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Butler had decided to try to hit every major gambling hall in Texas before he continued on his way to California. What he didn't expect was that it would take him a year.
Upon leaving Colorado after an adventure in Denver with Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday he drifted for a while, stopping here and there along the way when he found a likely poker game. He worked his way down toward Texas, and when he heard about a saloon or a gambling hall that sounded interesting, that's where he went.
Once he got to Texas he found himself playing poker in Jack Harris's Saloon and Vaudeville Theater in San Antonio. This was after Harris had been killed by Ben Thompson, who went on trial for murder. Butler knew Thompson, but did not get to see him during that time.
Then he played for a while at the Iron Front in Austin, which was actually owned by Ben Thompson. But Thompson was still having trouble over the Harris thing, so once again Butler did not get to see him.
In El Paso he won quite a bit of money in Ben Dowell's Saloon. This was after Dowell had died on his ranch, just outside of town.
The reason Butler remembered these three stopovers more than others was that, in addition to doing well in all three saloons, there was an attempt on his life in all three places. Obviously, the price put on his head by someone back East was still enforced. He'd thwarted dozens of attempts on his life over the years, and he remembered every one of them.
Approximately one year after the events in Denver, Butler rode into Fort Worth, Texas. He checked into a hotel down the street from theWhite Elephant Saloon, which was his ultimate goal. This would be his last Texas stop before he finally continued on his way to California.
He chose the hotel because it was large, had its own livery stable and a doorman in front. In other words, it reeked of luxury. He'd been doing so well at the tables lately that he decided to treat himself.
Butler was no stranger to luxury. Growing up in the East, his family had been well off. Later, when he was exiled to the West and started to make his living playing poker, he would treat himself whenever he was flush. And the better he became, the more often he was flush.
His room was a two-room suite. The bedroom had a large bed with a thick mattress, and not only a dresser for his clothes but a wardrobe to hang his suits in. The outer room was set up like a living room or sitting room, complete with plush armchair and sofa and a small sidebar with decanters for various types of liquor. The furnishings were maroon and gold, very rich feeling. He approved of his new digs, which was important, because he planned to be there for a while. He'd learned the word digs from a Brit he played poker against in Chicago. He liked it, but never said it out loud to anyone.
After a bath he put on a clean black suit, a boiled white shirt, and a black string tie. He did not wear jewelry, probably never would, no matter how much money he had. He looked at gamblers who wore diamond cuff links and stickpins and thought they were too flashy, like tinhorns. The last thing he put on was his flat-crowned black hat with a silver band and a three-and-a-half-inch brim.
He was ready to check out the White Elephant Saloon.
Luke Short was the new one-third owner of the White Elephant. His partner, Bill Ward, had been determined to change the image of the White Elephant, to hopefully bring in some big-name gamblers. For that he needed a partner who knew some big-name gamblers. When he met Luke Short he was sure he'd found his man.
Short's first move was to change the physical image of the saloon. He had the public area decorated with fancy rosewood and mahogany fixtures that he had brought in from back East. He also brought in something that became known as the "Luke Short Bar." It was mahogany, made in three pieces, and covered most of one wall of the saloon. He added onyx and crystal to the décor, immediately giving the place a touch of class. The last thing he did was to introduce the game of keno to Fort Worth, which caught fire and added substantially to the saloon's profit margin.
"Little Luke" had placed his personal stamp on the White Elephant and—just as Bill Ward had hoped—the big-name gamblers began to come.Texas Bluff
The Gamblers. Copyright © by Robert Randisi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.