The Paris Review

Dice Roll: Madame Mustache

Michael LaPointe’s new monthly column, Dice Roll, focuses on the art of the gamble, one famous gambler at a time. 

Original illustration ©Ellis Rosen

“You will play, M’sieur?” was how a woman with a black mustache greeted gamblers at the Wild West Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. The year was 1877; the gold rush was on. Miners flocked to the saloon on the corner of Main and Gold to put the day’s earnings on a game of twenty-one.

The elegant dealer with the musical French accent was one of the most notorious women in the West—Eleanor Dumont, whose life pursued two dangerous prospects: the action on the table and the riches underground.

“No one knows her history,” wrote a local journalist, and that’s remained true to this day. As with so many figures of the Old West, Dumont’s life is shot through with disputed accounts and fictional flourishes. Only two things were for certain, according to the journalist: she was always alone, and always making money.

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The chic Eleanor Dumont first materialized one night behind a roulette wheel at the Bella Union in San Francisco, already a virtuoso with cards. She’d come from New Orleans, a city on the cutting edge of gambling at the time. In addition to countless dens, where the rudiments

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