Alice Ivers Tubbs was born in Devonshire, England on February 17, 1851. She was the daughter of a conservative schoolmaster. While Alice was still a small girl, she moved with her family to the United States. The family first settled in Virginia, where Alice attended an elite boarding school for women. When she was a teenager, the family moved with the silver rush to Leadville, Colorado. As a young girl, Alice was raised to be a well-bred young lady, so few people would ever expect her to be known as “Poker Alice.” Nevertheless, marriage can change a person. While living in Leadville, Alice met a mining engineer named Frank Duffield, whom she married when she was just 20 years old. In the mining camps, gambling’s was quite common, and Frank was an enthusiastic player. He enjoyed visiting the gambling halls in Leadville and Alice naturally went along with him, rather than staying home alone. Alice stood quietly and watch her husband play…at first, but Alice was smart, and she picked up the game of poker easily. Soon she was sitting in on the games, and she was winning. Alice’s marriage to Frank Duffield was short-lived. Duffield, who worked in the mines as part of his job, was killed in an explosion. Needing to make a living, Alice, who was well educated, could have taught school, but even with 35,000 residents in Leadville, there was no school. There were also few jobs available for women, and those there were, did not appeal to Alice, so she decided to make a living gambling. Though Alice preferred the game of poker, she also learned to deal and play Faro. Very soon, she was in high demand…as a player and a dealer. Alice was a petite 5 foot 4 inch beauty, with blue eyes and thick brown hair. She was very rare in that she was a “lady” in a gambling hall…and not of the “soiled dove” variety. And Alice loved the latest fashions, she was a sight for the sore eyes of many a miner. Every time Alice had a big win, she began to take trips to New York City to buy the latest fashions.
Due to her traveling from one mining camp to another to play poker, Alice soon acquired the nickname “Poker Alice.” In addition to playing the game, she often worked as a dealer, in cities all over Colorado including Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown, and Trinidad. Later on, Alice began to puff on large black cigars, still wearing her fashionable frilly dresses. She, nevertheless, never gambled on Sundays because of her religious beliefs. Alice carried a .38 revolver and wasn’t afraid to use it. It was rather a necessity, due to her lifestyle. Alice soon left Colorado and made her way to Silver City, New Mexico, where she broke the bank at the Gold Dust Gambling House, winning some $6,000. The win was followed by a trip to New York City, to replenish her wardrobe of fashionable clothing. Afterward, she returned to Creede, Colorado. She went to work as a dealer in Bob Ford’s saloon…the man who had earlier killed Jesse James. Alice later moved to Deadwood, South Dakota around 1890. In Deadwood, she met a man named Warren G. Tubbs, who worked as a housepainter in Sturgis, but sidelined as a dealer and gambler. Alice usually beat Tubbs at poker, but that didn’t bother him. He was taken with her and they began to see each other socially. Once a drunken miner threatened Tubbs with a knife, Alice pulled out her .38 and put a bullet into the miner’s arm. I’m sure that man thought the threat was Tubbs, but the man should have watched Alice in stead. Later, the couple married and had seven children…four sons and three daughters. Because Tubbs was a painter by trade, he, along with Alice’s gambling profits, supported the family. The family moved out of Deadwood, to homesteaded a ranch near Sturgis on the Moreau River. Finally, Alice found something she loved more than gambling…for the most part. She helped with the ranch and raised her children. Then, fate would again deal Alice a bad hand. Tubbs was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Alice refused to leave his side. She planned to nurse him back to health. Tubbs lost his fight, and died of pneumonia in the winter of 1910. Alice was determined to give him a proper burial, so she loaded him into a horse-drawn wagon to take his body to Sturgis. It is thought that she had to pawn her wedding ring to pay for the funeral and afterward, went to a gambling parlor to earn the money to get her ring back.
For Alice, the time spent on the ranch were some of the happiest days of her life and that during those years, she didn’t miss the saloons and gambling halls. Alice liked the peace and quiet of the ranch. Still, she had to make a living, so after Tubbs’ death, she hired a man named George Huckert to take care of the homestead, and she moved to Sturgis to earn her way. Huckert quickly fell in love with Alice and proposed marriage to her several times. Alice didn’t really love him, but finally married him, saying flippantly, “I owed him so much in back wages; I figured it would be cheaper to marry him than pay him off. So I did.” Once again, the marriage would be short. Alice was widowed once again when Huckert died in 1913.
During the Prohibition years, Alice opened a saloon called “Poker’s Palace” between Sturgis and Fort Meade that provided not only gambling and liquor, but also “women” who serviced the customers. One night, a drunken soldier began a fight in the saloon. He was destroying the furniture, and causing a ruckus. Alice pulled her .38 and shot the man. While in jail awaiting trial, she calmly smoked cigars and read the Bible. She was acquitted on grounds of self-defense, but her saloon had been shut down. Now, in her 70s and with her beauty and fashionable gowns long gone, Alice struggled in her last years. She continued to gamble, but these days, she dressed in men’s clothing. Once in a while, she was featured at events like the Diamond Jubilee, in Omaha, Nebraska, as a true frontier character, where she was known to have said, “At my age, I suppose I should be knitting. But I would rather play poker with five or six ‘experts’ than eat.” She continued to run a “house” of ill-repute in Sturgis during her later years and was often arrested for drunkenness and keeping a disorderly house. Though she paid her fines, she continued to operate the business until she was finally arrested for repeated convictions of running a brothel and sentenced to prison. The governor took pity on Alice, who was then 75 years old, and pardoned her. At the age of 79, Alice underwent a gall bladder operation in Rapid City. Unfortunately, she died of complications on February 27, 1930. She was buried at Saint Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota. In her lifetime, Alice claimed to have “won more than $250,000 at the gaming tables and never once cheated.” In fact, one of her favorite sayings was, “Praise the Lord and place your bets. I’ll take your money with no regrets.”