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William "Canada Bill" Jones
18?? - 1880

 

Canada Bill JonesCanada Bill Jones was one of the greatest cardsharps in the history of gambling and is also the source of some of poker's most commonly repeated quotes.

William "Canada Bill" Jones was born in a gypsy tent, in Yorkshire, England, in the early 1800s. He later moved to Canada where he learned the popular gambling scam, three-card-monte, from veteran player Dick Cady. Canada Bill eventually became an expert at the swindle and became known as "the greatest monte sharp to ever toss the broads."

Canada Bill found that far more opportunities existed to the south and ventured to the southern US rivers for gambling action on the riverboats. When the action on the riverboats dried up, he hit the railroads, and when that scam dried up, he moved on to the racetracks.

Essential to his success was his remarkable ability to play the fool. In fact he was perhaps one of the earliest known players to play the part of the sucker to a tee, while he cleaned out the bankrolls of his unsuspecting marks. Fellow con man and friend George Devol had this to say about Canada Bill, in his book, Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi:

"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."

Canada Bill once wrote to 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. He promised to limit his victims to commercial travelers from Chicago and Methodist preachers. The railroad official politely declined the offer.

One of Canada Bill's best known gambling quotes comes from a famous gambling story about a time he spent a night in Baton Rouge. He searched all over town for some gambling action until he eventually found a Faro game, in the back of a barber shop. George Devol found him there, warned him that the dealer was cheating using a rigged Faro box, and begged Bill to leave with him. Devol asked Bill, "Can't you see this game is crooked?" Canada Bill responded, "Sure, I know it. But it's the only game in town."

One of Canada Bill's most famous quotes is: "It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money." The line was immortalized in the popular movie Rounders, and has become the motto of many gamblers, poker players, hustlers and card cheats.

Canada Bill made so much money by swindling people on three-card-monte, poker, and other games, that he could have retired many times over. But ironically, he turned out to be a bit of a sucker himself, and fell victim to scams of other crooks, con men, and cheats who ran the Faro games (the most popular gambling game of the Old West, that was almost never operated on the square). Despite his lifelong winnings, Canada Bill lost it all to other swindlers and died broke, in 1880, in Reading, Pennsylvania. One of the gamblers who stood by as they lowered Canada Bill into the ground offered to bet $1000 at 2 to 1 odds that Bill wasn't in the casket. There were no takers, but one gambler within earshot said, "I've seen Bill get out of tighter holes than that before." When the western gambling fraternity learned of his death, a group of gamblers from Chicago raised money to recompense the city of Reading for the funeral expenses, and had a gravestone erected for Canada Bill.


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