Madame Moustache

One of the most famous twenty-one professionals descended from a stage coach in Nevada City, California, one otherwise ordinary day in the 1854. Eleanor Dumont, a finely built and stylish French woman, most likely came to California along with French agents lured to the Wild West by the gold and gambling prospects. In California miners did strike gold in the Empire mine, and lots of it, and the town Nevada City, near the border of Nevada, Eleanor Dumont began to make a name for herself as a Twenty-One dealer. Dumont, who later became know by the name Madame Moustache, was doubtlessly not the first 21 pro, but the was the first to be documented and the first to be celebrated for her excellence in the game of Blackjack.

Champagne for All at Madame Dumont’s

It’s not clear whether she was a cardsharp or just benefitted from the dealer’s edge in an era where there was no scientific approach to blackjack strategy. On the one hand she became a popular dealer because people believed she played an honest game, though her popularity and reputation might also owe a good part of it due to her good looks enhanced by the rough mining settings in which she operated. And who would have suspected a charming, well-dressed, good-looking lady like Eleanor Dumont of being an expert at such an arcane art as sleight of hand? Because sleight of hand, well before the publication of S.W. Erdnase’s revelatory The Expert at the Card Table in 1902, definitely was an arcane art, only passed on from one practitioner to the next. …Well, at least losing to Mme Dumont in her establishment the Vingt-Et-Un was as much a part of the attraction: After the game, she would lavishly treat the losers to a flow of champagne. And what is certain is that many sources attest that she had a reputation for always paying her debts and paying out any winners fairly.

Fortune Takes a Terrible Turn

With an associate casino owner Madame Dumont later built a larger establishment, Dumont’s Palace. She would move where the money was, so when the gold supply petered out in Nevada City she moved to Columbia, to Virginia City, and finally to Pioche. Here she forged an unfortunate alliance with saloon owner Jack McKnight. Dumont was by this time not only something of a celebrity, she had also accumulated considerable wealth through her gambling ventures. She fell in love with McKnight, and they got married. She bought a large farm where she intended to live a quiet life, but McKnight soon began squandering a lot of her money and then vanished with what was left of her capital. Embittered – And who wouldn’t be? Making a living as a woman the Wild West was difficult enough without McKnight’s contribution! – Madame Dumont took to the road once more with a pack of cards, just like in her early days as a professional gambler in Nevada City, except this time she also carried a loaded gun with her at all times, hoping to track down her worthless husband and pay him back with a bullet in the gut.

The Fall and Legacy of Madame Moustache

Madame Dumont had always had a bit of fuzz on her lip, which many an admirer had considered in her younger days to increase her delicate beauty, but now in her forties Dumont’s upper-lip fuzz grew unusually dark and thick, and she began to sport a full moustache, earning her the nickname by which she became most famous. Though she was constantly on the road crisscrossing through all of the Wild West, she never found McKnight. After years on the road she returned to California and resumed gambling in Bodie where eventually, her looks having abandoned her and her money gone, she poisoned herself with an overdose of morphine.

However rough and miserable the last years of Madame M’s life may have been, it is her days of fame and success she is remembered for. G.A. Montrose, attorney and editor of the Californian newspaper the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union reported later that “of the hundreds of funerals held in the mining camp, that of ‘Madame Moustache’ was the largest. The gamblers of the place buried her with all honors, and carriages were brought from Carson City, a distance of 120 miles, especially to be used in the funeral cortege.”

Eleanor Dumont was nominated for inclusion in the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2006. Though she was not selected for inclusion then, she probably will be, as the first documented and celebrated Blackjack pro.