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Who was Poker Alice? Sudbury’s gunslinging gambler in America’s Wild West

PUBLISHED: 06:00 07 June 2020

Poker Alice may have grown up in Sudbury but it was her life away from the town that hit the headlines Picture: GREGG BROWN

Poker Alice may have grown up in Sudbury but it was her life away from the town that hit the headlines Picture: GREGG BROWN

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Sudbury may seem an unlikely place for the birth of a legendary character of America’s Wild West but it’s not impossible says Suffolk history buff Peter Driver.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor played a highly fictionalised version of Poker Alice in a made for TV film Picture: Rebecca Naden/PA WireDame Elizabeth Taylor played a highly fictionalised version of Poker Alice in a made for TV film Picture: Rebecca Naden/PA Wire

Alice Ivers, later to become Poker Alice was born February 17, 1851, she was the daughter of a schoolteacher.

Alice is quoted as saying that her birth place was Sudbury though some historians believe that she may have actually been born in Devon or even America.

The story goes that when Alice was 12 years old her family decided to emigrate to America.

The family settled in Richmond, Virginia, where Alice’s father secured a teaching role.

These days Poker Alice's former home is part of a hotel Picture: GOOGLE MAPSThese days Poker Alice's former home is part of a hotel Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

They remained there until the end of the American Civil War when they moved to Denver, Colorado.

In those days Denver was made up of mainly log cabins built around the silver mines and it was there that Alice met her first husband a mining engineer who was killed just a year later when a mine collapsed.

Alice was forced to look for a way to support herself, and, having watched her husband playing cards in a local saloon, she persuaded the owner to teach her to become a dealer.

This earned her the nickname of “Poker Alice” and she travelled many of the frontier towns following her new profession,

She took to carrying a gun and smoking cigars giving her the appearance of a formidable woman who made a lot of money and spent most of it on spending sprees in the city.

In 1892, she took a job in the Number Ten saloon owned by Bob Ford, the man who shot and killed the famous outlaw Jesse James.

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She was dealing on the evening when he in turn was gunned down by a man who wanted to be known as “the man who killed the man who shot Jesse James.”

After this Alice moved to Deadwood, South Dakota where one evening, a drunken miner attacked a fellow dealer named Tubbs, with a knife.

Without hesitation, Alice is said to have pulled out her revolver and shot him in the arm.

Soon after Alice married Tubbs, retired from gambling and bought a farm where they adopted seven orphans.

Tubbs died of pneumonia in 1910 during a blizzard that was said to be so bad that fire had to be lit on the ground for four hours before a grave could be dug.

Alice did marry again but her third husband soon died and instead Alice opened her own saloon.

One night, after she had closed up, a group of drunken soldiers tried to force their way in and a frightened Alice.

After shouting a warning, fired through the door killing one of the men.

At her trial, she was found guilty but a kind hearted judge released her saying that they were unable to send a white-haired old lady to prison.

Poker Alice died aged 79 on the operating table after taking her final gamble in 1930.

Since her death Alice has been fictionalised on film in a number of different tv shows and films.

The most notable of these portrayals was by legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor in a made for tv film in 1987.

These days you can visit Alice’s home in Sturgis, South Dakota where it forms part of a local motel.


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