BULL STREET - The art of the Con


The Two Rats - and a Wildcat

Written by G. E. Hanson in 1887

An old rat, whose long residence in the city had given him great knowledge of the wiles of civilized life, observed one evening a tempting bit of cheese close by his favorite hole in the wall. Instead of greedily rushing at it, he called a young friend, saying, “Whiskerando, some kind person has prepared a feast for us. Help yourself.” The guileless innocent rushed on the cheese, which he devoured voraciously: but, alas! In a few minutes, he rolled over on his back, stone dead. The dainty was poisoned. “My experience in Wall Street has stood me in well,” mused the old rat as he turned into his hole: “it is safer to give other folks pointers, and pocket your commission, than to risk your all on a wildcat investment.”

This work will deal with the historic punishments for crimes over the years, however, you will find as you peruse this material, the degree of criminality often varies with the morality of the times. What people consider to be of value and what the crime for taking it is, differs as global sophistication increases. In compiling this material it seemed to leap off the pages that the more anarchistic and less obsessive that rulers over time became, the less the chance that the society as it was then constituted had of surviving. As the pendulum swung to other side of the equation, we found that excessively despotic rulers tended to overreach, annoying the daylights out of population and eventually bringing down the house of cards. It would seem that over-reaching and being a control freak are more synonymous than would have been previously believed. Those that stayed to the middle of the road seemed to create a longevity and personal survivability not seen in either of the other two classes.

The dastardly nature of a crime would be primarily viewed as to what the existing social customs were in any given community during various epochs. The punishment for sedation and most other transgressions of that sort would naturally have graver penalties attached to them during periods of fighting with one’s neighbors then when there was peace. Plagiarism or forgeries were not major criminal categories until there was something to copy that had value. The same swindle could have dramatically dissimilar consequence when consideration was given to the value of the objects that were stolen. However, people like P. T. Barnum took money under false pretenses from people every day of the week, and he was never criminally punished for his actions because, he provided entertainment for local populations.

By tracing how laws have changed over time, history tells us what the people of any given era thought was most valuable to them. At times it could have been a cow, a wife, jewels or fire to keep one warm. Murder is one of the few crimes to stay at the top of the list since the beginning of record keeping, because one’s life was always considered his most valuable property. Numerous timetables of legal history have been created to trace these events and how regulations were created and enforced. My father was an attorney and was once asked to create the events in the history of law that were the most critical turning points and why they came about. Ultimately, after he had put the chronology together, coins were made commemorating those events by “The Legal Commemorative Society” and from that point they were engraved and turned into sterling silver coins. Most of the events that we note in this short history of crimes and punishments come from that series.



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