When Keno Amused the Captives

Charles Hazard

January 15, 1993|By Charles Hazard

Maryland's shores. During the Civil War a strip of land separating the Potomac River from the Chesapeake Bay in Southern Maryland was the site of a large Union prison camp called Point Lookout.

A Confederate prisoner there, John Omenhausser, recorded the daily camp life in a series of 14 charming but folksy pencil and wash drawings. One shows a relaxed group of rebels on the beach playing ''Keeno.''

The players wagered crackers and plugs of tobacco when the rare ''Greenback'' dollars or ''Confeds'' were not available. The Keeno master happily accepted as a stake anything of value.

Omenhausser's scene shows a player labeled 5 exclaiming ''Keeno on the bottom line!'' Nearby, a dispirited figure 7 speaks for many Marylanders to follow: ''I have lost all my tobacco and have not won a single pot!''

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