Missouri bankroll, was Michigan bankroll

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Wed Dec 13 22:58:45 UTC 2000

   I was surprised to see mention of a Michigan bankroll, and I'm
wondering what the justification for the term is.  I'm familiar with
"Missouri bankroll" and its justification: a mockery of Missouri's
supposed poverty. But was Michigan also derided as being poor?

    A Missouri gentleman once told me about how he and some male
friends would flash a Missouri bankroll when they would go out on a
date (in the 1950s). It would consist of one-dollar bills surrounded
by a single bill of some high denomination. It would be flashed
casually and intended to give the impression that the owner was some
big-time spender. It was sheer teenage bravado.

    Also, the eminent folklorist Archie Green, who has specialized in
the labor movement,told me a story he had picked up years earlier
from an old "Wobbly" (member of the I.W.W., a radical working group
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). I wrote it up in:
Gerald Cohen, "From Labor Lore: _Missouri Bankroll_", in: _Studies in
Slang_, vol. 4,(ed.: Gerald Leonard Cohen), Frankfurt am Main: Peter
Lang.1995, pp.74-75.
    The gist of what happened is that migrant workers returning home
flush with cash would often be robbed in the boxcars. The robbers
would engage migratory workers in gambling.  If a worker took out a
roll of bills, he would be set upon by several cronies of the gambler
and beaten up and robbed.
    To combat this practice the Wobblies organized protective and
retaliatory gangs. The technique was to have a Wobbly prepare his
Missouri bankroll in advance (a roll or wad of toilet paper cut to
the width of dollar bills and surrounded by several genuine bills  of
large denomination). The Wobbly would flash the Missouri bankroll
during a game of chance, and this would attract the attention of the
gambler and his cronies.  However, lurking in the shadows of the car
were several strong Wobblies disguised as hobos.
    When the crooks started to close in on the bankroll, the Wobblies
in turn closed in on the crooks, beat them up and threw them from the
boxcar, sometimes to their death. This latter action was referred to
by the Wobblies as "greasing the rails" (from hobo lingo, where it
referred to any incident, accidental or not, in which a person dies
under the wheels of the train.
    Archie Green expressed discomfort at hearing of this practice of
greasing the rails, but the Wobbly assured him if the rails were
greased just once, word of the incident spread very quickly;  and it
was possible to ride the boxcars for at least several weeks from cost
to coast without encountering any robberies.

---Gerald Cohen

At 12:10 PM -0500 12/13/00, Michael wrote:
>my parents, who both have ties to michigan, use this
>phrase to describe a pile of cash that is either all
>or mostly made up of singles (one dollar bills) --
>has anyone else ever heard this or know where the
>phrase originated ?

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