Black Jack Queen 'Madame Mustache'
For over three decades Madame Mustache had been a familiar character in the mining camps of the Pacific coast. From the mines of British Columbia to those of California and the Black Hills, she was there pursuing her profession of gambling with a relatively then unknown game to miners called Black Jack.
Her real name was Eleanore Dumont and she was thought to have been born in New Orleans, Louisiana in about 1829.
The first known of Simone Jules, as she was then called, is her appearance in San Francisco in 1849. She established herself as a gambler, favoring the game of Vingt-et-un, which means “21.” It became the precursor of American Blackjack. However, when she was suspected of cardsharping at the Bella Union where she was working, she was fired.
The next known of the petite, pretty French woman in her early twenties is her arrival by stagecoach one day in Nevada City in 1854. She caused quite a stir with her stylish appearance and beauty. A pretty, fashionably dressed woman was a rarity in rough mining towns.
For a few days, she canvassed the main streets peering into store windows of businesses that had gone out of business. Soon, the town was awash in gossip wondering what the young lady was up to.
The towns’ curiosity was soon satisfied after she handed a printing order to Editor Wait of the Nevada Journal for a handbill which advertised the opening of the “best gambling emporium in northern California.” Town residents received invitations to the grand opening of the “Vingt-et-un” on Broad Street. Madame Dumont was serving free champagne to all who would come and enjoy a game with her.
Her establishment was exquisitely furnished and carpeted with gas chandeliers. However, only well-behaved and well-groomed men would be allowed entrance. There would be no cursing in her establishment.
Her gambling parlor was an immediate success as men having spruced up and in their best Sunday clothes thronged in. They found Miss Eleanore witty, charming and every bit the lady as she circulated about conversing with her patrons.
At the time few miners knew how to play “21,” as Faro was their game of choice. But the prospect of having a pretty female dealer quickly drew a number of players. Of course, the miners often lost more than they won. However, they seldom complained. When she won, she would treat the losers to free champagne. When she lost, she expressed happiness for their good fortune.
Soon she had enough capital to open a larger establishment and partnered with David Tobin, a professional gambler from New York. The two opened Dumont’s Palace hiring more dealers and a few violinists for entertainment. The Palace kept games going day and night.
Unfortunately, like so many other boom towns, the gold eventually played out for Nevada City. Dumont then moved to Columbia, California in 1857 and set up business in a hotel.
A few years later, Eleanore decided to quit the gambling business. Although she knew little about ranching she bought a ranch in Carson City, Nevada. That’s when Jack McKnight, a smooth talking, well dressed handsome man, came into her life. McKnight claimed to be a cattle buyer and Eleanore was instantly taken with him. However, McKnight was actually a conman. Less than a month later, he absconded with all her money, sold her ranch and left her penniless.
Reportedly she tracked him down and killed him with a double blast from a shotgun. Although a suspect in his murder she was never charged. However, many years later she allegedly confessed to the crime.
Impoverished, Eleanore was forced to take up gambling again. In 1861, she arrived in Pioche, Nevada where she once again resumed her former trade. But just like Nevada City the mines played out and over the next 20 years she would follow the miners to the next strike.
As a young attractive woman, Eleanore remained a lady in the womanless gold-rush camps and attracted men by her virtue. However, the years had taken their toll and as she aged, she became pleasantly plump. She had always had a fine unflattering growth of hair on her upper lip but now it had darkened into a distinctive moustache…thus, her nickname.
Why she simply didn’t shave it off is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, since she was known as a shrewd business woman, she used it as a gimmick to attract customers…much like the bearded lady attraction at a carnival.
As her beauty faded she was no longer able to coax the roughness out of miners. Now they no longer refrained from cursing in her presence or acting like refined gentlemen. Eventually she began taking on the characteristics of her customers. Previously, she only drank wine or champagne in moderation. She now drank whiskey and used course language. Later, she also added prostitution to her business.
According to one story, as she left her table she was accosted by two robbers who demanded her purse. She calmly reached under her skirt, brought out a derringer and shot one of the men. The other hastily fled.
Although,Eleanore was known as a tough businesswoman, she often provided free meals and a place to stay for miners who needed it.
When the gold fever hit Deadwood, South Dakota, she was also present. Some say she knew Calamity Jane and tried teaching her how to play poker. However, if true, she failed, as Jane was always a poor gambler. In 1877, a Deadwood news reporter wrote: “A character who attracts the attention of all strangers is ‘Mme. Mustache,’ a plump little French lady, perhaps forty years of age, but splendidly preserved.”
He continued by saying, “She derives her name, which is the only one she is known by, from a dainty strip of black hair upon her upper lip. She deals her own game, and is quite popular with the boys, who treat her with marked respect. She has bright black eyes and a musical voice, and there is something attractive about her as she looks up with a little smile and says, ‘You will play, M’sieur? No one knows her history. She is said to be very rich.”
She finally ended up in Bodie, California in May, 1878. A local newspaper printed an article which said in part: “Madame Mustache whose real name is Eleanore Dumont , has settled for the time in Bodie, following her old avocation of dealing twenty-one, faro, etc., as 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 recognize her now.”
About a year after her arrival, when her finances were running low one night, she borrowed $300 to open her game. Unfortunately, after a few hours, she had lost it. Despondent and without saying a word to anyone, she went about a mile outside of town and drank red wine laced with a lethal dose of morphine. Her body was found on September 8, 1879 along with a letter giving instructions for the disposition of her effects. The letter also stated “she was tired of life.” Telegraph wires were soon abuzz with the story and newspapers throughout the West, picked it up.
Local residents raised enough money to provide Eleanore with a proper burial. George A. Montrose, an attorney and former editor of the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union, described the event: “She had the reputation of being honest in her dealings and always paying her debts. Upon this she prided herself, and woe unto anyone who claimed she did not play fair. . . . It is said that of the hundreds of funerals held in the mining camp, that of ‘Madame Mustache’ was the largest. The gamblers of the place buried her with all honors, and carriages were brought from Carson City, Nevada a distance of 120 miles, especially to be used in the funeral cortege.”
Eleanore Dumont’s grave is known to be at Bodie cemetery, but its’ exact location is unknown.