Friday, March 18, 2016

Madame Mustache by Sarah J. McNeal


Eleanor Dumont

Just when you think you've seen it all, another unusual thing pops out of the history of the old west and leaves you gasping, "Can that be true?" Such is the case of Eleanor Dumont. You may have already noticed this picture of her and wondered, "Is that really a mustache above her lip?" You bet it is. But her mustache isn't the only thing about Eleanor that makes her interesting.

It is believed that Eleanor was born in France and was a young woman when she moved to America about the time of the big Gold Rush. She kept her past private so no one knows much about her before she arrived in the west and she moved around quite a bit. The woman had some talent at cards--always good to have a skill that men are attracted to back in the west. Shoot, if a woman couldn't bake a pie, the next best thing was playing cards in games of chance.

In Nevada City, California, Eleanor, then sans the mustache, opened a gambling establishment she named "Vingt-et-un" on Broad Street. It was quite an elite place. Only well dressed men were allowed and no women other than herself. Nothing like being the only woman in a crowd of men to become the most popular woman there. Of course, at that time, Eleanor was quite the beauty.



A woman dealer was unusual then. Men rushed to her gambling parlor to see this female dealer in action. Everything was going marvelously well. She met Dave Tobin, an experienced gambler, and went into business with him. They opened "Dumont's Place" and business was very successful until the gold ran out in Nevada City. No use hanging around Dave Tobin after that, so Eleanor left him for something "better."

For a time, she lived in Carson City where she bought a ranch and some animals. This farming venture reminds my of my maternal grandmother and her venture into the farming business with less than adequate farming knowledge. Eleanor fell in love with Jack McKnight. Turns out good old Jack conned her out of all her money and then took off. Never the shrinking violet, Eleanor tracked down the scoundrel and shot him dead. She was never charged for his murder. Maybe old Jack had quite a few enemies or, perhaps, Eleanor was well liked.

She roamed from town to town building businesses and rebuilding her money. As she began to age, her famous mustache began to grown and her looks faded. Her business, however, remained popular because she had a reputation for fairness. She also became the madame of a brothel. To the shock of the town's decent women, Eleanor would parade her fine ladies down the street in carriages to show off their good looks and elegant clothes to the men of the town.

In 1878 in Bodie, California, Eleanor's luck ran out. She borrowed $300 and lost it all in a card game. Distraught, she left the table and was found dead the next morning from an overdose of morphine.

And so ends the life and times of Eleanor Dumont or "Madame Mustache".


  Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:




16 comments:

  1. It's been said that reality is always stranger than fiction. Such fascinating people in the world!

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    1. And there were certainly come fascinating people in the west. Thank you so much for coming over and commenting, Gerald. I appreciate it.

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  2. The women of the west were a lot more interesting and diverse than many would believe today. Great story. Often the prostitutes were the kindest women in a town and there are lots of such stories. Of course, the mean ones likely didn't end up in a book ;)

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    1. I loved the part of your comment about the mean women not ending up in stories. It just made me laugh. Thanks for that.
      I'm so glad you dropped by and commented, Rain.

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  3. That's so sad that she never found true happiness and joy. Interesting story from the past, though. Thanks for sharing it, Sarah!! *G*

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    1. I had the feeling that Eleanor Dumont was more interested in money than love. But goodness, no man better betray her and take her money because she went after them with a gun with intent to kill! She's one of the oddest characters I've ever encountered in my research.
      Laura, it's so nice of you to come and visit me here and leave a comment. Thank you.

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  4. Ewww. I've seen older women with too much hair on their lips and so wanted to say, please use some hair remover...but this woman. That is incredible. Her life sounds sad, but sometimes we make our own bed, etc.
    Once again, you've found an intriguing character in the Old West. Thanks.

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  5. Well here is something interesting, Celia. In a town near Charlotte--Monroe, NC, a woman and her live-in boyfriend went to jail for abusing foster children in their care. After the woman served her time and was released, the reporters took pictures of her as was leaving prison for "an undisclosed location". She had undergone a hideous transformation while in jail and looked like a man. Her hair had grown long and stringy, she lost weight, and there on her upper lip was this thick mustache that looked just like Eleanor's. What? no hair removal cream or wax in prison? The thing that really bothered me about the woman was that she had been a supervisor in the child welfare department of social services. That just sends a chill down my spine.
    It's always a joy to read your comments. I always appreciate you, Celia.

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  6. I'm just curious Sarah? At one time in history, for some reason Spain keeps coming to mind, wasn't it fashionable for a woman to wear a mustache? And weren't the ones who could really grow a good one considered real beauties? For some reason when I was reading this Miss Kitty came to mind, the female saloon owner on Gunsmoke. This was a great blog. I always learn so much from you.

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    1. Barb, I never heard of the mustached ladies of Spain. I'm still trying to think why men would consider a mustache on a lady appealing. So, when you kiss them, it's basically mustache to mustache. Oh ick!!
      I remember Miss Kitty. After we finally were allowed to have a television, my dad watched the news, Have Gun Will Travel, and Gunsmoke. Remember in the late 60's when westerns were so popular you could practically see one on TV every night? Those were the days.
      It's always good to see you, Barb. Thank you so much for commenting and always having something nice to say.

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  7. wow such an interesting article! thanks

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  8. Enjoyed your post. She played a big role in areas of California in which I have been researching the past year, so I found this particularly interesting. I have the Madame Mustache picture on one of my Pinterest boards and I think it is one of the most frequently re-pinned images from my boards. So many people are fascinated with her. This is the first time I've seen a portrait of her when she was younger and sans the mustache. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. I had no idea she was that well known, Zina. That's amazing, but I can certainly see why people are so curious about her. I know I sure was.
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog, Zina. I really appreciate it.

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    2. I had no idea she was that well known, Zina. That's amazing, but I can certainly see why people are so curious about her. I know I sure was.
      Thank you so much for visiting my blog, Zina. I really appreciate it.

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  9. What an adventurous (dare I say notorious?) woman! I had not heard of Madame Mustache before. Thanks for sharing her story, Sarah!

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    1. Hey, Lyn.
      I was looking for an unusual person to blog about for SOTW and, lo' and behold, I came across Madame Mustache. I thought Calamity Jane was weird, but Madame Mustache is certainly a contender for oddball women of the west.
      I know it took a strong-minded and motivated woman to face the challenges of the western frontier, but those challenges also called to women with less than honorable intentions.
      Thank you so much for dropping in and commenting, Lyn.

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