Eleanore Dumont – Madame Mustache Plays to the West

Bannack, Montana

Bannack, Montana

By the time Eleanore joined the miners in the rush to  Bannack, Montana in the early 1860’s, she had expanded beyond simple gambling, and was also was running a brothel. It was here that she earned the moniker of “Madame Mustache” when a drunk miner impolitely called her the name.  Unfortunately, the name stuck, though few were unwise enough to call her that in her presence.

Stories abounded throughout the mining camps of the savvy lady gambler, and moving with the rest of them, she, no doubt, met many of the same faces over and over again. One story tells that as she left her table with her gambling stakes, she was accosted by two robbers who demanded her purse. After calmly informing the pair that they would not take her purse, she reached under her skirt, brought out a derringer and fired point blank at one of the men, dropping him to the ground. The other disappeared.

At times, Eleanore could be a tough, shrewd businesswoman, but she also possessed a good  heart, often providing free meals and a place to stay for miners who needed it. While at Fort Benton, Montana, she was perpetuating her reputation working in what was known as “the bloodiest block in the West.” Here, on Front Street, the block contained more than a dozen saloons, dance halls, and brothels, where Eleanore had set up her table in a gambling den called “The Jungle.” In June, 1867, as she sat at her table dealing cards, she spied an incoming steamboat called the Walter B. Dance coming into to dock. Having heard a report that the boat was carrying smallpox aboard, she jumped up from her table, ran down the stairs and across the street to the levee, where she brandished two pistols, warning the captain not to stop.

When the rush was on in Deadwood, South Dakota, she was also present. While there, some say that she was friends with Calamity Jane and tried to teach her the finer points of poker. However, if this is true, her attempts failed, as Jane was always known to be a poor gambler.  In 1877, a Deadwood reporter would say of her:  “A character who attracts the attention of all strangers is ‘Mme. Mustache,’ a plump little French lady, perhaps forty years of age, but splendidly preserved. She derives her name, which is the only one she is known by, from a dainty strip of black hair upon her upper lip.  She deals her own game, and is quite popular with the boys, who treat her with marked respect.  She has bright black eyes and a musical voice, and there is something attractive about her as she looks up with a little smile and says, ‘You will play, M’sieur?’” He continued by saying, “No one knows her history. She is said to be very rich.”

Tombstone, Arizona today

Tombstone, Arizona today

When Tombstone, Arizona was booming, Madame Mustache was there as well. By this time, her beauty had faded, but she was still determined. She established a rival brothel to the popular Blonde Marie’s. Though smaller than her competitors, it was still successful. Since Eleanore no longer had the power to draw in the number of men she had been able to years earlier, she recruited beautiful young girls to work in her “house.”

To promote them, she was  known to dress them up in their best finery, hire an expensive carriage, and roll up and down the streets  of Tombstone. Riding along with her girls, she would puff on a long cigar, smiling and nodding as she acknowledged the waves and courtly bows of the men they passed by.

Eleanore’s last stop was Bodie, California. Though the years of roaming the mining camps had taken their toll, her arrival in Bodie in May, 1878 was described by a  Bodie reporter:  “Madame Mustache, whose real name is Eleanore, has settled for the time in Bodie, following her old avocation of dealing twenty-one, faro, etc., as force of circumstances seem to demand. Probably no woman on the Coast is better known. . . . She appears as young as ever, and those who knew her ever so many years ago would instantly recognize her now.”

About a year after her arrival, when her bank was running low one night, she borrowed $300 from a friend to open her table. Unfortunately, luck was not with her and after just a few hours, she had lost the bank. Without mentioning a word to anyone, she then wandered about a mile outside of town, where she drank red wine laced with a lethal dose of morphine. Her body was found on September 8, 1879 along with a letter giving directions for the disposition of her effects, which also stated “she was tired of life.”

The Bodie Morning News reported her death on September 9:

“A Suicide — Yesterday morning a sheep-herder, while in pursuit of his avocation, discovered the dead body of a woman lying about one hundred yards from the Bridgeport road, a mile from town.  Her head rested on a stone, and the appearance of the body indicated that death was the result of natural causes.  Ex-officio Coroner Justice Peterson was at once notified, and he dispatched a wagon in charge of H.Ward [of the Pioneer Furniture Store] to that place, who brought the body to the undertaking rooms.  Deceased was named Eleanore Dumont, and was recognized as the woman who had been engaged in dealing a twenty-one game in the Magnolia saloon.  Her death evidently occurred from an overdose of morphine, an empty bottle having the peculiar smell of that drug, being found beside the body…  The history connected with the unfortunate suicide is but a repetition of that of many others who have followed the life of a female gambler, with the exception perhaps that the subject of this item bore a character for virtue possessed by few in her line.  To the goodhearted women of the town must we accord praise for their accustomed kindness in doing all in their power to prepare the unfortunate woman’s body for burial.”

Telegraph wires soon carried the story throughout the West, stating:

“Bodie, California. The Free Press thus alludes to the death of a character well known. The inquest on the body of Eleanore Dumont took place this afternoon at 3 o’clock. The drug used by the unfortunate woman, in taking her life, was morphine. Dr. Roe analyzed the contents of the bottle found by her side, and it proved to be a mixture of claret wine and the above narcotic.”

One professional gambler, who had spent much of his life in the many mining camps of the west,  made heartfelt remarks. When they were published, it moved across the nation:

“Poor Madame Mustache!  Her life was as square a game as was ever dealt. The world played against her with all sorts of combinations, but she generally beat it. The turn was called on her at last for a few paltry hundred; she missed the turn, none of the old boys were there to cover the bet for her, and she passed in her checks, game to the last.  Poor Madame Mustache”

The locals raised enough money to provide Eleanore with a proper burial, which was later described by George A. Montrose, an attorney and former editor of the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union:

“She had the reputation of being honest in her dealings and always paying her debts.  Upon this she prided herself, and woe unto anyone who claimed she did not play fair….  It is said that of the hundreds of funerals held in the mining camp, that of ‘Madame Mustache’ was the largest. The gamblers of the place buried her with all honors, and carriages were brought from Carson City, Nevada, a distance of 120 miles, especially to be used in the funeral cortege.”

Though her grave is known to be in the cemetery at Bodie, California, its location has never been determined.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated April, 2017.

Bodie, California, Kathy Weiser

Bodie, California, Kathy Weiser

Also See:

Harlots of the Barbary Coast

Leading Madames of the Old West

Saloons of the Old West

The Painted Ladies of Deadwood Gulch

Women of the American West

 

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