There isn’t a single vision of the Old West period of the United States that doesn’t include a saloon with poker tables and gamblers with their back to the walls and guns at their sides. Many Old West mining camps became more popular for their gunfights over card games than the gold they promised.
Historic Deadwood, in the Black Hills of South Dakota, was home to some famous folks in the gambling world. Most famous is probably Wild Bill Hickok, shot dead by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876. He was only in Deadwood a few short weeks when McCall shot him from behind while playing poker, after losing to him the day before. Hickok was holding a pair of aces and eights, which became known around the world as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
Many a gambler is familiar with Alice Ivers Tubbs, better known as Poker Alice. A fine English lady, she turned to gambling after the untimely death of her husband and moved from Colorado to Deadwood. Alice was quite religious and wouldn’t gamble on Sunday, opting to teach Sunday School instead. She became a cigar-smoking gambler, holding her own with the best of the men around her. She very rarely lost and in her later years claimed to have won over $250,000. Alice married a painter from Sturgis and they had seven children, but she never gave up gambling.
Though its origins are somewhat mysterious, one thing is quite clear; poker is more popular than ever before. Today, a game of poker can be found in casinos, and even homes, across the United States with three games dominating the poker scene: 5 Card Draw, 7 Card Stud and Texas Hold’em. Other variations such as Omaha, Stud Poker and Draw Poker remain popular today as well.