Alice's husband was killed in a mining accident and she was forced to play poker for a living, earning the moniker of Poker Alice.
Throughout the 1880s, Alice worked in saloons across the West as a faro and poker dealer. Her skill and beauty resulted in very good pay. She certainly had plenty of money to buy the finest clothes with fancy low-cut gowns, ostrich plumes and other fancies of the day. It is likely that she worked the gambling halls in the Colorado towns of Alamosa, Georgetown, Trinidad, Central City and Leadville, as well as those in Silver City and New Mexico.
She eventually moved to Oklahoma working the gambling tables in Guthrie and other places, but returned to Colorado on hearing about the new mining camp of Creede in 1890.
She managed tables for 8 hour shifts at Bob Ford's Creede Exchange and became a well known figure on the gambler's circuit. Because of her up bring she always refused to play on Sundays, even though it was a popular day for miners coming to town for their one day off. And, unlike some of the wild women of the old west, she dressed fashionably and was neat in appearance.
Poker Alice left Creede and moved to South Dakota. The exact date of Alice's arrival in Deadwood is not known. In Deadwood she met Warren G. Tubbs, a house painter from Sturgis and a fellow card dealer. Their romance is said to have bloomed after Alice shot a man in the arm who had been threatening Tubbs with a knife. She and Tubbs married and had seven children. During this time Alice was reputed to have been able to make as much as $6,000 gambling on a good night -- a huge amount of money back then.
While her children were growing up, Alice tried to keep them away from the gambling houses and at one point she and Tubbs decided to homestead a ranch northeast of Sturgis on the Moreau River. Tubbs had contracted tuberculosis and Alice hoped to nurse him back to health. By some accounts, Alice's time at the Moreau Ranch were some of the happiest in her life. She would later recount how she liked the peace and quiet and never missed the saloons and gambling halls. Tubbs died in the winter of 1910 apparently from pnemonia.
Times were undoubtedly difficult back then because she was no longer making a high income at the card tables. As the story goes, a legend perhaps, Alice pawned her wedding ring to pay for Tubbs' funeral, then went into a saloon and won enough money at poker to get her ring back.
After Tubbs died, Alice hired George Huckert to take care of the homestead while she went back to Sturgis to earn some money. Huckert proposed to her several times until she famously said: "I owed him so much in back wages, I figured it would be cheaper to marry him than pay him off. So I did." His back wages were about $1,008. The marriage was short. Huckert died in 1913. After his death, Alice continued to call herself Alice Tubbs.
It was around 1910 that Alice bought an old house on Bear Butte Creek near the Fort Mead Army Post and opened a brothel. This resulted in, perhaps, the most repeated story about Poker Alice:
The house was small and needed extra rooms and "fresh girls" to perk up the business, so Alice went to a bank for a loan of $2,000. Again, as the story goes, and in words supposedly spoken by Alice:
"I went to the bank for a $2,000 loan to build on an addition and go to Kansas City to recruit some fresh girls. When I told the banker I'd repay the loan in two years, he scratched his head for a minute then let me have the money. In less than a year I was back in his office paying off the loan. He asked how I was able to come up with the money so fast. I took a couple chaws on the end of my cigar and told him, `Well it's this way. I knew the Grand Army of the Republic was having an encampment here in Sturgis. And I knew that the state Elks convention would be here too. But I plumb forgot about all those Methodist preachers coming to town for a conference'."
In 1913 there was an unfortunate incident at the bordello when a number of soldiers became unruly. Poker Alice fired a single rifle shot to quiet the troops, however the bullet ripped into two of them, killing one. When the police arrived, they took Alice and her six girls to jail, shutting down the brothel. Alice was later acquitted of any wrongdoing because the soldiers were in a near riot, and the shooting was ruled accidental. But forever after Ft. Meade authorities harassed her.
|History of a Woman Gambler in the West by Nolie Mumey
Poker Alice's fame, or notoriety, followed her beyond her waning years. She died on February 27, 1930 in a Rapid City hospital after a gall bladder operation and is buried at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis. Her "house" stood vacant for many years and was scheduled for demolition until a Sturgis businessman bought it and had it moved to its present location on Junction Avenue in Sturgis where it is now a bed and breakfast inn.