By Bob Harner
“The Tiger is Dying!” was a headline in Prescott’s Weekly Arizona Journal-Miner, April 3, 1907. The tiger in question was the illustration on the backs of faro cards and its demise was caused by the new Arizona anti-gambling law.
Prescott was a stop on the circuit for professional gamblers (called sporting men or sports). Some became well-known (most notably Doc Holliday, who gambled here before Tombstone), but others became historical footnotes, like ill-tempered John Wilcoxon (alias Jim Moon) who enjoyed a three-month hot streak in Prescott in the 1870’s. Prescott newspaper coverage was often ambivalent about sporting men and their presence in Whiskey Row saloons.
This was evident in local newspaper advertising. Saloons promoted their “Unexcelled Wines, Liquors and Cigars” (The Club House), their “Fine Billiard and Pool Tables” (Sazerac Saloon) and their “First-Class Music” (Palace Saloon) but never mentioned gambling. A rare exception was the short-lived Central Saloon which advertised “All sorts of games for pleasure.”
News coverage was mixed. A July 9, 1870, Weekly Arizona Miner article describes the shooting of sport Sion Bradley by Hiram Lightner over a faro game, noting Bradley was “an honorable, upright sport” but adding “His fate should be a warning to other men who are following the same course of life – gambling and drinking – for sooner or later, it will lead them into trouble.” The Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner often reported on the comings and goings of prominent locals and included professional gamblers among them. On May 5, 1886, it reported “Tom Urquhart, a popular Prescott sport, left this morning on a short visit to relatives in the east…” and on May 19 noted “J.H. Carroll, one of the best known sporting men in California, is visiting friends . . . in Prescott and may conclude to file on a permanent location here.”
By 1907 reports on sporting men tended more toward the negative. A front-page story in the January 2 Weekly Arizona Journal-Miner gave a detailed account of the fatal shooting of Louis Andre by professional gambler Earl Sparks after a card game dispute, noting that Sparks left the Wellington saloon to retrieve a pistol before returning to shoot Andre.
Gambling aside, Arizona saloons were under attack in 1907 as the temperance movement gained support. In addition to the bill outlawing gambling, the Territorial Legislature raised the liquor license fee to $500 per year (equivalent to more than $14,000 today), passed a bill prohibiting women from working in or even visiting saloons and proposed a liquor regulation amendment allowing local districts to enact prohibition by a majority vote.
Some newspaper readers may have been surprised to read an editorial rhapsodizing about sporting men on the eve of the gambling ban. “The Tiger is Dying!” describes them as “good citizens who made their living in Prescott; who spent their money with Prescott merchants; who took a pride in the upbuilding of the ‘city a mile high;’ and what more does any public spirited citizen?” Noting that these “…honest gamblers… will be sincerely missed by many who knew them best…”, the writer surmises their home life “was just as irreproachable as, perchance, that of the deacon in the church…” and that they “on the whole, lived good clean lives…”
Supporting this editorial view, an article published the day after the law went into effect noted: “Many citizens, and numbers of the gentler sex, lured by the knowledge that this was their last opportunity to witness ‘wide open’ gambling, paid the more pretentious places visits during the evening. At the Palace…at least 300 people were in attendance when the games closed.” Observing that players stood three and four deep around the games, the article concluded that “appropriate ceremonies were…observed in mourning for the dead ‘Tiger.’”
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