The Ray City Skin Game

Skin Game

The Nashville Herald briefly reported in the January 22, 1915 edition:

 Officers at Ray’s Mill raided a skin game a few nights ago and brought in ten colored men and boys.

According to Bryan Shaw’s In the Name of the Law, the Ray’s Mill officers at the time were Cauley Shaw and Bruner Shaw.

Ray City Police Officers, Cauley and Bruner Shaw.  Image detail courtesy of www.berriencountyga.com

Ray City Police Officers, Cauley and Bruner Shaw. Image detail courtesy of http://www.berriencountyga.com

The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia (1897)  provides the following definition:

skin game – n. A game, as of cards, in which one player has no chance against another, as when the cards are stacked or other tricks are played to cheat or fleece; any confidence-game.

The Online Etymology Dictionary adds:

skin game – In 19c. U.S. colloquial use, “to strip, fleece, plunder;” hence skin-game, one in which one player has no chance against the others (as with a stacked deck), the type of con game played in a skin-house.

Skin games were operated from towns large and small, New York City to Ray City.

the-skin-game

At the gambling table.

Title: Migratory laborers and vegetable pickers playing "skin" game in back of juke joint and bar in the Belle Glade area of south central Florida. Image source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa2000037636/PP/

Title: Migratory laborers and vegetable pickers playing “skin” game in back of juke joint and bar in the Belle Glade area of south central Florida. Image source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa2000037636/PP/

In Lights and Shadows of New York Life,  James D. McCabe describes the skin game:

In gambler’s parlance, it is called a “skin game.”  In plain English it means that the bank sets out to win the player’s money by deliberate and premeditated fraud… Here every guest must stake his money at the risk of encountering personal violence from the proprietor or his associates.  The dealer is well skilled in manipulating the cards so as to make them win for the bank always, and every effort is made to render the victim hazy with liquor, so that he shall not be able to keep a clear record in his mind of the progress of the game.  A common trick is to use sanded cards, or cards with their surfaces roughened, so that two, by being handled in a certain way, will adhere and fall as one card.  Again, the dealer will so arrange his cards as to be sure of the exact order in which they will come out.  He can thus pull out one card, or two at a time, as the “necessities of the bank” may require.  Frequently no tally is kept of the game, and the player is unable to tell how many turns have been made—whether the full number or less.  Even if the fraud is discovered, the visitor will find it a serious matter to attempt to expose it.  The majority of the persons present are in the pay of the bank, and all are operating with but one object—to get possession of the money of visitors.  The slightest effort at resistance will ensure an assault…


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