Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Alice Tubbs: A Free Spirit of the Old West by Sarah J. McNeal

Most of us have either heard of, or unearthed in our research the wild and wicked ways of the old west. Just so happens, the old west was home to some pretty crazy, eccentric, and innovative residents—including the members of the “gentler” sex. Yes, women could be a mite different out there on the plains of America. Maybe it was the harsh circumstances of their existence or the feeling of freedom the west provided these people, or maybe it was their real nature, but the women of the west were not your conventional mild mannered darlings.

I’ve written about some of these wild and crazy women recently, but I did not want to leave this captivating subject without presenting good old Alice Tubbs.
Not to be confused with the poor or rough beginnings of so many women of the west, Alice was born in Sudbury England as Alice Ivers. She moved with her family to America in 1865. Her family sent her to a boarding school for young ladies and I am certain they expected a proper young lady who would marry a gentleman and make them proud. Well, parents usually have dreams for their kids that may not turn out the way they had hoped.

Some have speculated that Alice’s father taught her to play poker, but others believe Alice learned by watching her gambler husband, Frank Dunning, wheel and deal those cards. In any case, the end result was, after moving out west, Alice began cleaning out just about every cowboy stupid enough to play cards with her. Because of her extraordinary skills, she became known as “Poker Alice” and won approximately $250,000 over her lifetime. That’s huge money for those days.

Alice began to travel the country after her husband died and played in some of the most populated towns in the west. She ran a table in a saloon owned by Bob Ford, the man who shot Jesse James and, in fact, was there when someone shot Bob down.


Photo credit: South Dakota Historical Society

This well-bred woman wore the best dresses money could buy. Some believe she wore these fantastic dresses to distract her male competitors, but I believe she just wanted to look pretty despite the fact that she usually smoked big cigars. I’m trying to imagine how others must have perceived that well-dressed woman with a big stogie hanging from her lips. Alice created the expression, “Praise the Lord and place your bets, and I’ll take your money with no regrets.” Okay, she wasn’t exactly a poet, but it was a bit intimidating for her to say that. Our lovely, proper Alice, liked to quote scriptures and never played cards on Sunday. Such a fine lady, wouldn’t you say?
After some time, Alice married Warren Tubbs and retired from the gambling tables to have children and raise them on a chicken farm. However, in 1910, after her second husband died, Alice pawned her wedding ring to pay for Warren’s funeral, and next thing ya know, she went right back to the poker table and won enough money to get her ring back. Now that’s the lady we all love.

Alice married a third time and opened a casino near Fort Meade in South Dakota. Winters there must have created big business for her. What else could people do in South Dakota during winter besides hunker down? Before Alice died in 1930 she was arrested for operating a brothel, murdered a man once for his bad behavior, publicly defied Prohibition laws, and finally, at age 75 earned a gubernatorial pardon. I couldn’t find anything about her children and what became of them in my research. I can’t help but think they must have been a bunch of free spirits like their mother though. 

Well, there you have it, another wild and inventive western woman living the way she wanted. Could it happen anywhere else besides the old west?—well maybe, but it wouldn’t be half as interesting.


My Wilding western romances begin with Harmonica Joe’s Reluctant Bride where I introduced Belle, the owner of a bordello, saloon, and gambling establishment named The Iron Slipper. If I had known about Alice Tubbs then I could have used her character to define Belle.  In the second Wilding romance, the young man Banjo has inherited the saloon from Belle, but with the help of Lola Wilding, transforms it into a hotel for decent folk. You can find all my Wilding western romances by clicking onto “The Wildings” in my list of media places after my bio., or check out my Wildings books and bargains on my Amazon Author’s Page listed after my bio.



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. Sarah, I loved reading about Alice. She sounds like someone I would like to know. Thanks!

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    1. Carra, I don't know if I would have wanted to associate with her. She seems kind of a seedy character. But I will give her this, she did what ever the heck she wanted to. I wonder what her parents were like and whether or not she had siblings. I just can't imagine someone from England acting in such a way. Maybe Downton Abbey just isn't what England was all about, huh?
      Thank you for dropping by, Carra.

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  2. I love reading about the true free spirits of the West. Considering no "proper" woman would be caught dead in a saloon, the exceptions really stand out.

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    1. Gerald, I have to say I like people who are inspired to do something different in spite of public opinion. Maybe because I probably wouldn't do it. Out there today are all those "preppers" preparing for the end of days. They're kinda different. I almost feel like I want to buy an old missile cylo and make it into my home. I don't think I would ever want to smoke a cigar, but I do know how to play poker. I taught my great-niece to play when she was 6. Now she beats me all the time.
      Thanks so much for coming by and leaving a comment, Gerald.

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  3. Sarah, I love your take on Poker Alice! You're much kinder and more empathetic than many who've written about the lady. She's the kind of character I would love to have met.

    Thanks for sharing this with us! :-)

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    1. I can just picture the two of you, Kathleen, with those fat stogies in your mouths, a bottle of rot gut and a hand of Texas Hold 'Em in play. You better have that six shooter close because I'm not so sure ol' Alice played fair and square.
      Thanks for coming by, Kathleen. I still think you must never sleep.

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  4. Fun post, Sarah. I've not heard of Alice, but you're right, she'd make an interesting heroine in a book. Wish you had a picture of her when she was young.

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    1. Linda, I'm not so certain I would want to use her character and escapades for a heroine, but she would have been terrific to use for Belle, the saloon owner and madam in Harmonica Joe. I just wish I had made Belle smoke big cigars.
      I appreciate you dropping in, Linda.

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  5. Ah, Sarah, you've done it again...wrote a very fun post filled with actual incidents and facts. And this is another "lady" I did not know anything about.
    Like you, I believe most of the women of the west had some inner longing to be something more than expected of them. Thus, we have a very long list of intriguing women. Sadly, Alice didn't seen to have any traces of beauty. Maybe she was when she was young, but as she aged, probably she lost her powder brush, her eye brow pencil, and her blush. Good for her, though, in making the kind of life she wanted by herself.

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    1. I don't know about you, Celia, but I don't think some blush and eyebrow pencil would have made Alice a nice looking woman. I'm still wondering how she managed to attract 3 husbands, and for the life of me, I cannot imagine her raising children. Oh my Lord, I wonder how they turned out.
      Thanks for coming, Celia. I always love your comments.

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  6. Poker Alice is one of my very favorite characters of the Old West. Lexie, the heroine of Sleight of Heart, is a combination of Alice and my Aunt Grace, who was also a math genius. My take on Alice is that she loved numbers and cards, enjoyed a man's company but on her own terms, and brooked no nonsense. On the other hand, she was just like the rest of us--looking for love. It would be difficult to find a man who shared her intellectual ability, however. Besides, she was a woman who was a century ahead of her time. Also, my guess is that cigar, her clothing, and most of what she did were methods of misdirection at the poker table, similar to a magician's patter and misdirection.

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    1. So, now I want to know more about your Aunt Grace, Jacquie. Ever family gets their fair share of weirdos. On one side of my family we had a bunch of math enthusiasts and missionaries, and on the other, my great aunt Mick who was in silent films, a model, and a...well a hoochie coochie dancer.
      I see you know this character very well.
      Thank you Jacquie for coming by and adding to the lovely factoids on Miss Alice.

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  7. What an awesome character. She'd be fun to put in a historical some day. Thanks for sharing her, Sarah.

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    1. Paisley, she would be an awesome character. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about her when I was drawing up Belle, back there with Harmonica Joe. She would have been a perfect inspirational character.
      It's good to see you, Paisley. If you need her for inspiration, Alice is all yours. What are you working on right now? Thanks so much for coming.

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  8. I've heard of Poker Alice (who hasn't if they love the Old West?) but I never knew her story. She must have had a backbone of pure steel to do the things she did. Thanks for telling us about her, Sarah.

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    1. I'm hanging my head in shame now because I had not heard of her until I did some research. It's amazing to me the things that women would do back in the old west. They certainly were tough and adventuresome, willing to take risks. I'm certain we still have strong women in today's world with vision and determination like Jane Goodall, but mostly I hear about the women who only seem to care about fashion, the way they look, and finding men with money and power. Alice certainly made her stamp as a unique person who could earn her own way.
      Thank you so much for coming by, Lyn. I appreciate it.

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