by Mike Cox
was a Galveston institution early on."
at the Tremont House, the only hotel in Galveston,
Francis Sheridan of His Majesty’s diplomatic corps scratched an entry into his
“The appearance of Galveston from the Harbour is singularly dreary,”
he wrote. “It is a low flat sandy Island about 30 miles in length & ranging in
breadth from 1 to 2. There is hardly a shrub visible, & in short it looks like
a piece of prairie that had quarreled with the main land & dissolved partnership.”
year was 1839. Sheridan had been dispatched to the Republic of Texas to report
to the British government on conditions in the fledgling nation, which had petitioned
London for recognition.
Galveston, despite Sheridan’s view that it was
“singularly dreary,” already had 3,000 residents and ranked as the largest city
in Texas. A city of frame structures, of which a few had foundations of brick
imported by ship from Boston, Galveston was the gateway to a vast land populated
by a relatively small number of people with big aspirations.
new arrivals to Galveston had to get back on a boat to reach the mainland. Eventually,
rail lines and a causeway connected the city to the rest of Texas.
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/
| No matter
the infrastructure that tied the island to the mainland, the residents of the
city believed the bay separated them from the rest of Texas in other ways. Certain
laws, particularly those dealing with gambling and prostitution, were not taken
seriously in Galveston for a long time. Not until the 1950s, when Texas Rangers
and the state Attorney General’s office succeeded in shutting down gambling for
good, did the city turn over a new leaf.
Until then, many a sucker left
the island with considerably less cash and coin than he had when he arrived.
One of the earlier histories of Texas, J.M. Morphis’ “History of Texas From its
Discovery and Settlement,” published in 1875, shows gambling was a Galveston institution
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/
tells of a New Englander, newly arrived in Galveston,
who had much to learn about Texas, including the fundamentals of a popular game
Two newly made “friends” of the Yankee newcomer, including
a gentleman who later ran for mayor, insisted on a friendly game of draw poker.
The New Englander readily agreed, but before playing, having never heard of the
game, he naturally asked to be briefed on the rules.
The two Galvestonians
energetically outlined the basics of the game: The higher cards beat the lower
cards, they explained, a paring of higher cards beating pairs of lower cards,
and so on.
The fresh-off-the-boat poker novice immediately started raking
in winnings, thoroughly enjoying his introduction to the sporting life of Galveston
while crowing about his phenomenal beginner’s luck.
After the draw on
his next hand, the New Englander observed he had four aces and bet them “right
One of the Galveston men had also taken cards. He ended up
with four treys and seemed pretty confident when he called the newbie’s bet and
threw in a raise.
The pot right, the Galveston man laid down his cards.
“Well, I guess I’ve got you this time!” he said. “I have four treys.”
Yankee threw down his cards in disgust. Four aces.
“Confound the luck,”
he spat, “when I have ones or twos, somebody else has threes or fours!”
The Galveston man nodded in sympathetic understanding as he raked the money off
the table. The other island resident sat quietly waiting for the next deal.