Born in a Romnichal tent in Yorkshire, Jones learned classic scams young. At twenty, he migrated to Canada in search of fresh marks. He honed his three card monte travelling Canada as a thrower with Dick Cady. Three-card Monte sometimes known as find the lady and three-card trick is a confidence game in which the victim, or mark, is tricked into betting a sum of money, on theassumption that they can find the “money card” among three face-down playing cards.
When Jones wanted bigger game, he left Cady and headed south to the Mississippi riverboats. There he joined up with George Devol, Holly Chappell and Tom Brown, working gambling boats. When the foursome broke up, Devol and Jones kept at it until the American Civil War.
Jones was a good hustler but a terrible gambler. Devol once stumbled across Bill losing his shirt in a clearly rigged poker game. George tried to convince Bill to quit the game, arguing he couldn’t possible win. Bill famously retorted “I know it’s crooked, but it’s the only game in town”
They eventually fell out when Jones caught Devol trying to cheat him. Devol claimed Jones cheated him first, and Devol simply repaid himself at the first opportunity. Devol also said that Jones was tow-haired, blue-eyed, never had a hair on his face or weighed more than 130 pounds, often complained of pains in his head, and “could turn monte with the best of them.”
After the war, Dutch Charlie was Jones’ next partner, this time in Kansas City. When they won $200,000 there, they decided to move on to working the Omaha, Nebraska to Kansas City trains. When the Union Pacific Railway management started clamping down on three-card-monte players, he wrote the general superintendent of the railway, offering $10,000 a year to secure an exclusive franchise, but was rebuffed. Other accounts variously claimed that Canada Bill offered the officers of the Union Pacific $1000 a month or $30,000 a year if they would let him play monte on their trains – and he would only play preachers. Jones moved on to Chicago, in 1874 teaming up with Jimmy Porter and “Colonel” Charlie Starr. There he opened and worked four gambling joints, all crooked.
He won and lost $150,000 in a year, consistently falling for short card cons. Moving on to Cleveland with Porter, he continued to lose to professionals there as fast as he won from his marks. He passed away at the age of 40 from consumption in the Charity Hospital at Reading, Pennsylvania. The mayor was reimbursed for the funeral by the gamblers of Chicago.
John Quinn wrote in Fools of Fortune that
“… as the coffin was being lowered into the grave one of his friends offered to bet $1,000 to $500 that `Bill was not in the box.’ The offer found no takers, for the reason, as one of his acquaintances said, ‘that he had known Bill to squeeze through tighter holes than that.”