Poker in the Past: Poker Alice
Alice Tubbs, better known as Poker Alice, was born in England in 1851 but moved to Virginia when was 12 years old. Alice was reared and received the majority of her education in the United States. Alice married her first husband, Frank Duffield, whom she met in Colorado. Frank was the first person to spark Alice’s interest in poker, answering all of her questions and teaching her the tricks of the trade. Frank was killed a few years after they were married while setting a dynamite charge, but Alice continued on playing poker across the United States, even working at a saloon in Colorado which was owned by Bob Ford, the man who famously killed Jesse James.
Alice was a woman of immense character and morals. Even when she became famous as a poker player, she refused to play on Sundays. Throughout her life, Alice had tried to make her living from several other jobs, including as a teacher but had only moderate success, her real calling was the cards. Alice was extremely good at counting cards and calculating odds. Her poker games would attract large crowds to saloons. Men of all walks of life would come to challenge ‘Poker Alice’ and try their hand against the queen. Alice claimed that she had made a grand sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars throughout her years playing poker, roughly three million dollars in modern money. She was always seen with two things on her person, her beloved .38 pistol hanging by her waist and a chewed cigar hanging from her mouth.
Alice was not known for her frugality, every time she won a large tournament, she would travel to New York and spend the winnings on expensive dresses, keeping up with all the latest fashions. Alice was a very good looking woman and was considered very beautiful, even into her late fifties. Alice took great pleasure in using her charm and good looks to dazzle and distract male players at the tables.
While working as a dealer at a casino in South Dakota, a drunken miner threatened fellow dealer Warren G. Tubbs. Alice produced her .38 caliber pistol and scared the would-be attacker away. Tubbs and Alice become romantically involved and were married soon after. Together, Tubbs and Alice had seven children. They did not want their children to grow up around gambling and the dinge of saloon life in this era, so the couple upped and moved to Sturgis in South Dakota, just north of their current location. As well as his skills as a dealer, Tubbs was also a gifted house painter. This was his job and main source of employment until his death from TB in 1910. It’s believed that the lead based paint he used daily and constant outdoor work led to the pneumonia that ended his life. In order to pay for his funeral Alice had to pawn her wedding ring, which she later bought back using poker winnings.
Alice’s third and final husband, George Huckert, worked on her homestead taking care of the sheep. It is believed Alice did not want to wed him but owed him over one thousand dollars in back wages so she married him, relinquishing the debt. He had proposed multiple times before this. Huckert died in 1913.
Alice eventually opened up her own saloon, ‘Poker’s Palace’ in 1910. Downstairs offered merriment, gambling and refreshment while the upstairs functioned as a brothel. Despite this, the saloon was always closed for business on Sundays. Trouble with the law was a staple throughout the later years of Alice’s life, she was arrested numerous times for running brothels, gambling and bootlegging. Alice would always pay her fines but never let any involvement from the law discourage her business ventures.
One Sunday while Poker’s Palace was closed for business, a squad of unruly, drunken soldiers arrived shouting for Alice to open up. Alice unholstered her pistol and fired a warning shot to ward them off. The bullet misfired, killing one soldier and wounding another. This resulted in the arrest of Alice and six of her prostitutes. Following this, she spent a short time in prison. After her trial, where she claimed self-defence, her saloon was shut down.
She was once again arrested for bootlegging but served no time due to her advanced age. Alice died in 1930 at age 79 following a gall bladder operation. She was buried in North Carolina at the Aloysius cemetery.
While Alice may not be around today, one of her famous sayings is as relevant as ever in the world of Poker. She would gleefully rub her hands together and say, “Praise the Lord and place your bets, I’ll take your money with no regrets.”
“At my age I suppose I should be knitting but I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.”
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