Shrewd, charming, fiercely independent, beautiful wealthy, powerful, respected. These are the words used to describe Madame La Tules, a successful businesswoman in the 1800’s, ahead of her time. But not everyone respected her success or the business that created it. Rumors and gossip abounded among Americans, outside of her elite social circle. So, what’s the real story of Madame La Tules?
She was born in Spain to a high-class family, and her name was Maria Gertrudis Barcelo. In her twenties, she moved with her family to the New Mexico territory in a town near Albuquerque. She married later than most girls at the time, at the age of 23, before moving with her new husband to Santa Fe.
She had two sons who passed away in infancy, and two adopted daughters. Many believe that her early loss of two children caused her to shift from the role of a mother and into the role of a businesswoman. Soon after moving to Santa Fe, Doña Barcelo started an illegal gambling hall and eventually became known as Doña Tules or Madame La Tules. Doña Tules never cared for conventional rules, and she did everything in her own name. She was skilled at the game of Monte, and her business grew quickly, as did her reputation.
Madame La Tules’ reputation became legendary with the Mexican-American War. She was a close friend of the governor and welcomed the Americans with open arms. She developed relationships with influential Americans, including General Kearny, who took her to a ball.
Some admired her beauty, charm, and wit. Others were jealous and intimidated by her beauty and the attention she received, describing her “sinful” ways, rich clothing, and the temptation she presented to “wayward youth.”
While she was alive, Doña Tules’ life was written about in books and newspapers, describing her as immoral, with “loose habits.” Yet even these included a nod to her “shrewd sense,” “fascinating manner,” and “fashionable reputation” in the “first circles of society.” No matter how they may have degraded and smeared her good name, those who spoke of Madame La Tules could not leave out these tells of her strength and power.
Meanwhile, her admirers continued to describe her as a brilliant and beautiful woman. She had a witty sense of humor and an excellent poker face. For many people, her name was fondly associated with high fashion and the luxurious atmosphere of her establishment. This was described as rich and opulent with lush decor and magnificent design.
What Ever Happened to Madame La Tules?
Madame La Tules’ casino was the cultural heart of Santa Fe in the 1840’s, but when New Mexico became part of the United States in 1848, the business began to die down. She became a US citizen in 1849, but her health was declining. She passed away at the age of 47 in 1952. Madame La Tules left a fortune to her family and to charity, and she was the last person to be buried in Santa Fe’s Parroquia Church. Yet she left behind much more than the fortune she’d amassed in her business pursuits; she left behind a name and reputation that would live on through the generations, the beautiful and fascinating Madame La Tules.