Honest Miner To a Poker-Playing Politician

By William Daugherty, 1891

Reno, Nevada Gambling, 1910

Nevada Gambling

The boys called him “Sugar Foot” and evidently had some good reasons for selecting that name to designate him when speaking in their own circle. He had been in every mining camp in Nevada, always in the front, always found at the latest camp, and thoroughly familiar with all the locations. When speaking to strangers, if the boys referred to him, they called him “Long Turner,” and as he was a very tall man and extremely gawky, strangers could spot him instantly from the title. He was such an odd-looking fellow that he would be picked out in any crowd before anyone else would be noticed. He was so strikingly homely in form and features that he seemed especially marked for notice, and this he appeared to realize.

He was lean and lank and lantern-jawed, and his nose was so long it looked like a caricature; and as if this singular face would need another marked feature, his mouth would alone have been enough to secure for him the title of the homeliest man in the camp. And, to add to the effect, he shaved his upper lip, thus exposing his teeth always, for he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

And those teeth! Ah! Therein lay the secret of his well-known civility, urbanity, and politeness. He had only two teeth left, and by the perversity of nature, one was an eye tooth on the upper jaw and the other a stomach tooth on the lower jaw on the opposite side. They were in no degree ornamental, of no earthly use and constantly tangled his tongue in talking; and people wondered why he didn’t knock them out with the sledge and drill he carried — for he was a miner, and considered a good one, too, But, when any discreet friend went so far as to suggest their extraction kindly, he always replied that his teeth were so hard to pull that he preferred keeping them until he found a good dentist to fit some to match them. He realized that his looks were a constant disadvantage to him. To cover up that defect, he was the essence of politeness. Although awkward in action to a degree that was amusing, his earnest desire to please made him a favorite. Even those who didn’t like him endured him, and in passing, would answer his salutation by saying “Howdy, Turner.” Intimate friends would say “hello, Sugar Foot,” and the ladies would say “Good morning, Mr. Turner.” He was always ready to contribute to any charity, and when he was induced to attend a benefit ball, the ladies made it a point to dance with him, even though his struggles were alarming, for his boots were big, and his feet that filled them could not keep step or time and were always coming down on his neighbor’s heels. But, they endured him for his good nature, and at last, he acquired an ease of manner with the ladies that really made the boys jealous.

Cyrus Noble Whiskey Ad showing Faro Players

Cyrus Noble Whiskey Ad showing Faro Players

He was quick to discover this, for it requires no cultivation of brains to teach any man on earth — or woman either — of the presence of the green-eyed monster. At this auspicious time, an itinerant dentist wandered into camp and hung out on the hotel’s front walls, his charts and diagrams and displayed from his window of a front room, full sets of store teeth on bright red rubber plates, under a glass. Sugar Foot was observed to inspect these, and regularly when he left the dining room, he went to the hotel office and selecting a toothpick from the box of wooden ones on the end of the bar, he would step out and while looking at the dentist’s show, carefully pick away at his two solitary teeth as if he had a mouthful. At last, the boys observed him closeted in the dentist’s office; he forsook society and disappeared from his former haunts, and the boys “reckoned” that Sugar Foot had gone to the mine.

This seemed reasonable, as he was foreman of a mine on Mt. Kearsarge, eight miles distant, but 13,000 feet above sea level, and one could be absent without awakening inquiry. Some weeks elapsed when he suddenly presented himself at the bar of the favorite saloon, and with a broad grin that exposed a mouth full of new porcelain teeth, he invited everybody to have a drunk. The boys drank and complimented him, and then he dashed into society again.

He was a greater favorite than ever, though some of the boys teased him unmercifully and suggested that he run for constable. He consented, and to their surprise, was elected. Alas! for human vanity. Those store teeth had led him from the path of honest toil into the filthy pool of politics. Time hung heavy on his hands, and he soon became an expert poker player.

His income permitted an elegant life of leisure, during which time, the leading men of the county, including the judge and all the county officials who played poker, became more or less indebted to him. At the next election, he was a man of “influence,” and for his aid in electing the sheriff, he was appointed undersheriff and obtained many of the sureties for the sheriff’s bond. In consideration, he was made custodian of the office, books, safe, papers, and coin, and played poker with much brilliance and as much success as formerly.

Tehachapi Mountains

Tehachapi Mountains

But, as duty called him away frequently, none but himself knew how often he lost. Over the next few months, he was absent from the county seat much of the time, and when he started after some stage robbers, which took him over the Mojave Desert into Tehachapi, it was noticed that he looked more serious than usual, and his lips closed tightly over his store teeth. The reward was large for the capture. The sheriff of an adjoining county got on the trail first and caught the robbers. Sugar Foot reached Tehachapie at midnight and heard of it as he took a drink with the barkeep. He was shown a room, and in the morning, he was found dead, with a bullet in his brain, his revolver in his hand, and a brief note on the table to his principal stating the amount of his embezzlement.

By William Daugherty, Reno Evening Gazette, August 20, 1891. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated January 2021.

Also See:

Mining on the American Frontier

Nevada Mining Tales

Nevada – The Silver State

Pioneers on the Nevada Frontier (Reno Evening Gazette)

About the Author: Written by William Daugherty for the Reno Evening Gazette in 1891. The Reno Evening Gazette was first published on October 12, 1876, and continued for 107 years. In 1977, it was merged with the Nevada State Journal and continues to exist today as the Reno Gazette-Journal. Note: The article is not verbatim as spelling errors,  minor grammatical changes, and editing have occurred for the ease of the modern reader.