Published on Friday, October 5, 2012
By Gary Every
Alice Ivers was born in Sudbury, England in 1851. Her family left England for the United Stated while Miss Alice was still a teenager. The family ended up in Colorado which was experiencing a mining boom. Mr. Ivers pretty young daughter soon got married. Alice Ivers married a mining engineer named Duffield. Her stint as a house wife was a short one because Duffield died in a mining accident before his wife had reached her twenty first birthday. The widow received a generous pension so it must have been boredom and not money which first propelled her to gravitate towards the saloons. She took a fancy to playing cards and soon earned the nickname "Poker Alice". Alice alos acquired a liking for fat cigars and kept a .45 revolver with her at the gambling tables. Alice refused to gamble on Sundays.
Poker Alice followed the gold rush to Deadwood, South Dakota. Her skills as a card sharp brought her a great deal of fame and fortune. Her sense of fashion and extravagant hairdos became legendary including extravagant shopping sprees in New York City.
Although Poker Alice never confessed to cheating it was certainly a standard practice of the times. It was obvious she admired the men who had the stuff to pull off such nefarious schemes. The cigar chomping, English lady had this to say about a fellow professional gambler who had practiced the tricks of the trade so well that he soon had the deft skills of a magician. "When he got into a game with the sharp eyes of professional gamblers upon him the courage necessary to practice that crooked skill wilted and he became only an honest, frightened, exceedingly bad player, who lost his chips almost as soon as they were set before him."
Poker Alice became adept at the tricks of the trade herself; her soft gentle hands were much valued in the card sharp business. Soft hands were better at reading the notches and bumps found on marked cards. A man who was caught using a marked deck could forfeit his life. Poker Alice remembered some card dealers whose fingers were "sandpapered until the blood all but oozed through the skin."
Poker Alice claimed she never cheated although her profession required her to learn the tricks of the trade to protect herself. She swore that in all her years of gambling "I handled a cold deck only once, and that for a joke." There was a man in the Black Hills of the Dakotas who claimed that every time he lost it was because the game was fixed and every time he won the game was fair. "It got on my nerves," Alice recollected wryly.
She decided to teach the gentleman a lesson. True to Alice's nickname the game was poker and the man started out riding a winning streak. "I never saw such luck," Poker Alice said. "By actual count he had 27 sets of threes without me ever winning a hand. If I held three kings, then he would have three aces; and if I drew the three highest cards in the deck then he would have a small straight to beat it."
"I've got into a square game at last," the man cried out.
Then the English schoolteacher's daughter taught her student his lesson. She used the cold deck to deal the gentleman a pat flush - five cards of one suit. Alice knew that the loudmouth would not stand still on such a hand. She dealt herself a full house - one pair and three of a kind; a slightly better hand than that of her opponent.
"The betting began," Poker Alice said, "With my victim pushing forth the chips by the stack."
When the game was over Alice had won over $900 dollars.
Alice tried to return the money to the man, that she had only intended to teach the obnoxious loudmouth a lesson. She had wanted to demonstrate to her poker adversary that he would not recognize a fixed game if he saw one. Her opponent was obstinate. He had not been outsmarted by a woman. After all, he had won every hand except the last one.
"I guess you've got the right to win a hand once in a while." he grumbled.
Poker Alice kept the money.
She traveled all across the west, riding the rails and hustling the tourists. At least until the locomotive lines got wise and banned professional gamblers. Before the end of the century she had returned to Deadwood. Poker Alice remarried a gentleman named Tubbs. The newlyweds had a great deal in common for they were both professional gamblers. They decided to retire from their dangerous past time and purchased a chicken ranch. They enjoyed a rather peaceful, pastoral, but odorous existence of wedded bliss until Tubbs died of pneumonia in 1910.
Alice once again grew bored of the widow's life. She returned to gambling, saving her winnings until she could afford to open up a saloon called "Poker Alice", located in South Dakota between the town of Sturgis and South Fort Meade. Business was quite lucrative. For the benefit of the local soldiers Alice imported some soiled doves. Alice's puritanical Victorian English upbringing revealed itself and none of her working girls were permitted to employ their trade on Sundays. Alice would round the girls up and drag them to church every Sunday as a condition of employment.
Alice married again. The groom was another professional gambler who went by the name of George Huckert. Prohibition now darkened the land but the local law stayed away from a celebrity such as Poker Alice. At least until Alice was charged with shooting one of the Fort Meade soldiers. Although the jury acquitted Alice by saying that she acted in self defense, the irate D.A. did manage to close the saloon.
In the late 1920's George Huckert had gone to meet his maker. Alice retired to a small house in Sturgis and kept chomping cigars until her own death in 1930 when Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert folded her last hand.
Gary Every is an award winning journalist, including for stories such as The Apache Naichee and Losing Geronimo's Language. He is the author of Shadow of the OhshaD (OhshaD is a Native american word for jaguar) and Battling the Hydra, a collection of encounters with mostly wild animals. His poetry has been nominated for both Pushcart prizes as well as the Rhysling Award for the years best science fiction poem. His work appears in a variety of magazines such as Arizona Highways, Desert Leaf, Weber Studies, Tales of the Talisman, and many more.