February 17, 1851
On this day, cigar smoking, card playing Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert was born in Devon, England. Educated in Virginia and brought up to be a “proper lady,” instead she gambled her way across the West and got rich and famous as Poker Alice. (Right, early photo)
A veritable travelogue of famous boom towns, Ivers worked her way from Colorado to New Mexico and back to South Dakota. Her family reportedly landed in Leadville, Colorado when she was a young woman. It was where she met her first of a trifecta of husbands.
Early photo of Leadville, Colorado
Frank Duffield, a mining engineer and avid poker player taught his bride the game. Duffield was killed in a mine explosion a few years after their marriage and Alice took to the tables to support herself, which she apparently did handsomely.
A bit of a Victorian fashionista, after scoring a big win Ivers was known to spend lavishly in New York on the latest finery. It may have been a business investment as much as a vanity. She reportedly used her good looks and stunning wardrobe to distract the other players.
Expanding beyond Leadville, she collected money and crowds at poker tables in Silver City, New Mexico and Creede, Colorado, reportedly working at the makeshift establishment in Creede, Colorado owned by Bob Ford, (right) reviled as “the dirty little coward who killed Jesse James.”
It’s doubtful Ivers was on hand June 8, 1892, when Edward O’Kelley entered Ford’s tent saloon and fired both barrels of a shotgun at Ford, killing him instantly. It was believed that Ivers, known far and wide as Poker Alice, was by then, a dealer at Bedrock Tom’s in Deadwood.
Ford’s Creede, Colorado saloon
In Deadwood she met and married husband number two, a fellow dealer named Warren Tubbs. Their courtship began when a drunk miner attacked Tubbs with a knife and Ivers threatened him with her .38. While not your average relationship starter, it became the most conventional period of her life . The couple had four sons and three daughters, and hoping to shelter their children from the rowdy gambling crowd, bought a house near Sturgis, South Dakota.
Tubbs, who moon lighted as a dealer, was also a house painter. He died, of tuberculosis in 1910, leaving Ivers a widow for the second time. Medical experts today speculate the lead in the early house paint may have contributed to Tubbs’ lung disorder.
The Ivers/Tubbs house outside Sturgis, South Dakota
Mr. Poker Alice number three was George Huckert. Hired to help with the livestock on the Ivers/Tubbs homestead after Warren’s death, he constantly proposed to his employer. After his back wages reached more than $1,000, about $30,000 today, she calculated it was cheaper to marry Huckert than pay up.
By the time she married Huckert, she was already operating the Poker Palace near Fort Meade, featuring gambling on the first floor and a bordello on the second. A girl has her standards, however. Apparently Alice had a steadfast rule about working on Sunday. When a group of unruly soldiers from the fort failed to follow the house rules, she fired into the crowd, killing one of the soldiers and wounding another.
Angering the military brass, her establishment was shut down and Ivers briefly went to jail, whiling away her time smoking cigars and reading her Bible.
She was, however, not a lesson learner. She was arrested numerous times thereafter for drunkenness, bootlegging and keeping a brothel, Finally, she was sentenced to prision in 1928. But the famous card shark escaped going to jail when the compassionate governor, William J. Bulow, (above) pardoned the aging madam.
Claiming she had won more than $250,000 over the years, perhaps as much as $6 million today, Ivers said she, in fact, had never cheated. Hollywood never cheated her, either. She was glamourously portrayed in TV movies by Susan Sullivan and none other than Elizabeth Taylor. (Above, Taylor in 1978 movie, “Poker Alice”)The Adams Museum, downtown Deadwood, S.D., highlights Deadwood’s bawdy past in the museum’s “Risky Business,” an exhibit that explores the town’s seamy side of prostitution, gambling and crime, giving visitors a glimpse into the Poker Alice era. Open daily 9 to 5 May through September, 10 to 4 Tuesday through Saturday October through April and closed for winter holidays. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children. For more information go to deadwoodhistory.com, call (605) 722-4800 or write Deadwood History, Inc., PO Box 252, 150 Sherman St, Deadwood, SD 57732.
© Text Only – 2019 – Headin’ West LLC – All photos – public domain or fair use.
*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable. When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.