The Journeys of Parson Hogg


“It would generally take about a panatela to get over Ophir Pass in the winter whereas in the summer I could make the trek on a cheroot.”
– Otto Mears
“Gimme two cards..” – Parson Hogg

Repentance is always better in a slinky ted dress

This photo has little or nothing to do with the accompanying story but we thought a slinky red dress might get more attention.

People rarely ask me about my uncle, a circuit preacher who was well known in the gambling saloons of Telluride in the 1880s. Nonetheless he’s on tap for this month’s column.
Parson Hogg was a fearless traveler in these mountains, the San Juans, tracked by grizzly, confronted by warriors, almost freezing to death in a late spring snowstorm right out of the seminary, or so he said. His weekly trip over Ophir Pass from and on to the boom town of Telluride, was probably the most perilous according to his diaries. The solitude was paradise at times and eternal damnation in a moment, depending on who or what one encountered. In the 1880s the place was crawling with highwaymen, looking for gold and silver shipments to steal.
Relatives later said that it was the regular exposure to these dangers what made the man take to gambling.
Parson Hogg never took a drink of alcohol in all his adult years, having made himself deathly ill on snake oil bought from a migrant chemist in Delta as a boy. He was a man who not only learned hard lessons but made it look easy. He made it to Sunday services 47 out of 52 Sundays in 1885 and broke his own record in 1886, with one short of perfect.
Arriving in Telluride one morning at half passed seven he hurried to Jim Hurley’s corner saloon where his eager congregation would be waiting. Such as it was, the Saturday night smelling bar room was the site of the weekly Sunday service. The sermon today would focus on the attributes of prudence, considering the fact that it was already September and the winter was breathing its frigid breath down local necks.
“The man who plans ahead, stays ahead!” declaimed Hogg, working himself into a furry in just moments. “Ye shall flourish in the eyes of the Lord,” he wailed. “The Lord helps them what helps themselves!”
Hogg collected $14 which wasn’t too good for a stunning sermon delivered deep in the land bulging with precious ore. It was a puny stake but it would have to do.
When the Lord placed the opportunity of a gambling table in the lap of the faithful it would be sacrilegious to turn the other cheek.
The game had started across the alley in the parlor of the Woods Hotel.
“Hey, Reverend…you sitting in this morning? Collection basket pretty heavy, was it?” asked a lop-eared miner whose eye-balls needed a shine.
“Maybe for just a hand or two,” said Hogg
And that’s generally how it started, an innocent flirtation with the devil’s dictionary. Tonight Hogg was on too, drawing an inside straight right off and following it up two hands later with Queens and threes…a full house.
“Mighty fortunate card playing, Parson,” said one of the old timers that orbited the table.
“If we didn’t know you were a man of the cloth we’d think there was some monkey business going on,” said another.
“Ye shall flourish in the eyes of the Lord!” muttered Hogg to himself as he pulled in yet another cascade of chips.
“The Lord helps them what helps themselves,” he whispered, “and I damn well helped myself this morning!”
“Well, boys, it was a pleasure doing business with you this fine Sunday and I hope to see you all in church next week,” smiled Parson Hogg sincerely, careful not to tip his arrogance. “I’ve got to be cashing in my chips and going back to Silverton.”
My uncle’s winnings for that Sunday came to just over $200, a pretty good haul for a few hours work in 1887. The preacher shoved the money into his pocket, salvaged his mount from the local livery and headed toward Ophir, weighed down with the worries of a frontier cleric but secure in the fact that he traveled with the Lord and the $214. Although there was an eternity of daylight left and probably very few robbers operating this early in the morning, he took precautions, sticking the $14 collected at church in his pouch and his evil gains (in silver) under his flat-brimmed, black hat.
About two miles up Ophir Pass Hogg was confronted by a surly looking type who demanded his money.
“Why, I’m no more than a poor pastor,” said Hogg, “returning to my flock in Silverton. Surely…”
“Silence, preacher,” said the robber. “You’re carrying a tidy sum of money that you just won on a gambling table in Telluride.”
“How do you know about…I mean what are you talking about? I told you I…”
“Silence, preacher,” said the highwayman. “Now pass me that pouch before this pistol goes off in your general direction.”
Hogg slowly passed the pouch remembering that he had stashed the majority of his treasure under his hat.
“There’s only fourteen dollars here, preacher,” blasted he robber. “Where’s the other $200? Lets check them boots.”
Hogg thought quickly. How could this rabble know exactly how much money he was carrying? Unless…
“Do I know you sir,” offered Hogg.
“Many do,” answered the robber.
“Do you travel in darkness?”
“Many have seen me that-away.”
“Are you the fallen angel, Lucifer?
“At your service.”
Lucifer smiled and bowed condescendingly.
“Now hand over the cash, parson, before I blow your head off your shoulders and look for it within your remains.”
Once again, with his stake at ground zero Hogg had to rely on his wits. He was a tried and true gambler and he had heard the Devil was the wagering type.
“All right, you win,” said Hogg, his voice shaken. “If the $200 is in one of my boots, let’s make a wager. If you can pick the right boot, the money is yours. If you choose the wrong boot you let me go on my way in peace,” quipped Hogg.
Lucifer frowned, then smiled, then frowned again.
“Why should I agree to this wager when I could just take the money right now?” he asked.
“Because I’ve always heard that you’re the sporting type. Is that true or are you just the kind who relies only on his demonic might?” teased Hogg. “Your love of the game is legendary down in the gambling halls and I hate to see you lose such status over a measly $200.”
The Devil frowned again saying that he only wanted to keep the money from falling into the wrong hands anyway. He holstered his pistol and say down on a rock.
“You’re on, parson,” he spat. “Let me get a better look at those boots.”
The devil, now quite immersed in the game pondered the situation. He looked right and he looked left. He looked Hogg smack in the eyes. He looked again.
“It’s the right one,” said Lucifer. “The right boot. Take it off, preacher.
Feigning disappointment Hogg removed the boot exposing only one poorly sewn sock.
“What?” screamed the devil. “Where is the money? Let’s see that other boot!”
No such luck, Mr. highwayman,” chirped Hogg. “You didn’t pay to see that hand.”
And just as quickly as he had appeared, the defeated devil vanished leaving Hogg holding his boot, alone on Ophir Pass. And that’s how the story goes.
If there are those of you out there who are expecting Hogg to see the light and change his card playing ways, forget it. He continued to make his treks throughout the San Juan and was always a fixture at the green, felt table no matter if it was green, felt or otherwise.
– Kevin Haley

Filed Under: Fractured Opinion


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