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Poker in the Past: Eleanore Dumont or how I learned to stop worrying and love the mustache.

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Poker in the Past

Eleanore Dumont, along with our old friends Poker Alice and Lottie Deno, was one of the most famous female card players of her time. Also known as Eleonore Alphonsine Dumont, she lived much of her life under the pseudonym Madame Mustache. This nickname was due to the appearance of a line of dark hair on her upper lip. Other sources claim she was born Simone Jules to Creole parents in New Orleans. Across all iterations of the story, almost nothing is known about her early life until she began working as a dealer at the Bella Union Hotel in 1849, or even as late as 1854. Madame Mustache was an accomplished card dealer and made her living working in casinos playing twenty one and other casino games. Never in one place for long, she was a born wanderer, travelling all across the USA, reportedly working in California, South Dakota, Montana and Nevada to name a few.

She gained a reputation as someone who could deal with the pressures of a hectic card table and could calm unruly customers from their white rage using her trademark charm and wit. She was excellent at her job, so good in fact that it aroused the suspicions of the hotel owners. She was eventually let go from the position after being accused of card sharping but not before amassing a large amount in savings.

During her time working at the Bella Union, Eleanore was a notoriously private lady, something that was unwavering throughout her life, but this didn’t stop her from partaking in mild flirting, if only to keep her all-male clientele on the seat on their pants. Noticing her gift for the game Eleanore decided to open her own casino, ‘Vingt-Et-Un’, which means ’21’ in French! A female dealer would have been an extremely rare sight in this period so men from all around would flock to her parlor just for the privilege. After the initial rush of business, Vingt-Et-Un also introduced other popular card games like ‘Faro’ and ‘Chuck A Luck.’

Faro was the most popular game of the era. Cheating was more common across all games but Faro more than most. In fact, cheating was so common in this game that it lost much popularity and ceased to be played in the years following World War 2. Players would go through such extreme lengths in order to cheat that parlors had to appoint two or even three staff to oversee the games. Firstly the dealer and then the Casekeeper, who would count cards for the players, and thirdly the “look-out” who has hired to throw a watchful eye on the table and make sure nobody was cheating.

After the modest success of her own parlor, Eleanore decided to go into business with Dave Tobin, an experienced local gambler and entrepreneur. The duo opened up Dumont’s Place, a popular spot for cards and casino games until the gold started to dry up in California. Dying were the days of bushy bearded men in long johns slamming shots of whiskey and chucking gold nuggets into the pot. Eleanore packed up and set her sights on Carson City. Upon arrival, Eleanore purchased a homestead and some animals. It was in Carson City that she fell in love with Jack McKnight, a well-dressed and well-tempered man who claimed to be a cattle rancher. Eleanore, knowing farming was not her area of expertise, signed the management of the property over to McKnight. McKnight turned out to be a con man and late one night sold the ranch and slinked out of the town under cover of darkness, leaving Eleanore behind to deal with the debts. One month later, McKnight went missing. Rumors abounded that Dumont had tracked him and ended his life with two quick blasts of her shotgun. Dumont was not prosecuted and served no jail time due to a lack of evidence. Some sources suggest Dumont may have admitted her guilt in the twilight years of her life but realistically, we may never know the entire truth.

 

After this heartbreak, Eleanore packed her bags and set off, travelling from saloon to saloon gambling and trying to build her fortune back up. Eleanore often relied on her good looks given her preference for male clientele but Father Time spares no one. The once radiant specimen was beginning to show signs of her age and the beauty which had one entranced prospectors in the height of their gold lust was beginning to fade. This was when Eleanore’s famous mustache become more prominent. The hair darkened and thickened on her upper lip. Eleanore, being both mustached and female, was still able to pull a crowd and had a reputation for dealing fair but her fame would not reach the heights it had in her youth. As time wore on, women in mining camps and settlements became less of a novelty. It was now commonplace for working men to move their families out with them in the hopes of striking rich.

Dumont still had decent success as a gambler at this point in her story, but nothing compared to the glory days. Eleanore became the madame of a brothel in the 1860s. Dumont followed the money and roved from through the Montana mining towns and then eventually back to Utah and Virginia City, Nevada.  By way of advertisement, Eleanore would parade her ladies through the streets in broad daylight from the back of the carriage, much to the chagrin of the ‘proper’ ladies in the town.

 

Since Eleanore was following the trail of gold, she began to see many familiar faces arriving as each new settlement was erected. Eleanore had a strong reputation to uphold. The commonfolk saw her as an attractive, upstanding French lady with a soft, charitable side along to compliment her no-nonsense attitude. Stories of her foiling multiple robbers at once and forcing plague-ridden steamboats to turn back at gunpoint only added to her growing legendary status.

Eleanore’s last stop was Bodie, California. Though years of travelling around the united states had taken her toll on Eleanore, one Bodie reporter said “Madame Moustache, whose real name is Eleanore, has settled for the time in Bodie, following her old avocation of dealing twenty-one, faro, etc., as a 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 recognise her now.”

On September 7, 1879 Eleanore borrowed $3000 dollars from a friend to open a table and had lost the entire sum after only a few hours. Dejected, Eleanore wandered out of the saloon and to the outskirts of town, where she committed suicide by drinking a bottle of red wine laced with morphine. Eleanore left a suicide note explaining that she had “grown tired of life.” Her body was discovered early the next morning by passing travelers. The people who first discovered the body claimed she looked at peace in death, her head resting on a rock as if she were sleeping.

Local residents were grieved by her passing and raised enough money to cover her funeral, said to be the largest the town ever held. The exact site of her grave is unknown and likely lost to the sands of time.

One miner lamented “Poor Madame Moustache! 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 Moustache.”

Mike D

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