Soiled Doves and Honky Tonks

February 7th, 2017
Back Soiled Doves and Honky Tonks

It never ceases to amaze me that so much money can change hands in a casino without someone pulling a six-gun and trying to even the score.

The credit, of course, has to go to improved casino security. Gamblers are more civilized today than they were in the 1800s when the Wild West was more lawless than a Third World Country and when you risked your bankroll as well as your life when you entered a gambling establishment.

Let's return for a moment to those early days of yesteryear. Or as the Lone Ranger series would start, 'Out of the past comes the thundering hoofbeats of the great Horse Silver.'

During the 1800s, a bar out West might just be a plank laid across two whiskey barrels. A house of prostitution could be a tent behind the bar containing a single cot used by a painted strumpet.

The gambling establishment might be a rickety table, chairs and a well-used deck of cards. While gambling was considered an accepted profession like law, the clergy or medicine, some of the gamblers were anything but honest and they occasionally ended up dead when they cheated the wrong person.


People who moved into the lawless West were natural gamblers at heart. They fit in well with the rugged Southwest where you didn't know a stranger's last name and nearly everyone carried a gun, either visible or concealed.

The 1849 gold rush in California really brought the gamblers on the run. Boomtowns sprung up, along with soiled doves, gunslingers, scoundrels and thieves.

Places like Deadwood, S.D., Leadville, CO., North Platte, NE., Cheyenne, WY. and Tombstone, AZ. started out as tent cities. But when gold was discovered, the towns entered a boom stage and almost overnight elegant hotels with gambling casinos sprung up.

Some of the legendary professional gamblers included Charles Cora, a high stakes faro player; J.J. Bryant; Diamond Jim Brady; and Charles Starr who was a standout because of the way he dressed. He wore an expensive black suit, shined leather boots, a fancy vest, a gold watch, diamond stickpins and a heavy gold chain to show his prosperity.

Starr lived high until he ran into trouble and shot a U.S. Marshall to death on a street in San Francisco. A group of vigilantes tried him, found him guilty, and hung him from the roof of their headquarters building.

Favorite games included faro, dice, a version of 21, poker and an assortment of sleight-of-hand games that were generally fraudulent.

When gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in California, gambling riverboats and casinos sprung up all the way north to San Francisco. Robert A. Parker built a hotel and casino he called the Parker House. It contained three faro tables, two monte tables, a roulette table and another table open for any game the customers wanted to play.

Down the street were two other elaborate gambling houses, the Exchange and the El Dorado. And spread throughout the city by the bay were plenty of other gambling joints and honky tonks where soiled doves and gamblers plied their trade.


The drinking, gambling and wenching took a toll on the customers. There were many killings, some of them justified, some not. As for law enforcement, some of the people wearing badges were as bad or worse than the people they arrested.

James Butler 'Wild Bill' Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson weren't really lawmen. They were gambling gunslingers who wore a badge. They spent far more hours gambling than they did pursuing outlaws.

Some of the gamblers from that era rose in politics. William Dewitt Clinton Gibson from Gold Hill, NV. was elected to the Nevada Senate.

Today the wild, wild West has settled down somewhat. Oh, I still know of a couple of card rooms that are capable of scamming the players. They usually exist in out-of-the-way places where the chicanery goes on after midnight when soiled doves in scanty outfits, wearing garters and lace silk stockings caress a stranger's neck while serving him a drink.

Soiled doves and honky tonks. Waitress, bring me a drink and let the games begin.

“you risked your bankroll as well as your life”

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