annoyed with the cowboys’ habit of hurrahing their wayrnthrough town, shooting up bottles at the back of the bar, thernheels off boots, and cigars out of mouths, but as Billy Breakenridgern(SheriflF John Behan’s deputy) was to say years later,rnTombstone (apart from cattle-rustling) was “an orderly andrnlaw-abiding town,” adding.rnWhat little killing was done there was done among thernlawless element themselves. This element was veryrnmuch in the minority, and during the five years I livedrnthere I never heard of a house being robbed or anyonernheld up in the city, and it was perfectly safe for any ladyrnor gentleman to pass along the streets, day or night, withoutrnbeing molested.rnThe cowboys may have stolen a few cows and killed a fewrnpeople, but Breakenridge, who deputized some of them as taxrncollectors, said he was well treated by these roughnecks: “I neverrnwant to travel with a better companion than Curly B i l l . . . . Irnlearned one thing with him, and that was that he would not liernto me. What he told me he believed, and his word to me wasrnbetter than the oaths of some of whom were known as good citizens.”rnOn the other hand, the Earps (whom Breakenridge’s crackrnmay be aimed at) supported the law-and-order commercial civilizationrnof the Gilded Age, even when they deliberately defiedrnthe law—as they did when they shot Ike Clanton in the streetrnnot long after the murder of Morgan Earp.rnLike most entrepreneurs—gambling is, after all, a kind ofrnbusiness now, and there is a revenue side to holding arnmonopoly on violence—the Earps were desperate to makerntheir way in the world. Despite Wyatt’s loyalty to Holliday, theyrnsided with public order; they were progressive and knew thatrnthe frontier would someday be tamed. Tombstone was thernground floor, and they were determined to cash in on theirrncourage and on their connechons: John Glum, both mayorrnand the Epitaph’s editor, supported them. However, comparedrnwith suburban American sports fans of my own generation,rnWyatt and Curly Bill were two peas in a pod: Both werernresolute in the face of danger, loyal to their friends, and determinedrnto take revenge upon an enemy. Accept most of the attacksrnon his character at face value, and Wyatt Earp is still, asrnthe TV theme song described him, “brave, courageous, andrnbold.” He was also a very dangerous man.rnAccording to reliable sources, Virgil Earp was playing pokerrnwith Tom McLaury and Ike Clanton in the wee hoursrnof the morning, the very day of the showdown. Virgil had therncoolest head of the brothers, but this little pre-battle game—rnanything but friendly—underscores the importance of gamblingrnin a frontier society. Everybody in the West seems tornhave spent most of his free time gambling. Indians playedrngames like “button button” and bet everything they had; Mexicansrnwere so good at Spanish monte that Ben Thompson—asrnfamous for his gunplay as for his gambling—banned themrnfrom the “Americans only” monte banks he set up along thernRio Grande. At Eagle Pass, where he had skinned all the gringos,rnThompson had the bad judgment to break his own rule,rnand, as he recalled later.rnIn less than five hours I did not have a cent. I even putrnup my silver spurs and gold cord that ornamented myrnhat. It was of no use, money, spurs, hat, cord, and allrnwent, and the cigarette-smoking devils grinned as theyrnwon. A picked chicken, a scalded cat, a Georgia major,rneach was better fitted to walk abroad than I was.rnBut it was the miners and cowboys who set the tone. Afterrnworking like the devil for months, they would blow ever’thingrnthey had on the turn of a marked card. While the law-and-orderrnelement moving into Tombstone or San Francisco mightrnfrown upon the reckless ways of the gamblers and the occasionalrnvigilance committee might have to drive the bad elementsrnout of town (as in Bret Harte’s masterpiece, “The Outcastsrnof Poker Flats”), gambling was good for business, not onlyrnthe businesses in which most frontier towns specialized —rnwhiskey and women—but also groceries, hardware, and supplies.rnWhat self-respecting miner would bring his gold to arntown that refrised to supply him with the necessities of life or offerrnhim the thrill of being fleeced?rnIn truth, gambling must have been the quintessential frontierrnexperience. Quiet and steady men do not leave theirrnhomes in Watertown, Wisconsin (as Billy Breakenridge did) tornseek an uncertain friture in the mines of Colorado or on thernopen ranges of Arizona. And men who come from a line ofrnquiet and steady ancestors would probably never have foundrnthemselves in the New World. Much has been written, mostrnof it wrong, about American exceptionalism, but on one pointrnthe America-boosters were right: Neither the adventurers whornaccompanied John Smith to Virginia nor the religious fanaticsrnwho settled Massachusetts were placid or timid men, and thernbest of the later immigrants were not the hapless cattle-boatrnstarvelings celebrated on the Statue of Equalit)-: They wantedrnland and were willing to take high-risk jobs in the mines tornbuild up a stake.rnOne of the most improbable immigrants was Vaso “Chuck”rnChuckovich, a Serbian merchant sailor from Dalmatia whornjumped ship in California not knowing a word of English. Hernlost his teeth working with mercury in a gold refinery beforernteaming up in Denver with gambling legend Ed Chase.rnChuckovich managed to save enough of his casino profits tornsend $1.25 million back to the government of Dalmatia.rnWhen Yugoslavia was formed after World War I, this moneyrnwas a principle stake of its treasury.rnIn the old America, the reckless and high-rolling VasornChuckovich could fit right in. Only a Scandinavian socialistrncould conceive of a risk-free life without gagging, and if gamblingrncan disrupt lives and warp characters, that is not becausernbetting is inherently evil—as Puritans argue—any more thanrnwine or erotic desire is evil. It is civilization that teaches a manrnto domesticate his erotic impulses with a marriage vow and tornchannel his gambling instincts into business investments or arnfriendly wager on the Super Bowl.rnGambling obviously has its dangerous side, but most goodrnpeople like to gamble: Business depends on the risk-taking investor,rnwhether he is a venture capitalist or someone who buysrna hundred shares of Dell Computer. Farmers are the biggestrngamblers, and they bet every year against the weather andrnagainst the markets. Anyone who has married and had childrenrnis taking a big gamble, and the odds are not necessarily inrnhis favor.rnThese adventures in risk-taking—playing poker with friendsrnor taking your life’s savings out of the bank and starting a dr)-rncleaning business—are at best creative and at worst fairly harm-rnJUNE 1999/11rnrnrn