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Maria Gertrudis "Tules" Barceló (circa 1800 – January 17, 1852) was a saloon owner and master gambler in the Territory of New Mexico at the time of the U.S.-Mexican War. Barceló amassed a small fortune by capitalizing on the flow of Euro-American and Mexican traders involved with the nineteenth-century Santa Fe Trail. She became infamous in the U.S. as the Mexican "Queen of Sin" through a series of Euro-American travel writings and newspaper serials before, during, and after the war. These depictions, often intended to explain or justify the U.S. invasion of Mexico, presented "La Tules" as a madame and prostitute who symbolized the supposedly "immoral nature" of the local Mexican population.


Early life

Barceló may have been born in the state of Sonora, Mexico around 1800 "but one correspondent of the time, Wilkins Kendall of the New Orleans Picayune, argued in his book Narrative of the Texas—Santa Fe Expedition that she was French, even referring to her as Madame Toulouse" [1]. Not much is known about her early life or her family. Shortly after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, Barceló, her parents, a brother, and two sisters moved to the remote northern territory of New Mexico.[2] In 1823, Barceló married into an established and respected New Mexico family. Much attention would later be given to the fact that she was four years older than her groom and four or five months pregnant at the time.[3] Fiercely independent, Barceló retained all of her own property throughout her marriage and was known by her maiden name.

Early Gambling Career

In 1825, Mexican authorities fined Barceló for operating a gambling salon for miners in the Ortiz Mountains. Sometime over the next ten years, Barceló relocated to Santa Fe and opened a more ambitious saloon at the center of Santa Fe, New Mexico.[4] She went by the diminutive nickname "Tules", meaning "reed."

Contact with Euro Americans

Because of its centrality in Santa Fe, Barceló's saloon entertained many Euro-Americans traveling the Santa Fe Trail. Some of them drank her liquor and gambled at her tables, but later reviled "Doña Tules" in writings sent to the Eastern U.S. Typical of many, Josiah Gregg's widely read Commerce of the Prairies described Tules as a woman of "loose habits."[5] In addition to erroneous assertions that she was a prostitute, many also claimed that she was having an illicit affair with Manuel Armijo, the Governor of New Mexico.

These sensational accounts were often embellished, if not totally fabricated. Most of the Euro-American descriptions of Tules Barceló contradicted each other. Some claimed she was astoundingly beautiful, while others wrote of her as old and toothless.[6] Some said she had coal-black hair, while others said she had a shock of red hair. Some mistakenly claimed that she had been born in Taos, New Mexico rather than Sonora. The only real agreement between them was that Tules excelled at the card game Monte, often winning vast piles of gold from the male customers in her saloon.

Despite her negative reputation among Euro Americans and the alleged source of her "ill-gotten" fortune, the U.S. Army nonetheless borrowed funds from Barceló shortly after the invasion of New Mexico in 1846.[7] This loan paid the invading troops, making the continued occupation of Santa Fe possible.

Barceló probably did not know about her infamy in English-language publications. Had she been aware of her customers' mean spirited accounts, she would have likely been more than irritated. Indeed, Barceló carefully guarded her reputation and good name in Santa Fe. On two occasions in the 1830s, Barceló went to court to defend herself against slanderous comments from her Mexican neighbors.[8]


Barceló died on January 17, 1852 in Santa Fe with a remarkable fortune of $10,000 and several houses.[9] Her will and a deed dictated to a local magistrate are the only documents known to have been written by her.


Novelists, historians, and even performers have been drawn to Barceló's legend. Far from being historically accurate, most of the representations of her since 1852 have been influenced by ahistorical or racist assumptions. Anna Burr presented Tules as a manipulative trickster in the 1936 novel The Golden Quicksand.

In 1948, one hundred years after the U.S. occupation of New Mexico, Ruth Laughlin published the novel The Wind Leaves No Shadow with Barceló as the protagonist. While Laughlin clearly intended to be sympathetic to Barceló, racist assumptions nonetheless guided the novel's content. Except Barceló, the Mexicans in Laughlin's novel conform to stereotypes as jealous, superstitious, lustful, or even as outright murderers.

More recently, Barceló has been celebrated as a "cultural broker" who helped transition Euro Americans into New Mexico society.


  1. ^ La Herencia: La Tules, a Santa Fe legend
  2. ^ Sally Foster, "Maria Gertrudes Barcelo," Notable Hispanic American Women, Diane Telgen and Jim Kemp, eds., (Thomson Gale, 1993), p. 52
  3. ^ Deena González, Refusing the Favor: The Spanish-Mexican Women of Santa Fe, 1820-1880, (Oxford University Press, 1999), p.54.
  4. ^
  5. ^ González, Refusing the Favor, p. 56.
  6. ^ Susan Shelby Magoffin, The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-1847, (University of Nebraska Press, 1982), p. 145.
  7. ^ Janet Lecompte, "The Independent Women of Hispanic New Mexico, 1821-1846,"The Western Historical Quarterly, v. 12, n. 1 (Jan. 1981), p. 26.
  8. ^ Deena González, "Gertrudis Barceló," in Latina Legacies, Vicki Ruíz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, eds., (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 43.
  9. ^ Anthony Mora, "Women in New Mexico (1540-1900)," in Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vicki Ruiz and Virginia Sánchez Korrol, eds, (Indiana University Press, 2006), p. 712


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