On a cold Texas night in 1852, Cara shoots dead her violent drunk scoundrel husband, Reuben. Cara’s four- and five- year-old sons, Jamey and Jake Galloway, must grow up fast. Cara inherits Reuben’s run-down saloon in the town of Serenity Falls. She makes the enterprise succeed and keeps her sons out of serious trouble.
Through their teens and young adulthood, Jake and Jamey roam the West. They try carpentry, mining, Indian scouting, and other ventures. One trade puts coins into their pockets again and again. The brothers have a real knack for gambling—poker, three-card monte, racing their favorite horse. They learn how to spot cheaters and to walk away before winning too much.
On one visit home, the brothers hear that cattle baron Wilhelm Krieg threatens to throw the town’s small farmers and other land owners off their land. Krieg wants it all for his cattle operation. Outgunned by Krieg and his thugs, Jamey conjures up a clever and dangerous con-game to save Serenity Falls and swindle Krieg.
Weinstein’s story moves fast, in places perhaps too fast. Some story lines could be further developed: romances that never really get started, friendship with an English-speaking Native American, a too-brief stint with a rag-tag remnant of the Confederate army. Several point-of-view shifts are a bit jarring. Overall, Galloway’s Gamble is an interesting period piece, and the final complicated gamble will please any reader who roots for the little guy.