March 12, 2012

Two Bunco victims in Colfax, Colorado 1894

Bunco steerer #2 signals the victims poker hand player #1 to bunco steerer #3

In 1894 Denver, Colorado was witnessing one of it's toughest anti-gambling reform periods. The Populist Governor Davis Waite had succeeded in banning gambling from the capitol city.
Rules under the old board required saloons and gaming halls to close at midnight and on Sundays. The week the new board took office, it told proprietors to prepare within a few days to close their doors. The following Monday gambling establishments were ordered permanently closed by noon the next day, Tuesday, April 24, 1894. ―Alias Soapy Smith, p. 323

During past attempts of gambling reform the gaming house operators merely opened behind closed doors or opened smaller secreted rooms to continue their trade, but the new city powers were forced to crack down heavy and hard on those who disobeyed the ordinance. Many proprietors simply closed their doors while some of the larger operators made deals with the town of Colfax to open their businesses there. The corrupt politicians, mainly in the Republican party, needed their money and voting influence so within days of the "permanent" end of gambling within Denver city limits, the word was given that judges would be lenient with those who broke the ordinance and Denver became flooded with underground gambling houses. Soapy Smith, Ed Chase, and the larger firms who had opened in Colfax split their business between the neighboring communities. Denver police concentrated on the bunco men to appease the governor which forced the criminals to Colfax. Gambling in much more condensed Colfax was localized to one general area. This was good in one respect as the victims of Soapy's bunco men were funneled into their set traps. The Soap Gang was literally overrun with prey for a time. Oh happy day for the steerers. Below is a newspaper story of two victims of the bunco men in Colfax that did not make it into my book. Although Soapy or the real names of any of the Soap Gang are mentioned, in all likelihood they were Soapy's men.

B. R. Reeves, a Young Man Here from Iowa with His Wife, Falls Into the Colfax Net and is Robbed of $1,000―D. Saunders Fleeced.

Sixteen hundred dollars in cold cash passed from the hands of B. R. Reeves into the pockets of the bunco men yesterday morning. In fact, the bunco men are finding it difficult to handle the “suckers” who fall into their hands on account of their increasing numbers. Reeves, who, at the station, gave the name of James Cherry, arrived in Denver a few days ago from his home in central Iowa. He is a young man and has the appearance of one who knows the ways of the world to a certain extent. The loss of his money has, perhaps, ruined his prospects, for the $1,600 he carried in his pockets was about all he had in the world. He is about 28 years old, of medium height, and wears a light hat and a light suit of clothes.

Reeves came here a few days ago with his young and pretty wife. They engaged rooms in a down-town hotel and Reeves ventured forth to find an investment for his money which, he unfortunately carried about him in the shape of large bills. He had heard that the mines in the Cripple Creek district were producing famously, and so visited several brokers with a view to buying a claim and settling down to hard and earnest work. Yesterday morning he took a walk on Larimer street, the bunco steerer’s rialto. A bunco man suddenly emerged from a saloon, walked up to Reeves, introduced himself as an old friend, and in a few minutes an active conversation was on between the two. Reeves, who had few friends in the city, was glad to talk to someone, and the sharper proved an agreeable talker. Reeves casually mentioned his business in Denver, and this gave the steerer a clew [sic] of which he at once took advantage. The steerer said he was a mine owner and offered to show the stranger specimens, etc., and to direct his dealings. Reeves was overjoyed, and agreed to accompany his benefactor to his home to see the specimens and talk over the mining industry, and the chances that were to be taken advantage of. In the course of half an hour Reeves was seated at a poker table in a Colfax club piling up his chips like an old hand at the game. At first he won, then he lost about $100. In trying to win back the $100 he lost the $1,500 and the game was over. He objected to this state of affairs and was given $75 to leave the town. He foolishly accepted the money, but later complained to Chief Behymer. The chief detective was engaged in discussing the political situation when Reeves called, and paid little attention to his tale. Reeves left the office, promising to return at 2 o’clock. He failed to appear at this hour and in the sleuthing department of the city hall, there is very little known of the case. Reeves was advised by the detectives to tell his story to Marshal France of Colfax. Last evening at 6:30 o’clock Reeves swore out four John Doe warrants in Woodson’s court for the arrest of the steerers. Late last night no arrests had been made.

D. Saunders, a ranchman was the second victim of the day, and his contribution to the support of the sharpers was $130. Saunders appearance marked him as a fish easily caught. He is short and stout, gray haired and has a back-woods gait which in connection with a homespun suit made him a marked man. He stopped at the Revere house at 1441 Blake street. He met “W. H. Allison” and “T. F. Fairlee,” who induced him to go into their rooms in a Sixteenth street block, for the purpose of making a deal for some cows. To while away the time a deck of cards played a prominent part, and Saunders little pile soon disappeared. City detectives were detailed on the case.

Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 1, 1894

January 2, 2009

Denver Reform: page 323.
Behymer, Henry M.: pages 317-19, 341, 350-51.
France, Marshal of Colfax: page 342.

1898: Soapy posts his infamous law and order committee of 317, “answer to warning” handbills in Skagway in response to those posted by the Committee of 101. 


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