Patty Kake did not want to be a school teacher when she graduated from high school in 1896 in Waco, Texas. She wanted adventure and excitement: the stuff she read about in the novels of the Wild West, all about cowboys taking herds of cattle from Waco up to Kansas City, Missouri. She loved reading about campfires, the sing-alongs with guitars and banjos, and the gambling. The poker games where the cowboys would sometimes lose all the money they would receive at the end of the journey to Kansas City.
The last year of high school, she studied everything she could about poker and the oddball types of poker that still could be called poker, such as Five Card Draw or Three Card Monty or Seven Cards with a Spit, No Spit and others.
One day, while helping her father on his large, cotton-growing ranch, she had a brilliant idea. She would sponsor a card-playing contest with a large prize for the winner. It had to be a game where everyone was equal, in that no one had ever played that game before. This would be challenging to the sharks who knew all the ins and outs of the various poker games. She decided to call this type of poker game “Texas Hold ‘Em.”
The players would get two cards face down. Then five cards were placed face down on the table. Players would bet on the cards face down after they had made bets on the two cards originally dealt. But what would be the grand prize for the winner? It would have to be a sizeable amount.
I’ll offer $1,000, Patty decided, but where do I get that money? She went to her father, John Kake, who told Patty that he would give her $300 as her high school graduation gift and wished her good luck. Patty was his only child and, naturally, he was concerned about her future as he wanted her to marry well, preferably to another cotton-growing farmer.
Patty had taken a marketing course in high school, and using some of that knowledge, she approached one of the two hotels in Waco and informed them she could fill their entire twenty-four rooms with gamblers for three straight days if they would pay her $1 a day for each guest. They thought about it and agreed. She then went to the other hotel in Waco and made the same offer. They, too, agreed to pay her a dollar a day for each of the three days.
Patty Kake went to the largest tavern in Waco. A tavern big enough to hold six poker tables of eight players. She told the owner, Pete Carroll, she wanted to have the poker contest there for three days. She wanted ten cents per drink sold from early morning until closing. She told Pete that not only would the players be drinking but hundreds of card-playing watchers would attend and Pete’s business would be enormous. It didn’t take Pete long to agree.
The next stop was to the stagecoach office of Wells Fargo. There she managed to cut a deal to have flyers sent out with every stagecoach that left Waco. Those flyers announced the poker tournament to be held at Pete Carroll’s tavern. The manager agreed as he knew this would increase passenger revenue from the gamblers and onlookers coming into Waco. The flyers informed the potential gamblers of the $1,000 grand prize. The cost to the players Patty Kake chose to be in the tournament would be $20 each.
With forty-eight players Patty’s take of gambling fees would be $960. Add to that the revenue from the two hotels and Pete Carroll’s tavern, and, well, there was almost a profit for Patty. Just to make sure, Patty visited the local horse stables where horses and wagons would have to stay overnight and pay a boarding fee. She offered to put their names on the flyers that Wells Fargo was distributing on all their routes from California to St. Louis, Missouri. Naturally, Patty expected a fee if they agreed. They all did so.
There were eighty-eight requests for Patty to participate in the Texas Hold ‘Em poker contest. She chose forty-eight from a vast assortment of oddballs and flamboyant folks she had read about in her high school days, including two Indians from a local tribe that was considered friendly and mannerly. Those chosen were Tom McGilacuddy, head of the policemen’s union in Salt Lake City; Black Eyed Jenny, a coal miner who had heard about the poker contest from a relative living in Austin, Texas; Two-Gun Harrison, a gold prospector from Desert Springs, Nevada (he had to leave his guns at home for no firearms were allowed at any table during the gambling sessions.); Darrell King, a railroad executive of the Texas, Nevada Railways; Sylvester Horatio Florentine, a free slave from Alabama now working as a railroad laborer; Hiram Walker, a bootlegger from Dallas; and Paulo Gonzales, an apple grower from somewhere in Washington state.
Just to make sure that it was an honest game, Patty wrote to the Bicycle Card Company of America to provide many, many decks of poker cards — for free, of course. In return, she would announce at each of the card tables that the cards were provided by that particular company. In addition, Patty had also enlisted the sheriff and his many deputies to be the dealers at the six tables.
Before the tournament began, Patty spent many hours at the sheriff’s office instructing the dealers-to-be on all aspects of this new game she had invented. They were quick learners. In fact, because of the many visits to the sheriff’s office, Patty discovered her first true love. But that’s another story.
The weekend of the poker tournament, Waco had more visitors than the town could handle. The local Indians rented out some of their tents due to the shortage of rooms, as the nearest housing was six miles away. Newspaper reporters from The St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times were present, as well as reporters from all the major cities in Texas and surrounding states.
The winner turned out to be a nondescript math teacher from San Diego, California, who had been visiting relatives in Waco. He had seen the ads, was accepted for the tournament, and sold his gold watch for the $20 entry fee. He hired the sheriff to escort him back to San Diego with his winnings.
As for Patty Kake, after paying the $1000 winner’s award, she pocketed over $478 for herself. She took the next stagecoach to St. Louis, took a train to New York City, and became a nightclub entertainer and then opened her own speakeasy. There she taught New Yorkers the fine poker game of Texas Hold ‘Em.