The Yellow Kid
One of the most notorious confidence men in American history, Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil was born in 1875 and “studied” under legendary Chicago con man Doc Meriwether. While Weil eventually used nearly every method imaginable in his long swindling career, much of his early work centered around horse racing. Often he would spend time at the horse track and, taking advantage of his diminutive stature, pose as a horse jockey while offering to place bets for big spenders. Some other methods of swindling included “staging fake prize fights, selling ‘talking’ dogs, and selling oil-rich land that he did not own” (Terkel).
Weil was indiscriminate in his grifting, targeting everyone from millionaires—he claimed to have swindled half a million dollars out of Andrew Mellon’s brother—to the Chicago chapter of the Little Sisters of the Poor, from whom Weil pocketed a $3 check.
A psychiatrist once testified that Weil was “foppish to the last degree, a moral imbecile, possessed of a busy brain that is eternally plotting against somebody but unaware that injury is being done to others" (Grossman), a characterization that Weil found humorous. Though he was aware that his career was thoroughly dishonorable, Weil maintained that his conscience was clear, saying that each of his victims “had larceny in his heart” (Striessguth), and Weil lived to the ripe old age of 100.
The definitive work on the Weil (“Yellow Kid” Weil: The Autobiography of America’s Master Swindler) was written by Meridian, Mississippi, native W.T. Brannon. The University of Southern Mississippi Special Collections houses the W.T. Brannon Papers, and within this collection is correspondence related to Brannon’s research on Weil, including several discussions he had with the “Yellow Kid” regarding the book and other media projects. In these notes, Brannon makes clear his feelings about dealing with a man of Weil’s personality and ethics.
To learn more about this or any item in our collections, contact Andrew Rhodes at or 601.266.6765.
Grossman, Ron. “King of the Con Men.” Chicago Tribune, 20 January 2013.
Brannon, W.T. Yellow Kid” Weil: The Autobiography of America’s Master Swindler. Ziff-Davis Publishing, 1948.
Streissguth, Thomas. Hoaxers & Hustlers, The Oliver Press, Inc., 1994.
Terkel, Studs. Touch and Go: A Memoir. The New Press, 2007.