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Poker Alice

7/15/2005:

Among the more notorious women of western Dakota Territory were Mustache Maude and Calamity Jane. Another was Alice Ivers – or Poker Alice – who was born in 1853. Alice was born and educated in England and then moved with her family to Colorado. There, she eventually married her first love, a mining engineer named Frank Duffield. It was Duffield who taught Alice how to play poker, a game at which she proved particularly lucky.

When Duffield was killed in a mining accident, the young widow turned to gambling to support herself. Her youthful beauty proved a great strength against the men she played, and 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 G. Tubbs. Unlike Alice, Tubbs wasn’t lucky. But, he made a decent living as a house painter, and Alice married him. They raised seven kids, who Alice helped support with her card playing. She was so good she’d sometimes gloat and challenge all comers – of which there was no shortage. On a good night, she could make $6,000.

Although her husband’s bad luck irritated her, Alice always defended Tubbs, sometimes with the .38 revolver she carried. At some point, the couple had settled in Deadwood, where Tubbs eventually succumbed to tuberculosis, possibly brought on by his work as a painter.

After Tubbs died, Alice moved around the Black Hills a bit. She eventually landed in Sturgis, where she married an admirer named George Huckert. Unfortunately, the marriage was brief, and for the third time, Alice was a widow.

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 khaki skirt, a man’s shirt, 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 soldiers.

On this date in 1913, the Bismarck Daily Tribune reported Alice shot and killed one of her customers. Pvt. Bennie Kotzell was dead from a bullet to his head, and another soldier, Pvt. Joseph Minor was in critical condition from a bullet to his left side.

“The trouble is alleged to have started between a member of Troop M and ‘Poker Alice’ about ten or eleven days ago,” the Tribune reported. “It is said to have been renewed again the latter part of last week and again last night. Minor and Kortzell [sic] were standing a distance 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. The rocks were replied to by several shots thought to have been fired by ‘Poker Alice’ herself.

“After the affair had quieted down,” the story continued, “Sheriff Collins and States Attorney Gray arrived, placing ‘Poker Alice’ under arrest along with several women found in the house. A Winchester rifle was found just outside of the door of the building and a magazine from the gun was found lying on the woman’s bed.”

We’re not sure what happened as a result of her arrest, but we do known Poker Alice remained on earth for another 17 years. It was more likely her cigars 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.

Sources:

Fielder, Mildred. Poker Alice. Deadwood, SD: Centennial Distributors, 1978.

Bismarck Daily Tribune. June 16, 1913.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm