La Tules – Mount Queen of Santa Fe

Born around 1800, María Gertrudis Barceló Her childhood years are still debated among historians, but her subsequent marriage to Don Manuel Antonio Sisneros on June 23, 1823 is recorded in the records of Tomé, a small town about 30 miles south of Albuquerque. Although she married Sisneros, a member of a prominent family, she kept her maiden name. She preferred the attribution of Doña Barceló. As she gained popularity as a player, the locals began to call her “La Tules”, a nickname that translates to “the cane”, in reference to her diminutive slim figure.

After moving to Santa Fe, she lost two sons in infancy and adopted a daughter in 1826. During this time, La Tules decided to turn her gift for delivering letters and reading men into a career as a courtesan, Monte merchant, lady and an expert mule trader. She knew exactly how to cash in on the insatiable gambling habits of the merchants traveling from Missouri on the newly opened Santa Fe Trail. Working in a public gambling den, she used her charm and beauty to separate the merchants from their money. As many as 100 Monte tables operated in Santa Fe during this time, with stakes up to $50,000. In 1838, city officials realized that there was more money to be made issuing gambling licenses than collecting fines, and sanctioned the previously illegal activity.

Within a few years, he had enough capital to buy a “Hello,or gambling house and canteen, in which he entertained his guests with dances, drinks, luxurious dinners and games of chance. Over time, she amassed a fortune as Santa Fe’s most notorious Montes smuggler and confidant to some of New Mexico’s most powerful politicians and military. and religious leaders. This collection of beasts included Manuel Armijo, the governor of New Mexico, with whom she had an illicit relationship that eventually led to his downfall.

Tea living room de La Tules was located on Calle San Francisco at the southeast corner of Palace Avenue and Burro Alley where it extended the width of the entire block. It was a long, low adobe building that eventually sported finely carved furniture from Spain resting on exquisite Turkish rugs. The main bar snaked around a gigantic room. Two additional mahogany bars connected to form a quadrangle. Large gleaming mirrors adorned the walls behind the bars, but were omitted from the gaming casino itself. Elaborate crystal chandeliers with rings of candles provided plenty of light. As a finishing touch, private arcades stretched along present-day Burro Alley from San Francisco Street to Palace Avenue along the Plaza. Private card rooms were strictly for professional players, important visitors, and wealthy individuals. La Tules integrated the operation with a small army of female bartenders, waiters, dealers and “hostesses”.

There is considerable debate as to its beauty. Some accounts depict her as a dazzling beauty with olive skin, radiant dark hair that fell over a slender neck, and sultry black eyes that sparkled in the glow of chandeliers. They described her as charming, beautiful, fashionable, cunning, witty, and brilliant. One writer described her as: “…like a sylph in motion with a slender figure, fine-featured, smooth, dark face of Spanish descent, arched fine-lined eyebrows, loose dark hair, thin lips, a beautiful woman, with firm and proud head and the behavior of a wild cat”. On the other hand, others described her in less glowing terms describing her clothes as “low-cut shirts and short petticoats, resembling Eva’s”. careless style. Another wrote: “When I saw her, she was richly dressed, but without taste, her fingers were literally covered with rings, while her neck was adorned with three heavy gold chains, the longest of which was attached to a huge crucifix of the same precious metal.”

If you looked at the drawing of La Tules that appeared in the April 1854 magazine Harper’s New Monthly Magazine he could side with his detractors. She appears as a dour, cigarette-smoking witch who surely couldn’t justify a description of a tantalizing beauty. Thinking about it, it could be postulated that the image of the magazine was La Tules in its last years, where the wear and tear of the long hours of dealing with the mountain had made a dent in its appearance. In all likelihood, she was originally a very flashy young woman capable of being a magnificent seductress.

There is definitely no debate that La Tules was second to none in dealing with Monte in his living room. Matt Field met her in 1839 and was amazed at her genius at handling cards. He wrote: “A woman was dealing and if you had searched her countenance for any symptom that would enable you to discover how the game was, you would have walked away dissatisfied; for only a calm seriousness was perceptible and the cards fell from her fingers as firmly as if she were only driving.” a knitting needle.” In his book, Doña Tules, courtesan and gambler from Santa Fe, Mary J. Straw Cook wrote about La Tulles. She wrote that, “He dealt night after night, often until dawn, with ‘deft precision’ as the cards ‘slipped from his long fingers as steadily as if he were handling a knitting needle alone… With feminine bravado, skill and ringed fingers swept up mounds of gold, the result of perpetual practice, while winning time and time again.”

Matt Field, while in Santa Fe one night, watched as La Tules handed over Monte to a Kentucky woman whose stated goal was to bankrupt his bank. He later wrote that the drunk was:

“… swearing that he would make or break before rising from his seat… and drinking to the health of the Spanish lady in the refilled glass which was then handed to her… As daylight broke through the door cracks, (La Tules) once again swept the table, and the reckless merchant was left without a dollar.

The Lady then bowed and disappeared through a side door with the dignity of an Empress and the same skillfully modeled smile, followed by her attendant with heavy bags of gold and Mexican dollars.”

One of the legendary tales associated with the queen of the game revolved around those bags of gold and Mexican currency. Because there were no banks in Santa Fe or Taos, La Tules periodically sent some of her large profits to banks in the United States. As the story goes, he sent a team of 10 mules loaded with 20 buckskin bags filled with gold to the US with a contingent of armed guards. Somewhere in the desert, bandits attacked the mule train. Before they were killed, the guards buried the cache of gold and did not disclose the location. No one found the gold and the legend about the “Lost Treasure of La Tules” began.

La Tules was quite influential politically and, through his relationship with Armijo, the last Mexican governor of New Mexico, he obtained information about the practices of the politicians. They lived lavishly off bribes and heavy taxes from poor Mexicans and American merchants. As the conditions for war with the United States loomed, he admitted that the American occupation meant the survival of his people. As Mexico’s power waned and the United States acquired New Mexico in 1846, Doña Tules secured her position with a loan to General Kearny of the United States in order to pay for her troops, on the condition that she have a military escort when she arrived. Victory Ball at La Fundación. It was a lavish event attended by the upper echelons of the Santafesina Society.

He was also credited with alerting US authorities to the Mexican-Indian conspiracy of December 1846. La Tules had many opportunities to hear Mexican conspiracies and deceptions in their gambling halls. As a result, it is recognized that he possibly prevented a bloodbath in Santa Fe.

Doña Tules remained a colorful and controversial figure in Santa Fe history until her elaborately planned and executed funeral, presided over by newly appointed Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. Catholic Church records say she was buried in Santa Fe on January 17, 1852. Several biographers’ reports of her have described her funeral as lavish: some say $1,600 for spiritual services, others $1,000 paid just for the candles. La Tules’s lifelong donations to her charity had given him access to the highest social circles of Santa Fe and in writing her will; she stipulated a final gift to the church to make amends for her questionable past. She was one of the last people buried within the adobe walls of La Parroquia, the former parish church on the Plaza that was later replaced by the San Francisco Cathedral. What became of her remains during construction and possibly where her treasure was buried in the desert is only part of the mystery that continues to intrigue historical researchers about this fascinating “El Monte Reina de Santa Fe.”


Historical Note: The popular gambling game of Monte (1800) is often confused with the sleight-of-hand scam called “Three-Card Monte.” There is absolutely no connection between the two; one is a game of luck, while the second is a “sure” winner for the dealer.

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