Petticoat Gamblers of Years Gone By

7 June 2010 – By Jane Spiegel

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Some of the most famous figures remembered from history books involve the frontier gamblers of the Wild West. Whether they were portrayed on TV, movies or books, they were usually depicted as being suave, tall, well dressed Southern gentlemen who all shared a code of honor and a cool demeanor. In true fact mind you, many of the professional gamblers were liars and cheats who made a living more from hustling than actually winning fairly at poker. Poker was also not just a game for male Americans, as many professional gamblers were of a variety of different nationalities that included some famous women gamblers in their ranks.

Even to this day the gambler continues to be a captivating figure, and even though casinos and online games have taken over the old saloons of the past, professional gamblers, both men and women, from that age and even today all share the singular goal of making that big win. The heyday of western gambling ran from about 1850-1910, and was easily the biggest pastime and number one form of entertainment in every town or settlement. Many times at a new camp even before a canteen was erected you could find the gambling tent already up and running. Everybody gambled in those days, cowboys, miners, lumberjacks, lawmen, women and even politicians all played either for profit or pleasure, and many times a town's prosperity was measured by how many gambling halls it had and how nice they were.

As stated, it wasn’t only men who enjoyed playing the game of poker, as history tells us of some memorable professional female gamblers who made a name for themselves both at the tables and in their lives in general. It wasn’t uncommon too see petticoats at the table, and these women who became professional gamblers had the chance to attain monetary independence and social stature in a male dominated frontier.

Probably one of the most famous female gamblers of the wild west was Eleanore Dumont, also known by many as “Madame Mustache”. Even though she was a beautiful lady, because of her European descent she had fine dark hairs above her lip (which got thicker and darker and she got older) thus earning her the nickname Madame Mustache.

When the game we now know as Black Jack or 21 first hit the shores of the US in the 1800,s it wasn’t the most popular game around, as most professional gamblers stuck to games like Faro, Poker and the Mexican Monte. When Eleanor Dumont, a lovely French lady in her mid twenties first opened the doors to her own gambling hall in 1854, many men who were not accustomed to seeing a woman so refined at the gambling tables flocked to her place, and soon the establishment had built a reputation for a style of European class that was normally unheard of in a gaming house. There was no swearing, no loud conversations, no arguments, no smoking or any other of the rowdy behavior that was normally associated with saloons or other gambling halls. Many gamblers said it was better to lose to Madame Moustache than to win against anyone else, because in addition to her style and class, when a player lost in a game they were always treated to a free glass of champagne.

Through the years she traveled to different towns always setting up a gambling house wherever she went and soon Blackjack was one of the favorite card games among the professional gamblers. Twenty years soon passed, and with lady luck no longer shining on Madame Dumont, in the September of 1879, heavily in debt, she borrowed $300 from a friend in the hopes of winning a big game that was coming up the town of Bodie. Unfortunately she lost her entire bankroll, and on September 8th her body was found a few miles from town and in her hand was a vial of poison.

Madame Mustache and other famous women gamblers of the wild west, like Poker Alice, Kitty LeRoy and Calamity Jane are just a few of the women who made their mark at the gambling tables and were highly respected by many of the male professional gamblers, and although gone, they are always remembered by any serious player who is interested in the history of the game.

Okay we know that women sure can hold their own when it comes to gambling but what about all those old timers? Just how well did they do? Go here to find the answer.

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