Poker Alice

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Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert, commonly known as Poker Alice (February 17, 1851 - February 27, 1930), was considered to have been the best female poker player in the American West. A native of Devonshire, England, she emigrated with her family to Virginia when she was a small girl. When Alice was in her teens, the Iverses relocated to Leadville in the Colorado Rockies.[1] Another source maintains that Alice was born not in England but two years later in 1853 in Virginia to Irish immigrant parents.[2]

Contents

Background

When she was twenty, the petite, attractive Alice married the mining engineer and avid gambler Frank Duffield. Alice joined her husband on his gambling excursions and quickly learned to master both poker and faro. When Frank was killed in an explosion, Alice began to earn her livelihood as a professional gambler. Like her father, she could have been a schoolteacher, but there were no schools yet organized in Leadville, the population of which had reached 35,000 during a silver rush. Sought after as both a dealer and a player, she was given the sobriquet "Poker Alice." In addition to Leadville, she worked in Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown, Colorado, and Trinidad, Colorado.

Fashionably dressed, Alice packed a .38 revolver and began to smoke cigars. She was welcome in the gambling halls because her presence drew more interested patrons. She claimed to have religious beliefs which made her avoid engaging in gambling on Sundays. She also worked for a time at the Gold Dust Gambling House in Silver City in the New Mexico Territory. Her winnings there enabled her to travel to New York City, where she embellished her wardrobe.

On returning from New York, Alice was hired as a dealer in Bob Ford's saloon in Creede in Mineral County in southwestern Colorado. Earlier, Ford had shot Jesse James to death for the reward money. Alice then arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota, about the time of statehood. There she met the dealer and gambler Warren G. Tubbs, who also for more stable income painted houses in nearby Sturgis, South Dakota.


Later years

After a period of time, Alice yielded to Tubbs' persistent proposals of marriage. The couple homesteaded on a ranch near Sturgis and had seven children. During this time, Alice adjusted to her role as a rancher's wife and spent comparatively little time in the gambling halls. When Tubbs contracted tuberculosis, Alice did her best to nurse him back to health, but he died in 1910 and was buried in Sturgis. She returned to the gambling houses to earn a living and married for a third time, However, George Huckert, her ranch manager, also soon died. Alice was hence a three-time widow.

During national prohibition, Alice opened "Poker's Palace" near Sturgis, which offered prostitution despite her claim of Christianity. When a drunken soldier from nearby Fort Meade, South Dakota, caused trouble in the establishment, Alice shot the man dead. She was subsequently acquitted on grounds of self-defense, but the saloon was closed. In her seventies, Alice continued to gamble, but gone were the fashionable dresses of her younger years. Instead she donned mostly men's clothing in the tradition of another South Dakota western figure, Calamity Jane. Alice appeared at various western festivals and celebrations, including one in Omaha, Nebraska. She once said that she would rather gamble than eat.

In her later years, she continued to operate a house of prostitution, having claimed that her patrons included members of the Grand Army of the Republic], the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, and even Methodist ministers. Gamblers at the time wielded a high social status and pay scale. While running the house of prostitution, she was often seen in pubic as a well-known card player in Deadwood, a town which tolerated gambling and prostitution until 1987. Finally in 1926, at the age of seventy-five, she was sentenced to prison for repeated violations. However, Republican Governor Carl Gunderson pardoned her. Gunderson was then unseated in the 1926 gubernatorial election by the Democrat William J. Bulow, later a U.S. senator.[3]


Death and legacy

In 1930, at the age of seventy-nine, Alice died in Rapid City of complications from gall bladder surgery. She is interred at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis. Her long-vacant house was scheduled to be demolished, but a businessman purchased it and relocated the structure to Junction Avenue in Sturgis, where it is a bed and breakfast inn.

The character Poker Alice has been romanticized in film and television by such actresses as Susan Sullivan, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbara Stuart. Sullivan appeared as Poker Alice in the 1978 western film, The New Maverick, with James Garner, Charles Frank, and Jack Kelly.[4] Taylor played "Alice Moffit" in a later television film, Poker Alice, which aired in 1987.[5] Stuart played the part in three 1960 episodes episodes of the CBS television series, The Texan, starring Rory Calhoun as the fictitious wanderer Bill Longley.[6]

Poker Alice claimed to have won honestly more than $250,000 at the gaming tables: "Praise the Lord and place your bets. I'll take your money with no regrets."


References

  1. Kathy Weiser, "Poker Alice - Famous Frontier Gambler". legendsofamerica.com. Retrieved on May 10, 2012.
  2. Poker Alice Ivers. sangres.com. Retrieved on May 10, 2012.
  3. List of governors of South Dakota: Gunderson (1925-1927); Bulow (1927-1931)
  4. The New Maverick (1978). Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved on May 10, 2012.
  5. Elizabeth Taylor. Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved on May 10, 2012.
  6. Barbara Stuart. Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved on May 10, 2012.
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