Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Lady Was a Gambler by Chris Enss

Title: The Lady Was a Gambler
Author: Chris Enss
ISBN: 9780762743711, TwoDot, 2008
Genre: Women's History
Rating: B

First Line: An attractive, statuesque woman with golden blonde curls piled high on top of her head sat behind a large table in the back of the Pacific Club Gambling Parlor in San Francisco, California.

There's something about the ching of spurs, the slap of the bat-wing doors of a saloon, and the alluring smile of a beautiful faro dealer. They are some of the most common sounds and sights that come to mind when people think of the Wild West. Author Chris Enss provides names and histories to fifteen of these pretty gambling faces, and it's a pleasure to get to know them all.

Alice Ivers ("Poker Alice") was in the gambling profession for more than sixty years. She died broke at the age of seventy-nine. "I gambled away fortunes," she once told a friend, "but I had a ball doing it." She also never sat down at the table without her gun.

The right face, the right name, and the right personality meant added business for gambling houses, and the very best of these ladies could rake in thousands of dollars. (Just ask Doc Holliday who once lost $30,000 to Lottie Deno.)

Speaking of Lottie Deno, many historians claim that the character of Laura Denbo in the movie Gunfight at the OK Corral and the character of Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke are based on her.

Although there are many instances in these ladies' lives that provoke laughter, it wasn't all fun and games. When large sums of money, alcohol, quick-tempered men and pretty women are all in one place, abuse, death and tragedy are frequent visitors.

Enss provides just enough biography, history and photography to make readers want to do their own research and learn more. I've walked down Allen Street. I've walked past the OK Corral, and I've seen the gallows at the Courthouse in Tombstone, Arizona. I've heard the rustle of skirts, the ching of spurs, the shouts of laughter, and the slap of those bat-wing doors when I strolled past Big Nose Kate's Saloon. But it's only now that books like Chris Enss' The Lady Was a Gambler are being written that I'm getting a real feel for the people who lived in these legendary towns.

If you like to read books about the history of the Old West and about women's history, you'll want to read The Lady Was a Gambler. The only real problem I had with this book was that I would've enjoyed an extra 200 pages!

[Source: Paperback Swap.]


  1. Cathy - I'm a sucker for an historical book. This one sounds absolutely fascinating, too. A little-known piece of history...

  2. Wow -- you totally sold me on this. I love biography and her life sounds fascinating.

  3. That sounds wonderful! I really didn't know there were female gamblers back then.

  4. This is going on my list, although the cover tells me why she was successful - none of the men at the table could think straight! :)

  5. This is one I have to read. I love all things Western. How nice that this one is devoted to women.

  6. Margot K-- I am so very glad that women's history is being published and these fascinating glimpses into other lives are being revealed!

    Beth-- I think you would enjoy it.

    Kathy-- All the better to bring in the male drinkers and gamblers, m'dear! ;)

    Barbara-- I wondered if anyone would bring that up, it having crossed my mind as well. :) Many of the ladies written about weren't so blessed as the cover girl.

    Margot JR-- Yes, it is. *Very* nice!


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