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The Confessions of a Con Man

by William Henry Irwin
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The Confessions of a Con Man by William Henry Irwin

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#1 in Biographies & History hot-list

A wonderfully interesting confession of a con man who was a contemporary of Erdnase, and just like him operated for a time while traveling with small circuses in Illinois and surrounding states. Of particular interest is a full dialog of how an unsuspecting person on the train was lured into gambling 3 card monte. The dialog demonstrates how skillfully these operatives were and how well they understood human nature. Other cons are also described in detail.

Excerpt from the preface:

When these confessions appeared serially, friends and distant enquirers took it for granted that they were fiction; that I had stitched together, from the experiences of many grafters, the biography of a typical one. I hasten to assure the reader that this is a genuine confession; that I figure in it but as the transcriber of a life story told me—I believe with every conscientious effort at truth—during a month of pleasant association in New York. As a reporter, a little skilled in distinguishing the truth from the lie, I believed, when I wrote, in the sincerity of this story. Since then letters from his old companions of the road, who wished to be put into communication with him again, have confirmed detail after detail. I have disguised a name or a locality here and there; otherwise I have set down only what he told me, trying through it all to give some flavor of the man and his vocabulary. The vocabulary is not the least interesting thing about that personality of mud-and-rainbows. Uneducated and unread, he has a keen perception of the value of words, and especially of those Latinate words which express an intellectual idea. He pounces upon a new phrase; he makes it his own upon the moment. I mention this, lest I be charged with dressing these plain tales of the highway in a vocabulary too pretentious for the subject or the man.

  • Preface
  • Chapter I. I Learn To Cheat With Marked Cards
    • An Optical Illusion In Anilin Dye
    • Off To St. Louis For A Good Time
    • Lumber Swede’s Squeeze Wheel
    • The Phony Poolroom Enterprise
    • A Winter At Hot Springs
    • The Luck Of Slippery Sills
  • Chapter II. I Join The Circus And Elope With Minnie, The Elephant
    • Wheels Within Wheels
    • The Booster And His Business
    • Working The Railroad Trains
    • Introducing Jakey, The Grafter
    • Working On The Sheriff’s Sympathies
    • Good-Natured Little Minnie
    • The Circus That Disappeared
  • Chapter III. I Become An Eminent Fixer And An Adept At Big Joint
    • Why Twenty-Three Means Down And Out
    • Squaring The Mayor And His Minions
    • Trouble In A Lumber Camp
    • Clanking Days In Texas
    • A Wild-Goose Chase To Australia
  • Chapter IV. I Rejuvenate Three-Card Monte
    • How I Worked The Day Coaches
    • I Play The Part Of A Texas Cattleman
    • The Tough Citizen Of Breathitt
    • Working A Bluff
    • What Mr. Belmont Missed
  • Chapter V. Why I Cut It Out
    • The Collapse Of The Gold-Brick Industry
    • An Alliance With Soapy Smith
    • The Yellow Diamond Game
    • Cutting It Out For Keeps

1st edition 1909, 182 pages. This first appeared serialized in The Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia on February 20th, 1909. PDF 65 pages.
word count: 29354 which is equivalent to 117 standard pages of text

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Gambling / Cheating, Cons, Scams & Protection

Magic & Conjuring / Biographies & History