Gambling on a New Year

2019: Gambling on a New Year

As this new year gets underway, it’s good to look at plans made a year ago. What played out and what went bust? The future is a gamble and you have to take a risk one way or the other if you hope to win.

Poker Alice had faith in her own future and taking on new adventures:

“I did not stay long at my first job, and never stayed long at any, in fact; there were too many other games to buck, too many chances for a big winning, too many camps waiting to be invaded. The life of a gambler was a life of travel, the constant excitement of something new.”

What are your goals for this year? How many of them require taking a chance? How many are safe bets? You can’t have the thrill without risk, says our legendary lady gambler:

“It was the thrill of it, to buck the game and beat the game . . . The thrill, in case one may think that I am looking upon memories from afar, never leaves one.”

Poker Alice Tubbs: The Straight Story


I’m so excited to announce that my book about Poker Alice is now available! It’s been a long journey filled with research, surprises, and exciting discoveries. At last you, too, can get the real story and details found nowhere else.

My aim is to provide as much documented information about Poker Alice’s life story and debunk a few popular myths that grew up around our legendary lady. The book is filled with true tales of mining camps, historic photos, and quotes from Alice herself.

Thanks to Doris Baker and Filter Press who believe in this project and bring Poker Alice Tubbs’ story to you.

Find it through www.FilterPressBooks.com, Amazon, or contact me at the email address below to order your copy!
LizabethDuckworth@gmail.com
ISBN: 978-0-86541-253-8
$12.95
104 pp. Paperback. Illustrated western biography.

Ghosts of Bachelor and Creede

I feel like Poker Alice may be haunting Creede, unless her spirit is hanging out in Deadwood and Sturgis where she lived the last of her life. Maybe, traveling gal that she was, Alice flits between the two areas.

This spooky idea hit me when I was on the Creede ghost tour a few weeks ago. Led by Kandra, who grew up in Creede, we learned history entangled with creepy tales of ghostly experiences she’s collected. As we walked the town, we saw buildings dating to 1892. So did this black cat who joined us at the “bordello,” and who didn’t take his eyes off the building as Kandra spoke.

We learned about a honeymooning couple that fled their “haunted” room, a sometimes vacant house that was deliberately called haunted to keep curious kids away, and the ghost of Lizzie Zang who doesn’t want to leave the Creede Hotel.

The next thing I discovered is that Poker Alice worked right next door to the home my folks own on Main Street—and where I’ve stayed many times. She dealt poker and faro in Bob Ford’s tent saloon before he was gunned down and she left Creede for Deadwood. So we were neighbors (ish)! Staying next door to her old stomping grounds in 2011 is what inspired me to research Alice’s life and ultimately, write a book about her.

Mom and I visited the Bachelor town site, a mile above Creede, in early July. The only living things residing there now are lovely wildflowers. Drive up Bachelor Loop and you’ll find a pull-out with stunning views and interesting information. But the buildings themselves have all gone. You can see a remaining cabin in the town of Creede next to the historical museum. Maybe it has a ghost of its own!

I promise to write about other places Alice visited, but I love Creede and love to see the same views Alice saw when she raised her eyes to the massive cliffs or looked across the valley at the “snowshoe” on the mountainside which remains today.

High-risk Boomtown Days: Creede, 1892

Wish I could find the source of this photo of young Poker Alice! It likes like the real deal, though. (LD)
I’m Poker Alice, and I made my living playing poker in Creede in the first half of 1892. The stories I read in the town paper, The Creede Candle, told the real truth about life for boomtown miners of the Wild West. These daring souls came for the boom…in spite of risks of every kind because the rewards were too big to resist.

On January 21, 1892, the very first edition of the Creede Candle had plenty of tragedy and oddity:

• Two men were killed in Denver recently by cable cars.
• A Leadville man was killed over a game of cards last week.
• Frank Serboudy was killed at the Mollie Gibson mine at Aspen after falling down the shaft.
• Charles Roffer, an old settler in Las Animas County, had both feet frozen a few days ago while going to a neighbor’s. The storm was so great that he got lost.
• A young man at Meeker went out one night recently gunning for coyotes. Daylight demonstrated that he had killed four choice steers.
• A man was knocked down and robbed by two female footpads in Pueblo a few nights ago.

I saw firsthand what the mining boom brought to Creede and Jimtown. For example, there were lots of buildings like this one described in the paper:

“The last Tuesday in January some enterprising merchant got down the floor and part of the roof on his shack, set up a shelf, stacked a couple of whiskey bottles upon it, ran a piano into one corner and was ready for business before the sides of his building had reached further than the four corner boards. Carpenters worked around him.”

By mid February the camp was without coal and kerosene for several days, owing to the delay in the freights.

The paper said, “There are over a thousand buildings of all kinds in course of erection in the camp and yesterday there was not a board to be had from a lumber yard. This delay of freights is becoming a serious thing.”

With that kind of growth, things got crazy dangerous in Creede for everybody.

In January Mrs. S. Harvey had a narrow escape. She was walking along with her head down going to the post office, when near the Creede hotel she walked under the axe of a man who was cutting wood unconscious of her approach. The head of the axe struck her in the jaw, fracturing the bone.

I saw with my own eyes a near-fatal gunfight in Jimtown in February: The Creede Candle reported it: “The Louisiana Kid, believing his rights had been trod upon in a social game of draw, laid in wait for Manager Palmer of Jeff Smith’s place and opened up his artillery when Palmer came out of the house. Palmer did some shooting on his own account. The Kid was wounded, but got away, and was last seen hitting the pike for the south. Palmer had both thumbs shot off and got a ball in the hip and a scratch on the head. For a while guns were kept hot in the camp, but no serious results are reported.”

Of course, there were mining accidents, including this one:

“Four miners employed on the Ute mine,at Lake City met with an accident Wednesday morning at 9 o’clock. A shot failed to go off, but it exploded when the men resumed work. Gus Koehen was hurt the worst, receiving an ugly cut on the left side. …He died at 5:30 o’clock. Tony Mayo, working near him, was hit with several pieces of the flying rock, and his face is in a frightful condition. He will lose both of his eyes. Jacob Jacobson and McGinnis Norberg, who were working under the place where the accident occurred, were also cut in several places about the head, but are not seriously injured.”

One fellow near Leadville had this close call:

“Tom Walker, the expressman, while delivering goods on Iron Hill Tuesday, met a mule team with a very heavy load of timber on the sled. As he passed he noticed they were stuck and offered to help them out, but the driver said he did not need his help as he had a partner who had just gone for another team. Walker passed on down the hill, but just has he got by, the driver unhooked the mules, apparently forgetting to block the sled—which got started down the hill and would have collided with Walker had he not made a race for it. Fortunately, the sled overturned before reaching Walker’s team, averting a catastrophe.”

I suppose that’s enough good news/bad news for today. Check in with me next month for more true tales of near escapes and dreadful deeds in the Colorado boomtowns.

A Lake City boomtown store around 1892
Groceries, liquor, and cigars—everything Alice and friends might need to survive in a boomtown. This one was in Lake City.

Not Just a Sweet Little Old Lady

Poker Alice Tubbs, about age 75, in her senior years. Those eyes have seen a lot!

So who was this lady of legend known across the west, and the wilds of the Internet, as Poker Alice?

You can read all kinds of crazy tales and quotes about her, but are they true? What did she tell the world about herself? Since she wasn’t famous in her heyday (except among the casino owners and gambling hall regulars), what do we actually know about her?

Well, here’s one story I can pass along fairly confidently. When she was interviewed by a famous writer for the Saturday Evening Post in 1927, she gave an account about a hair-raising gunfight she got caught up in while she was in Creede. She said:

“One night I was returning to my little log cabin in Creede when suddenly, from both sides of me, shots began to spurt in the semidarkness of the little town. Vaguely I saw a man behind a woodpile and another opposite, each with a revolver and each pulling the trigger with intent to kill. I did the natural thing—I made for the first and nearest saloon, since saloons were about the most plentiful of business houses in the town. Steve Scribner’s place was handiest, and while Steve tried to push the door closed to lock it, I pushed as enthusiastically to get in, while the shooting went on behind me.

“Let me in!” I shouted. “It’s only Poker Alice!”

“There was nothing else, incidentally, for Scribner to do; I was jammed in the door by this time. Wilder and wilder the shooting became, suddenly to cease that the noise of exploding cartridges might give way to heightened wailing.

“I’m a son of a gun!” said Steve Scribner beside me in the darkness. “Is that one of those fellows who’s just been shooting to kill? He’s balling like a baby!”

“The sound grew louder, accompanied by words:  “Don’t shoot any more! Don’t shoot any more! You’ve knocked both of my thumbs off!”

“Then the battle, which had been intended a moment before as a struggle unto death, became quickly an affair of humor.”

Did it happen the way Alice described it? Yes! How do I know? Because in the spring of 1892, the local paper, The Creede Candle published an article describing that very event.

I’m pretty sure at times in her life, Alice lied about her age. She might have stretched the truth a time or two. But I know she was more often honest about her wild adventures as a professional gambler in the west’s most untamed boomtowns.

She didn’t get those wrinkles in her photo by living a quiet life—or even just by smoking big cigars!