Poker Alice: Legend of the West

The Old West is filled with legends but none is more colorful than Poker Alice. Her real name was Alice Ivers and she born of privilege in 1851 in England. She attended an elite boarding school for young women until her family moved to Leadville, Colorado. There Alice met Frank Duffield, a mining engineer, and they were married.

Gambling was prevalent in the rough mining camps and Frank Duffield did his share. Alice often accompanied him to keep from staying home alone. Alice quickly learned she had an ability to read cards and took up poker and faro. When Frank died in a mining accident, Alice decided to put to use what she’d learned. Left alone with no means of support she turned to poker as a way to earn a nice living. It was certainly more respectable than prostitution.

Alice stood at 5’4” with blue eyes and lush brown hair. Decked out in her fashionable dresses, she was quite a sight for lonely miners. It was rare to find a “lady” in a saloon that wasn’t of the “soiled dove” caliber so they flocked to her. They quickly bestowed the nickname Poker Alice on her and she was in much demand. It’s rumored that she once broke the bank at the Gold Dust Gambling House in New Mexico where she won $6,000 in one night.

Sometime during this period she began smoking large black cigars. Some said it was quite a sight to see her in frilly dresses with a big cigar sticking from her mouth. Alice also took to carrying a .38 revolver and wasn’t a bit squeamish to use it. Her reputation grew and so did her pocketbook.

However, she was deeply religious and never gambled on Sundays. The lady did have her scruples it seems.

Alice traveled all over Colorado, New Mexico and South Dakota playing and sometimes dealing the game she loved. But it was in Deadwood, South Dakota that she met Warren Tubbs, a dealer. They married shortly after and homesteaded a ranch near Sturgis, South Dakota. Loving the quiet ranch life, Alice cut back on the time spent in gambling houses. She and Warren had seven children and it was one of the happiest times of her life.

But it wasn’t to last. Alice’s poker luck didn’t extend to husbands. Warren contracted tuberculosis and died of pneumonia in the winter of 1910. She drove his body 50 miles to give him a decent burial and pawned her wedding ring. Broke with children to feed, Alice again had to turn to poker to earn a living.

She hired a man by the name of George Huckert to take care of the ranch. He fell head over heels in love with Alice and asked her to marry him several times. Finally, Alice relented saying that it was cheaper to marry George than pay him all the back wages she owed him. The ink was barely dry on the marriage license before George died in 1913.

This time when Alice returned to the gambling halls she wanted to do more than be a patron. She purchased her own place and named the saloon “Poker’s Palace.” There she provided everything a lonely man required—liquor, gambling, and working girls. One night a drunken soldier went on a rampage in the saloon, breaking furniture and threatening the customers. Alice promptly took out her .38 and shot the man dead. She was arrested of course and thrown into jail, but at the trial she was acquitted on grounds of self-defense and released.

She lost her saloon though. Authorities shut her down and it seemed to take a lot of the fight out of Alice. A little while passed and Alice was now in her 70’s. Her beauty had faded and she began dressing in men’s clothing. She continued to run a house of ill-repute in Sturgis and was arrested many times for drunkenness and charged with being a madam. Finally, after repeated convictions she was sentenced to prison. Alice was 75. Taking her advanced years in account, the governor of South Dakota pardoned her. She died of complications from gall bladder surgery in 1930 and was buried in Sturgis, presumably beside Warren Tubbs.

According to the Legends of America website, Alice was said to have won more than $250,000 (3 million in today’s money) at the gaming tables during her lifetime and she never once cheated. One of her favorite sayings was: “Praise the Lord and place your bets. I’ll take your money with no regrets.”

Doesn’t this sound like a character in a romance book? Poker Alice was colorful and independent. She lived life on her own terms. When the chips were down, she didn’t ask for a handout—she went back to work. I really admire women like that.

Have you read any books or watched western movies where the heroine was unconventional, maybe working in a saloon or even owning one? Miss Kitty definitely springs to mind, but there are others. Cheryl St. John wrote The Bounty Hunter in which Lily Devine was the feisty owner of The Shady Lady. Great story.

I’m not giving away anything this week but next Monday I’ll post the release of To Marry a Texas Outlaw and will give some copies away.


Poker Alice: Legend of the West — 19 Comments

  1. She stayed true to her beliefs and did what she had to do to survive. Would have been very interesting to talk to her. I have a feeling though you would have to play poker if you wanted her to talk.

    • Hi, Veda……I have a feeling you’re right. She might not have too much to say otherwise. I think I would’ve liked her.

      Love and hugs!

    • Hi, Miss Jerri……You are very welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed learning about her. I think she was a fascinating woman.

      Love and hugs!

  2. Linda what a wonderful blog. In my hometown was Izora Young, she rodeoed and out performed most men and after a long life was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall Of Fame. I will have to find my information on her and get it to you. I’m fixing to head to work. Have a great day. Love you.

      • Sorry Stephanie, Izora was special, Maybe we need to find the information on her and submit it to Linda and she can use it in a blog sometime

    • Hi Tonya…..I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Yes, please get me the information about Izora. She sounds amazing. Love her name, Very unusual.

      Love you, lady. Enjoy your week.

  3. Great blog! What a life she had and 7 kids to boot. When I think of woman that had what was perceived as jobs not common for woman I think of the first female doctor in the USA. Elizabeth Blackwell…I can’t imagine what she went through with people thinking that there was no way she was a real doctor.

    • Hi, Stephanie……Yes, she did. Poker Annie had it all, did it all. And probably saw it all. I can’t imagine her life. Elizabeth Blackwell sounds like a wonderful woman. She had to really be tough. Bet people gave her a very hard time.

      Love you, lady!

  4. I’ll see you Poker Alice and raise you Lottie Deno, AKA Charlotte Thompkins, who played poker professionally in the years after the Civil War all across South and West Texas. and finished up living a quiet respectable married life in Deming, New Mexico. She also was an upright pillar of the community, helping to establish an Episcopal church in Deming. It is commonly said that she was the model for the character of Miss Kitty, in the old Gunsmoke radio and television series.

    I couldn’t resist making her into a character in Sunset and Steel Rails – her debut in the story here:

    • Hi, Celia……Thanks for coming. I did a blog on Lottie Deno a while back. Such an interesting woman and piece of history. She did have a heart of gold and was just beautiful. I’ll have to check out your book. How cool that you wrote about her. She really captured my imagination. I would’ve loved to have met her.

      Have a good week. Hugs!

      • Yes, she was quite the character… but there were so many women on the Western frontier who defied the conventional Victorian image, or the image that we have of Victorian women in this present century. Women like Sally Skull, Lizzie Williams, Angelina Eberly – all lived interesting and independent lives and enterprises.
        Do check out Sunset and Steel Rails – although Lottie Deno is a relatively minor character; I was fascinated by reading another author’s blog post to do with the Fred Harvey company. (another enterprise which defied our modern understanding of the Victorian age.) I had to have a reason to bring a young woman west, and I had already done the schoolteacher bit, was considering having her take up a homestead … but I read that post and had a blinding flash of the obvious – have her be a Harvey Girl!

  5. What a great post very interesting. Of course we all knew Miss Kitty and I have read Cheryl St. John’s book and really enjoyed it. I have also read other books like this but can’t think of the names right now. Thanks for a great post.

    • Hi, Quilt Lady…….I’m so happy you enjoyed my post. I hope you got all your housework done. 🙂

      Love and hugs!

  6. She indeed had bad luck keeping husbands but she never gave up. This was fascinating to read about Alice. I’ve been watching Gunsmoke, The Big Valley and Bonzanda (I know I’m spelling it wrong but spellcheck doesn’t know either). They have a marathon of these western shows on the weekend and lots of characters that are quite different for the time period! Loved your post!

    • Hi Cathie……Nope, she never gave up. When life gave her lemons she just found a way to keep going. I admire that. I like watching those old western reruns.

      Much love and hugs!

    I have always had a love of history, but let’s face it, a bunch of dates and events are dull and boring. What you do with history is amazing. You bring it to life with these stories of historical women that were not well known but had an impact on US history. This one grabbed me and would not let go.. These women are fascinating at what they had to do to survive and how willingly they did it. So thanks for the history lesson. Please keep telling them.

    Love and Hugs

    • Hi Cricket!! How nice to see you. I’m so glad you came. Oh my dear, you give me far too much credit but I’m happy that like the pieces of history I tell. I think the people back there had a stronger will to survive. Today we relay too much on the government or other agencies to bail us out. Women back then had nothing except for the kindness of others. I think Poker Annie probably had a lot of friends.

      Much love and hugs!