Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Tale of One Finlander's Contribution to the Card Game of Euchre


Robert Lloyd Moore
(born Wayno Knuttila, aka Wilfred Drechsler)
1912, Minneapolis, Minnesota










(Photograph by Herman Larson, a Swedish immigrant who opened his Minneapolis studio in1904. Moore is holding a copy of Waterloo GasolineTraction Engine Company’s first catalogue.)



Prologue
Dateline New York – March 12, 2009. Sotheby’s announced a record sale price for a forged copy of an obscure 19th century pamphlet on the card game of euchre.

On March 12, 2008, an unnamed buyer from Duluth, Minnesota paid $350,000 for a forged copy of "The Game of Euchre With Its Laws", published by E.H. Butler & Co. of Philadelphia in 1850. Only 14 copies of the 32-page pamphlet are known to exist today, and this twice-forged copy which introduced two new rules to the game, is unique. The pamphlet was expected to be sold at auction for $75,000.

Both the seller and buyer wish to remain anonymous.
Coming to America

Mikhael and Hilja Kallio Knuttila emigrated from Finland to the United States in 1883 at the urging of Mikhael’s brother Aino. Legions of loggers were still needed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, while Finland’s future remained uncertain as nationalists continued to oppose over a half a century of tsarist Russian dominance.

A Legacy from the White Pines

The Knuttilas arrived in the raucous lumber town of Seney, Michigan in September, and within the week Mikhael was hired by the Alger, Smith & Company to join the ranks of loggers sawing and cutting their way through the vast forests of virgin white pine.

Wayno, the second of seven children, was born in December of 1886. In 1893 his parents sent him to school to learn to read and write English, a language with which they both struggled. Wayno was exceptionally bright and exceptionally curious . More often than not, instead of in school he could be found in the liveries, mercantile shops, and saloons where he absorbed the stories and languages of the Swedes, Germans, Poles, Italians, and other immigrants.

At the age of 13 Wayno began working in the woods with his father and older brother Jalo - more wages were needed to support the growing Knuttila family. During the long harsh winters Wayno wrapped chains around the trunks of the trees that teams of horses dragged out over the frozen ground; the rest of the year he and Jalo manned a 6-foot "tuttle tooth" crosscut saw cutting the massive tree trunks into 16-foot logs.


















Photo 1 - Winter load of white pine logs near Seney, Michigan circa 1890


Mines, Pasties, and Euchre in the Copper Country

Two years of the rigors of logging life were enough for Wayno. With the blessing of his parents he headed to Calumet (the town then known as Red Jacket) in the heart of Michigan’s copper ore country, some 150 miles to the west. Red Jacket too was a boom town, one of many that sprung up in the post-Civil War boreal North to extract the land’s natural bounties which fed the ravenous hunger of the United States’ exploding industrial economy. Veins of high grade copper ran rich below the hills of the Keweenaw Peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior.

















Photo 2 - Smelters, Red Jacket in Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula , 1901


Finding the rewards of the life in the mines too grueling for paltry two dollar-a-day wages, and the daily fare of the pasty (a Cornish meat and potato hand-held pie favored by miners) too bland, he broadened his world with increasing confidence. Glib of tongue and quick in hand he soon found his calling in the backrooms of Red Jacket’s many saloons, playing cards first with the other miners then with the town’s more wealthy patrons.



















Photo 3 - Saloon in Red Jacket, Michigan, 1898


The Pennsylvania Dutch had popularized the game of euchre in America, but it was the Germans who brought the game to Lake Superior country as they too sought to create their futures in the North. In a gambling anomaly particular to these northern latitudes euchre rivaled both poker and faro for gamblers’ attention and high stakes, and Knuttila was well acquainted with the game having watched it being played by the hour in Seney. In 1904 he quit the Calumet & Hecla Company mines altogether, and within two months he bought a frock coat suit, complete with a Bollman top hat, from Jamison’s Gentleman’s Emporium on Pine Avenue.

Euchre, sometimes called "poor man's bridge" because it is played with a short deck of cards (nines through aces), is a partner card game; as such is difficult to cheat if not playing in cahoots with one’s partner. Regular partners endlessly sought new ways to surreptitiously communicate during the games, but they were regularly caught - never with restrained consequences. Knuttila not only excelled at the skill of the game and the handling of the cards, he was a masterful student of human nature - he quickly learned the habits of other players. Indeed, he often knew what others would bid or play before they did. This was his gift … combined with his adroit handling of the slim 24-card deck. Because he always changed partners, his winning ways were above suspect. Mostly.

One night Knuttila turned over one jack too many as the dealer. (The jack of the trump suit is called the right bower as is the highest ranked card in the deck.) With a passel of gamblers in hot pursuit Wayno hopped a train west on the Soo Line with considerable winnings in valise and top hat in hand.

The End of Lake Superior and the Beginning of No Trump

Duluth, Minnesota. It was, and of course so remains, Lake Superior’s western-most harbor and port. Near the turn of the century, the Great Lakes blossomed as the principal mode of industrial transport from the resource-rich North to the rest of the country. When Knuttila arrived the vast iron ore deposits under the nearby Mesabi Range were being ripped open with an unholy fury.















Photo 4 - "A Birdseye View of Duluth, Minn" Post Card, circa 1906


The year was 1905 and for the next 5 years Knuttila would be known as Wilfred Drechsler. He growled a suitable German-accented English and sported an upturned moustache that rivaled that of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II.

It was in the Klondike Saloon, next to the well-regarded Hotel Spaulding, that now-Drechsler resumed his card-playing career. It is also where he is credited with the creation of euchre’s “No Trump” rule. Drechsler had long considered that such a rule would enliven the game and further his gambling successes. During a game at the Klondike he attempted to declare “no trump,” saying that it was a recently-rediscovered rule of euchre. (The “No Trump” rule simply states that after the flip card has been refused as trump by the dealer, in the second round of trump declaration, a player has the option of declaring there will not be any trump for that hand.) “Preposterous,” was the unambiguous response. Try as he may he convinced neither players nor bystanders. It was too late to back down, and Drechsler accepted the challenges and sizable wagers to prove that “No Trump” was a bona fide rule of the game. He was given a week.

Unbeknownst to all, Drechsler had in his possession a rare and worn copy of the near-mythical The Game of Euchre With Its Laws, by “the Professor,” published in Philadelphia in 1850. The thin pamphlet was accepted in reputation by all to be the bible of the rules of euchre as it was the first such compendium of rules published in America and the predecessor of numerous and oft-contradictory books on euchre. Drechsler knew it had been seen by none in Duluth and only a few beyond.

Drechsler’s cousin Jaako, son of Aino, had moved to Duluth in 1899 and established a successful printing business on 1st Avenue, halfway up the hill overlooking Duluth’s congested and chaotic port. Drechsler pleaded with his cousin for help, offering to pay the princely sum of $300 to complete a forgery by inserting a mere eight words into the second paragraph on page 14.
Should the dealer refuse the honor of picking up the turned card atop the talon, the eldest, which is to say the gentleman to the left of the dealer, is offered the first opportunity to declare trump "or to state there shall be no trump". Should he decline to do so, most often with great reluctance, the opportunity is passed on to the gentleman at his left, and so on around the table. If the honor to declare a trump arrives back to the dealer and he too declines, the hand is determined to be completed.
Jaacko studied the aged paper and type set of the pamphlet and decided he could indeed forge and insert a new page 14 without affecting the remainder of the book, and did so within 3 days. Drechler swore his cousin to secrecy

Drechsler returned triumphantly to the Klondike with the copy of The Game of Euchre to the reluctant satisfaction of his gaming colleagues and collected his wagers. “No Trump” was henceforth adopted at the Klondike tables and the rule slowly spread to other saloons and gaming houses in Duluth. Drechsler’s continued his winning ways at the tables. When later asked by others to see The Game of Euchre, Drechsler stated with great sadness that he was the victim of robbery, (the ruse which he had reported to the Duluth police) and the pamphlet was among the stolen items.

Drechsler’s intellect, judge of human nature, and charm also translated well into the world of business. In 1908 at the age of 22 he became the controlling partner of the Klondike and was living in the Hotel Spaulding’s luxurious 6th floor suite. But a cloud unexpectedly formed on his horizon with the arrival of Albert Vandenburg from Philadelphia. Vandenburg was bookish man who sought to be part of Duluth’s burgeoning educated middle class. He and Drechsler struck up an easy friendship, which included conversations that occasionally touched on the subject of euchre (which Vandenburg himself did not play). After recounting his reconstructed history of “No Trump” and the loss of the book, Vandenburg offered to see if he could have his brother, a bookseller in Philadelphia, find a copy of The Game of Euchre and send it to Duluth. The more Drechsler tried to dissuade him, the more insistent Vandenburg became.

Having too much too lose should his forgery be exposed, Drechsler left. He abruptly sold his ownership in the Klondike and moved on. He generously tipped the porters on the train.

Amber Waves of Grain and Dealers’ Remorse

It was west again, this time to Minneapolis, now an established metropolitan area largely due to its flour milling industry. He shed his moustache, accent, and history to become Robert Lloyd Moore. Another new future awaited him.

The 24-year old “Moore” had long left behind the mosquitoes and black flies of the Upper Peninsula’s ravaged forests, the acrid smell of the carbide lamps in the mines, and the saloons’ beer-soaked floors. He was to become a gentleman.


















Photo 5 - Downtown Minneapolis, 1908


With the sizable profits from the sale of the Klondike safely deposited in the Midland Bank, Moore took up residence in the newly-opened Radisson Hotel, reputed to be the finest hotel between Chicago and San Francisco. It wasn't long before long Moore was hosting high stakes euchre games in the hotel’s Gentlemen’s Club on the second floor. By 1910 the "no trump" rule was broadly accepted, having been spread by word of mouth across the northern Midwest, and his copy of The Game of Euchre remained secreted in the bottom of Moore’s leather-covered steamer trunk. His engaging personality and guile increased his fortunes at the tables and in business; and as importantly, brought him into comfortable contact with many of Minneapolis’ industrial barons, including the Pillsburys and Washburns.






















Photo 6 - Radisson Hotel, Minneapolis, 1912


Moore and James Washburn, heir to the General Mills fortune, became fast friends. Both in their twenties, they shared in their delights of many of Minneapolis’ social amenities. Moore gained Washburn’s interest in a proposed business venture – a chance for Moore to become a partner in John Froelich’s Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. Froelich had perfected a gasoline internal combustion engine that could be used to power the ever-larger farm tractors, but after 18 years of commercial failures he sorely lacked the necessary capital to bring the engine into production. It wasn’t too late to make one’s fortune servicing the seas of grain which fed the cocky nation.

And the euchre games went on, often lasting well into the morning hours. The “no trump” rule wearied Washburn; he had suffered too many missed opportunities holding three aces and being short suited. And so he complained yet again late one night after others had left the game and the two friends enjoyed another unneeded brandy. On unsteady feet Moore took the elevator to his room and returned with his forged copy of The Game of Euchre and pointed out the rule to Washburn to try to end his prattle once and for all. For reasons still unknown, Moore let Washburn take the pamphlet home and within days Washburn had determined it to be a forgery.

Washburn confronted Moore and Moore braced himself for the worst. But Washburn was both amused and impressed with Moore’s ingenuity and boldness. Washburn had a proposal for Moore: If Moore would collaborate on a second forgery of The Game of Euchre to insert another rule, Washburn would remain silent about the forgery and back the Moore’s investment in Froelich’s company. The rule he proposed was to be known as “Stick the Dealer” where should the second round of trump declaration return to the dealer, the dealer would be obliged to declare trump. Being both fearful of endangering his growing successes, and anxious to join Froelich, Moore agreed. He returned to Duluth to again visit his cousin Jaako and now offered him $2,000 for a second forgery. The last line of the same paragraph on page 14 was now to read,
… If the honor to declare a trump arrives back to the dealer, "he is obligated to declare a trump suit, or that there would be no trump, as the case may be".
Jaako again was able to make the change and replace the single page in The Game of Euchre. His skills had only improved since his last forgery, and it was with satisfaction he returned the pamphlet to his cousin.

Moore and Washburn casually began mentioning that they had begun to hear of a long forgotten rule of euchre that disallowed the deal to be passed without the hand being played. When the subject came up again, Moore mentioned that he had a friend in New Jersey who might have a copy of The Game of Euchre which might shed some light on this rumor. Should he write to ask? "But of course", was the response.

Within weeks Moore shared his now twice-forged pamphlet with his card-playing colleagues. They looked upon it with reverence and handled it with care. And there it was on page 14. The Game of Euchre was set aside, the cards dealt, and “Stick the Dealer” was born. (It is said that Washburn was the first victim of his own rule that very night, having to declare hearts as trump with only a king and queen of hearts in his hand. He was soundly euchred.)

Epilogue

In 1912, Froelich and Moore’s Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company began production of America’s then-most powerful tractor. By 1916 their tractors accounted for almost one quarter of all new tractors sold in the United States, and in 1918 the Deere & Company (predecessor to the John Deere Tractor Company,) bought Froelich and Moore’s company for $2.2 million

In 1920, Moore, in partnership with Curt Carlson, bought the Radisson Hotel, where he maintained his residence on the 12th floor throughout his life. After his father Mikhael died in 1918, he moved his mother to Marquette, Michigan and provided for her until her death in 1933.

Moore became one of Minneapolis’ generous benefactors of the arts, most notably contributing to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Hennepin Theater.

Robert Lloyd Moore hosted his last weekly euchre game in the Radisson’s Gentlemen’s Club on June 27, 1960, two days before he died peacefully in his sleep.












Robert Lloyd Moore, 1952


Postscript: It is assumed that neither Jaako Knuttila nor James Washburn ever revealed Moore’s secret, and Moore certainly never showed his copy of The Game of Euchre With Its Laws again. How it came to auction 60 years after Moore’s death is unknown.