the gambling games 
make so much noise and trouble. The 
canvasmen, as a rule, side with the graf 
ters. 

We had two shell games, a "cloth" and 
a "roll-out" team. I don t have to explain 
the shell game, I guess. "Cloth" is an 
easy-money dice game. The operator has 
before him a sheet of green felt, marked 
off into figured squares eight to forty- 
eight. The player throws eight dice, and 
the dealer compares the sum of the spots 
he has thrown with the numbers on the 
cloth. Certain spaces are marked for 
prizes, five or six are marked "condi 
tional," and one, number twenty-three, is 



84, THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

marked "lose." The dealer keeps his stack 
of coins over the twenty-three space, so 
that it isn t noticed until the time to show 
it. 

WHY TWENTY-THREE MEANS DOWN AND 
OUT 

These spaces marked "conditional" are 
used in a great many gambling games, 
such as spindle; they re the most useful 
thing in the world for leading the sucker 
on. For when he throws "conditional," the 
dealer tells him that he is in great luck. 
He has thrown better than a winning num 
ber. He has only to double his bet, and 
on the next throw he will get four times 
the indicated prize, or if he throws a blank 
number, the equivalent of his money. He 
is kept throwing "conditionals" until his 
whole pile is down; and then made to 
throw twenty-three the space which he 
failed to notice, and which is marked 
"lose." 



I BECOME A FIXER 85 

You may ask how the dealer makes the 
sucker throw just what he wants. Simplest 
thing in the world. The man is counted 
out. The table is crowded with boosters, 
all jostling and reaching for the box, eager 
to play. The assistant dealer grabs up the 
dice, adds them hurriedly, announces the 
number that he wants to announce, and 
sweeps them back into the box. If the 
sucker kicks, a booster reaches over next 
time the dice are counted, says "my play," 
and musses them up. The player never 
knows what he has thrown. I don t need 
to say that "twenty-three," as slang, 
comes from this game. The circus used it 
for years before it was ever heard on 
Broadway. 

"Roll-out" has many variations. The 
operator stands in a buggy, spieling for a 
new line of licorice candy. He announces 
that, in order to introduce the goods, he 
is going to take an extraordinary measure. 
He is going to wrap up a twenty-dollar 



86 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

bill in one of the packages and sell it at a 
reduced figure to a gentleman in the audi 
ence. After a little bidding, a booster buys 
it for fifteen or sixteen dollars and shows 
his twenty-dollar bill to the crowd. This 
pulls on the sucker, who has been marked 
and felt out from the moment that he ar 
rived on the grounds. When he buys his 
twenty-dollar bill maybe it is fifty or a 
hundred if he looks good for it he finds 
only a dollar bill in the package a sleight- 
of-hand trick does the work. Doesn t it 
sound foolish for me to sit here and tell 
you that people are roped into such a play 
as that ? But if I could tell the whole story 
of one of these swindles, put in the dia 
logue, the little gestures and stage busi 
ness, you would see how gradually his 
natural greed is brought out in the sucker 
until his eagerness for big money kills his 
common-sense. Human greed is the best 
booster of the confidence man. 



I BECOME A FIXER 87 

SQUARING THE MAYOR AND HIS MINIONS 

I got my first real experience as fixer 
that year, and I learned a lot about stall 
ing. When the show struck town I saw 
the chief of police first he was generally 
easy. I have bribed them with tickets 
alone. Next I fixed the justices of the 
peace, and once in a while I attended to 
the mayor. Ten or twenty dollars apiece 
would usually satisfy the officials of a 
small town. I d explain carefully that we 
didn t intend to take aw^ay big money from 
any one. All we wanted was permission 
to run a few legitimate games of chance. 
There should be a little license allowed on 
circus day. Mayors that I couldn t buy I 
worked in another fashion. I could always 
give them free tickets for themselves and 
families. When the mayor s party arrived 
my assistant would take them in hand, and 
keep them entertained about the big top 
until supper-time. 



88 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

The town authorities, no matter how 
heavily they were bribed, seldom let the 
shows run all day. Generally, some 
skinned sucker would put up such a kick 
that the authorities would awake to the 
nature of our harmless little games, and 
close us out. I d stall the police as long 
as I could ; when I reached the end of my 
devices I would let them arrest a dealer or 
two. In ninety-nine cases out of a hun 
dred, the prisoners would be taken before 
one of my bribed justices and let off with 
a little fine, which came out of the "nut." 
On account of this danger we started the 
games as soon as the parade began, threw 
in a lot of boosters, and kept things going 
at top speed. If we had taken in a thou 
sand or twelve hundred dollars before the 
police came down on us, we were satisfied. 
The hardest part of my job, though, was 
stalling the weeping suckers who came 
around to demand their money back. My 
methods varied with the man. In the case 
of a big, blustering, cowardly fellow, a 



I BECOME A FIXER 89 

straight, swift punch in the jaw was some 
times the best medicine. If he got me 
arrested for it I could always bring wit 
nesses to show that he had started a dis 
turbance and threatened me. Sometimes 
I would laugh at my man, telling him that 
he got what he might expect. Sometimes 
I d sympathize, promise on behalf of the 
management that the affair would be 
looked into. I learned one thing early- 
never give anything back unless you give 
it all back. For if you do return a part it 
proves the weakness of your position, and 
the sucker howls harder than ever for the 
rest. Moreover, the other suckers hear 
about it, and you have to settle with them 
all. On one occasion I had to hand over 
a roll of three hundred and fifty dollars 
Which we had taken at the shells. The 
sucker, it turned out, was brother-in-law 
of the chief of police; and though the chief 
was bribed, it didn t prevent him from 
threatening to arrest the whole outfit un 
less we gave up. 



90 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 
TROUBLE IN A LUMBER CAMP 

As we struck the Michigan woods we 
began to come against the French-Cana 
dian lumbermen soft but troublesome. 
When they lost they always wanted to 
fight. They were big, strong chaps, but 
their methods were unscientific mostly 
wrestling and clawing the air. Scraps be 
came more and more common around the 
show. We made so much noise at night, 
settling up with the day s picking, that the 
kinkers threatened to quit. The farther 
north we went the more troublesome they 
got. It culminated in a border town of 
Michigan Oscoda, I think. 

We had put in a great day. I had the 
officials sewed up, and the games went on 
until late at night. In the early afternoon 
we caught a big lumberman, who seemed 
to be a kind of leader, for seventy-five dol 
lars at "roll-out." He raged up and down, 
trying to stop the circus. The canvasmen 
threw him out of the lot. His mates ran 



I BECOME A FIXER 91 

up to help him. I scraped my way through 
the mob and got to the leader. Instead of 
listening to me, he came at me with his 
arms flying. I let him have it in the jaw. 
I don t know what might have happened 
if the town police hadn t broken up the 
mob. 

I thought the police would close us out 
right there; but they were too well fixed. 
Nevertheless, I saw trouble; and I went 
from game to game advising the boys to go 
easy. The money was rolling in like water, 
and they only said, "Let em come on." 
"All right," said I; "they will." 
At half-past eight, with the perform 
ance going on inside and the games still 
drawing in the side-show tents, I heard 
that "zaa-zaa" sound of a mob. I ran to 
the corner of the lot. About two hundred 
men in their shirt sleeves were approach 
ing in a bunch. It appears that a little 
Frenchman, who had been done out of 
fifty in the shell game, had gone down to 
their hang-out and aroused his mates. 



92 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

They were coming to lick the circus. I 
ran toward the side-shows, yelling "Lay 
ing-out pins!" at the top of my voice. 
That call always brings the grafters out 
for a fight. A laying-out pin is a thin iron 
stake which the boss canvasman uses to 
mark out the tent space; it is a great 
weapon in a fight just heavy enough to 
lay a man out, and just light enough to 
bend over his head without breaking his 
skull. I saw a college rush once, and this 
had a funny resemblance to it. The 
grafters, about twenty-five in all, jumped 
to their pins and gathered in front of the 
big tent. The French-Canadians stopped 
at the corner of the lot, howling and yell 
ing. I said, "Boys, if they come in a 
bunch, beat them to it." I knew that if 
the fight came off close to the tent we 
stood to lose good canvas, besides making 
a panic inside. 

And all at once the Frenchmen rushed 
at us in a long line. 

"Now!" said I. The grafters charged 



I BECOME A FIXER 93 

in a compact bunch like one of those foot 
ball wedges. They hit the mob right in 
its centre, and went through. I didn t 
have time to see what happened next, for 
I found my own hands full. 

I had stayed back, like a general, to 
direct things. Well, when our fellows 
went through, the end of the line kept on, 
and a few stragglers reached the big tent. 
They were about crazy with excitement, 
and they seemed to have some idea of 
wrecking the show. Three of them 
grabbed the stake-ropes and began to pull. 
I came up from behind and let the nearest 
one have it with my laying-out pin. The 
others dropped the ropes and came at me 
separately. I got the leader with a punch 
in the pit of the stomach quarters were 
too close for the pin. The canvasmen at 
tended to the other fellow. 

When I had time to look around, the 
Frenchmen were flying in every direction, 
with the grafters chasing them in bunches 
of three or four. It appears that our 



94, THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

wedge had gone clear through the line. 
Before the enemy could form again our 
fellows had turned back and charged 
through them in the opposite direction, 
taking some of them in the rear. That 
finished them; they just turned and beat 
it. We carted off seven Frenchmen to the 
hospital. I don t know that any of them 
were disabled for life, but some looked to 
be pretty badly hurt. Besides a few 
bruises and cut heads, the only injury we 
had was one broken arm. 

CLANKING DAYS IN TEXAS 

That show turned out rather badly for 
me. There was trouble over division of 
profits, trouble over women trouble all 
along the line. One of the shell-game men, 
who had wanted to be fixed at the opening 
of the season, did everything he could to 
embarrass me. That man had six or seven 
medals for being mean. Though he 
earned a good living at the shells he made 



I BECOME A FIXER 95 

his wife play Circassian Beauty with the 
side-show forced that little woman to sit 
all afternoon and evening in one of those 
hot Circassian wigs for a salary of eight 
dollars a week! 

I drew down the big job next season 
fixer for the second largest show in the 
country. While it was too big to depend 
entirely on the graft for profits, it did run 
games wherever it safely could. It had 
winter quarters in an Ohio city, and the 
Boss would never allow the grafting to 
start until we were well out of home terri 
tory. We didn t begin to work that season 
until we got as far West as Missouri and 
Arkansas. 

Besides doing the fixing, I ran one of 
the shell games with my old pal Jakey, the 
man who helped me steal the elephant; 
and I quit that season about twelve thou 
sand dollars a winner. We did our best 
work in Texas. The country was still a 
little wild, the cattle business was paying 
good money, and some of the towns were 



96 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

virgin soil they d never seen a shell 
game. I remember Honey Grove for the 
best day s business I ever saw a show do. 
Out of two shell games, one roll-out outfit 
and a beehive we divided five thousand 
dollars. Even that show got careless with 
its methods in such good territory, and we 
raised a lot of trouble first and last. In 
one cattle town I had a narrow escape. 
I was standing talking to the Boss in the 
shell tent when a bullet came through the 
flap, passed between us, and killed a boy 
who was rubbering at the game. It ap 
peared that a cowboy had shot a nigger; 
the bullet had gone clean through the 
nigger before it entered our tent. 

The trouble we made, and the further 
trouble kicked up by some grafting little 
shows which followed us in, caused the 
State to pass a law making the circus 
license for each performance a thousand 
dollars. Nevertheless, I fixed that show 
for Texas the next year without paying a 
cent. I saw the authorities, and agreed 



I BECOME A FIXER 97 

to put up the money in a lump sum as we 
left the State. We had forty perform 
ances, making the fees forty thousand 
dollars. Denison, the last stop in the 
State, was the point where we were sup 
posed to settle. We went through Denison 
at forty miles an hour. It didn t really 
pay, because that show was barred from 
Texas forever after. 

In spite of the press agent, the most 
interesting things that happen around a 
show are those which don t get into print. 
We had a midget of a Frenchman work 
ing on the shells he would have been fat 
at ninety pounds. He was a reckless 
player. Somewhere down by the border 
he lifted seven hundred dollars from a 
cowpuncher; and a whole round-up out 
fit came down on us looking for him. No 
use to go against them with laying-out 
pins they were gun-men. It was up to 
me to hide the Frenchman. Billy, the 
Shakespearian clown by the way, his 
daughter is now a star in a new Broadway 



98 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

show was my good friend. I rushed the 
Frenchman to Billy. 

"Put a clown make-up on him and take 
him into the ring with you," said I, "and 
keep him there until further notice." Then 
news came that the cowpunchers were 
going to lay for us at the railroad yards, 
where a clown make-up would only have 
attracted suspicion. I packed my French- 
ie to the menagerie superintendent. 

"Chuck this in the cage with some of 
the hay animals," I said. "And don t 
open the cage until we re safe aboard." 
The superintendent was just putting the 
canvas cover on the cage of the Abyssinian 
ibex. 

"How llthisdo?"saidhe. 

"Fine!" said I. So we opened the trap 
at the top, dropped the Frenchman in, 
and carted him away. The committee of 
indignant citizens was at the station, all 
right. The superintendent remarked off 
hand, as we loaded, that if Frenchie 
didn t stop making so much noise in 



I BECOME A FIXER 99 

there his suckers would surely spot him. 

We stopped at a little station five miles 
down the line, and I went back to release 
him. I d no sooner opened the trap than 
he popped out into my face. I hardly 
knew him. He hadn t a square foot of 
whole clothing on his body. Both being 
excitable, the Frenchman and the Abys 
sinian ibex had been fighting all the way. 

Twice on that first trip we lost lions. 
Once, a coal chute fell on a lion cage at 
a siding, breaking it wide open, and two 
young males escaped. They sneaked into 
a farm near by. When we located them 
they had just entered the barn of a Ger 
man and killed his horse. As I came up 
with the keeper, the farmer shoved his face 
into mine, saying: 

"By Chimminy, you take dose lions 
away or I ll ar-rest you!" We ran a cage 
up to the barn door, tied up an antelope 
or some other hay animal behind it, and 
so baited them back into captivity. 

The next time brought more trouble. 



100 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

The cage wasn t properly lashed on the 
flat car, and it tumbled off while the train 
was going twenty miles an hour. The 
whole back fell out, and a fine young 
lioness got away. I remember the Boss 
saying to two of the grafters, after he d 
blown off his feelings : 

"Here, Bones and Tully, you won t be 
working today. You go back and get that 
lion!" Cheerful little job! 

Well, Bones and Tully couldn t find 
track nor sign of her at least so they re 
ported. We traveled for three stops with 
out hearing a word. Then a farmer came 
in with her hide and a bill for one hundred 
dollars. 

His wife had been driving home the 
cows in the twilight when the lioness 
leaped past her and pulled down one of 
the cows. She ran home. The farmer got 
his rifle and went back to the pasture. 
The lioness had killed another cow by that 
time and had settled down to make a 
supper. He drew a bead behind her 



I BECOME A FIXER 101 

shoulder and killed her the first shot. 
Until he went up to look her over he 
thought he had bagged a catamount! 

In my time with this big show I saw the 
rise and development of one of the greatest 
American gamblers. I call him Big 
Blackey, which is near to his name. When 
I joined, he was just an ignorant canvas- 
man from the West Virginia mountains. 
I used to see him hanging around the 
shell games a great, big, raw-boned 
fellow, with a face a good deal like Lin 
coln s. He watched the shells until he 
saw how they did it, borrowed some ap 
paratus, and learned to be a good manipu 
lator. By the end of the season we had 
him regularly at work. 

Really, there isn t a lot in manipulating 
shells. The "pea" is a little ball of very 
soft rubber, like the composition they use 
in printing rollers. It is so squashy that 
when pressed it becomes as thin as paper. 
The manipulator never has to lift his 
shell at all. He simply catches the pea 



102 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

under the edge of the shell, and rubs until 
it pops out under his hand. He picks up 
the pea between two of his fingers and 
holds it there until he is ready to roll it 
back under the wrong shell. It was in 
understanding suckers and handling men 
that Blackey shone. That big, fishy eye 
of his saw the soft one the minute he 
stepped into the crowd. When Blackey 
had his man spotted he used all his 
boosters and cappers to the very best 
advantage even in the first season I used 
to stand around and watch him, as an 
education in keeping things going. He 
had plenty of nerve and could fight with 
the best of us when there was any trouble. 
But he kept out of trouble all he could 
he was strictly business, that Blackey. 

A WILD-GOOSE CHASE TO AUSTRALIA 

His curse was big, prolonged, spending 
jags. I don t know any one in the busi 
ness who made more money than he. 



I BECOME A FIXER 103 

During the World s Fair in St. Louis he 
ran two gambling excursion boats down 
the river ten cents to get on, all your 
money, and then some, to get off. Other 
men lost out on those gambling-boats, 
but he cleared one hundred and forty 
thousand dollars. Yet when he died, two 
or three years later, he left only forty 
thousand dollars. 

There was mercury in my feet in those 
days I had to be going, going. I don t 
know why I didn t stay with the big show ; 
certainly there would have been a future 
in it for me. Perhaps it was an ap 
preciation of the fact that the booze was 
getting me. A fixer is under continual 
temptation to drink. Then, too, a piece 
of bad luck soured me. 

We were playing the Pacific Coast. 
An American circus had done mighty well 
in Australia two seasons before. The 
Boss determined to go over there for their 
summer and winter season. I accom 
panied him not only as a fixer, but as gen- 



104 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

eral manager of all the gambling games. 
We no sooner struck Sydney than we 
saw that we were in bad. The Australian 
amusement directors remembered what 
the other circus had done to them, and 
they put all kinds of hindrances in our 
way. Before we landed they got one 
hundred of our horses condemned for 
glanders. In our first parade we had men 
hauling the animal cages. It was a cinch 
that they d get the show suppressed, if 
by starting any games we gave them the 
slightest excuse. I tried to approach some 
of those Australian officials. They said: 
"Oi, me deah fellow, I cahn t think of such 
a thing, ye know." It was no use; the old 
man gave up all idea of educating Aus 
tralia in the shell game, and in two weeks 
I returned. I went at once into the gold- 
brick game, where there was no tempta 
tion to drink. 

My last turn with a circus was three 
seasons later, when I joined a "big joint" 
mob which followed a little show through 



I BECOME A FIXER 105 

Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas. The 
game of big joint illustrates so well the 
ways and methods of a good confidence 
man that I will go into particulars about 
it. 

In the first place, understand that this 
show had picked its territory with a view 
to graft. It was a farming district. The 
original settlers, who had taken fortunes 
out of virgin soil, were old and well-to-do 
and the older the man the softer the 
sucker. My mob consisted of Harris, the 
operator, who stayed with the show, and 
Hazleton and I, who followed it around 
in a buckboard, never showing our faces 
near the big tent except when we were at 
work. Hazleton was an ideal man for the 
part he played in our combination. He 
was tall and fine-looking; he wore a mili 
tary goatee and his Grand Army badge 
in his button-hole. He really was an old 
soldier. 

When we reached one of those rich 
farming towns Hazleton and I separated. 



106 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I tied up the blackboard and hung around 
the post-office until, in one way or another, 
I picked up an acquaintance with the 
sucker. I d tell him, when we were estab 
lished on a friendly footing, that I had 
driven over to see the circus, from some 
town fifteen or sixteen miles away. I was 
the brother of a prominent citizen, and was 
just up from Kentucky on a visit. I 
won t go into further detail about that; 
my whole game was to make myself com 
panionable and agreeable for half an hour 
or so. And at last I d mention the circus. 
Then I d get him to propose that we walk 
over and look at the tents while the 
parade was away. Near our little side 
show tent we d meet Harris. Let s make 
it dialogue for a little way : 

HARRIS : Gentlemen, do you live in 
this town? 

I: No sir, I don t; I m over from 
Monmouth, visiting; but this gentle 
man is one of the prominent citizens. 



I BECOME A FIXER 107 

HARRIS: Then you are the man I 
am looking for. We were giving 
away free tickets to prominent citi 
zens by way of advertising both the 
circus and certain other attractions 
which I desire to show you. 

I (incredulous) : You don t mean 
to say that you re letting us have 
those tickets free? Seems like a 
funny proposition to get anything 
without strings on it in this world, 
especially around a circus. 

HARRIS: Yes, sir, absolutely free. 
Not only that, but every holder of 
one of these complimentary tickets 
gets a drawing in a prize lottery 
which is now going on inside. 

I (shocked) : You don t mean a 
gambling game! 

HARRIS: Oh, no indeed! It is a 
fair and legitimate business proposi 
tion, without a shadow of gambling 
but kindly step inside and let me 
explain to you. 



108 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I (to the sucker) : Shall we go in? 

MR. SUCKER: Oh, it won t hurt to 
see what he has. 

I: No, I suppose not; but I ve 
heard that they gamble around the 
circuses. I m a Hard-Shell Baptist, 
myself, and I don t believe in gam 
bling. 

Now, inside the tent the only thing in 
sight is a show-case with a lot of prize arti 
cles displayed watches, knives, cheap 
jewelry, a two-dollar bill, a ten-dollar bill, 
and one big roll of paper money. On each 
article there is a numbered tag; and 
Harris takes up from the case a bunch of 
envelopes. 

HARRIS: Now gentlemen, let me 
explain for a moment a proposition 
that must seem mysterious to you. I 
am following this circus as the best 
method of introducing Rising Sun 
Sterling Silver [a short spiel about 



I BECOME A FIXER 109 

the merits of this new silverware]. 
I am taking a rather novel method. 
Our best customers, since we do mail 
business strictly, come from the 
prairie districts. Therefore, it pays 
us to advertise in this manner, and it 
will pay you to help us. Understand, 
I am not proposing an agency. All 
we want to do is to interest stable 
citizens like yourselves. I simply ask 
that you take away with you a few of 
those circulars to distribute among 
your friends. That inducement makes 
it worth our while to pay your ad 
mission and to give you a drawing in 
this lottery. (To me) : Will you 
draw one of these envelopes, sir? 
Each contains a number to corre 
spond with one of the prize articles 
in the case. 

I (still a skeptic) : You re sure this 
ain t a gambling game? 

HARRIS: Not at all, sir. You put 
up nothing. 



110 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I (to Mr. Sucker): Well, this 
looks too good to be true, but I ll 
try it. 

I draw from the envelope. Out comes 
number 18. Harris looks into the show 
case. 

HARRIS: I congratulate you, sir. 
Prize number 18 is two dollars. 

I: Well, that s just like finding it. 

HARRIS: There is only one thing 
more before I hand you the money. 
We have to insist that any man who 
receives a cash prize from this draw 
ing shall show an equivalent sum of 
money to prove that he is a responsi 
ble citizen. In the case of your 
drawing, it is ridiculous to suppose 
that you haven t the small sum of 
two dollars. But it is our rule, made 
to cover the larger prizes. 

I : You want to know if I have two 
dollars? Certainly. Here it is. 



I BECOME A FIXER ill 

HARRIS (handing over the money] : 
Then I need say no more. Please 
take some of these circulars and dis 
tribute them to your friends. Now, 
sir (to Mr. Sucker), will you kindly 
draw? 

The sucker is all for drawing by this 
time; he has his first taste of his own 
greed. He draws. And he gets number 
11. Please remember that number, and 
how it looks written out. It is important. 

HARRIS (looking into the showcase) : 
By the Lord Harry ; you are in luck. 
Well, well! You have drawn the 
capital prize four hundred dollars! 

I : Do you mean to tell me that you 
are going to give this gentleman four 
hundred dollars for nothing? Ridic 
ulous! 

HARRIS: Well, he has drawn the 
capital prize. We have to make good. 
We can t afford to hurt our reputa- 



112 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

tion by doing otherwise. I only ask 
that this gentleman show me four 
hundred dollars to prove his financial 
standing. That is our rule. 

I: But you haven t four hundred 
dollars on you? 

MR. SUCKER: No, but I can get it 
out of the bank. 

HARRIS: Very well, if you can go 
to the bank and bring back four hun 
dred dollars before we close, all right. 
But I must see your money as a 
guarantee. It s a business proposi 
tion, gentlemen. 

I: Now let s have this thing 
straight. If we get four hundred 
dollars and bring it here, you will 
pay four hundred dollars to this 
gentleman? 

HARRIS: That s what I said. 

Then I draw the sucker outside. And, 
as we talk it over and he asks my opinion, 
I get gradually enthusiastic. That is the 



I BECOME A FIXER 113 

strength of my spiel. I have begun as a 
doubter, and I have come to believe. And 
I ve swept him on with me. Mind you, 
that part of it isn t always easy. Some 
times I have to give the office [the "office" 
is a con man s signal] to Hazleton, so that 
he may come up and help. But nine 
suckers out of ten are soft at that point. 
So we go up to the bank and get the four 
hundred. Returning to the tent we flash 
it on Harris. 

HARRIS: Sorry, gentlemen, but 
you ll have to draw over again. Just 
after you left another man came in 
and won the capital prize. That 
means a new drawing. 

I: See here; is this a skin game? 
What do you mean? 

HARRIS (indignant) : And what do 
you mean? This is straight! 

I: Well, here s the money show 
him the money. 

HARRIS: I see the money, all right. 



114. THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

But now this gentleman must draw 
again. 

Harris spreads the envelopes on the 
showcase. At that moment he turns away 
to tie his shoelace. I run slyly over the 
envelopes ; and sticking out of one of them 
is a little card upon which, as plain as day, 
we can see the ends of two parallel marks 
the stems of a figure eleven! 

I wink at the sucker; he winks back. I 
mark that envelope by denting it with 
my thumb-nail. At that moment Harris 
straightens up and resumes his spiel. 

HARRIS: Well, sir, do you wish to 
draw? If you do, put down your 
money against mine on the counter 
here. 

I: His money against yours? 

HARRIS : Yes, sir. Your four hun 
dred there against that four hundred 
in the case. That was what we said, 
wasn t it? 



I BECOME A FIXER 115 

I: And the capital prize number 
is still 11? 

HARRIS: Yes. The capital prize is 
always 11. 

Down goes the money. Now stop and 
consider this thing a moment. We began 
with a straight prize drawing something 
for nothing. There was not a shade of 
gambling in it. At this second, it is turned 
into a gambling game with perfectly 
foolish odds. The sucker is betting even 
that he can pick one envelope from twenty 
and the odds should be twenty to one. 
But he has seen that prize envelope, and 
I have marked it for him it looks like a 
cinch. The consideration that he is now 
gambling, and stands to lose his money if 
he picks wrong, doesn t enter his mind. 
All he sees is the four hundred dollars of 
Harris money, which will be his the mo 
ment he puts his finger on that marked 
envelope. One minute s sensible con 
sideration would dissipate the whole 



116 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

thing. He doesn t get that minute. 

They lay out the rolls side by side on the 
showcase. The sucker draws from the 
pile the envelope which I have marked 
with my thumb-nail, and takes out the 
card. 

He has drawn 44, which calls for a sil 
ver spoon. The marks which he took for 
the stems of two 1 s were the stems of two 
4 s! 

I put up a fierce roar; then I grow 
regretful. I begin to think of myself and 
my position at home. I would have given 
a thousand dollars rather than have such 
a thing happen. Heavens, if my wife 
should hear of it! I suggest seeing the 
management about it; in that way I lead 
the sucker outside of the tent. Along 
comes Hazleton, with his respectable and 
kindly air. I recognize him as Mr. Baker, 
a State banking commissioner, and an old 
friend of my brother s. We tell him what 
has happened. He is shocked and pained 
to think that I have done such a thing. 




He draws from the pile the envelope which I have marked 
with my thumb-nail, and takes out the card 



I BECOME A FIXER 117 

It amounts to nothing better than gam 
bling. After Baker has read me a lecture, 
he tells the sucker that such things corne 
under his jurisdiction. He will put his de 
tectives on the case at once and force the 
swindling hounds to give back the money. 
And, as for me, he considers it only right 
that I share the loss with Mr. Sucker. I 
cheerfully agree to do that, give the sucker 
my name and address (both phony, of 
course) and promise to send two hundred 
dollars as soon as I get home. 

This is just a typical case; of course, 
there were many variations to suit the 
man. 

The mob with that circus always remem 
bered one trick I turned that summer. A 
fresh old farmer, who thought he was wise, 
wandered into the grounds one afternoon. 
He looked over the shell games, the cloth 
and the roll-out, and pronounced them a 
bunk. He went to the town authorities 
about it and got the laugh our fixer had 
sewed up everything. He returned to 



118 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

roar at the manager of the circus. At this 
point I wandered up. 

"Excuse me," I said to the manager, 
who caught his cue as soon as I gave him 
the office, "can you tell me where I can 
get tickets in advance for the performance 
tonight? I promised to take my wife and 
her sister-in-law and the children, and I 
don t want to be fighting and carousing 
around the ticket wagon with them along, 
especially as I hear that this circus of 
yours is a little tough." 

"You re right this circus is tough!" 
came in the fly old granger. 

"Then maybe I d better not take my 
women folks," I said. 

The manager cut in and persuaded me 
that it was all right. He offered to bring 
me the tickets himself. I thanked him and 
he went to get them. So I was left alone 
to get acquainted with my man. Before 
he got away from the grounds we had 
lifted from him one hundred and seventy 
dollars, all the money he had on his person, 



I BECOME A FIXER 119 

at big joint. I didn t even call Hazleton 
to help me square it with him. 

I ll tell you how I come to remember 
that particular joint. Last summer I was 
crossing on a crowded ferry-boat from 
New York to Staten Island. I felt a 
touch on my trousers pocket I knew 
what that meant. I reached down quick, 
and grabbed a wrist. The hand in my 
pocket began to wriggle, trying to find a 
way out. Without turning around, I 
said: "Now ain t it a shame to touch a 
man like that, especially when he is an old 
hand at graft himself!" Then, still keeping 
my hold, I looked around into the face of 
a little chap who used to rig the shells for 
that very circus! Over dinner that night 
he recalled to me the time I got even for 
the circus with Johnnie Wise of Grange 
II. 



CHAPTER IV 

I REJUVENATE THREE-CARD MONTE 

A MAN sometimes spends half of his 
** life locating his place in the world. 
I had grafted for nearly twenty years 
before I found that my game, the job for 
which Nature had fitted me, was "the 
broads," which is the grafter s name for 
three-card monte. In the last ten years 
of my old life I did very little else. Mine 
wasn t the old game which they used to 
play at country fairs, where a dealer with 
glass jewelry and a fierce black mustache 
skinned the rubes. That racket got too 
well known ; the rubes would run if a man 
laid down three cards on a table before 
them. We took advantage of that very 
disrepute; we put a new twist on it, and 
the mob for which I spieled made it a 

steady, productive business. 
120 



THREE CARD MONTE 121 

I really don t deserve all the credit for 
starting it. Old Marsh, who is dead now, 
and Louis, my partner in all my later 
years on the road, had it going already 
when I came into the partnership; but I 
improved on their methods until our whole 
play was a work of art. 

We tried it out in the remote West, 
operating for a while in Dakota, at the 
time they opened up their Indian lands 
there, and at last we settled down in a 
small city not so very far from Chicago. 
With that as a center we worked the river 
boats and the trains on all the trunk lines. 
In the last three years of our combination 
we traveled like trainmen so much mile 
age every week. 

HOW I WORKED THE DAY COACHES 

This city I won t name it, but perhaps 
you can guess was very favorably located 
for our work. From the North the river 
brought down logs and lumbermen the 



122 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

logs to the mills and the lumbermen to us. 
From the South, in harvest season, came 
rich tobacco planters. A half-dozen rail 
roads ran through its union station. And 
if ever a city government was tied up and 
delivered, it was that one in those days. 
My old pal Jakey, the man who helped me 
steal the elephant, was a big grafter by this 
time he had cut out gambling and gone 
into the city-contracting business. He had 
preceded us there, and gradually he had 
got the city administration to stand for 
anything short of burglary and murder. 
When my monte mob got itself established 
we held a council of war every Monday 
morning. It was our custom to set aside 
the week s nut at those meetings, and the 
part which went to the city gang was about 
four hundred dollars. We bribed some 
times one and sometimes another, ac 
cording to who was making us the most 
trouble at the time. We always had the 
chief of police on our list, and usually two 
of his captains. The newspapers were 



THREE CARD MONTE 123 

about as troublesome as anything. The 
editor of one was a good fellow, and we 
didn t have to bother him. Another one 
took its money straight. The third we got 
around by inserting a little, blind adver 
tisement, for which we paid fifty dollars 
a week. Those times are past now in that 
city, as such times are gradually passing 
in all cities. 

I suppose there are those who do not 
know what three-card monte is, and for 
their benefit I will explain. The operator 
has three cards of different numbers and 
suits. He shows you their faces, lays them 
down, backs up, shuffles them about a 
little, and bets you that you cannot pick 
out any given card the ace, say. You ve 
been watching that ace, and you think you 
can. But when you turn it over it isn t. 
Only a matter of manipulation and the dis 
traction of the victim s attention for a 
second. Now, look how we improved upon 
it. Louis was steerer for the game. Take 
him by the large, there was never his su- 



124 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

perior in that department of grafting. He 
had easy, pleasant manners, and a simple, 
innocent way; on sight you had confidence 
in him. And he wasn t one of those 
"twenty-minute men" who can t hold a 
sucker after the touch. No, Louis very 
best work came in tying up his man, in 
getting him to go away without making 
any trouble. I was the "broad spieler," 
which means that I did the actual work 
of manipulation. Marsh stayed back 
in another coach to cash checks and 
drafts. 

On the trains we played mostly at night, 
when the chance of interference was 
slightest. Of course we worked mainly in 
day coaches, because then the Pullman 
passengers were undressed and in their 
bunks. You d be surprised to know how 
many men of means sleep sitting up in the 
day coach. As soon as we boarded we 
went to work systematically to find our 
man. We knew the conductor s system 
of check marks, so we could tell how far 



THREE CARD MONTE 125 

each passenger was traveling. It was long 
distance travelers we were looking for; 
they usually have a hundred dollars or 
more either in cash or drafts. With our 
thorough system of information, we often 
had our victim marked before we boarded 
the train. 

At about two o clock in the morning 
our man would be sound asleep. Louis 
would step up to him, take the train check 
from his hat and drop it on the floor. 
Then Louis would shake him and say: 
"Is that your check down there?" By the 
time the sucker had picked up the check 
and thanked Louis, he d be wide awake. 
Louis would be so pleasant about it, would 
have such good stories to tell about people 
who lost their tickets, that the sucker 
would stay awake to talk. In half an hour 
or so they d be established on a cordial 
basis. Then Louis would give me the 
office to come along. Our signal for that 
was raising the hat and scratching the 
head. 



126 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I was made up for the part of an in 
nocent Texas cattleman black sombrero, 
jeans, a red handkerchief around my neck. 
I m a natural mimic, I suppose. In my 
circus trips to Texas I d picked up that 
back-country Texan dialect, which is a 
mixture of Southern and Western with a 
tang of its own. I d got information 
about the country and the cattle business, 
too; no Texan could ever pick a flaw in 
my story. I rehearsed my spiel until I 
knew it like a part in a play, and I sup 
pose it had better go down here in dialogue 
just as I used to talk it off. 

I PLAY THE PART OF A TEXAS CATTLEMAN 

We ll say that the sucker is about an 
average-minded man what they re call 
ing a "bromide" nowadays. From experi 
ence Louis and I know about what he ll do 
under given circumstances that are likely 
to arise. Louis gives me the office, as I 
come down the aisle, to show that he has 



THREE CARD MONTE 127 

three hundred in cash. And here begins 
my spiel: 

I: Say, can any of you chaps give 
me a chaw of tobacco? 

Louis (somewhat irritated) : No, 
I don t use it. 

I (to the sucker): Say, can you 
give me a chaw? 

MR. SUCKER: No. 

I: That s mighty funny. I ve asked 
pretty nigh every feller on this train 
fo a chaw, an I ain t got none. 
Down wheah I live pretty nigh every 
body chaws tobacco all the men, and 
pretty nigh all the women. 

Louis (getting interested in me) : 
Women chew tobacco? For goodness 
sake, where s that? 

I: Down in Las Llagas. 

Louis: Where s that? 

I: Fo goodness sake, mistah, don t 
you know wheah that is? Down on 



128 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

the Rio Grande, about a hundred an 
fifty miles from San Anton. 

Louis: Well, I d like to know what 
sort of people they are women chew 
tobacco I 

I: Oh, there ain t many of the 
white women chaw. Mostly greasers. 

Louis: Greasers? What do you 
mean by greasers? 

I: Fo goodness sake, mistah, 
don t you know what greasers are? 
Mexicans. 

Louis: Oh, I understand. (He 
looks over at the sucker and winks 
at him. His manner says, "There s 
fun in this jay") Well, what are 
you doing here? 

I : Jes brought up some cattle f o 
to sell in Chicago fo hundred head 
of steers. I sold em all, an now I m 
goin down by Indianapolis to buy a 
passel of bulls. 

Louis: Why, haven t you any 
bulls? 



THREE CARD MONTE 129 

I: Yessuh. But I ain t got no 
grade bulls. I m buyin a lot of 
white-faced Herefords. They re the 
rustlers ! 

Louis : How many cattle have you 
got? 

I: I reckon I don t know, mistah. 
A noathah got tiway with a lot of em 
last wintah. I reckon about thirty- 
five hundred. I m going to git about 
twenty bulls. 

Louis: And how much land? 

I: Oh, I reckon about twenty-five 
thousand acres. 

Here Louis and I talk for some time 
about the cattle business and my ranch. 
This, like everything else in this spiel 
every sentence of it is aimed toward the 
sucker. In the first place, I show him 
what an amusing and innocent and confid 
ing person I am; in the second place, I 
show him that I am rich. And, after a 
time : 



ISO THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Louis : Were you born and raised 
in Texas? 

I: Yessuh. This is the first time 
evah I was up in this heah Yankee 
kentry, an I ll be doggoned if I evah 
come up heah any moah. 

Louis: Why, don t you like it? 

I: It s all right to be up heah a 
week or so. But it weahs you out. 
That theah Chicago is the doggondest 
town! I was theah fo days an had a 
heap o fun, but, law me, it cost me 
pretty nigh fo hundred dollahs. 

Louis: How on earth did you 
spend that much in four days? 

I: Oh, I didn t spend it all. I lost 
two hundred of it. 

Louis: Lost it? How? Out of 
your pockets? 

I : No, I lost it bettin with a feller. 

Louis (he winks at the sucker 
again, as much as to say, "Here we 
are going to get an interesting 
story") : How s that? 



THREE CARD MONTE 131 

I: Well, mistah, I m going to tell 
you-all about it. Exactly all about 
it. I got in with a young chap wheah 
I was boa din down by the stock- 
yahds an he took me round. Seem 
the sights, he called it. That chap 
knew jess wheah to go. I reckon we 
must a been in twenty-five places. 
Sich kickin an carryin on you nevah 
saw. Law me ! That s wheah I spent 
pretty nigh all my money! 

Louis : Did you spend all you had? 

I: Law me, you fellers think I m 
busted because I spent fo hundred 
dollahs! This don t look like I m 
busted, does it? 

Here I reach down into my inside 
pocket and pull out a roll of bills as large 
as a town pump. 

Louis: How much have you got 
there? 



132 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I: About two thousan , I reckon. 
I ain t counted fo fouahteen days. 

Louis: Well, let s hear the rest. 
How did you lose your two hundred? 

I: Bettin . 

Louis : What kind of a game? 

I: Well, this heah feller he got to 
go back to the ho-tel at twelve 
o clock. So I make up with a Yan 
kee feller. I told him I was awful 
dry an I wanted to get a drink of 
liquor. He said he knowed the place 
wheah they had good whisky. So I 
went along into a saloon wheah they 
had a show goin on. We-all took 
two or three drinks an peeped into a 
little side room what they had. A 
big Yankee chap in theah was runnin 
a game. He called it California 
euchre. A lot of fellers was bettin 
five and ten dollars on it. They was 
bettin they could tell which ceahd 
was the ace. I stood theah lookin 
at em, an I could see the prize ceahd 



THREE CARD MONTE 133 

every time. I spoke up an told the 
feller I could pick it out. He say, 
"How much you \^ant to bet you kin 
pick it out?" I say, "I bet you two 
dollahs." He say, "Twodollahs? If 
that s all you got you better save it 
an buy crackers an cheese fo break 
fast." That sort o made me mad, so 
I jest put my hand in my pocket an 
pull out two hundred dollahs, an 
say, "Theah, Yank, kiver that!" He 
kivered her, but, doggone my but 
tons, if I didn t lose her! Then he 
say do I want to bet again, an I say 
I got the rest o my money down in 
the ho-tel. I say, "Wait a few min 
utes an I ll be back an play again." 
I went on back to the ho-tel an axed 
the feller what was working behind 
the counter to give me my money 
what was in the big iron box. He had 
to get the boss up. The boss he ax 
me if I was goin away. I tole him, 
no, suh, I ain t goin away until to- 



134, THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

morrow, but I m bettin with a feller, 
an I want to go bettin with him 
some moah. He say, "You don t 
want to bet with no Chicago fellers. 
They re sharpers. They ll skin you." 
I say, "Never mind, my money is 
mine." Then he said I couldn t, an I 
raised so much hell that a big po-lice- 
man tole me he lock me up if I don t 
go to bed. 

Nex mawnin I went up to that 
theah place wheah I lost the money, 
and the feller with that ah California 
euchre game was at home. I got to 
talking with him, an I tried to git 
him to come down to Las Llagas with 
me. I tole him if he would fetch that 
theah game along he would jess win 
moah money than a man can carry. 
He said he had a gal what was sick 
and he couldn t leave. But he tole 
me he would do the nex bes thing by 
me f o a hundred he would give me 
some of the games an show me how 



THREE CARD MONTE 135 

to play em. I done took the games, 
an I been practicin with em ever 
since. When I git back home, dog 
gone me, if I don t win the two hun 
dred back an ten times moah along 
side of it. Down theah we races 
horses an fights chickens all day 
Saturday an Sunday. Fust time I 
go to one of those chicken fights I ll 
take this game with me. Ain t any 
tellin how much I ll win. 

Louis: So you re going into the 
business w r hen you get down home, 
are you? 

I: Course I am. 

Louis (winking at the sucker) : 
You say this fellow gave some of the 
cards to you have you them with 
you? 

I: Yessuh. I got em right here. 

Louis: Let s look at them. I d 
like to see what they are like. 

I pull out from my inside pocket three 



136 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

greasy, old cards, wrapped up in a hand 
kerchief. Louis unwraps them and looks 
them over. 

Louis: Is this all there is to it? 
I: Yessuh. That s all they is to it. 
Louis: How is it done? I don t 
see anything to it. 

And so, talking and amusing them all 
the time, I take those three cards, lay them 
down on the car seat or a convenient book, 
and show them, very awkwardly, how a 
dealer manipulates three-card monte. 
Louis is getting more and more interested 
by my antics, and the sucker is falling in. 
After I have explained how you must pick 
the ace to win : 

Louis: You say you have to pick 
the ace to win? Why, I think that I 
can pick the ace every time. 

I : Go on, le s see you do it. Come 
on, mistah, you an me will play a 
little game fo fun! 




And show them, very awkwardly, how a dealer manipulates 
three-card monte 



THREE CARD MONTE 137 

We play, and Louis picks up the wrong 
card. I laugh immoderately ; I turn away 
toward the aisle in order to vent my 
whoops. 

And at this point comes the first impor 
tant operation of the game. Louis at 
tracts the attention of the sucker; shows 
by the expression of his face that he has 
some scheme afoot. Then he reaches over 
and turns up a corner of the ace "puts 
an ear on it," as we say in the profession. 
Get that in your mind; the ace is now 
marked so that you can tell its back as 
well as its face. The sucker sees it ; Louis 
sees it; I am the only person in the trans 
action who is supposed not to see it. 

I : Let s play again, mistah. I was 
jest practic-ing. I d like to see a man 
pick that ace! 

Louis: I bet I can. 

1:1 bet you a ten-dollar bill you 
can t. 

Louis : Well, when I said bet I was 



138 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

joking. I don t want to bet. I never 
indulge. 

I: Theah she is, mistah, theah she 
is! I bet you a ten-dollah bill you 
cain t git that prize ceahd! 

Louis : Now look here, Texas, you 
don t really want to bet ten dollars 
that I can t find that card! 

I: Yessuh; that theah is exactly 
what I mean. 

Louis: Well, though it is against 
my principles, I ll bet you! 

We play, and Louis, picking with 
deadly accuracy the card whose corner he 
has turned up, shows the ace and wins the 
ten dollars. I mutter something about a 
mistake, and as I am about to pay an idea 
seems to come into my mind : 

I : Look heah, mistah, you show me 
you got ten dollahs you could a paid 
if I d a won. I ain t goin round 
heah givin tens to everybody. 



THREE CARD MONTE 139 

Louis: If I show ten dollars that 
stake will belong to me? 

I: That s zactly what I mean. 

Louis pulls ten dollars from his pocket 
and shows it to me. I am satisfied, and I 
pay. I skin my roll and bet Louis a 
twenty he can t do it again. We appoint 
the sucker stakeholder and deposit the 
money in his hands. Louis picks the card 
with the little ear turned up on it. It is 
the ace, of course; he wins again. Then, 
warming up, he tries to bet me a 
forty. But I suddenly grow cagey. 

I: No, suh, I ain t goin to bet you 
again. Not a cent. That theah feller 
what teach me this game he tell me 
that if a man beat me two times run- 
nin I wasn t to play him no moah. I 
ain t goin to play no moah f o money, 
but jes fo fun. 

Then there is a little business between 



140 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Louis and me two or three plays in which 
he carefully avoids the card with the ear 
on it and lets me win. At last I approach 
the "joint," which is our term for the 
actual operation of separating the good- 
thing from his money. I address the 
sucker and ask him to play just for fun. 
Louis, at a moment when I have turned 
away to laugh or spit or something, whis 
pers to him, "Take the wrong card!" He 
does it, and I win. We play again for 
fun. Again he picks the wrong card. 

I: Mistah, now let s you an me 
play fo a bill! 

I pull out my wad and skin off a bill 
without looking at it. Down it goes on 
the table. We play, and the sucker turns 
over the ace, and wins. Louis has been 
holding the bill. He starts to pay it over, 
but I put away his hand. 

I (to the sucker) : Look heah, mis- 



THREE CARD MONTE 141 

tab. Could you a paid me if I had 



won? 



MR. SUCKER: Of course I could 
have paid you. 

Louis: Hold on, Texas; do you 
realize the amount of the bill you ve 
put down here? It s a hundred dol 
lars. 

I: A hundred dollahs? All right. 
A hundred or a thousand, if it s down 
it s down. Look heah, mistah, is you 
got a hundred dollahs? 

MR. SUCKER: Yes, and three hun 
dred. (This is no news to us.) 

Now comes the psychological moment. 
Watch it. The sucker, by all the rules of 
the game, has won my hundred dollars. 
Yet he never gets it. He is induced to 
put that hundred straight back into the 
game, and two hundred more. I ve ex 
plained the mental principle of this al 
ready in describing "big joint." The 
proceeding looks like a cinch to him. He 



142 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

has his eye on the "ear" which marks the 
ace. He can t lose. What difference does 
it make if he throws his hundred back into 
the game? He won t quibble over such a 
little thing. 

I: All right. I bet you a hundred. 
Now show up! 

MR. SUCKER: What do you mean? 

I: I mean put up jes the same as 
I have put up. Jes put your money 
up heah alongside of mine. 

Louis: But I thought you said 
you d pay him as soon as he showed 
up a hundred-dollar bill? 

I: I meant when he showed up 
jes the same as I m showing mine 
up. Show up means puttin up. 

The sucker lays down his hundred. 

I: Now I ll show you what kind o 
spohts we got down in Texas. How 
much more you got theah? 



THREE CARD MONTE 143 

Louis: This gentleman has two 
hundred more. 

I : Well, put it up I bet you an- 
othah two hundred. That s the kind 
we got in Texas. 

If he is a tough sucker and hesitates, 
Louis whispers to him: "Go on; it s a 
cinch. You might as well get his money 
as the next man." When we get the 
money down, his three hundred against 
mine, when we have given it to Louis, as 
stakeholder: 

I : Now, mistah, heah we go. Le s 
shake hands on it, mistah. If you git 
that theah prize ceahd the money all 
belongs to you. If you don t it all 
belongs to me. 

While we are shaking hands happens 
the second important piece of manipula 
tion. Louis, with one swift motion, 
straightens out that ace, and puts the little 
ear on another card, the nine-spot, let us 



144 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

say. See that? It is the climax of the 
joint. Shaking hands on it serves another 
purpose than distracting the victim s at 
tention it prevents him from saying 
afterward that we played before he was 
ready. 

He turns over the card that is marked 
with an ear, and instead of the ace he has 
the nine! 

Immediately a lot of things happen. 
Louis, as stakeholder, has the money in 
his hand. I reach over and grab it. He 
holds on to it; we wrestle for five or six 
seconds while I tear it away. The atten 
tion of the sucker is all on his money. 
He does not see Louis free hand, which 
has taken the little ear off of the nine and 
put it back on the ace again. 

So I ve got his money, and when he 
looks over those cards the ear is on that 
ace. His false turn couldn t possibly 
have been anything but a terrible 
mistake. 

The third stage of the broads is known 



THREE CARD MONTE 145 

in the profession as the "round-up." It 
consists in getting rid of the sucker in such 
a manner as to cause the least possible 
trouble. That part of it was up to Louis. 
He was the most resourceful man in the 
business, and he had no general line of 
procedure. His methods varied with the 
circumstances. He was usually very 
indignant and shocked and sympathetic. 
He would try to frighten and to bully me ; 
he would take all the blame upon himself, 
and promise to restore half the money. 
If we sized up the sucker as a coward, 
Louis and I might start a scrap. I d 
draw my gun an old, rusty one which 
I couldn t cock and howl: 

"If I knowed which one o you Yankee 
chaps done that ol trick I d blow his haid 
off!" 

If the sucker started to report to the 
conductor Louis would say: 

"Don t you know it s a thousand dollars 
fine or six months in jail for gambling 
on these trains?" 



146 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

His tricks were innumerable, and he 
always ended by tying his man up com 
pletely, in one way or another. As a mat 
ter of fact, only about half of the suckers 
made any trouble. 

Now and then the "round-up" got ex 
citing. 

One of the first men we skinned after we 
put our game on the road was a preacher 
not a man of any standing, but an ex- 
horter from the Kentucky mountains. I 
remember that he was a long time biting. 
Finally the real trouble occurred to me. 
He didn t want a witness. I put my palm 
to my face, giving Louis the office to go 
away, and when the preacher and I were 
alone I got him for a hundred and fifty. 
He didn t say anything for a minute or 
two after the joint came off; then he 
reached for his hip. His silence had 
warned me; before he could draw I had 
that old, rusty, unloaded gun, which I 
couldn t cock, against his breastbone. We 
beat it from that train in a hurry. 



THREE CARD MONTE 147 

THE TOUGH CITIZEN OF BREATHITT 

I have a displaced cartilage in my nose 
to remind me of one awful slip. We had 
done a big, Welsh coal miner. He was 
making a racket about it, and I was stall 
ing in my character of a Texan. Finally 
he leaned over me and said: 

"If you don t give me back my money 
I ll knock your head off!" 

I felt a little mean and grouchy that 
day, and this man had a kind of a dis 
agreeable personality. I lost my head and 
my temper. Off went my Texan dialect, 
and on came my native Indiana. I said: 

"You can t do it!" 

The words weren t out of my mouth 
when he smashed me in the nose so hard 
that it nearly put me out. Johnny had 
a gun on him before he could hit again. 

But the closest call came from a tough 
citizen of Breathitt County, who had sold 
his saloon and was moving with the pro 
ceeds into Wisconsin. We took about 



148 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

two hundred from him, and he acted like 
a madman. Just when I thought we had 
him quieted down he reached for his valise 
and opened it. I paid no particular at 
tention to that motion; but when he 
straightened up I was looking into the 
barrel of a Colt s .44. And he said, very 
quietly : 

"Now do I get back my money?" 

Of course, there was only one thing to 
do. Without dropping the dialect, I said : 

"Look yeah, mistah, if you re going to 
do any shootin I don t want to keep 
youah money." And I handed it over. 
After that I made Louis watch the valises 
as closely as he did the hip-pockets. It 
was I, and not Louis, who stood to die 
if any one started a gun-play. 

Those are all the gun episodes which I 
can remember. For contrast, there was 
an old sheep-man from Montana whom 
we beat out of five hundred when we were 
playing the Northwest, looking for dis 
charged Philippine soldiers. This man 



THREE CARD MONTE 149 

woke up to the nature of our game soon 
after we made the joint. He said, as near 
as I can remember: 

"Boys, you done me fair and square. 
It s all right ; I saw that marked card and 
I was out to do you. You beat me to it, 
and I ain t kicking. But I d promised to 
bring my wife a silk umbrella, and in Chi 
cago I forgot it. I was intending to stop 
off at Cheyenne and make good. Maybe 
you re married yourselves, and know how 
it is. A loan of a twenty would oblige 
me." He got it all right. And he insisted 
on taking an address to send the money 
back. 

Marsh, the third member of our mob, 
got more and more useful as time went on 
and we learned to play for bigger and big 
ger money. He stayed back in the next 
car and cashed the drafts. Comparatively 
few men carry more than a hundred dol 
lars or so in cash. When the sucker got 
wild to play he d remark that he had noth 
ing on him but a draft. Louis would say 



150 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

that he could fix that up he d seen Mr. 
Marsh, of the Polish Hardware Company, 
in the next coach. Mr. Marsh was auditor 
and collector for the company ; he always 
carried ready money. He d lead the 
sucker back, and Marsh, on the recom 
mendation of Louis, would cash the draft. 
We never had any real trouble in collect 
ing, either. Why should we? The draft 
was indorsed fair enough ; there was noth 
ing about the transaction with Marsh 
which savored of gambling. The bank 
had to cash it, and if the sucker tried to 
stop payment we hired a lawyer. We 
were the only monte mob on the road 
which ever got around the draft obstacle. 

Of all our suckers I ll remember longest 
the only one who ever led me into a police- 
station. 

In the city which we made our head 
quarters we employed a little Jew clothing 
merchant as lookout. The lumbermen 
traded with him a good deal; it was 
his job to tip off the flush ones. One 



THREE CARD MONTE 151 

day he called me up on the telephone. 

"There was a drummer, named Silver- 
man, in here today," he said. "He carried 
a lot of ready money I seen it. He s 
gone up to Arlington, and he s coming 
back here Wednesday afternoon to take 
the rest of my order." Arlington, as I 
call it, was a town about twenty miles up 
the road. 

Wednesday morning I loafed around 
the hotels at Arlington, found the one 
where Silverman was staying, and learned 
that he was going to take the eleven-fifteen 
train. I proceeded to the next block and 
interviewed a bartender friend of mine. 

.WORKING A BLUFF 

"Bill," I said, "I m coming back in an 
hour or two. I m a whisky salesman, and 
you re going to help me play the part. 
See?" I returned to the hotel, and my 
man I had a good description of him 
walked up to the desk. I stepped up be- 



152 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

side him, and asked the clerk about the 
next train home. Silverman cut in. 

"Eleven-fifteen," he said; "I m taking 
that train myself." 

From that beginning we opened conver 
sation. He asked me my business. I said 
that I was a whisky salesman. Knowing 
that he had an interest in the company 
which he represented, I went on: 

"I m just a junior member of the 
firm, but I m just obliged to travel. 
You can t trust drummers any more." 
That touched the button, and he loved 
me. He said: 

"That s right. Those fellows are fierce. 
They get drunk and never think of making 
money. I don t know what this traveling 
business is coming to." We chummed 
down to the station. I suggested a drink 
and asked him if he minded going to a 
little place which bought our goods. He 
accepted. I led him to Bill, the bartender. 
As soon as we had ordered, Bill said : 

"Mr. Jones, we liked the last two 



THREE CARD MONTE 153 

barrels you sold us. I guess I ll want 
another one." 

"Fine business," said I. I pulled out 
some regular order blanks and made the 
entry. That established me completely 
with Silverman. 

On the train I was delighted to meet 
Louis and Marsh old friends of the road 
whom I hadn t seen for six months. I 
introduced Mr. Silverman. We got 
double seats in the day coach, and I re 
called that we met the last time over a 
game of euchre. That brought out the 
cards. 

We weren t playing monte with him, 
you see. Monte is a night game. What 
we had planted was "high euchre hand." 
Briefly, you start an argument as to 
whether a certain hand can be euchred and 
prove to the satisfaction of the sucker that 
it cannot. Later in the game you deal him 
that very hand, induce him to bet his shirt 
with the skeptic of the game that it can 
not be euchred and euchre it. 



154 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

He fell easy. We won three hundred- 
odd dollars, his watch and his diamond pin. 
When we left he had no suspicion of us. 

But after he left our town he told his 
troubles to a hotel man who used to be a 
partner of Jakey, and the hotel man let in 
the light upon Silverman. 

Sunday was our day off. Sunday after 
noon Louis and Marsh and I sat in our 
regular hang-out having a sociable little 
game of hearts among ourselves when the 
door flew open and .in came Silverman. 
He flew straight at me, yelling, "Cheat!" 
"Fraud !" I cast a contemptuous look on 
this raging, roaring rascal who dared to 
bother three gentlemen attending to their 
own affairs, and I said: 

"You make a lot of noise. You lost on 
a card game and now you re hedging." 

"You re a lot of professional beats, and 
you ought to be arrested." 

"Well, you won t arrest me," I said. 

"By Jiminy, I will ! I m going down to 
the police-station now." 



THREE CARD MONTE 155 

Knowing the way we had the police 
sewed up, that proposition interested me. 
I threw down my cards and said: 

"See here, if you really want to arrest 
me I ll save you the trouble. For a dollar 
I ll go down with you and give myself up 
at the station." He said, "Do you mean 
it?" And I reached for my hat and said: 
"Sure thing." He dug up the dollar. I 
pocketed it and went along with him. 

The captain, who had received twenty- 
five dollars from me on the previous Mon 
day, and expected to receive twenty-five 
more on every other Monday so long as 
we both should graft, looked me over 
severely, and said: 

"This is a very serious complaint. I am 
surprised to hear of such an occurrence. 
By the way, just where did this happen?" 

"Last Wednesday, on the train coming 
from Arlington," said Silverman. 

"Just after you left Arlington?" asked 
the captain, seeing light ahead. 

"Yes, sir. We no more than got started 



156 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

than this scoundrel began to play cards 
with me " 

Here the captain sawed Silverman short 
off. He said: 

"What the thunder do you mean by 
bringing such a charge in here? Arlington 
is away out of my jurisdiction. Are you a 
fool? This prisoner is discharged!" 

And when we got outside Silverman 
tried to make me give his dollar back. 

Six weeks later we were making a 
monte touch. I always kept my eyes open 
for everything, and I noticed one passen 
ger who wasn t asleep a little, quiet man, 
who sat with his hat pulled down over 
his eyes watching the game. A few 
minutes later that little man walked up 
to me. 

"Say," he said, "are you the gang that . 
did Silverman out of his roll and his watch 
and his diamond, six weeks ago?" 

I sized him up and decided that he was 
friendly before I answered: 

"Yes, if you want to know. Why?" 



THREE CARD MONTE 157 

He threw an arm over my shoulder and 
said: 

"I want to shake your hand. If my wife 
was here she would want to shake your 
hand she would kiss you. He is the 
meanest man in Cincinnati!" 

WHAT MR. BELMONT MISSED 

Probably O. H. P. Belmont never knew 
how near he came to having an adventure 
the last time he visited Yellowstone Park. 
Louis and I had been to the Portland 
Exposition for a vacation; we weren t 
playing. As we drew on the stretch be 
yond Livingston I saw that Louis had 
struck up an acquaintance with a prosper 
ous-looking couple in the compartment. I 
paid no attention to that until he flashed 
the office for "go out on the platform." 
He joined me there. 

"That s O. H. P. Belmont," said Louis. 
"His private car missed connections, 
and he s had to take the Pullman. He 



158 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

doesn t know that I know who he is." 

"Well, let s play for him, then," said I. 

But when Louis thought it over he lost 
his nerve completely. 

"He ain t carrying any ready cash," 
said Louis. "Those big magnates don t 
have to. And Marsh ain t here to cash 
drafts. We don t know the train men, 
either, and besides, my wife is along." 

"If we can get his promissory note he ll 
cash it. If he fails to make good we can 
threaten him with the newspapers," said I. 

Louis couldn t see it that way, and the 
Belmonts had connected with their private 
train before I talked him over. 

People are sure funny. Twenty times 
after that Louis said to me: 

"I wish we d had the nerve to play for 
O. H. P. Belmont that time." 

And I d always answer, never letting 
on that I had any sarcastic feelings: 

"Yes, Louis, I wish we had!" 



CHAPTER V 

WHY I CUT IT OUT 

TT is the safety of any con game that 
* your sucker generally is your accom 
plice. The police have trouble in making 
any charge stick; and if your steerer has 
done his work right the police never know 
of it, anyway. I suppose that I have been 
arrested half a dozen times, but I never 
stayed in j ail more than a few hours. Just 
one conviction stands against me. I was 
arrested and fined ten dollars for stealing 
an umbrella. The joke is that I didn t 
steal it! The judge who soaked me never 
suspected what he might have found if he 
had gone deeper into my life. 

But I ve been in tight places ; and think 
ing about my escapes had a lot to do with 
my final change of profession. One of the 
narrowest occurred while I was playing 

159 



160 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

assayer for the gold-brick game with old 
man Stallings. 

That, if I remember, was about eighteen 
hundred and ninety-five. The gold-brick 
game was getting too well known for 
safety. "Gold brick" had already be 
come slang for a bunco game; and when 
that happens you might as well quit. 
Stallings was one of the three best opera 
tors in the country. He stuck to it, in 
spite of all the danger, because he didn t 
know how to do anything else. 

I doubt if most people thoroughly un 
derstand that game. The grafters traveled 
in gangs of three the steerer, the assayer 
and the Indian. The play was for country 
bankers. When the steerer and operator, 
who was the most important man in the 
combination, had his sucker located, he 
spun the following yarn: 

His partner in the mining business had 
died and left him a valuable mine, which 
he held in partnership with an old Indian. 
He and the Indian had been working it 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 161 

for some time, and they had taken out 
enough gold to make brick, worth forty 
thousand dollars. He had started East 
to sell it. But the Indian was suspicious ; 
he had insisted on coming along. When 
they got to the river, the Indian would go 
no farther. He established camp in a 
lonely spot just over the river, and there 
he and the bricks stuck tight. The Indian 
believed that his half of the bricks was 
worth only ten thousand dollars, whereas 
it was worth twenty thousand. If the 
sucker would put down thirty thousand 
dollars, the steerer s share in full and half 
the Indian s share, he could have the 
bricks, thereby making a profit of ten 
thousand dollars. When the sucker was 
worked up to the joint, the steerer would 
take him to the lonely camp across the 
river. That meeting occurred at night by 
the light of a dim camp-fire; and the 
sucker couldn t see that the Indian was a 
white man, made up. On account of their 
features, Jews were generally used for 



162 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Indians. Ours was a man named Baum, 
we ll say. 

The assayer, my job in our team, be 
came necessary as the game got well 
known. In the early days, the steerer 
got the Indian to loosen up on one gold 
brick for an evening, while he and the 
sucker took it to a jeweler to be assayed. 
The jeweler would bore into it anywhere 
he pleased, and put the sample filings into 
an envelope. Somewhere in the transac 
tion, the steerer would change that en 
velope for another just like it, but con 
taining real gold filings. So when the 
jeweler made the assay he would report 
that it was real, virgin gold. 

But the jewelers all got on to the game; 
you couldn t risk doing business with 
them. So when he had the brick in his 
pocket, old Stallings would take his man 
to the leading jewelry store of the place. 
On some pretext or other, he would leave 
the sucker at the door while he went in 
side, and, in plain sight, held a conversa- 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 163 

tion with the proprietor. What he really 
did was to ask the jeweler for one of his 
cards, saying that he might be sending 
down to buy a watch next week. Also, 
would the jeweler please write his own 
name on the back? He d rather deal with 
the head of the firm direct. Then Stall- 
ings would go out and say to the sucker: 

"This man says that he doesn t make 
assays but that a government assayer 
named Baker is staying at the Eagle 
Hotel this week. He gave me this card, 
with his name written on it, to show that 
we are all right." Then they d proceed 
to the Eagle Hotel and ask for Mr. Baker 
me, you understand. And I d make the 
assay and certify that this was the real 
thing in gold and that the bricks, by 
weight, were worth forty-one thousand 
dollars. Besides that, it was my duty to 
shadow Stallings and his sucker all 
through the transaction, standing ready to 
help in case of any emergency. 

When I say that we worked this game, 



164 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

I mean to say that we tried it. We 
traveled for three months up and down the 
Ohio River, playing at small bankers, and 
never turned a penny. Two suckers bit 
and got as far as the assay, but they de 
veloped cold feet and pulled out. The 
third was a greedy Scotchman. He looked 
very good to us. On the morning set for 
the assay I was shadowing, as usual. A 
small boy shoved a note into my hand. It 
read, in Stallings handwriting: 

"You two fellows skip. He s on, and 
it s all your fault!" 

THE COLLAPSE OF THE GOLD-BRICK IN 
DUSTRY 

When I read this note, Stallings and 
the sucker were just entering a saloon. 
I went to the front door and took my place 
there, thinking to enter into conversation 
with the sucker and keep him interested 
while Stallings made his getaway. After 
two or three minutes the banker came out 
alone. He seemed a little excited; and I 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 165 

saw that he was going toward the police 
station that station was the first place 
we located when we staked out a new 
town. I figured that Stallings must have 
given him the slip ; and it was my cue to 
beat it myself. I hurried across the river 
to the Indian camp, notified Baum, and 
walked over to the next town, where I 
took a train East. We had agreed in case 
of trouble and separation to meet in a 
Philadelphia hotel. I went to Philadel 
phia, met Baum there the next day, arid 
waited a week before Stallings appeared. 

He had lost the Scotchman in the 
saloon, had run through the back door, and 
had persuaded the driver of a truck- 
wagon to give him a ride. That took him 
outside the city limits. He made his way 
to Peoria, where a saloon-keeper who used 
to be a pickpocket concealed him for five 
days. Then, hearing nothing from the 
police, Stallings dared to take a train for 
Philadelphia. 

When I asked him how it was my fault, 



166 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

Stallings refused to say a word. As a 
matter of fact, it wasn t my fault at all. 
Stallings was naturally a good-natured 
fellow, but the responsibility of it made 
him a wild, irritable hound when he was 
on the job. I never did learn what put 
the sucker wise. I refused then and there 
to mingle any longer in his game. He d 
have done well to cut it out himself; for 
he is in a Southern penitentiary now, serv 
ing a long term. 

When I ducked from the town of the 
Scotch banker I left our bricks in the 
hotel. Only last year I was in that hotel 
again this time as a respectable business 
man. And I found that they were using 
our old bricks as doorstoppers! They 
were made of brass and lead composition, 
with a veneer of gold leaf and a weighting 
of mercury. Every morning we used to 
take them out and dust them off and fix 
up the corners, where the veneer had 
rubbed off, with more gold leaf. 

You remember, probably, how the rush 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 167 

to the Klondike started. On Saturday, no 
one had ever heard of Dawson City. On 
Sunday morning the papers were full of 
it, and the overland trains were jammed 
with mushers hurrying to Alaska. At the 
time, Jeff Steers and I were working 
about Chicago, playing mainly for the 
truck- farmers. We hadn t been doing 
very well, and we decided that a mining 
country with a strike was just about the 
place for us. Steers was a friend of Soapy 
Smith. He figured that you couldn t keep 
Soapy away with a twenty-mule team. 
We got him on the wire. He answered: 
"Meet me in Seattle." 

AN ALLIANCE WITH SOAPY SMITH 

At the time we were just about broke, 
but we hooked a German truck-farmer, 
beat him out of six hundred dollars, left 
two hundred of it behind with our families, 
and started. Soapy met us at the train. 
He had just money enough to get himself 



168 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

to Skaguay. The police of Seattle were 
pretty strict, and we couldn t find any 
thing to do. However, Steers and I pro 
ceeded to a lumber town near by, caught 
a sucker, and, by playing the card game 
which we call "giving him the best of it," 
we raised three hundred dollars enough, 
with what we had, to take us into Skaguay. 
A lot of foolishness has been written 
about Soapy Smith. As a grafter, he was 
nothing more than a poor fool. He 
couldn t manipulate, he couldn t steer, he 
couldn t do anything. But he had a lot 
of nerve and fight, and he was just con 
ceited enough to pose as a bad man. That 
made him valuable wherever the grafters 
needed a head and protector. When we 
reached Skaguay we found a job for 
Soapy at once. The town was only a 
transportation point, a stopping place for 
the mushers who were going on into Daw- 
son. They all had money; and most of 
them were reckless with it. There was 
hardly any city government, and the 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 169 

permanent citizens, who were living off the 
mushers themselves, didn t particularly 
object to our game. I played three-card 
monte myself, picking up my steerers from 
two or three excellent ones who had come 
up independently. Even as early as that 
I was acting the innocent Texan; and 
though I hadn t worked my spiel up to 
perfection yet, it was pretty entertaining. 
Well, I ve had a gang of twenty or thirty 
Skaguay business men stand around and 
watch me work, just for the fun of the 
thing! 

Still, there was always a Purity Brigade 
which wanted to stop us. Soapy s j ob was 
to act as protector for the whole gang, 
bribing officials who would take money, 
and intimidating those who wouldn t. For 
that he charged a sixth of our profits, after 
the nut was taken out. Many kicked at 
the price. A gang of shell-workers struck 
out on the train toward Dawson and 
worked independently. I ve heard that 
they made twenty thousand dollars while 



170 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

the graft lasted. I started once to try 
Dawson on my own hook. I was half- way 
up the pass when some Northwest 
Mounted Police told me that a man 
couldn t get out of Dawson all winter. No 
town for me where I couldn t make a 
quick getaway! I doubled back to Ska- 
guay. 

I found trouble in the air. The official 
who was most troublesome to us was the 
surveyor-general. He warned Soapy to 
quit, and Soapy warned him to look out 
for bullets. Business men who had been 
my friends began to cut me on the streets. 
Every day you heard rumors of a vigi 
lance committee. 

I stopped one morning for breakfast 
at the restaurant of a Jap who stood in 
with us. As he laid down my ham and 
eggs he made a circle around his neck 
with his finger and pointed heaven 
ward. 

"The deuce you say," said I. "When?" 

"Yesterday," said the Jap. 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 171 

"How many?" said I. He counted on 
four fingers. 

"What for?" said I. 

He imitated the motion of a man manip 
ulating the shells. And the grin of the 
simple-minded Oriental showed that he 
thought I was in bad. 

I went out on the street. The people 
looked at me crosswise. Every one had 
heard that the four shell-workers who 
worked on the Dawson trail had been 
lynched. As a matter of fact, they had 
only been run off the trail; but Skaguay 
didn t know any different as long as I 
lingered. 

I hunted up Soapy, and told him that 
we were overdue in Seattle. 

"You ain t got no nerve," said Soapy. 

"No," said I, "maybe not. But neither 
do I want to secrete a parcel of bullets in 
my inside from somebody s shooting- 
pistol." I took passage on a steamer 
which left that afternoon. 

Two days later Soapy got his. The 



172 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

vigilantes were meeting on a wharf. 
Soapy walked straight up to them with 
his gun he surely had nerve, that fel 
low. The surveyor-general was the man 
he wanted. They drew simultaneously. 
The surveyor-general dropped, but he 
shot Soapy from the ground. Both died 
that day. 

Alaska people have talked like a dime 
novel about the Soapy Smith gang In 
Skaguay. Only lately, a paper said that 
our "coffee and doughnut men" used to 
rob and kill people, and drop their bodies 
into the bay. That is rank foolishness. 
Grafters don t work that way. Soapy 
wouldn t have protected any man who did. 
The straight money from three-card monte 
and the shells came so easy that we would 
have been crazy to take such risks, even 
if we had been thugs and murderers. A 
man who knows anything about graft 
realizes the rattle-headedness of such talk. 
And I know better than any one else, be 
cause I was on the inside. 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 173 

THE YELLOW DIAMOND GAME 

So I was back in Seattle, with a little 
capital but with no job in sight, and the 
town tight shut. Then I met Baum who, 
you remember, was Indian for the Stall- 
ings gold-brick team. He had a game 
which was then pretty new to this country, 
and entirely new to the Pacific Coast. A 
woman brought it over from Hungary. 

You take a yellow diamond and treat 
it with a solution of anilin dye, and it 
becomes a pure, commercial white. The 
stuff sticks for two or three weeks. The 
only way to get it off immediately is to 
soak the diamond in alcohol. If you put 
it under a miscroscope you can see the 
little particles of the dyestuff. Other 
wise, there is nothing by which the best 
expert can detect the fake. A little more 
anilin dye makes it a beautiful steel-blue. 
In a pinch, this change of color can be 
made by rubbing it with a common indeli 
ble pencil. 



174 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

At that time, off-color, yellow dia 
monds were worth from thirty-five to 
forty-five dollars a carat, commercial 
whites a hundred, and good steel-blues a 
hundred and twenty-five. Baum and I 
would buy a stock of yellows, doctor them, 
and sell or soak them for seventy-five 
dollars a carat. The pawnbrokers bit like 
codfish. When they realized that they 
had twenty-five dollars the best of us on 
that transaction, they wanted to follow us 
into the street and kiss us. 

We began at Vancouver and streaked 
straight down the Pacific Coast, stinging 
three or four pawnbrokers in every large 
city, except San Francisco, which we left 
alone, and at least one in all the smaller 
cities like San Jose and Fresno. A trade 
journal printed remarks on the unprece 
dented demand for yellow diamonds on 
the Coast that fall. 

We struck a snag in one of the cities 
of Southern California. We had got so 
swelled up by success that we looked down 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 175 

on pawnbrokers; we were playing for 
bankers. We staked out an avaricious 
old sucker, whom we ll call Sylvester. He 
was president of a savings-bank. 

I called at his office with "commercial 
white" diamonds, worth, on the face of 
them, about sixteen hundred dollars, and 
a hard-luck story. I was a bookmaker, 
who had gone on the San Francisco tracks 
and was making my way East. I had 
struck town with a sick wife, and I needed 
money right away. Here were her 
diamonds, worth sixteen hundred dollars. 
I wanted a thousand on them for a month. 
He sent them over to a jeweler in the next 
block. The jeweler reported that they 
were worth a little more than sixteen hun 
dred dollars. Sylvester gave me the thou 
sand dollars ; but he charged me a hundred 
and fifty dollars interest for a month s 
loan! 

That afternoon we played for another 
jeweler who did a little pawnbroking on 
the side. He retired to his private office, 



176 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

came back after five minutes or so, and 
handed them back to us, saying that he 
didn t want to make so large a loan in 
a dry year. 

That jeweler happened to be the only 
man on the Pacific Coast who ever heard 
about our game. While he was in his 
office he had put a glass on the diamonds 
and detected the specks. The trouble was 
that he was too blamed generous. He 
wrote a note to his competitor across the 
street, warning him of our game. His 
competitor remembered the diamonds 
which he had experted for Sylvester the 
day before. He beat it for the bank, 
tested our diamonds with alcohol and the 
glass, and broke the horrid news to the 
sucker. 

The next morning the chief of police 
stepped up to me. 

"I want to see you," said he. 

"All right," said I, though forty shivers 
were running through my sides. 

I knew, of course, that we had been 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 177 

caught. The thief took me straight to 
Sylvester. I thought Mr. Sucker would 
eat me up when I entered his office. But 
he got a grip on himself and dropped his 
voice to the low tone which people 
use when they are talking the real busi 
ness. 

"I want back the thousand dollars which 
I gave you yesterday on some fake dia 
monds," said he. I simply laughed at 
him. 

"What for?" said I. "You aren t back 
ing out, are you?" 

"You are an impudent rascal," said he. 
"Those diamonds are not worth a thou 
sand dollars." 

"Well, you had the opinion of the best 
jeweler in town that they were worth 
sixteen hundred," said I. 

"He s changed his opinion, and you 
know it," said he. "Those are painted, 
yellow diamonds and worth no more than 
six hundred dollars." 

"Well, suppose they aren t," said I, 



178 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

"didn t you take that risk when you got 
them experted?" 

"I ll have no more of your impudence," 
said he. "You give me back that thou 
sand dollars and take your diamonds, or 
you go to jail." 

"I can t," said I; "I have made other 
use of the money." That was true. Baum 
and I had found a faro game the night 
before. 

All this time I was keeping my face 
straight and steady, and thinking like a 
dynamo inside. And as soon as I saw 
that he was more eager to get his money 
back than to put me in jail, I formed my 
plan. 

"Will you give back that money or go 
to j ail ?" he said. I answered : 

"Oh, you won t put me in jail." 

"I will, in two minutes, unless you give 
up that money !" 

"Now see here," said I, "we re both 
business men together. Let s have a little 
talk. It will do you no manner of good 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 179 

to put me in jail. My first visitors will be 
the reporters, and I always make it a 
point to favor the gentlemen of the press. 
It will look great, simply fine, in the 
papers. The president of the savings-bank 
is loaning his depositors money on fake 
diamonds. The president of the savings- 
bank is charging a hundred and fifty dol 
lars interest on the loan of a thousand for 
a month. I ve got the loan slip to prove 
it. I won t be the star feature of the valu 
able reading articles in their publica 
tions," I said. "The star feature will be 
you. 3 

I thought he d explode. He yelled: 

"Chief, take that man to jail!" And 
I swept out. 

The chief was a good fellow. He said, 
as we got a car : 

"If you did him, I m glad of it, for he s 
robbed more widows and orphans than 
any other man in town." 

"I guess that s about the straight of it," 
said I. 



180 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

"Yes, you ve got my sympathy say, 
who are you, anyway, and where do you 
come from?" said he. 

"Many thanks for your sympathy," 
said I ; "but I don t want to pay for it too 
heavy. Call me Clarence Smith, of Du- 
luth." 

"I guess he s got you," said the chief. 

"Oh, no," said I. "You will never see 
me through the bars this trip. There will 
be a telephone message waiting for you at 
the station." The chief only laughed at 
me. 

CUTTING IT OUT FOR KEEPS 

At the station the desk-sergeant asked: 
"What is the prisoner s name?" 
"Clarence Smith," said the chief. The 
sergeant entered my name and looked up 
like a man who remembers something sud 
denly, and said: 

"Oh, Chief, I forgot. There s a tele 
phone message in the office for you. Mr. 



WHY I CUT IT OUT 181 

Sylvester, of the savings-bank, wants you 
to be sure to call him up, right away!" 

Five minutes later Baum and I were 
taking a drink at the hotel. 

As I got older I got to looking about 
me, and to remembering the finish of the 
grafters I had known. One or two had 
pulled out into business and done well. 

But there was Soapy Smith, dead on 
the wharf at Skaguay, and there was Old 
Man Stallings in the penitentiary, and 
there was Slippery Sills coming off a 
brake-beam to touch me for a five. The 
rest had died drunks and hoboes, opium 
fiends, or convicts, or just cheap bums. 
And about that time I saw an open 
ing into a legitimate business. I had left 
the road for a few days to attend to a 
small private transaction for a relative. 
Something that happened brought on an 
attack of sourball. Such things are rare 
with me; I have a pretty happy-go-lucky 
nature. I lay awake all one night in a 
little Iowa hotel, looking facts square in 



182 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN 

the face. Next morning, as soon as the 
office opened, I wired Louis: 

"Get another spieler. Am cutting it 
out." 

I took a train home to my family, and I 
have never grafted since. You may not 
believe me, but, whether this business 
turns out a fortune or a fizzle, I am never 
going to graft again. 

But seeing as I m trying to tell you the 
whole truth I ve got to put in one thing 
more. Sometimes I see a stranger who 
looks like easy money. Sometimes a fel 
low, with good-thing printed all over him, 
struts into my hotel. Then the old feeling 
rises up under my vest and makes me 
itch to get at him. Perhaps I can make 
it clear to you in this way : You like hunt 
ing? You know your sensation when a 
buck steps out of cover and you lift your 
gun to cover him? Well, it s like that, 
only a hundred times stronger. 

There s no hunting in the world like 
hunting men. 



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THE CITY THAT WAS 

A Requiem of Old San Francisco 

by 
WILL IRWIN 

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Board covers, net 50 cents, postage 4 cents 

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At all booksellers or of 
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" She is a lovable creature, as fine a portraiture as any 
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A PRINCESS AND ANOTHER 

by 

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