Note: This story is from my book Highway History And Back Road Mystery.
The Old West was populated by a remarkably colorful collection of adventurers, dreamers, rebels, and misfits. It took men and women of outlandish character to be willing to explore new lands, endure the hardships that accompanied pioneer life, and survive under conditions far removed from what they were accustomed to back east.
Maybe their methods and lifestyles were not quite what “polite society” was used to, but the characters who made their mark during our westward expansion painted the landscape and history in broad and brilliant patterns.
One such unforgettable character was Poker Alice of Deadwood, South Dakota, a hard drinking gambler, madam, and bootlegger whose antics earned her legendary status that lives on today.
A woman of unusual beauty in her youth, she was born Alice Ivers in Devonshire, England on February 17, 1853, and was educated in the finest schools. When Alice was a young woman, her family immigrated to the United States and settled in Colorado, where she married a mining engineer named Frank Duffield.
Duffield loved playing poker and taught his young bride the game. Alice proved herself to be a good student and she seemed to have a natural skill for playing cards. In fact, the student soon outshined the teacher, and Duffield found it hard to win against his bride.
By all accounts the marriage of Alive Ivers to Frank Duffield was a happy union, and many who knew her said that he was the great love of her life. But sadly, it was not to be a long relationship. Soon after they were married, Frank Duffield was killed in a mine accident in Leadville, Colorado.
Looking for a way to support herself and to ease her grief, Alice became a professional gambler and soon became a familiar face in the gambling halls of Colorado. Alice met her second husband, Warren Tubbs, while in a card game, and he was smitten by the time the first hand was dealt. Anyone familiar with the term “unlucky at gambling, but lucky in love” has a good idea of Warren Tubbs’ life. Though he considered himself quite the card shark, in actuality he usually lost much more than he ever won. Tubbs eked out a marginal living by painting houses and buildings, but it was Alice who was the real family breadwinner.
Call it luck or call it a natural talent for the pasteboards, but whatever it was, Alice had plenty of it. She was a consistent winner at high stakes poker, often raking in jackpots of as much as $6,000 in a single game!
Alice loved spending money just as much as she loved winning it, and her wild spending sprees in places like New York City were as legendary as her beauty. Many gamblers lured to her table by her good looks soon found themselves bankrupted by her good luck. But though she may have broken their bank accounts, Alice seems to have won their hearts and she had a long list of admirers. Somewhere along the line she earned the nickname Poker Alice, which she would be known as for the rest of her life.
Though their relationship had plenty of problems, Alice always took care of Tubbs and defended him against any attack, verbal or otherwise, that his gambling might get him into. She carried a .38 revolver with her at all times and was not hesitant to use it. Yet she was willing to sit across from him at a poker table and empty his pockets time and time again.
During their long and often stormy marriage, the couple had several children and drifted through the gambling halls of Deadwood, Rapid City, and Sturgis, South Dakota, supported by Alice’s skill at the card tables. Stubbs was stricken with tuberculosis and Alice nursed him during his long illness until he died in South Dakota in 1910.
After a third brief marriage, Alice turned all of her energies to gambling, even operating her own gambling hall. For a time she did well, but over the years her luck seemed to decline and she turned to other means to support herself, including bootlegging and operating a brothel in Sturgis. Her place is now a seasonal bed and breakfast.
The latter years of her life were not kind to Poker Alice. Her youthful beauty vanished, the combined result of alcohol and the cigars she loved. The fine clothes she once bought in New York were replaced by weathered skirts and men’s shirts. Alice’s beauty, which had won so many hearts did not just fade, it disappeared, leaving behind a rough looking, tough talking hag. But she remained a favorite in the hearts of many and her legend has lived on long after her death on February 27, 1930. Poker Alice was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Sturgis, and today visitors still come to her grave to pay tribute to one of the Old West’s most colorful characters.
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Thought For The Day – You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to you own facts.