Monday, January 28, 2013

Madame Mustache

Of all the famous gold rush characters, one stands out as the most ubiquitous. Eleanor Dumont, commonly known as Madame Mustache, appears in an astonishing number of mining camps during the 1860s and 1870s. In her flamboyant wake, she left a trail of legends and stories where ever she dealt cards. And a skilled card dealer she was, introducing the game of twenty-one, the precursor of American Blackjack, at a time when Faro was the common game. An attractive Frenchwoman, she was the West’s first professional card dealer and her gambling emporiums were famous everywhere. In Montana, she reputedly ran houses in Virginia City, Fort Benton and Helena. In Fort Benton, her place of business was called The Jungle. In a second story room on Front Street overlooking the levee, Madame dealt her cards to sailors and miners. An enduring Fort Benton legend has it that Madame once left her card game brandishing a pair of pistols to warn a steamboat captain. She challenged him not to dock his ship as it was carrying a deadly cargo of passengers sick with smallpox. In Helena, Madame ran the Golden Gate, a gambling house near the Helena Herald offices that catered to newspaper employees. Madame in her later years sported a fine dark mustache on her upper lip. Perhaps she did not shave it off because the novelty brought her business.

Photo via Legends of America
Eleanor Dumont ended her career in Bodie, California, where she committed suicide by morphine overdose in 1879. She had a widely attended funeral, and all agreed that she may have been in a shady business, but she was always fair and kind to her customers.

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