Legends of the Old West – Doña Maria Gertrudis Barceló

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Courtesy of Vanann.com

A rarity in the male-dominated world of the 19th century, Doña Maria Gertrudis Barceló, or La Tules, became a successful businesswoman and expert Monte dealer and player.

The gambling prowess of “La Tules,” the legendary Monte dealer, was known throughout New Mexico in the early years of the 19th century. The legends that grew up around her painted her as a garishly dressed temptress of young men into the gambling dens of New Mexico, leading them to financial ruin and disgrace. The truth is somewhat different.

Born Gertrudis Barceló sometime in the early 1800’s, most probably to Don Pedro Pino and Doña Dolores Herrero, the future businesswoman was not necessarily of humble beginnings, as had been inferred by writers of her time. The fact that she was listed as “Doña” Barceló is some proof that she was of at least middle to upper class social standing. The mythology that grew up around “Madame La Tules,” as she preferred to be called, holds that she earned considerable wealth and property and that she commanded substantial power in her standing as a shrewd but charming owner of a gambling online house.

The Myth

Barceló’s story was told by writers during her own time, but she was mythologized into a femme fatale and a wayward woman, a characterization which was somewhat unfair to the woman who welcomed the European-American settlers and military families to the unfamiliar Nuevo Mexicano society. Josiah Gregg described her as “tastelessly dressed,” and Susan Magoffin claimed that her manner was that of one who would “allure the wayward, inexperienced youth to the hall of final ruin.” These somewhat Victorian, prudish views of a woman who was, by all accounts from those who actually knew her, witty, beautiful, and accomplished.

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Burro Alley Santa Fe NM late 1800’s

The Reality

Doña Barceló was something of a political influence in the newly settled territory of New Mexico. As the power of the Mexican government waned, Barceló felt that the presence of the Americans would be of benefit to the Mexican people in the New Mexico territory. Barceló and her husband, Manuel Antonio Sisneros, had two children, but sadly, both died in infancy. This may have spurred La Tules to develop a life in the business world. In Santa Fe she became a renowned hostess and leader in society, while also running a profitable gambling house. By all accounts, it was an ornate palace, with lush European carpets, etched glass mirrors, crystal chandeliers, and imported furniture.

It was in this plush atmosphere that La Tules plied her trade, with an emotionless composure that fooled many who tried to best her at the game of Monte. Some of them may have been enamored of La Tules, the beautiful green-eyed, red-haired beauty, but they found out too late that losing their composure over the alluring dealer would only result in depriving them of their hard-earned wages.

Death of a Legend

Though she took their money in her gambling house, La Tules was well-loved by the people of Santa Fe. When she died on January 17, 1852 at only 47 years of age, her elaborate funeral was attended by most of the town. She was buried beneath Santa Fe’s La Parroquia Church (now St. Francis Cathedral). She was quite a wealthy woman at the time of her death, with a substantial fortune and property which she left to her sister, her brother Trinidad, and two young girls she had adopted. The gambler had died a successful businesswoman and a woman of means.

This story is courtesy of www.americascardroom.eu

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