Missouri bankroll, was Michigan bankroll

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Dec 13 23:56:11 UTC 2000

I think this is exactly right. Michigan was not derided but praised for its
"sharpness" (a clever guy from MI would carry out such a ruse).

dInIs (trying to boost his new home state)

>  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 ?

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at pilot.msu.edu
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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