Entertaining Women Honored as Spur Award Finalist

Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West by best selling author Chris Enss is among more than two dozen books recognized by Western Writers of America as a finalist for the 2017 Spur Award. Entertaining Women is a finalist in the category of Juvenile Nonfiction.

Spur Awards are literary prizes awarded annually by the Western Writers of America. The purpose of the Spur Awards is to honor writers for distinguished writing about the American West.

Enss’s book Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West tells the stories of the most popular female entertainers of the mid- and late 1800s who performed in boomtowns across the frontier. Entertaining Women will be honored at Western Writers of America’s upcoming convention in Kansas City, Missouri, June 21-24.

Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West is available through National Book Network (1-800-462-6420) and wherever fine books are sold.

 

The Last Inning

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The Death Row All Stars:

The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder

 

On Friday, May 24, 1912, Wyoming citizens awoke to the news that the execution of Joseph Seng had been carried out and that his body had been shipped to his aged mother. Below an article about the hanging posted on the front page of the Wyoming Tribune was a column announcing the scores of the National and American League baseball teams that had played the day before Joseph was put to death. In stories that appeared about Seng’s execution in newspapers as far away as Wellsville, New York, writers included a few sentences about how well the former inmate had played the game of baseball. Alston’s All Stars never played again.

By the end of 1911, two of the infielders and two other players had served their time and had been granted parole. Utility player Ora Carman’s sentence expired on September 15, 1911, as did that of the left fielder Earl Stone. Third baseman John Crottie was released in November 1911, and second baseman Frank Fitzgerald was released in December 1911. In 1912 several more players departed the prison. Left fielder H. A. Pendergraft was granted parole in January 1912. Center fielder Sidney Potter’s sentence concluded in June 1912, and so did that of pitcher Thomas Cameron. Cameron moved to Colorado and went to work as a coal miner. Shortstop Joseph Guzzardo was pardoned in July 1912 after helping to extinguish a fire at the penitentiary.

In early January 1913 team manager George Saban petitioned the State Board of Pardons for a reprieve, but his request was denied. Saban watched as Warden Alston’s first baseman, Eugene Rowan, was granted parole in November 1913 and returned to his home in Rock Springs, Wyoming. On December 17, 1913, Saban escaped from the prison road gang he was working with near Manderson in Big Horn County. According to the December 25, 1913, editions of the Thermopolis Record and the Big Horn County Rustler, Saban had help with his getaway. On January 16, 1914, the Carbon County Journal joined them in pointing out that Warden Alston had extended to him “all the privileges that any man serving a penitentiary sentence of twenty years could expect and then some.” The Journal article continued:

D. O. Johnson, a special prison guard, was assigned to escort Saban back to the prison in Rawlins. Saban asked to be allowed to visit Basin to attend to business at the bank. This was granted, and he and Johnson stopped at a hotel. About 7 o’clock that evening Saban was allowed to go out and see some friends and that was the last seen of him.

For some reason Johnson did not give the alarm until 11 o’clock the next morning, explaining his action by saying that he thought his explaining his action by saying that he thought his man would return and that to report him would be to take away his credits.

Saban seems to have evaporated. There are plenty of rumors but nothing authentic can be learned of his movements after leaving the hotel. It is said that an auto passed through Greybull [Wyoming] that night, but that might or might not mean anything. It is also said that his plan was to reach the coast and take passage for South America. There is another theory that he is hiding at the home of some friend in Basin.

All these stories are vague and may mean nothing. One thing is certain and that is that he ought to be easy to get if he is trying to make the getaway. The fact that he is a large man with a pleasant voice and manner, has a habit of smiling and showing a handsome set of teeth when he speaks, and has crippled hands ought to attract the attention of any officer who has his description.

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To learn more about inmates who played ball for their lives read the book

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The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

 

 

Seng at the Gallows

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In the summer of 1911, the grass around the baseball diamond at the Wyoming State Penitentiary was a brilliant green. The slabs of canvas at home plate and at all three bases were faded white and dented by cleats that had tramped over them or slid into the sides. The walls surrounding the field were covered with scuff marks from fly balls and home runs. Ivy vines crawled along the stone backdrop in spots, breaking free to the other side.

By the summer of 1912, the outfield grounds were discolored and dominated by weeds. Only a handful of photographs existed to show that the Death Row All Stars had ever played there. Some of the pictures featured team members circling the bases after smacking the ball hard. “All baseball loves a hitter,” a reporter at the Wyoming Tribune wrote about the game in April 1912. “The skill of a pitcher is rejected. The successful defensive work of infield and outfield, the one-handed stop or the running catch must ever arouse enthusiastic cheers; but when all is said and done, the wielder of the big stick is the giant that stirs the imagination and the hero worship of the fans.

“No thrill equals that which comes when a home player sends the ball ringing off his bat safely to the outfield. As the number of bases gained by such a hit increases, so does the excitement mount. When one of those drives wins a game, its maker is a hero—the fan can conjure no reward that is adequate. Those low in spirit whose countenance is lifted by such an achievement cannot fully express their appreciation for helping them to see, if only for a moment, beyond their despair.”

Professional baseball clubs like the Boston Rustlers and the Saint Louis Browns, teams that ended the year of play with a 0.300 record or worse, could set their sights on improving when the 1912 season began. Not so with the All Stars. Once the ball club was disbanded in 1911, there would never again be a baseball team at the Wyoming State Penitentiary organized and managed by the warden. Inmates could gather players together for solitary games but would never again gather players together for solitary games but would never again be allowed to compete outside the walls of the prison.

By the time the 1912 baseball season rolled around, Warden Alston’s thoughts were more on keeping order at the facility than playing the game. Prisoners were refusing to work, and many had been disobeying orders and had been placed in solitary confinement in the prison’s dungeon. According to the May 8, 1912, edition of the Wyoming Tribune, Rawlins was thrown into a high state of excitement when ten convicts burrowed out of that dungeon. “The appearance of the men from the break in the dungeon wall at about 11 o’clock last night prompted the summoning of the guards,” the article reported. “It resulted in the immediate capture of eight of the ten convicts. Two of the convicts, however, got over the prison wall and as of noon today have not been captured, although a posse was sent to scour the country immediately upon a count showing that two men were missing.

“While none of the convicts captured in the yard were armed and were placed in their cells without difficulty, it is believed that the men who got away must have had some assistance, as no trace has been obtainable of either of them.”

Inmates who continued to be unhappy about the demise of the penitentiary baseball team and who were upset with what many convicts referred to as inhumane treatment and conditions at the prison wrote letters to Governor Carey asking that he “appoint an impartial non-political body of men to investigate the conditions at the prison.”

 

 

Death Row All Stars

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Dead Man at the Plate

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In November 1911 winter weather had moved in, and the Wyoming State Penitentiary infirmary was filled to near overflowing with violently ill inmates. Patients with no beds to lie on sat on the floor, propped up against the wall. Some were drawn into a fetal position and others were draped faced down across thin pillows scattered around the room. The air was pungent and oven-hot. The sound of sick convicts retching into buckets and tin pans echoed throughout the crowded medical unit.

Joseph Seng hurried from one patient to another, assisting Dr. Maghee. He mopped the damp sweat off the prisoners’ heads, gave them drinks of water, and fed them chips of ice. Guards escorted more ailing men into the medical unit and dropped them wherever they could find space. The sick inmates moaned in pain and some cried out for relief.

After several hours of listening to the suffering, collecting the vital signs of each patient, and analyzing the symptoms, the doctor and his assistant determined that the men, including several members of the baseball team, had been poisoned. News of their illness and speculation that the poisoning might have been a deliberate act spread quickly throughout the prison. Several prison guards, including D. O. Johnson, considered the possibility that someone with a grudge against the penitentiary baseball team and its chance to compete in future games might have orchestrated the poisoning. There was some chatter between the guards and prisoners that Otto Gramm could be behind the trouble.

Gramm, naturally, was not unhappy about the news that problems were still plaguing the prison under Warden Alston’s watch. He was rumored to have been offended by a column that had appeared in the November 3, 1911, edition of the Lander, Wyoming, newspaper the Lander Eagle. The headline read Carey Saving Good Money—Better Than Gramm. The article that followed contained a statement of the affairs of the Wyoming State Penitentiary and showed significant improvements on financial and other fronts. “The people are entitled to know and the books of the administration are open to all,” Governor Carey was quoted in the report. “The results of the administration of the penitentiary under the new arrangement can best be summed up by presenting a statement of what the penitentiary [would have] cost the state had Otto Gramm been allowed to remain in his position there,” the article continued.

“It’s shown that the average daily per capita cost to the state was $.61 cents for the year ending September 30, 1910, made up by the $.50 cents per day per prisoner paid to Mr. Otto Gramm, lessee, and the $.11 cents per day per prisoner paid for permanent improvements, discharge money, etc. Had the Gramm contract continued the expense to that would have been more than $25,000.00.”

Luckily, with Seng’s help, Dr. Maghee was able to relieve the prisoners of their misery. The pair mixed a concoction of mustard and Coca-Cola that helped to purge the toxins from the sick convicts. Patients and prison officials praised the doctor and Seng for bringing an end to the outbreak. Within twenty-four hours of the incident occurring, health had been restored and inmates returned to their cells. According to the November 6, 1911, edition of the Laramie Daily Boomerang, the cause of the poisoning turned out to be contaminated food. “A quantity of kraut had been allowed to remain in a metal pot overnight,” the article read, “and along the edge had absorbed poison and in a few minutes after eating it many prisoners were in intense pain.”

George Saban kept himself clear of any disputes with fellow inmates and aligned himself with more than one guard who had an allegiance to Otto Gramm. Saban had a problem with other prisoners only when they stood in the way of his money-making ventures. News that law enforcement was cracking down on illegal gambling throughout the state was the basis for his frustration that fall, beginning in September 1911.

To learn more about the inmates who played ball for their lives read

The Death Row All Stars:  A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

Death Row All Stars

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Nothing But the Game

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Photographer M. F. Jukes squeezed the rubber bulb attached to the camera standing next to him, and a bright white flash lit up a section of the penitentiary dining hall. When the flash faded Alston’s All Stars became visible. Dressed in dark uniforms and corresponding caps with the initials WSP stitched across the front and carrying well-worn baseball gloves, team members held their proud pose until Jukes gave them permission to relax. The men talked among themselves as the prominent Rawlins photographer adjusted the shutters around the lens in preparation for the next shot. A sign among his camera equipment on a nearby table read, “Pictures in black and white or Sepia finish, on stiff cards, folders or flexible mountings. Various prices, one of which will suit your pocket. Come in at any time, or if more desirable, phone for an appointment. Settings done upon request. Most locations acceptable.”

At the appropriate time each player resumed his position for another picture to be taken. The first time the prisoners had gathered together for a photograph, they had been dressed in the clothing issued to them by the penitentiary officials as part of their incarceration. The inmate numbers they had been assigned were scrawled over the left breast pocket of their shirts, and the baseball equipment they had held consisted of castoffs from players who had abandoned the game some time ago. In this photo, taken after their first wins, the convicts were different in dress and style. Their coordinating outfits gave them an air of professionalism. Some reverently cradled in their arms the gloves and baseballs they would use in upcoming games; others wore their mitts on their hands to show how ready they were to play.

Joseph Seng stood on the left end of the back row with his hand on his hip. His mustache was neatly trimmed, and his cap was pulled down low on his forehead. His serious expression conveyed that he was a fierce opponent to other teams. Convicted rapist Eugene Rowan stood on Seng’s right, and beside him was George Saban. Saban’s shoulders were pulled back as though he were at attention. The top button of his shirt was undone, his neck being too thick to allow him to fasten it. Swindler Earl Stone, gambler and attempted rapist James Powell, and larcenist H. A. Pendergraft were on Saban’s right. Four-year-old Felix Vern Alston Jr. sat on a stool just below Saban wearing a dark blue uniform, stockings, and dark blue cap. On either side of him were murderer Joseph Guzzardo and thief Frank Fitzgerald; condemned rapist Thomas Cameron and burglar John Crottie bookended the bottom row.

The photograph was proudly displayed in the warden’s office. Felix Jr., whom Alston had made the team mascot, is in the middle of the criminal offenders, wearing the team’s uniform and smiling at the camera. Nothing in the team photo would have led anyone to imagine that the players had run afoul of the law.

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Betting on a Win

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Every day Joseph Seng took his usual position beside the guard’s desk in the mess hall and studied the inmates as they entered the room. Perhaps this was his way of fighting the monotony and routine of daily prison life. Maybe Seng was trying to assert himself as someone not to be trifled with, or maybe he had no agenda whatsoever. Some convicts believed he was a threat to the position they perceived to hold in the hierarchy of prisoners. Seng didn’t worry about what anyone thought of him. He maintained his spot by the desk regardless of the occasional disapproving glance.

In early August 1911 a particularly disagreeable inmate tired of Seng’s habit and decided to kill him. The displeased man who wanted Joseph dead wore a ball-and-chain restraint that clanged behind him as he shuffled along. His arms were generally full of the ten-pound ball attached to the iron links. His heavily bearded face was weathered, and his mouth was set in a perpetual snarl that looked inexpressively evil. He gave Seng a rough look as he passed by him and hauled himself and his ball and chain up a flight of steel stairs.

Once the violent inmate made it to the second landing of the facility, he stopped to look out over the people below, his face “filled with rage,” according to a story provided by an inmate and included in the Annals of Wyoming. “His cell was back at the farthest end of the top gallery,” the prisoner recalled. “At the top of the stairs there was a small box of sand about half full for a sort of trash receptacle. The box was about ten inches wide and probably two feet in length. The fellow set the iron ball on the floor of the gallery and picked up a box of sand. He raised it above his head and dropped it straight down at the head of Seng, twenty-five feet almost directly below.

“As the leaden box went down Seng partly turned to speak to the guard and the box struck the floor with a crash like the report of a gun and burst straight through the center sending sand in all directions. If Seng hadn’t turned just as he did it would have landed on his head. The fellow picked up the iron ball and went down the gallery to his cell. He had sawed the rivet in two that held the iron on his ankle and as he opened the door he loosened the thing from his leg and threw the ball and chain over the gallery. It struck the table and went straight through the floor leaving a six-foot length of board standing straight up in the center of the table.

Although Seng was shaken by the attempt made on his life, it didn’t carry over to his performance on the baseball field. The Death Row All Stars were scheduled to cross bats for a second time with the Wyoming Supply Company Juniors on August 4, 1911. The prison team practiced often in July in preparation for the event.

Even in practices, the Death Row All Stars played with gusto and even temperament. They worked together as one cohesive unit and made the sport look like the easiest game in the world. They seemed to cherish the smell of the leather glove, the snap of the ball smacking their palms, the sensation of letting loose a throw and kicking up a cloud of dust. These were deep pleasures in a world that didn’t offer many happy moments, and they relished this one.

Death Row All Stars

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Path to Righteousness

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ostensibly to make sure his property was being maintained properly. He also would be able to monitor other activities at the prison, such as Warden Alston conferring with murderer George Saban on the baseball field. Gramm would have a firsthand look at the players who enjoyed fame of a sort— their names at one time or another resting on the tongues of men who had seen them operate; their faces known, having been posted in newspapers and on sheriffs’ boards along with the list of crimes they had committed.

On July 18, 1911, under a blue and cloudless sky, the murderers, burglars, rapists, and confidence men that made up the Death Row All Stars emerged quickly from the baselines of the baseball diamond at the penitentiary and spread across the practice field for their first game. Alston, Gramm, and a host of other prison officials, as well as inmates, were on hand to watch.  Inmates craned their necks to see the action from their barred windows and cheered the players on as they whipped the ball from base to base. Warden Alston had supplied the team with gloves, bats, and uniforms, and the ball club look

It was evident after practicing with the other men on the team only a short while that Joseph Seng was an exceptional baseball player. News of the talented addition to Alston’s All Stars spread quickly throughout the area. Patrons who frequented the Turf Exchange, the Senate, the Elkhorn, and other watering holes in Rawlins, speculated on how well the team would do against more established ball clubs in the region. George Saban encouraged such talk whenever he made stops at the saloons as part of his duties transporting items to and from the prison accompanied by prison guard D. O. Johnson in the penitentiary wagon. Security was always lax where Saban was concerned. He came and went from tavern to tavern as he pleased and boasted about the baseball team he helped manage.

Betting on baseball was commonplace in 1911, regardless of its legality. Partnering with a drifter named George Streplis, a man who had been arrested in March 1911 in Wyoming and held over for trial on gambling charges, Saban had plans to capitalize on the trend of betting on baseball games by urging patrons at saloons in Rawlins to bet heavily on the Death Row All Stars. Any ideas Saban had about placing bets on the penitentiary ball club were tabled, however, until he knew how long Seng would be at the Rawlins facility. He didn’t want to gamble on the team if Seng wasn’t going to be at the prison long enough to play with the All Stars. An appeal of his sentence had been filed with the governor immediately; on June 15, 1911, Governor Carey responded favorably to the appeal, and, on July 18, 1911, the Chief Justice Board of the state Supreme Court granted a stay of execution in his case.

Regardless of the fact that his time as head of the prison lessee program was coming to an end, Otto Gramm believed he had some lingering influence at the facility. He did own all the equipment and material used to manufacture the brooms, and, as long as that was the case, he would insist on being a part of the business, visiting the penitentiary and played like professionals. There was no infighting, and players didn’t discuss the specifics of their criminal history with one another. The focus was the game.

The stories of the men who took to the field were varied. Shortstop Joseph Guzzardo had killed a woman in 1908 while shooting at a man who was threatening his life. Eugene Rowan, the first baseman, had been convicted of breaking and entering and attempted rape in Cheyenne. Right fielder and catcher James Powell had attacked a young woman. Team captain George Saban had pled guilty to three killings. And catcher and fielder Joseph Seng had been sentenced to death for the murder of a man in Uinta County.

Every time a player came to bat and slapped a ripping fastball on the nose for a solid hit to left field or someone snatched up a red-hot grounder and heaved it to the proper base to get an out, the All Stars forgot they were little more than caged creatures. Warden Alston and Saban stood on the baselines conferring on strategies of the game, discussing when a good bunt would beat a strong hit and how best to utilize each player. But the ever-watchful Gramm believed that their conversation went deeper than that. Prison guard D. O. Johnson had reported to Gramm that Saban was illegally betting on the All Stars’ games using money given to him by Warden Alston.  Gramm relayed the information to Senator Francis Warren, who suspected the rumor might have a future and that Governor Carey, who had handpicked Warden Alston for the job, was also involved. Senator Warren once said of Governor Carey, “If I hadn’t known Carey from the time he stepped off the train in 1869, a green boy up to the present, and hadn’t figured inside of the inner circles so much with him in political affairs, he might possibly fool me once in a while, for he surely is the most monumental hypocrite, and the most infernal liar—when necessary—that God ever permitted to live.

Death Row All Stars

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Life at the Crossbar Hotel

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The sheriff of Uinta County delivered Joseph Seng to the state penitentiary on April 18, 1911. An endless blue sky was the backdrop for the massive, three-story structure that day. High, barbed wire fence lined the building on all sides, and a plaque on the structure read “Welcome to the Crossbar Hotel”.  Felix Alston, who had taken over the duties of prison warden the day before, watched Seng arrive. A pair of guards helped the shackled and handcuffed prisoner out of the vehicle in which he was transferred. The iron-barred door in front was opened, and Seng was escorted inside the penitentiary. The doors were then closed and locked behind him.

According to Joseph Seng’s family, his father, Anthony, had cried when he read an article about his son in the April 22, 1911, edition of the Wyoming Press. “On last Monday morning Sheriff Ward and Special Deputy Sam Rider took Joseph Seng, the convicted murderer of William Lloyd, to the penitentiary where the man will be confined until he is executed,” the report announced. “Seng was handcuffed to Sheriff Ward . . . he passed through the streets of Evanston thus manacled; he was smoking a cigar, and was accompanied by his customary indifference as to the gravity of the situation.”

There was a standard routine for admitting an inmate into a state facility. The guards would lead a prisoner into an intake room and remove his shackles and chains. They would remove all items from the prisoner’s pockets and set them aside on a table to be inventoried. The prisoner was then ordered to remove his clothes. A guard carrying a fire hose would enter the intake room and point the hose at the prisoner. When the water was flipped on, the force generally slammed the prisoner back against the stone wall. After a few moments, the water was shut off, and the guards would pull the prisoner to his feet. A huge scoop of delousing powder was then tossed on him. Gasping and coughing, blinking powder from his eyes, the prisoner was then shoved toward a trustee cage, a small, defined area where the “trustee,” an inmate who had proven himself trustworthy and had been given a job within the prison, was separated from the prisoner by a thick wall of wire rope with a small slot in it.

Death Row All Stars

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Outlaws in the Infield

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Few spectators would have bet against Joseph Seng when he was catching for All Stars pitcher Thomas Cameron.  Cameron, a twenty-year-old coal miner and native of Tennessee, had a terrific fastball and was a good hitter.  Seng, the standout performer on the team, signaled the talented pitcher on what throw to use. Under Seng’s direction Cameron struck out the majority of batters that faced him.

Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1882, Seng came from a large German family.  His father, Anthony Seng, was a proud man who had been born in Baden, Germany. He moved to the United States with his parents in 1878 and married Anna Sapple in the Sacred Heart Church in 1880. All of Anthony and Anna’s children were christened at the parish.  Just before the turn of the century, Joseph Seng had been a laborer at one of the textile mills in the area. From 1903 to 1908 he resided in New York, and some history records indicate he worked for a prominent railroad line as a detective.   Then, after a brief visit with his parents in Allentown in the summer of 1908, the twenty-six-year-old Seng departed for points west.

Baseball had always been part of Seng’ life. According to notes made by his spiritual advisor, Reverend Peter Masson of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Allentown, Joseph had a “natural aptitude for baseball, but never displayed ambition for much else.” Still, he didn’t appear to be much of a troublemaker. In fact, the brown-haired, blue-eyed Seng was a diminutive five-foot-five and was said to have a very moderate temper.  “He never shied away from long hours on the job,” Reverend Masson continued, “and was mindful to give an employer all that was required of him and then some.”

After Seng stepped off the train in Rawlins, Wyoming, in July 1908, he walked to one of the saloons just beyond the railroad tracks. Reverend Masson’s notes about the letters he received from Seng painted a picture of his visit to the saloon:

When he entered the business he heard the sound of chips clinking from a side room. A bartender was behind the bar pouring drinks. Patrons were scattered about talking and laughing. Joseph found a spot at a table and sat down. He ordered something to drink while studying the “help wanted” section of a newspaper left behind on the chair next to him.

Customers filtered in and out of the establishment, some exchanged a word or two with a couple of men near the bar. Before walking away from the men the patrons handed them money. Like many saloons throughout the West, gamblers had staked out their territory and were enticing people to wager on boxing and wrestling matches, horse races and political races.

A reading of the Rawlins Republican between May and June 1908 might have led to the conclusion that there was wide interest in stamping out vice in the region—or at least regulating it for the better of the community. In fact, gambling had been outlawed statewide in 1902, but in many communities, it was still widely accepted and officials followed a strict policy of pretending not to notice the poker games and bookmakers in local saloons.

Death Row All Stars

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 To learn more about the inmates who played for their lives read the

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