Alice Ivers Tubbs, AKA "Poker Alice"
Old West Gamblers
There were many colorful characters to emerge from the old American West. There were gunslingers, outlaws, gamblers and famous lawmen who tamed lawless cow towns. However, not all were famous, but colorful nonetheless.
One such person was Alice Ivers Tubbs, better known as “Poker Alice”…perhaps the best known female poker player in the Old West.
Alice claimed to have been born In Devonshire, England on February 17, 1851. Some have said she was from Ireland. Her father was a conservative schoolmaster who moved the family to Virginia when she was still a young girl. While there she attended an upscale boarding school for young women until the family moved again following the silver rush to Leadville, Colorado.
While there Alice, a petite 5’4” beauty, met and married mining engineer Frank Duffield at the age of twenty. Frank was an enthusiastic card player and spent a lot of his spare time in one of the many gambling halls. The blue eyed, brunette usually accompanied him rather than stay home alone. At first, she simply watched the players. However, it wasn’t long before she was joining the games and becoming an expert poker and faro player.
A few years later, her husband was killed in an explosion and she was left with no means of support. As an educated young woman, she might have become a school teacher since the mining camp of 35,000 residents didn’t have a school. But she decided to make a living at the gambling tables instead. Alice preferred poker. She was soon in high demand in cities all over Colorado including Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown and Trinidad. A "lady” in a gambling hall was a rarity in those days.
Traveling from one mining camp to another, she soon acquired the nickname "Poker Alice." As time went on, Alice began smoking large black cigars, however, she never gambled on Sundays because of her religious beliefs.
Deadwood, South Dakota
Eventually Alice wound up in Deadwood, South Dakota around 1890. There, she met Warren G. Tubbs, who worked as a housepainter and sidelined as a dealer and gambler. Although she usually beat him at gambling Tubbs’ became fond of her. Once, a drunken miner attacked Tubbs with a knife. Alice shot him in the arm with a .38. They eventually married and had seven children.
The couple soon moved out of Deadwood and began homesteading a ranch in Sturgis. During this time Alice spent little time at the gaming tables since helping to run the ranch and raising her children took up most of her time. But a contented ranch life just wasn’t in the cards for Alice. Her husband contracted tuberculosis and died from pneumonia.
Alice later said time spent on her ranch was some of the happiest days of her life and she didn’t miss gambling, but liked the peace and quiet of the ranch. However, after her husbands’ death, she was forced once again make a living. She then hired George Huckert to take care of her ranch while she returned to the gambling halls.
Huckert became captivated with Alice and proposed to her several times. Finally, she gave in saying "I owed him so much in back wages; I figured it would be cheaper to marry him than pay him off. So I did." But Alice soon found herself widowed once again when Huckert died in 1913.
A few years earlier, Alice had bought an old house near Fort Meade on Bear Butte Creek. It needed work but she saw opportunities for a gaming hall downstairs and some girls upstairs. So she applied for a bank loan. Alice is said to have told this story in her own words. "I went to the bank for a $2,000 loan to build on an addition and go to Kansas City to recruit some fresh girls. When I told the banker I'd repay the loan in two years, he scratched his head for a minute then let me have the money. In less than a year I was back in his office paying off the loan. He asked how I was able to come up with the money so fast. I took a couple chaws on the end of my cigar and told him, `Well, it's this way. I knew the Grand Army of the Republic was having an encampment here in Sturgis. And I knew that the state Elks convention would be here, too. But I plumb forgot about all those Methodist preachers coming to town for a conference."
Alice told of another incident in 1913 at Fort Meade about a bunch of soldiers in the house who were raising a ruckus and getting out of hand. She fired a shot to calm them down. Unfortunately, the bullet passed through two of the soldiers, killing one of them. The police closed down the house and arrested Alice and her six girls. While in jail awaiting trial, she smoked cigars and read the Bible. At her trial, the shooting was ruled accidental and she was acquitted. However, the authorities kept a close watch on her ever after that.
Alice was in her 60's by then but she kept getting arrested for drunkenness and running a brothel. She always paid her fines but continued to run her business. But eventually, she was sentenced to a term in the penitentiary for repeated convictions. However, she was pardoned by the governor, being 75 years old at the time.
For the last 20 years of her life, she operated her business in Sturgis and was a well-known card player in Deadwood, a town which tolerated gambling and prostitution up until 1987. However, by this time she had long since quit being a fashionably dressed lady and wore old men’s clothing.
At the age of 79 she had a gall bladder operation in Rapid City. But there were complications and she died on February 27, 1930. She was interred at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Alice claimed to have won more than $250,000 at the gaming tables, never once cheating. Many was the time she was heard to say "Praise the Lord and place your bets. I'll take your money with no regrets."