Doña Tules: A New Mexico Legend

Art by Diana Bryer.

Doña María Gertrudes Barceló was a legend. In the 1840s and ’50s she operated a gambling hall and brothel in Santa Fe. Doña Tules had the reputation for being the best card dealer in the region. Even today, her legacy continues as the most widely written about woman in New Mexico history. Her notoriety spread far beyond the New Mexico Territory all the way west to St. Louis. The stories of Doña Tules were legendary with traders along the Santa Fe Trail. Her fame spread just as New Mexico was annexed to the United States by Mexico.

Power Behind the Thrown

According to the book, The Leading facts of New Mexican History, by Emerson Twitchell, Doña Tules was a “woman of shady reputation.”In the book he states that she was the one who who alerted American authorities in 1847 of an impending plot against the occupying U.S. forces. The author continued to say that Doña Tules was the mistress of Governor Manuel Armijo. The liaison between Doña Tules and the governor gave her the unique position as being the power behind Armijo’s government.

Humble Beginnings

Doña Tules had established her business long before the Americans had arrived in Santa Fe. It was through shear determination that she rose out of poverty by creating the most successful gambling establishment west of the Mississippi. The locals didn’t judge her for making a living as a professional gambler. Nor did they question the type of women that worked at her establishment. When the Americans arrived with their puritanical perspective Doña Tules became known as a woman without a moral compass. The newcomers also chastised her for employing women who were unethical.

A Woman of Means

Doña Tules possessed a business acumen that made her wealthy. Despite criticism she gradually rose higher and higher in the scale of affluence. Her new found wealth brought her invitations to engage with with people in high standing in society. In Santa Fe the once poor Hispanic woman was now given the honorific of Señora Doña Gertrudes Barceló.

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