"Canada Bill" Jones
William "Canada Bill" Jones (18??-1880) - One of the greatest card sharps in history, “Canada Bill” Jones was actually born in Yorkshire, England in the early 1800s. At some point, he immigrated to Canada, where he first learned three-card monte from a veteran layer named Dick Cady. The con game occurs when the “dealer” shows three cards to the player then throws the cards face down on the table, rearranges them and then asks the “mark” to find one of the cards he showed him. Many times, the dealer is “working” with an accomplice who appears to be a bystander, who tries to ensure that the player chooses the wrong card.
Jones soon took his game “on the road” playing primarily on the Mississippi River. One of his greatest “assets” in making a profit was his ability to play the “fool.” With a squeaky voice and appearing as a klutz and a simpleton, Jones easily his “marks” that he was harmless.
Of Canada Bill, fellow gambler George Devol said of him:
"Canada Bill was a character one might travel the length and breadth of the land and never see his match, or run across his equal. Imagine a medium-sized, chicken-headed, tow-haired sort of a man with mild blue eyes, and a mouth nearly from ear to ear, who walked with a shuffling, half-apologetic sort of a gait, and who, when his countenance was in repose, resembled an idiot. For hours he would sit in his chair, twisting his hair in little ringlets. His clothes were always several sizes too large, and his face was as smooth as a woman's and never had a particle of hair on it. Canada was a slick one. He had a squeaking, boyish voice, and awkward, gawky manners, and a way of asking fool questions and putting on a good natured sort of a grin, that led everybody to believe that he was the rankest kind of a sucker-the greenest sort of a country jake. Woe to the man who picked him up, though."
When the action on the riverboats dried up, Jones began to work the railroads. At one point, Jones even wrote the general superintendent of the Union Pacific Railroad, offering $25,000 a year for the exclusive rights to run a three-card monte game on the trains. The railroad official politely declined the offer.
window.google_render_ad(); For decades, Jones made money swindling people, not only in three-card monte, but also as a card sharp at poker and other games. However, he too, was a gambler, who loved the game of Faro, generally re-circulating his profits rather than holding on to them. When he died in 1880 in Reading, Pennsylvania, he was penniless and was buried at public expense. However, when many of his fellow gamblers heard of his death, a group from Chicago raised some money, repaid the City of Reading and erected a marker for “Canada Bill.”
James "Umbrella Jim" Miner - One of best known shell game men on the Mississippi, James Miner was called "Umbrella Jim" for his habit of beginning his con game under an umbrella, whether indoors or outside, in rain or shine. He also utilized a little gimmick of introducing his game with a song, earning him the additional moniker of the "Poet Gambler." The shell game, also known as Thimblerig, Three Shells, and Pea, is portrayed as a gambling game, but it is really nothing more than a fraudulent slight of hand trick.
The game uses three shells, which were often thimbles or walnut shells, and a small round ball about the size of a pea. Played on a flat service, the swindler places the pea under one of the shells, then quickly shuffles the shells around. Afterwards, he "bets" with his audience to see if anyone can "guess" the correct location of the pea, and if they win, they double their money.
In the meantime, the swindler, using a skillful slight of hand has moved the pea, and the gambler rarely if ever wins, unless, of course, the swinder, chooses for him or her to win. This famous swindle, is referred to, in bunko slang, as a short-con, because it is quick and easy to pull off.
Umbrella Jim always began his con game with this little diddy:
A little fun, just now and then,
Is relished by the best of men.
If you have nerve, you may have plenty;
Five draws you ten, and ten draws twenty.
Attention given, I'll show to you,
How 'Umbrella' hides the peek-a-boo.
Select your shell, the one you choose;
If right, you win; if not, you lose;
The game itself is lots of fun,
Jim's chances, though, are two to one;
And I tell you your chance is slim
To win a prize from Umbrella Jim.