She went by many names; Simone Jules, Emiliene Dumont, Eleanore Dumont, Sara Da Valliere, but most commonly, Madame Moustache. She arrived in San Francisco in 1850, her French accent gave credence to her story. She claimed to be the daughter of a French Viscount who’d returned to the South of France after Napoleon’s fall to find his estate and finances in ruins. To restore the family fortune, the Viscount arranged a marriage to an overbearing husband for his only daughter; after an affair with a Lieutenant ended in her virtual imprisonment in a French chateau, she contrived to escape, and after a series of adventures which she never disclosed, found herself in California. Her moustache not as of yet having arrived on the scene, she presented herself as Emiliene Dumont.
Dumont took a job dealing cards at the Bella Union; there was good money to be had at her favorite game, Vingt-et-un, otherwise known as 21. By 1854, she’d raised enough to open her own gambling house in Nevada City, California. Dumont’s gambling parlor was filled with fine furniture, and offered rare and choice wines and liqueurs. Dumont fell in love with E.G. Waite, editor of the Nevada Journal; when she refused his affections she turned to alcohol. Broken hearted, Dumont fell prey to an employee, Lucky Dave Tobin. He was no gentleman; he beat her and tried to take over the gambling parlor. She eventually came to her senses, fired him, sold the business, and decamped to Virginia City, Nevada.
Over the next few years, Dumont rarely stayed long in one place, moving from boom town to boom town. One friend described her as “a small woman, one of the kind who would be called little, with a form almost perfect and with a grace of movement rarely equaled. Her complexion was strongly brunette, her hair being jet back, and her eyes, though large, as is common with the women of southern France, were wholly lacking in that dreamy expression associated with the daughters of the south, both on the contrary were sparkling in their jetty blackness.” She was known to buy the men who lost heavily at her table a glass of milk when they’d run out of funds.
At her gambling parlor in Banneck, Montana, she earned the sobriquet “Moustache Madame” from a disgruntled miner who’d lost his temper and a bundle at her table.
The nickname stuck, but it didn’t prevent Jack McKnight, a cattleman, from trying to win Dumont’s affections. He succeeded, and with the Moustache Madame’s capital, two bought a cattle ranch outside of Carson City, Nevada. McKnight didn’t stick around very long, a few months after the purchase, McKnight was gone, after cleaning out Dumont’s bank account and taking all her jewelry. To top it all off, McKnight had sold the ranch too.
Western legend has it that when McKnight was found a few weeks later filled with bullets from a double barreled shotgun, the local sheriff didn’t investigate too closely.
But the Moustache Madame was now penniless and she’d begun to drink heavily, dulling the senses which had earned her so much during the Belle Union days. The lovely petite brunette of the 1850’s had turned into a dowdy dowager, the mustache had gotten darker, and now it was no longer her good looks that brought men to her card table. Rather, they came because of the Madame’s reputation and for her penchant for honesty; she never failed to pay off when she lost.
Rather, they came because of the Madame’s reputation and for her penchant for honesty; she never failed to pay off when she lost, until her arrival in Bodie, California. Her financial stores exhausted, Madame Moustache borrowed $300 from a friend to stake her in a card game. It lasted only a few hours. Despondent, Madame Moustache wandered into the desert. Amongst the sagebrush and the lonely howls of the coyote, the Madame ingested a bottle of morphine and went to her death alone.
Her body was found the next morning by a sheep herder, and her funeral was attended by friends from as far away as Carson City. Her grave still stands in Bodie, California.
UPDATE**** Courtesy of Philippe Nieto, photographer extraordinaire, we have a picture of the hearse that carried the good Madame to the Bodie cemetery. Thanks Phil!