Born around 1800, Maria Gertrudis Barceló The childhood years are still debated among scholars of history, 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 married to Sisneros, a member of a prominent family, she kept her maiden name. He preferred the attribution of Doña Barceló. As she gained popularity as a player, locals began calling 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 children in childhood and adopted a daughter in 1826. During this time, La Tules decided to turn her gift of dealing letters and reading to men into a career as a courtesan, Monte merchant, lady and skilled mule trader. He knew exactly how to cash in on the insatiable gambling habits of merchants traveling from Missouri down the newly opened Santa Fe Trail. Working in a public gambling hall, she used her charm and beauty to separate the merchants from their money. Up to 100 Monte tables operated in Santa Fe during this time, with stakes as high as $ 50,000. In 1838, city officials realized that more money was made by issuing gambling licenses than by collecting fines, and they sanctioned the previously illegal activity.

In a few years, he had enough capital to buy a “Living room,“or gambling house and parlor, in which she entertained her guests with dances, drinks, lavish dinners, and games of chance. Over time, she amassed a fortune as Santa Fe’s most famous Monte merchant and confidant of some of the New Mexico’s most powerful politicians and military, and religious leaders.This zoo included Manuel Armijo, the governor of New Mexico, with whom he had an illicit relationship that ultimately 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 stretched 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 revolved around a gigantic room. Two additional mahogany bars connected to form a quadrilateral. Large gleaming mirrors adorned the walls behind the bars, but overlooked in the gambling casino itself. The elaborate crystal chandeliers with candle rings provided plenty of light. As a final touch, private gambling halls stretched along present-day Burro Alley from San Francisco Street to Palace Avenue along the Plaza. The private gambling halls were strictly for professional players, important visitors, and wealthy people. La Tules attended the operation with a small army of bartenders, waiters, merchants and “hostesses.”

There is considerable debate about its beauty. Some accounts depict her as a dazzling beauty with olive skin, radiant dark hair that fell down a slim neck, and sensual black eyes that sparkled with the glow of chandeliers. They described her as charming, beautiful, graceful, crafty, witty, and brilliant. One writer described her as: “… as a sylph in motion with a slender figure, face with fine features, smooth and dark decent Spanish, thin lines, arched eyebrows, loose dark hair, thin lips, a beautiful woman, with a head firm and proud and the demeanor of a wild cat. ” On the other hand, others described her in less eloquent terms, describing her clothes as “like Eva and scarce, low-cut shirts and short petticoats.” neglected style. Another wrote: “When I saw her, she was richly dressed, but in bad taste, her fingers were literally covered with rings, while her neck was adorned with three heavy gold chains, to the longest of which was attached a huge crucifix. of it. precious metal. “

If you look at the drawing of La Tules that appeared in April 1854 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine he could side with his detractors. She appears as a stern, cigarette-smoking witch, who surely couldn’t justify a description of a tantalizing beauty. On second thought, it could be postulated that the image shown in the magazine was La Tules in his last years, where the wear and tear of the long hours of trafficking in the bush had taken a toll on his appearance. In all likelihood, she was originally a very striking young woman capable of being a magnificent seductress.

There is definitely no debate that La Tules was incomparable in dealing with Monte in his living room. Matt Field met her in 1839 and was amazed at her genius in handling letters. He wrote: “A woman was dealing and if you had looked on her face for any symptom by which to discover how the game was, you would have turned away dissatisfied; because you could only discern the quiet seriousness and the cards fell from her fingers as firmly as although he only handled a knitting needle. ” In his book Mrs. Tules, Courtesan and Player of Santa Fe, Mary J. Straw Cook wrote about La Tulles. She wrote that, “She dealt night after night, often until dawn, with ‘deft precision’ as the cards’ slipped from her long fingers as firmly as if she were wielding only a knitting needle … With feminine bravado, Skillful tulles and tarnished fingers swept up heaps of gold, the result of perpetual practice, as I won over and over again. “

Matt Field, while in Santa Fe one night, watched as La Tules changed Monte to a Kentuckian whose stated goal was to break his bank. Later he wrote that the drunk was:

“… swearing that he would make or break before leaving his seat … and drinking to the health of the Spanish lady from the newly filled glass that was handed to him at that moment … When daylight was peeking 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 assistant 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 its large profits to banks in the United States. As the story goes, he sent a team of 10 mules loaded with 20 gold buff bags to the United States with a contingent of armed guards. Somewhere in the desert, bandits attacked the mule train. Before being killed, the guards buried the cache of gold and did not reveal the location. Nobody found the gold and the legend about the “Lost Treasure of La Tules” began.

La Tules was quite politically influential and, although his relationship with Armijo, the last Mexican governor of New Mexico, gained insight into the practices of the Politicians. They lived lavishly off the corruption and heavy taxes of poor Mexicans and American merchants. As the conditions for war with the United States approached, he recognized that the American occupation meant the survival of his people. When the power of Mexico waned and the United States took over the acquisition of New Mexico in 1846, Doña Tules secured her position with a loan to General Kearny of the United States for the purpose of paying his troops, on the condition that he had an escort military to the Victory Ball in La Fonda. It was a luxurious event attended by the upper echelon of the Santa Fe Society.

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

Doña Tules remained a colorful and controversial figure in Santa Fe history until her elaborate and executed funeral, presided over by the newly appointed Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. Catholic Church records say she was interred in Santa Fe on January 17, 1852. Various reports from her biographers have described her funeral as lavish: some say $ 1600 for spiritual services, others $ 1000 paid for the candles alone. . La Tules’ lifetime gifts to charity had allowed him to access the highest social circles of Santa Fe and write his will; He stipulated a final gift to the church to make amends for its questionable past. He was one of the last people buried within the adobe walls of La Parroquia, the old parish church in the Plaza that was later replaced by the Cathedral of San Francisco. What happened to her remains during construction and possibly where her treasure was buried in the desert is just part of the mystery that continues to intrigue historical researchers about this fascinating “The Queen of Mount Santa Fe.”


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