Barcelo, Gertrudis (c. 1820–1852)

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Barcelo, Gertrudis (c. 1820–1852)

Entrepreneur and monte dealer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Name variations: La Tules (diminutive of Gertrudis); Doña Gertrudis (doña or don were titles bestowed on families or individuals of highest social standing); Señora Doña Gertrudis Barcelo. Born around 1820, possibly in Valencia County, New Mexico; death date unknown, but buried in Santa Fe, NewMexico, on January 17, 1852; one of two daughters and three children of Juan Ignacio and Dolores Herrero (Barcelo); married Manuel Antonio Sisneros, on June 20, 1823; children: Jose Pedro (b. 1823) and Miguel Antonio (b. 1825).

There is much conjecture in historical accounts of the life and times of Gertrudis Barcelo and little to document events of her childhood. Church records reveal the names of her mother, father, sister, and brother, and further record her marriage to Manuel Antonio Sisneros at Tome, on June 20, 1823. The couple settled in Santa Fe, where Gertrudis put her intelligence to work, learning to play the Spanish-American card game of monte well enough to become an expert at dealing. She saved enough from her winnings to establish her own gambling house and saloon of repute, or disrepute, depending on the point of view of any given account.

Barcelo's establishment was a cut above the frontier gambling parlor found in the boom towns of America. Her sala—with carpeted floors, candlelit chandeliers, and music, often provided by her husband—attracted the city's elite. Europeans, Americans, and Mexicans frequented the monte table; even women were drawn, writes Grace Ray , to the "glittering goddess of chance, often costing them their rings, brooches, and even their rebosas with golden fringe."

There are descriptions of Barcelo as a sultry, green-eyed beauty, clad in fashionable silk or satin, who sported several gold chains around her neck and rings on every finger. She has also been described, however, in less glowing terms. Wrote one contemporary: "Her face bore unmistakably the impress of her fearful calling, being scarred and seamed and rendered unwomanly by those painful lines which unbridled passions and midnight watching never fail to stamp upon the countenance of their votary." Another account speaks simply of her "false teeth and false hair."

Accusations of prostitution surfaced, particularly among the more puritan in spirit, who had difficulty enough with gambling, drinking, and smoking. The rumor of impropriety may also have been perpetuated by writers from the East, who were unfamiliar with the Hispanic culture of the day. Whatever the case, there seems to be no solid proof that Barcelo bestowed any sexual favors. She was sometimes privy to military intrigues though, as well as political and business schemes.

Barcelo amassed a relative fortune and lived well, with a corral of mules, a carriage, and at least three houses in Santa Fe. When attending fiestas in surrounding villages, she was said to have traveled with her leather-covered money chests, which were so heavy it took four men to carry each. By some accounts, she provided assistance to the poor and to the church, but she did not seem to be known for her philanthropy.

Toward the end of her life, widowed, she evidently wearied of monte. Indulging instead in "sweet chocolate drinks and iced cakes," she grew quite overweight. Although the date of her death is unknown, Barcelo's expensive funeral was held in Santa Fe on January 17, 1852. It is reported that at her death she was worth somewhere in the vicinity of $10,000, a great sum for her day. Evidently, her will included every last member of her family except her two sons, causing historians to speculate that they may have predeceased their successful mother.

sources:

Ray, Grace Ernestine. Wily Women of the West. San Antonio, TX: Naylor, 1972.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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