Eleanore Dumont - Madame Mustache Plays to the West
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Eleanore Dumont, better known as Madame
Mustache, was one of the first known professional blackjack players in
American history and, for over three decades, made her name famous across
the mining camps of the
She was thought to have been born in New
Orleans, Louisiana in about 1829 but, for whatever reasons, made her way
west during the California Gold
Rush. Known as Simone Jules, a petite and
pretty French woman in her early twenties, she arrived in
in about 1849, where she soon established herself as a gambler, favoring
the game of Vingt-et-un, which means “21,” the precursor of American
Working at the Bella Union, she was known for
her elegant dignity, aloof manner, and ability to handle stress on the
card table. However, when she was suspected of cardsharping, she was let go,
but, not before she had obviously earned quite a bit of money.
She next made an appearance in Nevada
California. Stepping off the stage in 1854, her bejeweled and
stylish appearance created quite a stir among the rough residents of
the mining camp. Two young miners quickly volunteered to carry her
bags into the Fepp’s Hotel, where she registered as Eleanore Dumont.
For the next few days, she wandered up and
down Broad Street, the main street of Nevada City, peering into shop
windows that had gone out of business. Soon, she had the whole town
talking and wondering why the young woman seemed to have nothing
better to do walk about town in her best finery.
Soon, though, the mystery would be solved
after she handed a printing order to Editor Wait of the Nevada Journal
for a handbill which advertised the opening of the “best
emporium in northern
California.” Citizens all over town soon
received invitations to the grand opening of the “Vingt-et-un” on
Broad Street to enjoy a game with Madame Dumont as well as free
champagne for all. A finely furnished and carpeted
gambling den with
gas chandeliers, it would only allow the entrance of well-behaved and
well-groomed men, and cursing was discouraged in her presence.
Her gambling parlor opened with a bang as
the men swarmed in. Having cleaned up and put on their best clothes
for the occasion, they found Miss Eleanore witty, vivacious and
charming as she moved around the room talking to them before beginning
her game. Rolling her own cigarettes and drinking champagne, she
deftly kept them at arm's length, telling them all tactfully that she
was a lady.
Though few at the time knew how to play
the game of “21,” as Faro was the favored
gambling endeavor, the
novelty of having a pretty female dealer quickly attracted a number of
players. Dealing like the seasoned pro that she was, the miners more
often lost than they won; however, they seldom complained, thinking it
a privilege to be in her presence. When she won, she would sweetly
express regret and treat the losers to free champagne. When she lost,
she seemed pleased for their good fortune.
During this time, Dumont was not known to
have any lovers, kept her personal life very private, and women were
prohibited from coming into her establishment or loitering outside.
She soon built up enough capital that she
wanted to open a larger establishment. She took on a partner named
David Tobin, a professional gambler from New York, and the two opened
Dumont’s Palace, that also provided games of Faro and Chuck-a-luck.
Hiring more dealers and a small band of violinist to entertain the
gamblers, the Palace was also successful, keeping a dozen games going
day and night.
But, for Nevada City, like so many other
mining camps, the gold would finally play out, and Eleanore Dumont then
made her way to
Columbia, California in 1857, where she set up her
table in a hotel.
A couple of years later, she decided to get
out of the business and though she knew little of animals, she bought a
ranch in Carson City, Nevada. Lonely and out of her element, that’s when
she met Jack McKnight, who swept her off her feet. A handsome,
well-dressed man, who was a smooth-talker who claimed to be a cattle
buyer, Eleanore was instantly infatuated. However, McKnight was actually a
conman who made his living swindling others. Less than a month later, he
disappeared with all her money, had sold her ranch, and left her with all
the outstanding debts.
Never a timid woman, legend has it that she
went after the cad, tracked him down and opened up on him with a double
blast from a shotgun. Suspected of the crime, she was never charged and
denied responsibility. Years, later; however, she allegedly confessed to
Alone and destitute, she was forced to return
to the mining camps and take up gambling again. In 1861, she went to Pioche,
Nevada, where she set up her table. Here, she was said to have
used her powers of charm to subdue a noisy, quarreling crowd of miners.
As several drunken miners began to flourish pistols, looking for a fight,
Madame Dumont quietly approached the noisiest of them, and laughingly
reproved from their ungallant conduct, succeeding in quieting the entire
As the mines played out in Pioche, she would
move again and over the next two decades, she would follow the gold from
one camp to the next, drifting through places such as