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Examiner
  • Ted Stillwell: The gambling houses of old KC

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  • Faro is a gambling game, the success at which depends purely on luck, for the gambler bets against the house on the color, the suit, or the number of a card drawn from the deck. It flourished wildly in the 1870s and was so popular among the restless cattlemen west of the Mississippi that it became known as “King Faro,” and Kansas City was the capital of King Faro’s domain. For it was here in a six block section of what they called “Old Town” that there were more gambling houses than in any other town in America.
    On Main Street from Second to Missouri Avenue, there were lines of adjoining swinging doors that almost touched each other and through them strolled some of the most notorious men in the Old West: Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, The Younger Boys, Frank and Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Charlie Bassett, Buffalo Bill Cody, and thousands of cowboys, professional gamblers, and respected gentlemen, who called Kansas City the merriest little town on the Prairies. It was these men, with their proud tempers and fast gun hands, who gave Main Street the name “Battle Row.”
    Bob Potee came to be known as the most trusted and respected card dealer in the West. Bob Potee ran Faro Number Three, a gambling hall on Missouri Avenue just off Main. No one, not even Wild Bill Hickok, questioned his card-handling, for Bob Potee was an infallible machine and his honesty was above reproach.
    The “Prince of the Dealers,” as he was known, was decked out in a long-tailed black coat and a tall silk hat, and, was hardly ever without his gold-headed cane.
    In that environment, trouble was almost a daily occurrence for much of Battle Row, but Faro Number Three had hardly ever seen any serious trouble. But, there was one occurrence that the old gamblers and range riders liked to rehash and retell over and over on the riverboats and along the western trails.
    One night a stranger no one had ever seen before walked in and sat at Bob Potee’s table. He’d been drinking, losing steadily, and soon became very restless. But, in a gambler’s true form, he bet on each card confidentially and without hesitation. He was soon out of his handy cash and everything hung on that final hand. Only the sound of clicking chips and the shuffling of cards could be heard as everyone held their breath. Methodically, Potee’s fingers flicked the pasteboard across the green cloth.
    “This deuce didn’t come outa’ that deck,” the stranger shouted.
    With a friendly half grin, Potee said, “Perhaps you’re mistaken, Sir. Cheating is a practice far removed from my name. Neither gentlemen nor hog thieves speak of it in my presence.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The stranger was instantly on his feet and with a fast draw he had a Navy Colt .45 pointed directly at Potee’s forehead. There were two fast shots, one of which blew out the light above the table and the place went dark. Everyone scrambled through the swinging doors amid the shots and shouting.
    Shortly, they drifted back in with a light and there sat Bob Potee quietly with his hands on the table and the stranger lay dead on the other side.
    Bob Potee knew, however, that gambling and Kansas City’s growing high society could never co-exist for long; one had to ruin the other. So, he was not too surprised when the Johnson Anti-Gambling Act of 1881 was enacted. It caused the end of the gambler’s aristocracy and Potee sat quietly watching the north end become a ghost town. He got up from his empty table, put on his silk hat and with dignity, marched into the river – never to be seen again.
    Ref: Proud Heritage by Robert S. Townsend
    Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell send e-mail to teddy.stillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909

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