St. Eleanor Dumont: Evangelist of Blackjack

St. Eleanor Dumont: Evangelist of Blackjack

Vingt-et-Un (or the French Twenty-One), gambling historians agree, is the ancestor of the American Blackjack. It was the first in its family of variations that made it across the Atlantic. When it was introduced in the United States in the late 1800's, not much patronage for it was offered by already-poker-playing enthusiasts. Faro was vastly popular (as much as a recorded $85,000 was won by an Italian immigrant named Charles Cora). Vingt-et-Un, like an art form, needed players to discover it, to prove its worth. The chance came in 1854, in the form of a lovely French lady named Eleanor Dumont.

Eleanor Dumont was a figure of mystery. When she stepped down off the stagecoach in Nevada City in 1854, no one knew where she came from. Using an empty storefront on Broad Street, she immediately set up a gambling table, and started dealing the strange game of Vingt-et-Un. Her appeal drew the people to her game. In a short time, this gambling table gained a building, and elegant furniture, around it, thanks to the patronage of the miners Madame Dumont dealt to, and entertained. She became the Queen of Hearts, although later her fate would incline towards the jack of spades.

Unlike the saloons and halls around it, Madame Dumont's had the touch of French propriety and class. Discipline was imperative; and Vingt-et-Un was on the list of games, along with the other popular ones during its time. Herein lay the problem, as far as the future of Blackjack was concerned: the only reason the people played Vingt-et-Un was because of the Madame. Had she not become so vivaciously popular, this French Twenty-One game might have ended up extinct.

About two short years later, Madame Dumont's days in the sun began to wane, and with it her Vingt-et-Un. She decided to circuit the gambling towns in the mid-West as a professional gambler. Life as a traveling gambler was not kind. At one time, she had to slay two losing opponents who suspected her of cardsharping.

Madame Dumont was cunning as she was lovely. Around four years before she set foot in Nevada City, a lass who fit her description - pretty, dark-haired, in her twenties, and French - worked at a San Francisco casino called the Bella Union, until she was suspected of cardsharping on Vingt-et-Un. This Madame, "Simone Jules", disappeared.

In Bodie, California, she decided to set up shop once again, only this time, with an added attraction: prostitution. Madame Dumont was no stranger to prostitution. It was even said that it was she who led Martha Jane Canary - a.k.a. Calamity Jane - into the flesh trade.

For twenty years, she languished in Bodie. Then in 1879, she was found dead more than a mile from Bodie. Many say it was murder, but the empty bottle of morphine suggests suicide. Though it is not confirmed, it is said the residents of Bodie raised enough cash to provide Madame Dumont's body a proper burial.


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