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Dice Games and Court Hearings

There was a time when taking a chance and “rollin’ the bones” meant literally rolling bones. The “bones” in this case are playing dice. Evidence of dice games dates back over 8,000 years, with various cultures making the die from shells, fruit pits, and animal bones. In particular, the ankle bones of sheep and cattle made good die because they are naturally cube-like in shape.

One of the simplest dice games is craps, which only requires a pair of dice, while players make wagers on the outcome of a roll. Because of craps’ simplicity, it has been a popular street game in the US since the colonial era. However, when dice wagers are compounded with money, the game of chance transforms into gambling. And with gambling, soon comes trouble.

On this date in 1912, the Bismarck Tribune reported the story of two men in a heated quarrel over a game of craps. Joseph Davis had invited Joseph Antone to “roll the bones.” Antone lost. He then accused Davis of switching the dice midgame, “compelling him to shoot crooked dice,” which led to the 50 dollar loss. Davis denied the use of rigged dice, also known as “juggling.” Antone disagreed and sought a warrant for Davis’ arrest.

Davis was apprehended and charged with vagrancy and dice “juggling.” Davis pleaded not guilty and demanded an immediate trial. According to the Bismarck Tribune, the trial was “interesting and amusing,” with Davis representing himself, and Antone performing the role of prosecuting attorney. The Tribune went on to state that, “[t]he cross-examinations and arguments made… by the amateur attorneys outclassed all of the comedy photo plays ever exhibited in Bismarck.”

Joseph Davis was not a Bismarck native, hailing from Chicago. After hearing all the evidence from the pair of Joes, Police Magistrate Casselman found Davis guilty as charged and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

Dakota Datebook by Maria Witham


“Joe Davis Joseph Antone Expounded Blackstone Befo[r]e Judge Casselman.” Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, 20 Aug. 1912 p.6


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