The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 72, July 1968 - April, 1969

Lady Luck and Her Knights of the
Royal Flush
PHILIP D. JORDAN*
O F ALL THE ENTICING FEMALES WHO BEGUILED MEN THE LENGTH
and breadth of the rambunctious frontier, none was courted
more assiduously than fickle Lady Luck. The patron saint of card
sharps, dice tossers, and gamblers, amateur and professional, she also
symbolized the chancy chore of putting together a new nation. Lady
Luck represented the odds of the pioneer experience, the wager a
man made with himself that he could succeed, the double-or-nothing
bet that Manifest Destiny was a winning hand. She provided an escape
-a catharsis-from the burden of the plow, the rigors of the trail, the
loneliness of mountain men, cowboys, miners, and prairie travelers.
The slap of cards on the table was solace even though the church
damned gambling as sinful and the law thought of it as a misde-
meanor. Yet neither moral persuasion nor statute nor ordinance,
throughout the nineteenth century, succeeded in destroying Lady
Luck's empire where her henchmen cut and dealt a deck or rolled the
dice in taverns along the National Road, on steamboats plying western
waters, or in saloons, or gambling parlors of scores of communities all
the long way from the Missouri River, through the Southwest in
New Mexico and Texas, and on to the Pacific slope.
Opposition to gaming had been carried from England to the col-
onies in America. A series of acts in the mother country and the
comments of Blackstone, upon whom so many colonial lawyers leaned,
provided plenty of precedent for legislation in America. Blackstone
wrote that gaming "is an offense of the most alarming nature, tending
by necessary consequence to promote public idleness, theft, and de-
bauchery among those of the lower class." Among persons of a su-
*Mr. Jordan is professor of history at the University of Minnesota. The author wishes
to acknowledge a research and travel grant from the Graduate School of the University
of Minnesota for this study; the assistance of Mr. Bruno Greene of the Law School
Library; the accommodation of his chairman; and the exchange of ideas with his grad-
uate students.
'In addition to references cited below, the following titles are useful: Donald R. Taft,
Criminology: A Cultural Interpretation (rev. ed.; New York, 1950); Edwin H. Sutherland
and Donald R. Cressey, Principles of Criminology (Philadelphia, 1966); M. P. Golding
(ed.), The Nature of Law (New York, 1966); Alexander Gardiner, Canfield: The True
Story of the Greatest Gambler (Garden City, N. Y., 1930); David D. Allen, The Nature
of Gambling (New York, 1953)

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 72, July 1968 - April, 1969. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117146/. Accessed May 28, 2015.