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Dakota Datebook

Poker Alice

 

Among the more notorious women of western Dakota Territory was Alice Ivers – or Poker Alice – who was born in 1853 in England. She moved with her family to Colorado where she married a mining engineer named Frank Duffield. It was Duffield who taught Alice how to play poker, a game at which she proved particularly adept.

When Duffield was killed in a mining accident, the young widow turned to gambling to support herself. Soon she was known not only for her card-playing skills, but also for her charm, her fine wardrobe and her New York spending sprees.

One of Alice’s gambling adversaries was Warren Tubbs, a house painter who became her husband. They raised seven kids, who Alice helped support with her card playing. She was so good she’d sometimes challenge all comers – of which there was no shortage. On a good night, she could make $6,000.

At some point, the couple had settled in Deadwood, where Tubbs eventually succumbed to tuberculosis. Alice married for a third time to George Huckert, but he also died.

By this point, the blush of her youthful beauty was gone, as was her stylish wardrobe. Much like Mustache Maude, she adopted a costume of a man’s khaki skirt and an old frayed hat. The allure of poker had staled. She smoked cigars and became a bootlegger until prohibition brought that to a halt. Then, since Sturgis was near Fort Meade, she opened her own place, named Poker Alice, and catered to the earthly desires of the soldiers.

On this date in 1913, the Bismarck Daily Tribune reported that Alice shot and killed one of her customers and wounded another. 

The Tribune wrote: “The trouble is alleged to have started between a member of Troop M and ‘Poker Alice’ about ten or eleven days ago. It is said to have been renewed again the latter part of last week and again last night.” The paper said the soldiers were standing outside of the building when the electric wires were cut and the resort left in darkness. Almost immediately a volley of stones and rocks were hurled at the house, breaking nearly every window. In reply, several shots rang out, thought to have been fired by ‘Poker Alice’ herself.

Alice was arrested. We’re not sure what happened as a result, but we do know that Poker Alice remained on earth for another 17 years. It was likely her cigars that finally brought her down. She died in 1930, ten days after her 77th birthday, and was laid to rest in St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm

Sources:
Fielder, Mildred. Poker Alice. Deadwood, SD: Centennial Distributors, 1978.
Bismarck Daily Tribune. June 16, 1913.

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