María Gertrudis Barceló or Tules (c. 1800–1852)
María Gertrudis Barceló or Tules, a wealthy gambler and courtesan, operated a gambling house and saloon on Burro Alley in Santa Fe in the nineteenth century. Multiple depictions of her have secured her position as one of the most infamous women in New Mexico history.
Barceló was among the earliest women to travel up El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro in 1815 from Sonora, Mexico. She was born in the Bavispe Valley of Sonora to Juan Ignacio Barceló and Dolores Herrero. She had a brother and a sister. Among her many names, including her given name, María Gertrudis, she was best known as Tules or reeds in Spanish. In 1842, the Barceló family settled in Valencia, a village south of Albuquerque, where Juan Ignacio worked as a farmer or rancher.
In 1823, Tules married Manual Antonio Sisneros, a native New Mexican. He was born in Plaza de San Rafael, just north of Santa Fe. The couple had two sons, who both died as infants. Tules had a number of adopted children, including María del Refugio. She and Manual Antonio baptized and adopted the parentless child.
By 1833, Tules had moved to Santa Fe with her husband, María del Refugio, and her mother, Dolores. Doña Tules likely began gambling around 1825. She spent some time in the mining town of Rio de Dolores, where gambling was a favorite pastime. She was known to be a proficient monte dealer. Like Doña Tules, Manual Antonio had a penchant for gambling.
Laying between San Francisco and Palace Avenue, just west of the Santa Fe Plaza, stood the gambling house that Barceló opened in 1839. This venture became one of the central locations in Santa Fe, then the end of well-traveled Santa Fe Trail, for gambling and entertainment. This business and a number of rental properties helped her to amass a great wealth. With this money she supported her adopted children and is reputed to once have assisted U.S. Army officers during the Mexican-American War.
Her noteriety led her to mingle with some prominent individuals. In her diary, Susan Shelby Magoffin, a Missouri woman who traveled the Santa Fe Trail, described Doña Tules as a “the principal monte-bankkeeper” in Santa Fe. Magoffin’s description of Doña Tules as “the old woman with false hair and false teeth” is less flattering. Josiah Gregg, a merchant, described her as “a woman of shady character” and a “common prostitute.” These and other portrayals have fueled the mythic image of Doña Tules.
Doña Tules died in 1852 with a will detailing the extant of her fortune. Her holdings included multiple houses. Her heirs included her sister, brother, and adopted daughters, which she vowed to support until the age of twenty or until they married. Her husband Manual Antonio Sisneros was not mentioned in the will. He disappeared after 1841 and it has been suggested that he left her and was possibly excommunicated. Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy used money from her funeral to repair the south chapel of La Parroquia, the Santa Fe parish church where she was buried.