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Dakota Datebook

Grifters

 

In the mid 19th century amateur footraces became popular and were held on cinder and dirt roads with estimated distances. It was common entertainment to gamble on these races, but unfortunately they were very easy to fix. “Under the table” deals would be made with the runners. Athletes would get a cut of the swindler’s profit when they purposefully lost, and the trusting spectators were conned, or “grifted.” Later gangs of grifters would make a living staging all kinds of sporting events, from horse races to boxing matches.

In August of 1892 Fargo’s Daily Argus newspaper printed an article highlighting a sprinter who had recently moved into the Bismarck area and was “engaged in an endeavor to arrange a footrace.” Leon Lozier was the sprinter. He had once been one of the fastest 300 meter runners in the nation, but now, glory-tarnished, he made his living as a con artist. The article did not bluntly say that Lozier had fixed footraces, but it did question his character by highlighting a shady past. The article states that Lozier was nearly killed in Sioux Falls, beaten until “his face looked like a piece of beefsteak” for pulling up early in a footrace.

On this date in 1911, an article in the Washington DC Post was set for the presses, declaring “Fleeced a Town of $750,000.” The fleecer was J.C. Mabray, “the magnate of the con game trust,” and Lozier was implicated as his associate. Mabray had gangs working all over the Midwest. The most popular grift for Mabray’s gang was fixing a sporting event, getting a rich business man to get in on the hustle, and then taking his money by turning the con on him. With the staged race set, the fixed winner would apparently drop dead in the middle of the race, and in the commotion Mabray’s gang would make off with all the money. Mabray thought this con ethically sound, stating he only took money from those who were willing to con others.

Gambling on amateur sporting events was eventually banned in North Dakota. The greatest amateur athletic reward is of honest physical will.

Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham

Sources:

The Daily Argus, August 1892
The Washington DC Post, August 6, 1911

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