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No. 6 Alexandr Lakier, 1857/Steamboat gambling.

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Old 05-31-2006, 10:51 AM
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,584
Default No. 6 Alexandr Lakier, 1857/Steamboat gambling.

Steamboating colleagues:
Russian traveler/writer Alexandr Lakier boarded an unnamed steamboat for New Orleans upon leaving Iron Mountain. He learned the custom of hailing a steamboat with a handkerchief. Comments =[*]
* * * * * * * *
"The dimensions of the steamboat that fate had thrown me onto yielded nothing to those which generally sailed the Mississippi, but it was dirtier than others I had seen. Perhaps the reason for this was the number of diverse and varied people that I found on board, along with a most bitter and heated card game. Except for the ladies, everyone took part, some with their gestures, some with their eyes, and some by placing bets on one side or the other. The tables were piled with gold, and in a free moment the Negroes came to admire the game their white masters were plahying. The captain told me there are people who do nothing but play cards. They board the steamboat only for short distances. No steamboat in this area would forbid hard liquor and games aboard, or the observance of Sunday with prayers and reading of Scripture. [*Lakier was obviously on the wrong boat as such customs were common on other vessels. He was Russian Orthodox and a member of the nobility.] Every steamboat has its own barroom, and drinking-bouts almost always take place alongside the gambling. That I was not happy in such motley company goes without saying. Besides, I had to share a cabin with someone I never even saw: by day he slept, all evening and night he played cards, and his coming to bed was a signal that it was time for me to get up.

In the mornings the scene in the salon [*Main cabin] was awful. The deck was covered with torn, bent, and folded cards and tobacco ashes; the place was dirty and stuffy. Tired Negroes [*Cabin staff], with brushes in hand were patiently waiting or on the couches fast asleep. Other players had fallen asleep in the very spots where since evening they had been playing euchre or poker. Two games far simpler than our [*Russian] games of simpletons. The only escape from this intolerable atmosphere was to the gallery [*Outside decks]. Views of the Mississippi were unchanging with low shore, floating snags and drift like islands. Here one breathed the fresh air in which the first hints of frost could already be felt."
* * * * * *
We can only wonder if the steamboat bar was owned by the company, the captain or contracted out similar to a franchise. This franchising of bars and even barber shops on steamboats back then is a rich area for research. Bar keepers--some black or white--made handsome livings and retired quite wealthy men if they operated with a strong hand. It kept the problems of liquor out of the hands of the officers and crew [*Skimming the till and the liquor itself] with a guaranteed income to the owners.

Next: Lakier's views on American democracy and life on board headed south.

R. Dale Flick
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