The Unreliable Memoirs of a Mississippi Gambler
Considering the sheer number of paddle steamer casinos that plied their trade up and down the Mississippi in the 19th century—to the delight of gamblers—it’s surprising there have not been more books devoted to the subject.
Yes, there are plenty of books about the boats themselves but very few that concentrate on the gambling that went on aboard. Fortunately, we do have one, and it’s been dubbed “the best gambling book ever published in America.” It’s called Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi and its author is a man named George H. Devol. But, as we shall see, much of what he says should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Born in Marietta, Ohio, Devol was a tearaway, constantly getting into scrapes. His father was a carpenter and was frequently away, so Devol was headstrong and hard to discipline. So much so that he ran away from home—or so he claims.
He soon found work as a cabin boy on a paddle steamer called Wacousta, quickly moving on to a better job with more pay on another boat. When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, Devol saw an opportunity for the adventure of a lifetime and secured a job as a bartender on the boat Corvette, which was headed for the Rio Grande.
Of the many characters that Devol met on his adventures, the one who most helped to shape his future was a card player that taught him the rudiments of games like faro and other popular 19th-century gambling games. With his enterprising spirit and skill at cards, he was off, winning huge amounts from unsuspecting opponents he met on the boats.
The book is packed with fascinating anecdotes, some of which tend to stretch credulity to the limit. One of the most notable examples involves an encounter with Wild Bill Hickock in which he believed he was the victim of a scam. According to Devol, it concluded with Hickock flipping the card table and heading off into the night with all the other players’ winnings as well as his own.
Of course, the world of Devol is made all the more fascinating because it differs so much from modern-day gambling. There’s no longer the need to board a paddle steamer. One simply has to go online and look for the best deals and bonuses available to new players. For a full list of the best NJ online casino promo codes go to Bonusfinder. We can probably also assume that were he alive today, Devol would appreciate the bonuses themselves, not to mention the in-depth reviews to help to choose the best possible casino.
Devol also claimed he upheld a moral playstyle, often engaging ministers in gambling games but never taking his winnings. Instead, he left them with the advice that perhaps cards weren’t their forte.
After an exciting life, Devol left the steamers in 1892 to write his life story. Following this, he enjoyed another 11 years of increasing fame until his death in 1903.
The book is still very much in print and is a fascinating account of a world that, for better or worse, is now gone forever.