Ruth A. Rouff ~ Eleanore Dumont (aka Madame Moustache)

In 1848, when gold was dis­cov­ered at
Sutter’s Mill in the foothills of the Sierra
Nevada, that fact attract­ed thousands
seek­ing to sep­a­rate min­ers from their
nuggets: a more cere­bral type of sifting.

Petite Eleanore Dumont, whose origins
are murky—perhaps France or England,
per­haps the Crescent City, cir­ca 1829, was
one such lady. I say “lady” with­out irony
because that was how she, as we say today,
pre­sent­ed. She dressed fash­ion­ably, spoke
pret­ti­ly, and brooked no rough talk in her
pres­ence. A mas­ter of “Vingt et Un” or 21,
a pre­cur­sor of Blackjack, she dealt cards
at the Bella Union, one of the best
hous­es for that type of thing in ‘Frisco.

In awe of her gen­til­i­ty, gam­blers flocked
to her com­pa­ny, often los­ing their hard-
earned shirts. Eleanore was said to be
an expert deal­er, a savant at cards, tres
char­mante, with an aura about her and
ice in her veins. If she were alive today,
she might run a casi­no in Vegas. Be that
as it may, by 1854, it was said she had
earned a ver­i­ta­ble mint in ‘Frisco. With
that fund in hand, she opened her
own place in Nevada City, C‑A,
clos­er to the Mother Lode.

Dumont’s Palace, Eleanore’s place
of busi­ness, was an oasis in Gold
Rush coun­try: fine fur­ni­ture and
crys­tal chan­de­liers, car­pet­ing, art
on the walls, liquor you couldn’t
get else­where, a well-trained staff
that pam­pered the clien­tele. Pretty
girls upstairs avail­able for company.
Rest assured, Eleanore did quite well.

But like many oth­er self-possessed
women (and men), Eleanore wasn’t
suc­cess­ful at love. She fell hard
for an edi­tor for the Nevada Journal,
a man named Waites. Of all the men
she could have had—marital proposals
being fre­quent as drinks at Dumont Palace—
she fell in love with the one man she
couldn’t. Waites liked her, thought she
was clever, but didn’t want to marry
her, giv­en her work.

Depressed, she start­ed drinking,
not a good habit for a gambler,
dulling the sens­es, slow­ing the
reflex­es, and took a chance on a
fel­low named “Lucky” Dave Tobin. She
should have known that nothing
good could come from a man named
“Lucky.” Dave was a slick who charmed
his way into her busi­ness, then began
steal­ing from it and hit­ting her.
By 1856, she fired him, and a few
years lat­er sold the busi­ness and set
out for Virginia City, Nevada. Gold in
Sutter’s Mill about played out, silver
was king with the Comstock Lode.

From there over the next twenty
years, she trav­eled from boomtown
to boom­town, fol­low­ing the money:
Columbia, California, Bannock, Montana,
Tombstone, Arizona. It was in Deadwood,
Dakota she became friend­ly with Calamity
Jane, said to be briefly in her employ. Imagine
those two under one roof: fan­cy trade and
plain. Still, the busi­ness of plea­sure was
grind­ing and the par­lors the same—
jol­ly­ing things along, the smell of whiskey
and tobac­co, win­ning and los­ing, strong
per­fume mask­ing sweat and paid-for sex.

Having noth­ing to prove, business-wise,
Eleanore longed to set­tle down, and did
with a hand­some cat­tle­man named Jack
McNight. Hearing the clock tick, maybe
she rushed it. The two mar­ried, bought a
spread out­side of Carson, Nevada. But
McNight proved not a pal­adin, not even
a bona fide cat­tle­man, but a conman
who stole her mon­ey and jewels.
Wiped out overnight, Eleanore
returned to the sport­ing life she had
grown to loathe.

Some say that with shot­gun in hand, she
tracked down McNight and filled him
full of lead, as the idiom goes. He was
mur­dered; she denied the deed, and
who done it couldn’t be proved.

Now that Eleanore was push­ing 50,
men—her clientele—began call­ing her
“Madame Moustache ” after the growth
of hair that appeared over her lip. She
no longer had the charm or the looks she
had in her youth. She was soul weary.

Late one night in Bodie, California,
yet anoth­er gold rush town, she walked
out under the gap­ing sky and downed a
vial of mor­phine after los­ing heav­i­ly at 21.
The emp­ty vial, with its dis­tinc­tive smell,
was found near her body. Though Eleanore
was a gam­bler and a madame, a high-
end pros­ti­tute, a reporter wrote that
“the good-heart­ed women of the town”—
who­ev­er they were—“kindly pre­pared her
body for bur­ial” and had her interred in
con­se­crat­ed ground.

And once rol­lick­ing Bodie, its vein of gold
long since played out, is home now to no-
body, a ghost town pre­served by C‑A
“in an arrest­ed state of decay” with
Eleanore Dumont for­ev­er its most singular
claim to fame.


Ruth A. Rouff is a free­lance edu­ca­tion­al writer who lives in south­ern New Jersey. Her lit­er­ary work has appeared in var­i­ous jour­nals. Her nov­el Lone Star, which is based on the life of famed ath­lete, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, was pub­lished in 2022 by Bedazzled Ink. The same com­pa­ny pub­lished her col­lec­tion of poet­ry and prose enti­tled Pagan Heaven. She is cur­rent­ly research­ing and writ­ing a cycle of poems about defi­ant women of the Old West.