Poker Alice - Famous Frontier Gambler
most photographs of Alice show a gruff woman in
her 70s smoking a cigar, she was actually an attractive
woman into her 50s.
my age I suppose I should be knitting. But I
would rather play poker with five or six 'experts'
-- Alice Ivers Tubbs;
aka: Poker Alice
Ivers Tubbs; aka: Poker Alice (1851-1930) – Perhaps the
best known female poker player in the Old West, Alice Ivers
actually hailed from England. Born on February 17, 1851 in
Devonshire, she was the daughter of a conservative
schoolmaster who moved the family to the United States when
she was still a small girl. First settling in Virginia,
Alice attended an elite boarding school for young women until
the family moved again in her teenage years, to the silver
rush in Leadville, Colorado.
there, Alice met a mining engineer by the name of Frank
Duffield and the two married when she was twenty. Gambling was
a way of life in the many mining camps of the Old West and
when Frank, an enthusiastic player, visited the many gambling
halls in Leadville, young Alice went along with him rather
than stay home alone. At first, the pretty young girl stood
quietly behind her husband, simply watching the play. However,
a quick study, it wasn’t long before she was sitting in on the
games, quickly demonstrating proficiency for poker and faro.
A few years
after their marriage, Alice’s husband, who worked as a mining
engineer, was killed in an explosion and she was left alone
with no means of support. With her education, she might have
taught school; however, even though the mining camp
flourishing with some 35,000 residents, it didn’t have a
school. The few remaining jobs available to women in a mining
camp did not appeal to Alice and she soon decided to try to make a living with her
gambling skills. Though she preferred the game of poker, she
also learned to deal and play Faro, and was soon in high
demand, both as a player and a dealer. At this time, Alice was a petite 5’4” beauty, with blue eyes and lush
brown hair. A "lady” in a gambling hall that wasn’t of the
"soiled dove” variety was a rare in the Old West, and bedecked
in the latest fashions, she was a sight for the sore eyes of
many a miner.
from one mining camp to another, the talented young beauty
soon acquired the nickname "Poker Alice." In addition to
playing the game, she often worked as a dealer, in cities all
over Colorado including Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown and Trinidad. As
time went on, Alice began to puff on large black cigars, while
still in her fashionable frilly dresses; however, she never
gambled on Sundays because of her religions beliefs. She also
carried a .38 revolver and wasn’t afraid to use it. As her
reputation grew throughout the west, she always found willing
players and she attracted men looking for a challenge. As
such, she was quickly welcomed in gambling halls because the
crowd she drew was good for business.
Alice soon left
and made her way to Silver City, New Mexico, where she broke
the bank at the Gold Dust Gambling House, winning some $6,000.
Sometime later, she made a trip to New York City, which she often did after a large win, to replenish her
wardrobe of fashionable clothing.
she returned to Creede,
where she went to work as a dealer in
saloon – the very same
who had earlier killed
Alice eventually made her way to
around 1890. While there, she met a man named Warren G. Tubbs,
who worked as a housepainter in Sturgis, but sidelined as a
dealer and gambler.
routinely beat Tubbs at the gaming tables, he was taken with
her and the two began to see each other outside of the
gambling halls. On one occasion when a drunken miner
threatened Tubbs with a knife,
Alice pulled out her .38 and put a bullet into the miner's
arm. Tubbs and Alice eventually married and the couple would
have seven children. A painter by trade, Tubbs, along with
Alice’s gambling profits, supported the family. The couple
eventually moved out of
where they homesteaded a ranch near Sturgis on the
Alice significantly reduced the amount of time spent in gaming
houses as she helped with the ranch and raised her children.
Alice was doomed to be luckier at cards than at love. When
Tubbs was diagnosed with tuberculosis, she was determined to
stay by his side and nurse him back to health. Tubbs; however,
lost the fight, and died of pneumonia in the winter of 1910.
Alice then loaded him into a horse-drawn wagon to take his
body to Sturgis for burial. At least one legend says she had
to pawn her wedding ring to pay for the funeral and
afterwards, went to a gambling parlor to earn the money to get
her ring back.
later say that the time spent on the ranch were some of the
happiest days of her life and that during those years, she
didn’t miss the saloons and gambling halls, but liked the
peace and quiet of the ranch. However, after Tubbs' death,
she was required to once again make a living. She then hired a
man named George Huckert to take care of the homestead and
moved to Sturgis to earn her way. Huckert was enamored with
Alice and proposed marriage to her several times. Finally,
him, saying flippantly, "I owed him so much in back wages; I
figured it would be cheaper to marry him than pay him off. So
I did." But the marriage would be short, as Alice found
herself widowed once again when Huckert died in 1913.
later, during Prohibition, Alice opened a saloon called
"Poker’s Palace” between Sturgis and Fort Meade that provided
not only gambling and liquor, but also "women” who serviced
the customers. While here, a drunken soldier began to cause
havoc in the saloon, destroying the furniture, and causing a
Alice responded by pulling her .38 and shooting the man.
While in jail
awaiting trial, she calmly smoked cigars and read the Bible.
She was acquitted on grounds of self defense, but her saloon
was shut down in the meantime.
Now, in her
70s and with her beauty and fashionable gowns long gone, Alice
struggled in her last years, continuing to gamble, but now
dressing in men’s clothing. She occasionally was featured at events
like the Diamond Jubilee, in
as a true frontier character, where she was known to have
said, "At my age I suppose I should be knitting. But I would
poker with five or six 'experts' than eat."
She continued to run a "house” of ill-repute in Sturgis during
her later years and was often arrested for drunkenness and
keeping a disorderly house. Though she paid her fines, she
continued to operate the business until she was finally
repeated convictions of running a brothel and sentenced to
prison. However, Alice, who 75 years old at the time, was
pardoned by the governor.
Poker Alice in later years.
At the age of 79 she underwent a gall bladder operation in
Rapid City, but died of complications on February 27, 1930.
She was buried at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis,
In her later
Alice claimed to have won more than $250,000 at the gaming
tables and never once cheated. In fact, one of her favorite
sayings was: "Praise the Lord and place your bets. I'll take
your money with no regrets."
of America, updated December, 2012.
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