We always get psyched when we come across some beautifully odd and obscure story from the Wild West, and boy did we find one. This is the story about the most notorious blackjack dealer and gambler of the old west. We presume that you have already imagined a hefty man with a bold mustache. Well, in fact, you are not that wrong, except it was not a man, but a lady and her name was Eleanor Dumont.
Little is known about the life of Eleanor Dumont, dubbed by the pseudonym Madame Moustache. She was born as Simone Jules to Creole parents, perhaps in New Orleans in approximately 1829. But there are also other suggestions that claim she was born in France and moved to America as a young woman. Even though later in life, Madame Moustache was recognizable by her trademark of a line of dark hair on her upper lip, it has been said that when she was young she was exceedingly beautiful.
When she arrived in San Francisco, according to some sources around 1849 or maybe as late as 1854, Dumont started working as a card dealer at the Bella Union Hotel. She was a delicate, dignified and reserved woman and perfectly knew how to deal with rude customers and local hillbillies. Even though she was doing just fine in San Francisco, Dumont chose her path as a stray dog and hit the road.
Moving from place to place, she was reported to work in Bodie, California; Deadwood, South Dakota; Fort Benton, Montana; Pioche, Nevada; Tombstone, Arizona;
On the road, she made a considerable amount of money as a blackjack dealer and decided to settle in Nevada City, California. But this was not San Francisco, where her appearance as a stylish woman didn’t attract much attention, Nevada City was not as sophisticated and her appearance cause quite a stir in the rough mining town. While in San Francisco she was known by her birth name Simone Jules, when she checked in the Fepps Hotel, she registered under the name Eleanor Dumont.
In Nevada City, California, Simone Jules now known as Eleanor Dumont decided to start up a business on her own, considering that she gained a lot of gambling experience on the road, opened up the gambling parlor named “Vingt-et-un” ( meaning 21 in French) on Broad Street. As you must have concluded by now, Dumont was a sophisticated lady and obviously knew how to manage a business, so her gambling parlor was open only for well-kept men, except herself, women were not allowed, and instead of beer, she was serving her customers with champagne.
All the men admired her for her beauty and charm, but she kept them all a nice distance away. She was a very private lady, so she flirted, but only to keep the boys coming. Men came from all around to see the woman dealer – this was rare then – and considered it a privilege. The parlor found much success, so she decided to go into business with Dave Tobin, an experienced gambler. They opened up Dumont’s Place, which was very successful until the gold started to dry up in Nevada City. She left Tobin and Nevada City for brighter things.
There was a brief period in Carson City where she bought a ranch and some animals. It was there that she met Jack McKnight. You see, Jack McKnight was a smooth gentleman, introduced himself as a cattle buyer, well-dressed and quite a wordsmith charmed the hero of our story as she helplessly fell in love with him. Little that she know, Jack McKinght was, in fact, a con man and would eventually rip her off and run away with all of her money.
So, our lady hit the road again. She moved around from city to city, gambling and building up her money again. Her age started to increase, and with that a lot of the beauty that once entranced miners, faded. This is when the famous mustache began to grow. She still drew crowds, though, and had a long-standing reputation for dealing fair. Consequently, she lost her classy attitude, and instead of her usual white wine, she started soaking up her bitterness in whiskey. Once, while she was drinking whiskey, a drunk miner uttered the words “Madame Moustache” and the nickname stuck.
Madame Moustache kept moving from town to town. In 1867, she had moved on to Fort Benton, and set up a table in an area that was known as “the bloodiest block in the West”. The Front Street was packed with brothels, saloons, dance halls and gambling house. She set up a table in a gambling house dubbed “The Jungle.” During the summer the same year, while she was doing her job dealing cards she spotted the steamboat Walter B. Dance heading up the Missouri River. She had overheard that the boat was a “smallpox carrier” so she stormed out the table, ran to the river and with two pistols threatened the captain of the boat telling him he was not welcome there.
Allegedly, she also added prostitution to her repertoire during these later years – she became a “madame” of a brothel in the 1860s. To promote her business, she would parade her girls around the town in carriages, showing off their beauty in broad daylight, much to the gasping of the ‘proper’ women.
In the 1870s, Madame Moustache wound up in Deadwood South Dacota and became friends with the frontierswoman Martha Canary, a.k.a. Calamity Jane. A newsman stationed in Deadwood in 1877 reported:
“A character who attracts the attention of all strangers is ‘Mme. Mustache,’ a plump little French lady, perhaps forty years of age, but splendidly preserved. She derives her name, which is the only one she is known by, from a dainty strip of black hair upon her upper lip. She deals her own game, and is quite popular with the boys, who treat her with marked respect. She has bright black eyes and a musical voice, and there is something attractive about her as she looks up with a little smile and says, ‘You will play, M’sieur?’”
“No one knows her history,” the journalist mused. “She is said to be very rich.” The Madame remained aloof within the “sporting fraternity,” as professional gamblers were called in the gold camps. “Always alone, always the same polite, smiling little woman, always making money.” (Gold Hill (NV) Daily News – September 1877),
Her last stop was Bodie, California.
A reporter for the Bodie Weekly Standard (May 29, 1878) reported:
Madame Moustache, whose real name is Eleanore Dumont, has settled for the time in Bodie, following her old avocation of dealing twenty-one, faro, etc., as force of circumstances seem to demand. Probably no woman on the Coast is better known. … She appears as young as ever, and those who knew her ever so many years ago would instantly recognize her now.
One night, she was running low and borrowed $300 from a friend so she can open up a table. She unfortunately, misjudged a play and suddenly lost all of the money. Some sources say, she had stood up without uttering a word and wandered outside of town. The morning after, on September 8, 1879, Eleanor Dumont was found dead with a bottle of empty morphine next to her. Not far from her lifeless body, there was a note nearby stating that she was tired of life.
The Bodie Morning News reported her death on September 9:
A Suicide — Yesterday morning a sheep-herder, while in pursuit of his avocation, discovered the dead body of a woman lying about one hundred yards from the Bridgeport road, a mile from town. Her head rested on a stone, and the appearance of the body indicated that death was the result of natural causes. Ex-officio Coroner Justice Peterson was at once notified, and he dispatched a wagon in charge of H.Ward [of the Pioneer Furniture Store] to that place, who brought the body to the undertaking rooms. Deceased was named Eleanore Dumont, and was recognized as the woman who had been engaged in dealing a twenty-one game in the Magnolia saloon. Her death evidently occurred from an overdose of morphine, an empty bottle having the peculiar smell of that drug, being found beside the body. . . . The history connected with the unfortunate suicide is but a repetition of that of many others who have followed the life of a female gambler, with the exception perhaps that the subject of this item bore a character for virtue possessed by few in her line. To the good hearted women of the town must we accord praise for their accustomed kindness in doing all in their power to prepare the unfortunate woman’s body for burial.
It is said that Eleanor Dumont’s funeral was the largest ever held in Bodie.