From the poker table to the oval office!
This Alice didn’t fall through the rabbit hole…
“Praise the Lord and place your bets…I’ll take your money with no regrets.”
– Poker Alice
Most of us are familiar with the exploits of ‘Wild’ Bill Hicock, Buffalo Bill, Jesse James, etc. But the person any poker player should really know about is ‘Poker’ Alice Ivers (no relation to Phil Ivey…!)
Consider that in her lifetime she was: a brothel owner; a bootlegger; a professional gambler; smoked cigars; carried a gun regularly and killed a man; a convicted felon – one would think she was the female version of Jesse James or John Dillinger. And she was married three times. Hardly what we’d call a mundane life…
Poker. Liquor. Fine Clothes. Six shooters. Doesn’t sound like the life of a girl from Devonshire, England…but that’s precisely the direction Alice Ivers’ life took when her family arrived in Leadville, Colorado, sometime in the 1860s.
At the age of 20, she married Frank Duffield, a miner. In the Old West there were no IMAX theaters, no pro sports to entertain; gambling halls were the main attraction – and they were many. An avid poker player, Frank Duffield visited many of these places in Leadville, with young Alice in tow (rather than stay at home alone).
Seemingly only standing quietly behind her husband watching him play, Alice learned the basics of the game, and before long Alice found herself sitting at the tables, demonstrating her skills in poker and faro (sort of a precursor to Mini-Baccarat).
A few years passed and Frank, a mining engineer, was killed in an accident, leaving Alice on her own – with no means of support. With no school around where she could teach, and few other appealing jobs for women in the mining camp, Alice decided to try and make a living off her poker talents. Soon she was in high demand as a player and dealer (!) in poker as well as faro.
A young, attractive woman that wasn’t of the “dubious types,” was a rare sight at an old west gambling hall. That would be today the equivalent of a woman walking about the Vegas strip in a business suit. Adorned in the latest women’s fashion, she stood out like a rose in a thorny field, certainly a sight for the sore eyes of weary miners and gamblers.
Quickly, young Alice Ivers began wandering from one mining camp to another, and in no time picked up the nickname “Poker Alice.” Alice, in addition to playing, also worked as a dealer all over Colorado: Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown and Trinidad. In addition to fine clothing, Alice acquired a taste in cigars, puffing on large black stogies, while dressed in fashionable dresses. On the other hand, she never gambled on Sundays because of her religious beliefs (during her later brief stint in prison, she’d smoke a cigar and read the bible).
As the old west was also known as the “wild west,” Alice moved around carrying a .38 revolver and she certainly wasn’t afraid to use it! Regardless, her reputation as a player grew, she always found players looking for a challenge, and therefore was always welcome in gambling halls since her presence drew crowds that were good for business.
Eventually Poker Alice left Colorado, making her way to Silver City, New Mexico, where she won about $6,000 (a small fortune in those days) at the Gold Dust Gambling House. She followed that win with a trip to New York, where, as her custom after big wins, she’d replenish her stylish wardrobe.
Soon after, Alice returned to Creede, Colorado, where she found work as a dealer at a saloon belonging to the infamous Robert Ford (the very same Ford who killed Jesse James and was himself destined to be murdered).
In 1890 Alice found herself in Deadwood, South Dakota, where she met a certain housepainter named Warren G. Tubbs. Although Alice repeatedly beat Tubbs at the tables, that didn’t stop him from becoming smitten with her. On one occasion (date…?), a drunken miner threatened Tubbs; Alice put a bullet in the miner’s arm. Eventually Tubbs and Alice married, and would have seven children. Moving out of Deadwood, they set up their homestead at a ranch near Sturgis on the Moreau River.
At this stage in her life, Alice drastically reduced her time at the gambling halls, spending most of her time at the ranch, raising her children. Alas – it seems Alice’s luck was greater at the poker tables than at love: her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and although she stood by his side, determined to nurse him back to health, Tubbs could not recuperate and of pneumonia in 1910. Legend says that to pay for the funeral, Alice pawned her wedding rings, then went to a gambling hall to earn to money to get the ring back.
“I owed him so much in back wages, I figured it would be cheaper to marry him…”
– Poker Alice
Recalling her days on the ranch, Alice would say that those were some of her happiest days, and during those times she hardly missed the poker action at all. However, the death of Tubbs necessitated that she find new means for living. After hiring a man named George Huckert to take care of the ranch, Alice moved to Sturgis. Huckert was taken was Alice and, after proposing to her several times, the two married. However, this was a short-lived marriage as well, as Huckert passed away in 1913.
During the prohibition era, Alice opened her own establishment – a saloon called “Poker’s Palace,” where customers would find not only gambling and liquor but also women who “serviced” customers. It was here that Alice shot a drunken soldier who wreaked havoc in the saloon, destroying furniture. Eventually she was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.
“At my age I suppose I should be knitting. But I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.”
– Poker Alice
By this time Alice was in her 70s, and she traded in her fashionable clothes for men’s dress. She still spent some time playing, and was invited to various special events, where she was featured as a true frontier character. Her behavior during these years was not what you would call typical for a senior citizen: she continued operating a “house of ill-repute” in Sturgis and occasionally arrested for drunkenness. However, she was granted pardon by the governor.
After undergoing a gallbladder operation, she died of complications on February 27th, 1930, at the age of 79. Poker Alice claimed to have won more than $250,000 at the tables without cheating once.