"We showed a few poor trape/e and bareback turns
OF A CON MAN
AS TOLD TO
WILL I R W IN
B. W. H U E B S C H
Copyright, 1909, by
The Curtis Publishing Company
Copyright, 1909, by
B. W. Huebach
Printed in U. S. A.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
We showed a few poor trapeze and bareback
turns ..... Frontispiece
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
CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN
I LEARN TO CHEAT WITH MARKED
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
WHY TWENTY-THREE MEANS DOWN AND
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
110 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN
I (to Mr. Sucker): Well, this
looks too good to be true, but I ll
I draw from the envelope. Out comes
number 18. Harris looks into the show
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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
Louis : How many cattle have you
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
Louis: And how much land?
I: Oh, I reckon about twenty-five
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
ISO THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN
Louis : Were you born and raised
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
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
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,
I: Course I am.
Louis (winking at the sucker) :
You say this fellow gave some of the
cards to you have you them with
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
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 137
We play, and Louis picks up the wrong
card. I laugh immoderately ; I turn away
toward the aisle in order to vent my
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
Louis : Well, when I said bet I was
138 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN
joking. I don t want to bet. I never
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
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
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
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
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
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
He turns over the card that is marked
with an ear, and instead of the ace he has
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
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
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
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
"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
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-
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
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
"Fine business," said I. I pulled out
some regular order blanks and made the
entry. That established me completely
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
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
"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
"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!"
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
160 THE CONFESSIONS OF A CON MAN
assayer for the gold-brick game with old
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
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
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
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-
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
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
"The deuce you say," said I. "When?"
"Yesterday," said the Jap.
WHY I CUT IT OUT 171
"How many?" said I. He counted on
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"I want back the thousand dollars which
I gave you yesterday on some fake dia
monds," said he. I simply laughed at
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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,"
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-
"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
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
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
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THE CITY THAT WAS
A Requiem of Old San Francisco
This tribute to the San Francisco that
passed away with the disaster of April, 1906,
has become classic. Originally it was printed
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spired by the thought of intimate ties which
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Board covers, net 50 cents, postage 4 cents
Limp leather, in box, autographed by Mr. Irwin ;
net $2.00, postage 8 cents
At all booksellers or of
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" She is a lovable creature, as fine a portraiture as any
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says the Rochester Post-Express of Denise in
A PRINCESS AND ANOTHER
LIEUT. STEPHEN JENKINS
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f< It should probably be classified as a historical romance,
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A story remarkable for its reminiscent value, for its con
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"Stephen Jenkins has proved in <A Princess and
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Price $1.50 postpaid
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