In honor of Women's History Month, this week's blogs will highlight the accomplishments of some famous and not-so-famous women in the United States who took on life's challenges and met them with fortitude and resilience.

The Old West was filled with gunslingers, gamblers, and hard knocks. During the California Gold Rush, over 90 percent of ’49ers were male. Women who made it out west, for the most part, helped their husbands; that is if their men weren’t killed by Indians over land. Very often respectable upstanding women, out of desperation, would work in roadside brothels or even pander out of their own homes. But no matter what a woman did out west, she had to be strong.

Eleanor Dumont was strong but tragically died in the Old West. She was the first professional black jack gambler known to American history. She was a strong, cunning woman who could be soft-hearted but equally hard. Born in New Orleans in 1829, Eleanor made her way west becoming well-known for her game and her virtue. In a male-dominated atmosphere, Eleanor was a rare novelty, and many would gather round to watch her play. She would shoot you if you tried to rob her, but she would feed you if you were down on your luck.

Not only was she a mining camp sweetheart, but she was, at some points in her life, a genius businesswoman. She owned several gambling establishments throughout the Old West, including several in California. Eventually, she started a brothel in conjunction with her gambling establishments. At one point, tired of the gaming life, she took up ranching. She ended up penniless after a conman swindled her out of her fortune and property, but she didn’t let him get away with it. Just like any old western movie, if you got swindled, you got even. She allegedly gunned down that conman and took up gambling again to make back the money she lost.

As Eleanor aged, she had less of that charming virtuous character she had started out with. Instead of wine, she turned to whiskey and could talk a miner’s talk with the best of them. A rough encounter in Bannack, Montana earned her the nickname "Madame Moustache" due to the thick line of hair that lined her upper lip. This name followed her all her life until her suicide in September of 1879.

To read more about Madame Moustache and her extraordinary life as a woman of strength in the rough of the Old West visit:

Cynthia S.
Midwest Genealogy Center