When Mr. and Mrs. Ivers of Devonshire, England welcomed their daughter Alice to the world on a cold February afternoon in 1851, there was nothing to suggest she would become anything other than a conservative English lady, like her mother. Even in their wildest imaginings, her family could have never pictured the life this child would lead.

When she was 12 years old, Alice immigrated to the United States with her parents. The Ivers family initially settled in Virginia, where Alice was sent to a boarding school to adopt the manners of a refined lady.

A young Alice Ivers

The family moved again a few years later, this time to Leadville, Colorado. It was here that Alice met Frank Duffield, a mining engineer and poker enthusiast. She eloped with him, likely due to her family’s objections.

Alice created waves right away. Frank was a familiar sight at the poker table but the clientele at the saloon was taken aback to find the new Mrs. Duffield was not about to stay home while her husband had all the fun. Alice accompanied Frank out in the evenings, and sat beside him at the poker table.

The marriage was not destined to last long. Frank was killed in a mine accident just a few years later. Her husband was gone, but for Alice, there was no looking back. Throughout the long evenings of watching Frank play poker, she’d learned more than the game itself. She had a natural gift for reading faces and she had perfected it during her marriage to Frank.  She took up gambling herself.

Alice, shortly after Frank’s death

 

Rather than return to her family, Alice whiled away her time playing poker in various and sundry saloons all over the Wild West. She quickly became well-known, running the table every night, and winning startlingly large fortunes, up to $6,000 on occasion.

Alice was not one to hoard her cash. In her younger days, she regularly traveled east to New York City, where she would spend vast sums on her wardrobe. This was said to be part of her strategy when she played cards. She would return to the smoky saloons of the west, dressed to the nines, in the latest fashions from Paris. It was a business investment, she told her confidantes, because the extravagant clothing distracted her opponents.

Fate intervened in Alice’s life once again in 1890. By then, she had acquired the nickname Poker Alice, and adopted the profession of a dealer at the Bedrock saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. She was always armed with a gun, usually her .38 pistol. She had also taken to smoking cigars in her fine dresses.  One evening, Alice saw a drunken miner attempting to attack another dealer named Warren G. Tubbs with a knife. Alice quickly intervened with her .38 and settled matters.

Alice has her own comic book.

Shortly afterwards, she and Warren Tubbs married.  They seemed to have been very happy together. In their 20 years of marriage, they had four sons and three daughters. The Tubbs family lived on a homestead by the Moreau River, deliberately leaving the saloon life Alice and Warren once enjoyed far behind them. Their happiness ended in 1910, when Warren Tubbs died of tuberculosis.

Alice loaded his body into their wagon and drove 50 miles to ensure he had a decent burial. It was more than she could afford. She had to sell her wedding ring to pay for it. With no other means to support herself, Poker Alice made a triumphant return to professional gambling. Her skill at counting cards and calculating odds transformed her into a legend. She purchased a saloon in Fort Meade, South Dakota, and converted the upstairs to a brothel. The brothel operated continually but the saloon was closed on Sundays. In response to the grumbling, Alice explained sincerely that playing poker on the Sabbath was wrong. Prostitution on Sundays was apparently still okay.

When they lived on the homestead, she and Warren had employed a man named George Huckert to help them. Huckert was desperately in love with Alice, but she seemed to have no interest in him until it was brought to her attention that she owed him $1,008 in back wages. After a few calculations, Alice decided marrying Huckert would be more economical than paying him. It was another short marriage; George died in 1913.

Alice is at the center in a dark hat, dealing poker

The same year, Alice found herself in hot water. A group of drunken soldiers appeared at her saloon on a Sunday, and became unruly and destructive. Alice was infuriated and pulled out her .38. She said she only planned to shoot to establish order in the house, but the shot struck a soldier, killing him. Alice and six of her prostitutes were arrested.

Alice, now in her 60s, spent her time quietly reading the Bible and smoking cigars. When the case finally went to trial, Alice claimed self-defense and was acquitted and set free. The saloon, however, was closed for good. The brothel remained open.

Alice was not scared straight while in jail. After her acquittal, she was arrested frequently for gambling, drunkenness, operating a brothel, and selling bootleg liquor. Her last arrest was in 1928 and due to her age, she was pardoned by South Dakota governor William J. Bulow.

The last photo of Alice

The remarkable Poker Alice departed this world on February 27, 1930, at age 79. She is buried in St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Alice Ivers was known as a beautiful woman for most of her life, though not photogenic. However, the first photo I saw of her is the one on the left, and it took me a moment to realize that she wasn’t Archie Bunker. But there is a resemblance, don’t you think?

Alice bears a peculiar resemblance to another famous cigar enthusiast

At the end of the last post, Judge Nathan Q. Tanquary – who had been presumed dead for just over a month – unexpectedly communicated to his wife that he was in Peru, and heading home to Texas.

Upon his return to Fort Stockton, the judge lost no time in explaining what had befallen him in Alpine and the strange odyssey he embarked upon afterward. He wrote his whole story to the El Paso Herald, as a thank you for their support during his time of need, and they ran the story on the front page on the 16 April 1913 edition. I’m leaving the judge’s article just as he wrote it.

Carried Off to Peru, as in a Dream

“I take this opportunity to thank you personally for the stand which your paper has taken in my behalf during the terrible ordeal which myself and especially my family passed through. I assure you it is no small matter to have some one stand for you when a great crisis is on., and I think it is due to you that I write you as fully as I can, what occurred.

His Statement.

On the morning of March 1, I left my home for Fort Stockton, attended to some business there on the 3d and on the morning of the 4th appeared as a witness before the grand jury then in session there. Leaving there, I went immediately to Alpine to look over and pay for some reservoir work which I was having done for Mr. Murphy some 13 miles out of Alpine. I had some cash with me, about $250. This reservoir work is not on the Alpine road but the road made from the camp comes into the Alpine road about 10 miles out from town, and here I met Ira Hector, the contractor for this job, and in talking with him, I learned he would expect more money than I had, hence I went into the bank of Alpine and cashed two drafts amounting to $500.

The town of Alpine, in April 1913

While on this road, I made arrangements with Mr. Hector to come there that night and stay over night at the camp. After transacting the business at the bank, I went to a restaurant in the Masonic temple and had lunch about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and an hour or so later, started for Hector’s camp in my automobile.

While I was at lunch, a man I had never seen before, but who called me by name, came in and talked with me about going out to the Hector camp and after a suggestion or two on unimportant matters, went out. Although as I say, I had never seen this man before, I would know him now among a thousand.

The Mysterious Stranger.

When I had got out a few miles from Alpine, I overtook this same man walking in the same direction I was going. He stepped out to the right hand side of the road and indicated for me to stop, that he wanted to speak to me.

When I had stopped, he asked me if I had met anyone in an automobile. I told him I had not unless it would have been just as I was coming out of Alpine. He explained to me that he had just come into the road and was looking for someone in an automobile and thought they might have passed before he came into the road.

In the meantime, my engine, which was not in very good working order, stopped and I had to get out to crank it.

I remember absolutely nothing after that for several days. I do not remember any one striking me while I was on the ground or at any time, yet from the terrible pain, I know that I was struck on the back of the head. And the surgeon who examined me at Callao said that the blow was delivered just at the base of the brain.

Whether I was afterwards drugged, I do not know, but the taste in my mouth and the feeling I had was not like that I have after being at a Woman’s Club banquet.

Everything a Blank.

Everything even now seems a blank. Although I have a hazy recollection of being on a dark closed car, but it is too indistinct to give anything definite. When I recovered consciousness, I was in a small cabin on some blankets on a freight boat with no one on board except a small crew of Peruvians, who were taking a cargo, principally oil, to Callao, Peru.

None of these men could speak a word of English but as nearly as I could learn from them, they were on the Gulf of California below Guaymas, and after a day or two they wanted money from me to pay fare. I finally managed to gather from them that someone brought me on board and told them that I was in poor health and was going to Palia for my health, that I had plenty of money and would pay them well.

Had Nothing Left.

I succeeded in showing them, I think, making them fully understand, that I had absolutely nothing. Not even a watch, pen knife or a paper of any kind or description. I stood absolutely stripped of worldly except my clothes, and no friends in sight.

I think I made them understand that I was there against my will for when they understood they were very kind and gave me as good as they had. They offered to take me ashore at two or three places, but these places were small and no way out, hence I preferred to stay with them until I might find a place with English speaking people.

When I reached Callao, their destination, I found, almost immediately a J. W. Hazlett, who some years ago lived in Colorado Springs Colorado, when I tried a law suit there. He and J.P. Johnson assisted me in arranging and getting some money for a little clothing and my expenses home. I might add that when I left Alpine I had on my person some papers which might have been thought to be of great value in a case pending at Fort Stockton, but which were really of but little value.

Again thanking you for your good spirit in this matter.

I remain,

“Very truly yours,

“N.Q. Tanquary.

 

 

I wish I had been able to find a picture of the judge, and I really wish he had provided a bit more detail about those Woman’s Club banquets he attended.

I don’t know, you guys. Even with Judge Tanquary’s unimpeachable reputation, there’s something about this whole story that seems just a lit-tle bit fishy.

I happened to read the judge’s explanation while I was looking for something else, and I thought it was a joke – like The Onion, circa 1913. But it turned out to be a real story… though whether the judge was being 100% truthful may be up for debate!

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’ve been working on another project that I’m really excited about — a book about a 1901 court case. It was originally going to be a post on this blog but I kept digging and learning more interesting things about the story, so it’s going to be a book instead.

For tonight, I have something unrelated and magnificent.

Let me introduce you to Judge Nathan Q. Tanquary, of Fort Stockton, Texas. We meet him in the spring of 1913, when he is about 58 years old. Prior to moving to Texas, the judge lived in Denver, Colorado, where he built his career. From all accounts, the judge was beloved by all.  The papers described Nathan Q. as “a man of fine character and genial manners”.

I should warn you, it’s probably wise to take the newspaper accounts of the judge with a grain of salt, since they appear to be so star-struck by him. Beginning in 1896, the press ran regular, fawning coverage of the judge and whatever he happened to be doing, even if that was nothing. Here are a few examples:

The Columbus Daily Advocate, June 1900
        Lead Daily Call, January 1907

 

The Columbus Daily Advocate, May 1911

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When he moved to Texas, Fort Stockton quickly recognized Judge Tanquary as a state treasure. The El Paso Herald wrote that after just two years, the judge already enjoyed “great popularity and influence” in the Lone Star state.

Everything seemed to be going swimmingly for Judge Tanquary… until March 15, 1913. Beware the Ides of March! The judge had gone on a business trip but did not return when expected. His wife Lillian, growing anxious, managed to arrange for a search party to go out and find her husband. Unfortunately, the posse didn’t find Nathan Q…. and what they did find made things look bad for the judge.

The morning headlines in the El Paso Herald told the terrible tale:

El Paso Herald, March 1913

 

It seemed there was no hope for the judge… or was there? When the posse came back without the judge’s body, people began to wonder if the esteemed judge might be alive after all. Wild conspiracy theories began to emerge, like The Herald’s speculation that Nathan Q. has lost his mind and is wandering on the mesas.

But then, incredibly, two cablegrams from the judge himself arrived. The messages were fairly cryptic: he simply said he was in Peru and starting for home.

El Paso Herald, March 1913

 

El Paso Herald, Apr 9,1913

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what happened to Judge Tanquary? How did he leave from Texas to drive to Colorado, then disappear for a month – only to resurface in Peru?

The celebrity judge did not let his people down: as a matter of fact, he published the whole story.  Stay tuned for the follow up post!