The Frontierado holiday is this Friday, August 5th! As we all count down to it like little kids excitedly awaiting Santa Claus here’s another look at legends surrounding another neglected figure of the American west. ** Special thanks to Jay Thorington, a descendant of Lucky Bill, for the correct spelling of the last name **
LUCKY BILL – William B. Thorington was the real-life inspiration for Bret Harte’s fictional gambler Jack Hamlin. Lucky Bill was born sometime in the 1820s in New York and after serving in the Mounted Rifles during the Mexican War of 1846-1848 had wandered as far as Michigan when word of the discovery of gold in California hit in 1849.
Thorington traveled west with one of the countless wagon trains, putting his Monte-playing skills and his con artist tricks to good use along the way. By the time the wagon train reached California, Lucky Bill had supposedly acquired a large amount of cash and valuables from his traveling companions. Periodic clashes enroute with the Pawnee and other tribes helped hone Lucky Bill’s gunmanship.
Rather than spend his time prospecting for gold Bill settled in to fleece prospectors and other gamblers at the Monte table or with his skill at the Shell Game. Eventually, after winning many pots and losing a few others Lucky Bill settled in Sacramento, already with a trail of dead bodies in his wake courtesy of his Colt Walker pistol. Thorington played his game and his cons out of casinos like Jimmie Lee’s Stinking Tent, Mansion House, The Humboldt, New Orleans West and The Diana. He even spent time working The Empire – run by Andrew Butler – the brother of future Civil War General Benjamin Butler. Continue reading