Memphis Fast Fiction Home
Patrick Woods

When I quit Memphis, I knew most of my acquaintances must’ve thought my rather sudden love of the secessionist movement a rather strange turn of character.

Sadly, the reality was one of cowardice and not patriotism. I’d run up some rather serious gambling debts in the weeks before the Union took the city, and I doubted my debtors would be so lugubrious in seeking repayment once marshal law lifted.

I petitioned the Provost Marshal for a pass out of the city, claiming I had a sickly mother in Alabama that desperately needed my care. A pass was granted, and I left the next day, believing my troubles behind me.

Some time later, I came upon a wagon of men traveling along the same road. They said they were refugees fleeing the tyranny of Union occupation. Jokingly, I professed to be a kindred soul, and they promptly offered me passage on their wagon.

Once I’d settled into a free space, the men around me struck into a Confederate fighting song I had never heard before.

And promptly followed it with ten more.

A sinking feeling grew in me that I’d escaped one bad situation by leaping head-long into the next.

Memphis Note
Special Order Number 1 was issued when the Union forces took Memphis during the Civil War. It established marshal law, and gave a window of time for men to either take the oath of loyalty to the United States, or petition for pass to leave the city. Several less than scrupulous people took this as an opportunity to flee various forms of debts by escaping to the other side of the Union lines.

Scout Anglin

“I made most of my money running this saloon. And most of that came from the gambling, so you’ll have to take my word when I say a thing or two about taking a chance.”

Edward Shaw finished pouring the whiskey and slid the tumbler across to the Republican Party official across from him. It was too early for the bar to be open, and this wasn’t a friendly meeting.

“They say if you’re poor, you’ve got nothing to lose.” Shaw poured himself one, and immediately downed it. “I say if you’re rich, you can afford to take a bigger risk than the people with nothing, and that’s what I aim to do.”

The party official pushed the proffered drink away with a frown.

“You still won’t beat him, Shaw. Not even if you got every negro in the whole state to vote for you.”

Shaw took the drink for himself, hissing through his teeth at the alcohol burn.

“You’re probably right. But you’ll lose, and you’ll spend the rest of the term stinging from that loss. And you know what? I bet next time the you won’t take us for granted and nominate a racist son of a bitch.”

Memphis Note
Edward Shaw was a freed slave that became one of Memphis’s first advocates of racial equality. He made his money running a saloon and gambling hall, but used that money to start a newspaper and become a lawyer. He was the city’s first black wharf master, and a key ally of the local Republican Party. Which he proved to them in an election by splitting the vote against them because they ran an avowed racist.

Shawn Wolowicz

Eric was a dozen beers and a half pack of smokes into his “I got fired and dumped in the same week” bender when he spied the neon glow of the slot machines in the side room of the bar.

He got up from his stool, wobbling a bit at first, and made his way back to the machines. They were old, but not ancient, with gaudy tumblers covered in cherries, 7s, and dollar signs. To the side, the money slot glowed green, egging him on.

Why not. Not like his luck could get any worse.

He fed the machine a buck, and pulled the lever. There was a thunk and an acrid smell of wires melting as the tumblers began to spin.

The first 7 locked in, then the second, and then the final one. Bell and whistles erupted as he hit the jackpot.

“Hey! What are you doin’ back here!” Yelled the bartender from behind him.

“I won!” Eric said, pointing at the slot machine.

The bartender looked him over and snarled, “You a cop?”

Confused, Eric shook his head. “No, not a cop.”

The bartender snarled again, saying, “Machines are for novelty use only. Now get out.”

Memphis Note
If you ever see a slot machine in the back of a Memphis bar, stay away from it. It probably works, and will probably take your money, but there’s no way you’re going to be getting anything out of it. Several Memphis bars, including the Buccaneer, were shut down when the police discovered they had illegal slot machines in the back. They were operating them like a private back room poker game, only with slot machines instead of cards. Which seems a whole lot more boring to me.

Lindsey Turner

It had been storming hard for days. The inside of the stockade was the only part of Fort Assumption that wasn’t soaking wet, and to say it was dry would be a gross over exaggeration.

Through the door burst a group of green troops, freshly sent up from New Orleans to join in the war against the Chickasaw. The veterans inside barely even acknowledged their presence.

But, much to everyone’s surprise, a young rifleman walked up to a group of veterans playing cards in the corner and opened his mouth.

“What are you playing?” He asked the men.

“It’s like other card games, but with house rules.” Answered the man dealing out cards to the table.

“Could you teach me if I wanted to play?”

“You’ll pick it up, don’t worry.”

“Well, if it’s your game, how do I know you’re not going to cheat me?”

“Do you see the money on the table?”


“This money is ours. Do you see anyone rolling on the ground in unbearable agony crying out for their mother, a knife shanked into their ribs?”


“Then we are not cheating. Now ante up or go the hell away.”

And sure enough, he did.

Memphis Note
Fort Assumption was the main French outpost on the bluffs of the Mississippi, it was used for exploration and to wage war against the Indians. But, it was not what you’d expect of a military outpost. It had a reputation for being the most drunken, debauched outposts on the French frontier. Which makes since, when you realize that it was the place Memphis was founded on.

Shawn Wolowicz

The crookbacked old man eyed me as he undid the lock on the doors. I pushed my way past him, eager to have this done.

“I dun’ know why you need to see the inside of the Senate if you’re just gonna tear her down, sir.” His voice was like whiskey flowing over rocks.

“Just a perfunctory inspection, for the lawyers.”

The inside of the building was more decayed than the old man. Frescos, once brilliant in color had become dull and grey, peeling like the shingles on the back of his neck. The furniture was gone, the opulent carpet stained with boot tracks and vagrant piss.

“Could just as well build her up to new.” He mumbled, intentionally loud enough for me to hear.

I turned toward him. He stiffened.

“I don’t disagree. The Senate was truly a marvel to the fickle mistress that is chance. It flourished under her favor, and fell to ruin when it departed. ” I smiled at him.

“Unfortunately, that’s not our decision to make. Do you know what progress is? It’s a beast with no eyes that can only be sated by devouring old, forgotten things. And progress has chosen to eat the Senate.”

Memphis Note
The Senate was a hotel and gambling establishment at the corner of Jefferson and Main. It, like many of Memphis’s gambling halls, flourished after the Civil War as soldiers came home flush with cash. It stood out from the other halls of the time because of quality of its facilities and its service. The walls and ceiling were frescoed, every room furnished in the finest way, and the restaurant and saloon were both known for serving the finest food and spirits. It was also the only casino in Memphis that never had a fatality on its premises. Sadly, the Senate was shuttered in the early 1880s because of so kind of legal dispute and sold at public auction for barely $50,00. It was ultimately torn down in 1886 to make way for a massive Lowenstein and Brothers store.