Colorful caravan visits Hat Creek
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
The most colorful caravan to come up the Cheyenne-Deadwood trail so far is here today. It is the gambling establishment of Lurline Monte Verde. At least a dozen of her counting dealers, spindlemen, bartenders and bouncers are accompanying her on this trip. She is traveling in a yellow omnibus that has been remodeled into a comfortable home on wheels, with a bed, alcohol stove for light cooking, curtained windows and a shelf for books. When she tired of riding inside, she rides on top with the driver. Lurline's maid and her staff travel in the next wagon. Behind it follows a sort of commissary and baggage wagon. The fourth wagon carries a large tent and gambling paraphernalia.
Lurline is the most beautiful, charming and sophisticated traveler so far to chance the trip to Deadwood Gulch. She is in her early 30s, always carefully groomed and never loses her sloe-eyed smile. Her background is as interesting as the lady herself. A graduate of the Missouri Female Seminary, she was the once-famous Confederate spy Belle Siddons. After the war she spent several years as a lobbyist at the Missouri state capitol where she met and married an army surgeon, Newton Hallett. He taught her how to deal monte, vingt-et-un or black jack. They often gambled for entertainment at the gaming tables in Metamoros, Mexico.
Hallett died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1869. After his death she was a tutor for the Sioux at the Red Cloud Agency for a while, then she operated as a gambler in Ellsworth and Fort Hays, Kan. Later she was in New Orleans dealing monte and black jack in a St. Charles Street gambling house.
In Denver until just a few months ago she had her gambling tent set up on Blake Street across from Ed Chases's Palace. Her tented casino-of-chance had been so popular and highly profitable that the sporting crowd wondered why steeley-eyed Ed Chase, the gambling czar of Denver, did not crush her as he had other competitors. There she was known as Madame Vestal, (one of her many aliases).
Lurline had been concerned about so many men leaving the front range boom towns near Denver and heading for the Black Hills. She decided to pull up stakes and head for Deadwood Gulch. Her timing was a little bad when she arrived in Cheyenne during January 1876. Bad weather and Indian depredations on travelers necessitated a delay until late July to begin the trip north of Cheyenne. In the meanwhile she was dealing in Cheyenne and even performing at the Bella Union Theater as a seriocomic singer where she was "the favorite of the public."
(Information sources: Shady Ladies of the West, by Ronald Dean Miller; Road Agents and Train Robbers, by Harry Sinclair Drago; "Canyon Springs Robbery," periodical Frontier Times, Vol. 42 No. 1, by Agnes Wright Spring.)