The very poignant tale of Eleanor Dumont (or Madame Moustache) is a wonderfully obscure story with its roots in the captivating and entertaining legends and romances of the Wild West. It’s a story of mayhem, secrecy and the exotically insane – of times relevant, and times inane.
Not much is known about the early – or later, for that matter – life of Eleanor Dumont. Born Simone Jules to a pair of Creoles, the suspected New Orlean-er displayed a highly recognizable physical trait – a line of dark hair spanning her entire upper lip – earning her the very telling pseudonym of Madame Moustache.
It is in actual fact not a matter of certainty that Madame Moustache was born in New Orleans – with other accounts suggesting that she may have been born in France, only relocating to America at a later stage.
Those in the know claim that Madame Moustache was a beauty when she was young – only cultivating the acclaimed moustache at a much later stage in her life.
It is commonly accepted that Eleanor Dumont arrived in San Francisco in the period 1849 – 1854, initially working as a car dealer at the infamous Bella Union Hotel. She was a delicate woman, of even temperament – and never one to be pushed over or bullied by commoners. Even this early choice of unusual occupation for a woman was an early tell tale sign of the utterly unconventional and fantastic things to come.
Madame Moustache did not remain in San Francisco for very long – embarking on travels that would take her all the way to California, South Dakota, Nevada and Arizona. Her means to a living was by earning an income as a travelling Blackjack dealer, shuffling and re-shuffling all the way to Nevada City, California – where her wondering heart eventually settled.
She soon realised that Nevada City was not innocence embodied, as was the case with then conservative San Francisco. She did not enjoy the same measure of being left to her own devices in Nevada City. Here folks – especially men folk – were a curious and randy bunch, even unsophisticated as is often the case with mining towns, and exceptionally intrigued by the seemingly reserved female traveller with the unconventional ways.
Eleanor soon decided to start up a business of her own in Nevada City – a gambling parlour (you guessed it) on Broad Street, aptly named “Vingt-et-un”, or twenty-one in French. Being of a highly sophisticated and refined nature herself, the parlour was exclusively open to well-kept men only. What makes her story all the more extraordinary and intriguing, was the fact that women-folk were not allowed to enter her gambling parlour – and instead of pandering to the alcoholic needs of her customers by serving beer, she instead chose to serve champagne.
Finding The Balance
Madame Moustache’s immense success may very well be as a result of her having discovered the fine balance between sex appeal and business. She was said to have regularly flirted with her patrons – and yet always kept them at arm’s length.
It was no doubt this appeal that first attracted the attentions of con man and shameless wordsmith Jack McKnight. By the time that Eleanor had made the charming acquaintance of one Jack McKnight, she had already broadened her horizons by relocating to Carson City. Carson City saw our heroine dabbling in the world of cattle ranching. Jack McKnight, ever the eager cattle-buyer, saw an opportunity and seized the day.
Jack was however not even resemblant of whom he pretended to be and would soon hustle Eleanor out of everything save for the clothes on her back.
Not easily deterred, Eleanor Dumont hit the road once more, moving around from city to city, building up resources and money. It was roughly at this point – our dealer now older – that the famous moustache started to appear. It would soon become apparent that more changes were afoot – with even her appetite for refined white wine evolving into the more hardy and unsophisticated drinking of whiskey.
It was on one such an occasion – during the drinking of her beloved whiskey that a drunk and foolhardy miner referred to her as Madame Moustache. That seemed to be that and the name stuck.
In 1867, Madam Moustache set up a gambling table in one of the red light districts in Ford Benton, notorious for its brothels and underhanded goings-on. It was at this very table, whilst dealing a couple of hands of cards, that she was reported to have spotted a steamboat on the Missouri river, one that had accumulated the unfortunate reputation of being the carrier of smallpox.
Legend has it that she grabbed two pistols and stormed down to the river, proceeding to threaten the skipper and telling him that he was not welcome in those parts.
The Final Frontier
Madame Moustache’s final stop was the town of Bodie, California. Her story culminates in much the same intriguing fashion as its uncertain beginnings. Having run out of money at a table she was said to have borrowed an amount from a friend in order to keep going, but proceeded to lose everything due to a particularly bad hand.
Her lifeless body was discovered the next day with an empty container thought to have contained Morphine nearby, together with a note stating quite simply, as was her want, that she had grown tired of life.