In 1848, the California Gold Rush was perhaps the single most important event in our history. Thousands of gold-seekers and gamblers flocked to San Francisco and by 1850, there were more than 1,000 gambling joints. People from all over the world came to California to seek their fortune in gold. Among them, were some very famous women who found gambling to be a lucrative business.
The women who came west hailed from varied backgrounds and cultures. Some were married and single; rich and poor. There were even women who sought “golden” opportunities. Today, we refer to them as entrepreneurs. Although life was quite difficult then, there were some women who were brave and bold enough to tap into an area that was strictly dominated by men – the world of gambling.
If you’re a fan of the World Series of Poker, you may recognize such names as Annie Duke, Clonie Gowen, and Courtney Friel. These are the women who have broken into the male-dominated main-stream poker circuit and made quite a name for themselves.
Have you heard of Alice Ivers, Madame Dumont, Kitty LeRoy, Lottie Deno, or Dona Gertrudes Maria Barcelo? These are the most well-known women gamblers from the Gold Rush days of the 1850s.
Alice Ivers (Poker Alice), hailed from England. When she was a teen, she moved to Virginia, met her husband in Colorado, and after he died became quite interested in poker. She moved around quite a bit learning the game and eventually settled in South Dakota, where she became a blackjack dealer. It is reported that she was the only woman dealer in this area, and that her expertise garnered her about a thousand dollars a night.
Eleanor Dumont, aka Madame Mustache, hailed from France and came to Nevada in the early 1850s. She also was a blackjack dealer and opened her own gambling joint there. Her clientele were mostly miners whom she treated quite well. These miners were honored to sit at her table. Unfortunately, Eleanor Dumont’s luck eventually ran out and she died in the late 1870s. Ms. Dumont was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2006.
A young woman from Texas, Kitty LeRoy, was a professional gambler who settled in Deadwood, South Dakota. (We wonder if Kitty LeRoy was the genesis of Miss Kitty in the TV show Gunsmoke?) When Kitty arrived in Deadwood, (along with Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok, she soon opened the Mint Gambling Saloon. Kitty had a bazaar history. It is said that she was married five times, owned more than a dozen guns and knives, and was always armed. The last of her husbands killed her over an argument and then shot himself. Poor Kitty…..
After losing her parents in the Civil War, Lottie Deno came to Ft. Griffin, Texas where her gambling skills took hold. Considered to be a professional gambler, it is said that Lottie played a game of cards with Doc Holliday and won the pot! Lottie soon after met her husband and gave up gambling. She lived to the ripe old age of 89. Lottie was the most famous woman gambler of the American West. She was known as the “Poker Queen.”
Dona Maria Gertrudes Barcelo came from Mexico. She married and moved to Santa Fe. After her husband left her, Dona needed to find a means of support for her and her two children. She began to deal Monte in a gambling house in Santa Fe. Since the game was a favorite among Mexican locals, Dona became quite popular and was dubbed the name “la tules” meaning “reed or thin.” With her beauty and charm, Dona Barcelo became the most well known gambler of her time. She became known as the richest woman in Santa Fe as well as the most influential. She died in 1852.
Women gamblers today are continuing to break the mold. With online casinos overshadowing land-based casinos, more women are turning to online poker than ever before; taking their learned skills to the floors of the poker tournaments across the country.
In a recent article relating to this topic entitled "Online Gambling: Not For Men Only," we cited a statement claiming that “men have a monopoly in online casino gambling.” We beg to differ. Online casino gambling is no longer gender specific. Alice, Eleanor, Kitty, Lottie, and Dona made sure of that!