While gambling has been historically considered a man’s occupation, there is a number of legendary women who have built themselves a reputation in gambling, playing poker, baccarat, and other games of chance. This article lists the five most prominent female gamblers of the 19th century.
5. Eleanor Dumont
Eleanor Dumont, otherwise called Eleonore Alphonsine Dumont, was nicknamed "Madame Moustache" due to, well, an actual dark mustache that grew on her upper lip. What made her famous, however, was her notorious skill as a gambler.
Eleanor originally came from France but her family came to Wild West when she was very young. She was constantly on the move: from California to South Dacota, to Nevada, to Arizona, to San Francisco. She made a living off gambling at the casinos everywhere. The gambling parlor "Vingt-en-un" which she opened in Nevada City was a respectable place: only decent gentlemen were admitted there, and no women at all save the hostess. The place was very popular because a woman dealer was a peculiarity at those days. It was considered a privilege to be allowed in and spend time in the company of the charming lady who, though hospitable, kept her distance from the customers. When Eleanor felt it was time to expand the business, she entered into a partnership with a gambler and a businessman Dave Tobin. The "Dumont's Place" parlor which they opened together had been successful for some time. When the bubble was off the wine, Eleanor left Nevada, bought a ranch in Carson City, and seemed to have settled down until Jack McNight broke her heart and left her penniless. She then took to the road again, making money by gambling and prostitution. In addition to being a famous gambler with a good reputation, she established a brothel and became a “madam” somewhere around 1860.
Madame Moustache committed suicide in 1879 after she lost a game and ended up owing a large sum of money.
4. Lottie Deno
Carlotta J. Thompkins was a famous poker player from Kentucky. Reportedly, she came from a wealthy racehorse breeder’s family. Her father was also a gambler, and he would take Charlotta with him when he traveled. He introduced her to casinos and taught her the card game. The young woman was sent to Detroit to find a husband after her father’s death. However, having run out of money there, she decided to make a living on her own, by gambling. She traveled the Mississippi River together with Mary Poindexter, her nanny and bodyguard.
In 1865, Lottie settled down in San Antonio: she became a house gambler at the University Club and fell in love with Frank Thurmond. When Frank, being accused of murder, fled the town, Lottie went with him on a quest through Texas. In Fort Griffin, a frontier outpost known for gambling and general roughness of its visitors and inhabitants, Lottie became a famous, almost legendary figure. She was given nicknames such as “Angel of San Antonio”, “Mystic Maud”, and “Queen of the Pasteboards”. After several years, she moved to New Mexico and became the owner of a gambling room and a restaurant in Silver City.
After many years of living a dangerous and exciting life of gamblers, Lottie and Frank got married, gave up the games of chance, and even helped to found St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.
3. Alice Ivers
Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert, an English poker star who built her gambling career in the American West, was also known by the names of "Poker Alice", "Poker Alice Tubbs", and "Poker Alice Ivers". Born in Devon, England, Alice was brought up in Virginia, United States. She did not become interested in poker until she married Frank Duffield, a gambler who taught Alice the secrets of the game and then conveniently got himself shot. At first, his widow tried several honest jobs, such as teaching, but then moved on to play poker for a living. She was a gambler and a dealer, and, since a female gambler was a novelty, she would often be challenged and the crowds would gather to watch her play. She was a beautiful woman, which was helpful at the table, but first and foremost an excellent poker player. She would make up to $6,000 a night, which was very serious money.
Alice opened a saloon of her own in 1910, the “Poker Palace” in Fort Meade, South Dakota. It was a combination of a gambling parlor and a brothel, but Alice, being a religious woman, would not have it open on Sundays. The rule was broken only once, and it led to a disaster. In 1913, some drunken soldiers had a party at the establishment, which quickly turned to chaos. The angry hostess fired her gun, killed one man, injured the other, and was arrested. At the trial, she claimed self-defense and was pronounced innocent, but the saloon was shut down. Alice did not stop her illegal activities after that and was arrested several more times for gambling, keeping a brothel, and selling alcohol. Surprisingly enough, she never got an actual prison sentence.
Alice died at the respectable age of 79 after a gallbladder operation.
2. Kitty LeRoy
Kitty Leroy of Michigan was a professional dancer by the age of ten. In addition to dancing, the young lady also learned to shoot and gamble. By the age of 15, she was married, but the quiet family life did not agree with her. She traveled west and by 20 was a married woman for the second time, as well as a famous performer. Eventually, she became a faro dealer giving up dancing. She would often dress as a man or as a gypsy. Kitty decided to move to California together with her husband number two, but somewhat changed her mind in the process, and got married to a husband number three before reaching the destination. This relationship was short and tempestuous: after a verbal fight, Kitty challenged her husband to a gunfight and changed into a man's clothing because he would not duel a woman. Having done so, the lady shot her lover, injured him, and called for a preacher who married the couple. Husband number three mercifully died several days later.
Kitty moved to Deadwood, Dakota Territory, around 1876. There, she worked as a prostitute, opened a gambling saloon, and got married for the fourth time. Eventually, she drew husband number four out after hitting him on the head with a bottle in a heated argument. Kitty continued to successfully manage her saloon as well as her own brothel until her fifth marriage. Husband number five, Samuel R. Curley, was an extremely jealous man. In a fit of jealousy, he shot Kitty dead on the 6th of December 1877, and then committed suicide.
1. Maria Gertrudis Barceló
Maria Gertrudis “Tules” Barceló was a New Mexican saloon owner and professional gambler. She became known as the “Queen of Sin” and depicted as the embodiment of immorality in the newspaper series the purpose of which was to justify the invasion of Mexico by the U.S.
Maria was most likely born in Sonora, Mexico, though it is sometimes stated that she came from France. She married Manuel Sisneros in 1823 but retained her maiden name as well as all her property. Just two years later, she was fined for operating an illegal gambling parlor, so she moved to Santa Fe and established another saloon there. According to Susan Magoffin, Maria “made her living by running a house where open gambling, drinking, and smoking were enjoyed by all...with no thought of being socially degraded.” It is difficult to determine what information about her life and occupation is actually true because there were many rumors and accounts of varying degree of darkness spread already during her lifetime. The one thing that can be said for sure is that Maria was a good gambler and a wealthy woman. The U.S. Army even took a loan from her after New Mexico was invaded.
Maria Barceló died in 1852. She left the several houses that she owned in Santa Fe and her fortune of $10,000 to her siblings.
Words: Jelena Schmidt