Legends of the Old West – Belle Siddons

A contemporary of John Wesley Hardin and Wild Bill Hickok, Belle Siddons cut a fine figure in the gambling online houses of the Old West.

Belle Siddons was known throughout the Old West for her expertise at the gambling tables. Known variously as Madame Vestal, Belle Siddons, and Lurline Monte Verde, her exploits as a dealer at the gaming halls, secret life as a Confederate spy, and confidante of stage robbers made her a legend.

From Coed to Spy

Born on a slave plantation in Jefferson City, Missouri, Belle Siddons began life as a proper lady, an outstanding student at the Female University of Lexington. But the Civil War intervened and Belle embarked on a life as a spy for the Confederacy. In 1862, she was caught and jailed at a federal prison in St. Louis. She did herself no favors in court when she bragged that she had been an informant to Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest and had passed secrets which enabled him to prevail against Grant’s troops at the Battle of the Mobile and Memphis Railway.

Madame Vestale

Though she was sentenced to be housed at the Grand Street Rebel Prison, she was pardoned within a mere four months, but ordered to stay out of the state of Missouri until the war had ended. After the war she returned to Missouri and married an army surgeon. The doctor died of yellow fever and she married a gambler who taught her to play cards. She became a dealer at the game of 21, and after her husband died moved to Wichita, Kansas to ply her gambling trade as “Madame Vestale.”

Lurline Monte Verde

She was soon running gambling enterprises in several cities when word came of a gold strike in the Black Hills. Madame Vestal set up shop in Deadwood, South Dakota with her own combination bar, dance-hall, and gambling establishment. She thrived and was the toast of Deadwood, changing her name yet again to Lurline Monte Verde, and even making it into the local newspaper, being described as a “flawlessly groomed beauty, inviting, sultry and sensuous.”

Stagecoach Spy

She hobnobbed with the likes of Wild Bill Hickock and John Wesley Hardin in her saloon, until one day handsome stagecoach robber Archie McLaughlin strolled in while she was dealing 21. The two fell in love instantly, but this was the beginning of the road to ruin for Lurline Monte Verde. As she had done during the war, she again employed her talents as a spy to get information from stagecoach drivers who came to her gambling tables. When the stagecoaches began to be robbed regularly by McLaughlin’s men, she finally got careless, letting it slip one night that there was a robbery planned.

Word of the plan got back to lawman Boone May, who rounded up a group of men to thwart the robbery. Archie McLaughlin and one of his men, Billy Mansfield, were captured, but on their way back to stand trial in Deadwood, vigilantes captured them and hanged them from a cottonwood tree. Archie’s death drove Monte Verde to attempt suicide, but she survived, only to become an alcoholic and drug addict.

Into Obscurity

Monte Verde wandered into different towns throughout the west after the death of her lover, drunk but still in command of her skills as one of the best 21 dealers in the West. She was arrested in 1881 in San Francisco, near death from alcoholism, and that is where the tale runs out. The infamous woman gambler was never heard from again.

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