October 30, 2008

Bat Masterson and Soapy Smith: The Denver Exchange, Creede, Colo.

The Denver Exchange
first location
(Click image to enlarge)

In 1892 Bat Masterson was hired by Watrous, Benniger & Company to manage the gambling rooms of the Denver Exchange, a combination saloon, restaurant and gambling hall. The restaurant and saloon were said to be under the management of famed boxer, Billy Woods [DeArment, Robert K. Bat Masterson, The Man and the Legend. Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1979. p. 332]. However, the February 25, 1892 edition of the Creede Candle states that Woods "dedicated his new saloon Tuesday night with two sparring exhibitions" [Creede Candle, 02/25/1892]. It is not known if Woods had his own establishment or if the newspaper was referring to the Denver Exchange. Shown below is an illustration of the temporary saloon in operation until the building in the drawing to the right was completed. Martin H. Watrous was a partner of John Murphy’s in Murphy’s Exchange in Denver [Rocky Mt. News, 02/23/1891].

Of the Exchange, a News reporter wrote that inside he observed, "at least 500 keno, roulette and faro players of all kinds and conditions and ages" [Rocky Mt. News, 03/07/1892. p. 2]. The operation was open around the clock and Masterson walked the floor an average of sixteen of those hours according to a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

"There is no telling how much they rake off the gaming table every twenty-four hours. Every gambling device known to the west is carried on in their house, and every table is literally full night and day. Masterson walks around the house about sixteen hours out of twenty-four, and knows everything that is going on" [St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 03/05/1892].

The Denver Exchange
the new building, 1892

Charlie Meyers, who worked for Masterson at the Denver Exchange in 1892, described another incident in which Masterson had to quell an impending fight between Jeff and Jeff Argyle, known in Denver, as “the Black Prince” for his wickedness. Argyle was not one to back down from a fight. In November of 1891 he assaulted city Alderman McGilvray and the following day assaulted another man. The confrontation between the two Jeff’s is described in Collier and Westrate’s, The Reign of Soapy Smith.

... Jeff Argyle was dealing, and Tom Crippen was lookout. A row started, during which Soapy yanked out his gun and yelled, "Jeff Argyle, you’re through as dealer in this game. You pull that card and you’ll pull the next one in hell! I want a change of dealers."

There was no yellow in Argyle. He looked Soapy square in the eye and said, "If Bat Masterson tells me to pull, I’ll pull it." I ran over to Bat, and he came to straighten things out just in time. Peg Leg Charlie Adams, who helped rob the Denver & Rio Grande Express, had piped up and said, "Soapy’s right, and anybody who says he ain’t is a damned liar."

Nobody cared to dispute Peg Leg because he was wearing six-guns, had a derringer in his vest pocket and another in the palm of his hand.

About that time, Bat reached the scene. He was a friend of both Jeff’s, so he sized the situation up for a second and then said, "Now, look here. You’re both friends of mine, and I won’t stand for this, be a couple of good boys and stop quarreling. You too, Peg Leg. What’s the use of getting excited? You all know Jeff Argyle’s a fair, square dealer or I wouldn’t have him here. And we all know Jeff Smith’s a square shooter. Two square guys have no call for any gun play with each other. Just remember that. Now, how about it?"

Bat usually had his men sized up right, and he proved it again this time. Soapy grinned and put up his gun. "Guess you’re right, Bat," he said, and the game went on [Collier pp. 99-100].

October 28, 2008

1947 Reenactment...

Click photograph to enlarge

I came across this interesting photograph of a 1947 reenactment of the Soapy Smith/Frank Reid shootout in Skagway, Alaska.

October 23, 2008

Quick quotes...

I regard “Soapy” Smith and his crowd as the most interesting set of men with whom the police if Denver have ever dealt. Smith was bright, intelligent, fearless, desperate, and there was nothing he could not do in the way of shell games, dice, cards or sure thing propositions. And, say, he could play havoc with a gun, too!
Sam Howe, Denver Police Captain. Denver Post, 11/15/1914

October 21, 2008

Skaguay Military Co. ribbon...careful.

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On February 15, 1898 an immense explosion sank the American battleship Maine while anchored in Havana Harbor, Cuba, as a warning to Spain's occupation of that country. At the time the explosion was blamed on Spain although in reality it was more than likely the cause of a boiler rupture. War was declared and the Spanish-American war gave Soapy the opportunity to raise an all volunteer army in Skagway, Alaska.

Soapy was elected captain of The Skaguay Military Company and had official recognition from the War Department. There will be much more detail in my upcoming biography.

Click to enlarge

On May 1, 1898 Skagway held a huge May Day celebration and Soapy paraded his new army around Skagway. He had special ribbons made up and sent one to his wife in St. Louis. When the Soapy collection was split up my uncle Joe ended up with that ribbon.

For decades I searched antique shows, yard sales, swap meets and even advertised once, hoping to run across an original Skaguay Military Company ribbon. On October 21, 2008 I found what at first I thought was the original ribbon on eBay but looking closer I realized it is a fake. It can't be called an authentic reproduction because it does not look like the original even though the seller advertises it as such.

I thought you should know in case you happen to run across it and pay big money for an item that was probably given away as a souvenir in Skagway. If you wish, you to view the eBay auction HERE.

Jeff Smith

October 20, 2008

Editorial Cartoons featuring Soapy...

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In today's newspapers it is very common and expected to see political cartoons that expose a newspapers thoughts and feeling about current events without the use of an article. Little has changed since the nineteenth century. On the right is a grand example of the Rocky Mountain News political cartoons which were often placed in the upper corners of the front page. This one is from the August 3, 1894 edition and shows Soapy, county Sheriff William K. Burchinell and the state Republican party preparing to "redeem" Colorado in the next election. It should be noted that the hooded character is not a member of the Ku Klux Klan but rather a secret state mining organization.

October 17, 2008

Jeff And Joe...with signature...

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Due to the fact that the bulk of the photographs have been chosen for the upcoming biography I am free to start posting the thousands of items in the family collection for your viewing pleasure and learning experience.

Pictured above is a splendid piece from the Kyle Rosene collection, who is a descendant of Eva Katherine Smith and William Sydney "Cap" Light. It is signed, "from Jeff Smith" (Soapy) and was sent to Eva around 1892.

The Poem, Jeff and Joe was written in 1892 in Creede, Colorado and is based on the death of Joe "Gambler" Simmons and how hard his friend, Soapy Smith took it. It is this poem that is responsible for the fallacy that Jeff and Joe were cowboys together when they were young. There can be no doubt that Jeff valued the poem for after his death in 1898 in Skagway, Alaska, a copy of the poem was found in his trunk. You can find general information about this poem and Joe Simmons in Frank Robertson's SOAPY SMITH KING OF THE FRONTIER CON MEN. My upcoming Soapy biography will go into much greater detail on the poem, its' author, William De Vere, Joe Simmons, and how they were all connected.

Jeff Smith

October 15, 2008

Quick quotes...

You couldn’t help liking Soapy. He was the most gentlemanly crook that ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat.
~ George Dedman, early Skagway pioneer merchant, photographer

October 14, 2008

Did Soapy have Bob Ford killed?

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Robert Ford, "the dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard," aka Jesse James in 1882 will have an important role in the upcoming biography on Soapy Smith. It was ten years later in the silver rush camp of Creede, Colorado in which the two men met. According to first-hand accounts from those who knew Soapy, he did not have any liking of Ford. Some of the older biographies on Soapy even have the two men pitted against one another for control of the underworld in Creede. However, Ford did seemingly make one drinking buddy of Soap Gang member, Joe Palmer. On at least one evening of too much alcohol consumption the two men happily shot up the town and were deported by a group of angry citizens Later bother were allowed to return. The photograph on the right is perhaps the best I have ever seen of Ford.

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On June 5, 1892 fire destroyed most of the business district of Creede. Some of the business men who had lost their structures erected tents in vacant lots around the town which did not burn. Ford set such a tent for his Exchange Club saloon until a new building could be erected. Ford never got the chance; three days later Edward O'Kelley walked into Ford's tent and nearly severed Ford's head with a shotgun blast to the throat. The photograph to the left shows a large gathering in front of Ford's tent on the day he was killed. Some historical authors contend that Soapy Smith had Ford murdered by talking O'Kelley into the dirty deed.

Click to enlarge

A postcard was later produced showing a tattered tent with a front-bar sitting along side. The caption reads that it is Bob Ford "bar." But are they speaking of the tent, the outside front-bar, or both?

Jeff Smith

October 13, 2008

Looking for Curtis Light...

We are looking for family member, Curtis Light. If you know of his where-abouts please have him contact us here. Thank you.

Jeff Smith

October 10, 2008

Doomed to repeat history?

Please note: This post is not an attack or support of any of today’s political parties. Thank you.

“Bunny” Goddard, A cousin of mine sent me the following email reminding me of the importance of voting in the upcoming election.

People are being bussed in for early voting.
There are long lines and heavy interest, but it will probably be worse on Nov. 4th.

Campaign workers have gone into prisons, found inmates not convicted of felonies, registered them to vote, and sent them absentee ballots.

This may be the most important election you've ever been invited to participate in -- for our country, our state, and our local areas.


Her content paralleled and shocked me as it immediately reminded me of the Denver, Colorado fraudulent election trials of 1889.

Soapy Smith, Bat Masterson, and a host of others were involved in numerous activities that were to guarantee the appointment for Republican candidates during the mayoral election of 1889. These activities included the same type of vote getting work being performed in “Bunny’s” email, but crossed the legal parameters by bringing in “voters” from other cities, registration fraud, vote casting fraud, registering deceased persons and using their votes and even switching votes in the ballot box.

On election day in Denver men were paid $2 to visit one of several saloons, including Soapy’s Tivoli Club, and were given a slip of paper with a name from which to vote under. The idea was that each criminal voter would be able to cast two votes, one under their real identity and one using the name on the slip of paper. One of several problems emerged when greedy “voters” kept returning to the saloons to collect the $2 and vote under fraudulent names. Another problem arose when honest citizens went to vote only to find that their polling place had already accounted for their vote. Fights and arrests broke out all over the city as corrupt police officers and gangsters working side-by-side tried to protect the poll booth fraud from being discovered.

Soapy and Bat Masterson had taken control of one district polling booth early in the morning of election day. They boarded up the place leaving only a small slot in the wood from which voters could slide in their ballot. Once inside the booth the ballot would be opened and swapped if it did not meet their approval.

Surprised to learn that the election was a landslide? No? How about that it took two years to bring it to trial? I could not help but be reminded of that old saying, Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905.

Jeff Smith

October 8, 2008

Soapy had no children...not

Believe it or not historian, author Glen Boyer does not believe Soapy Smith had children.

In the process of researching and editing Alias Soapy Smith, I had the opportunity to contact historian Glen G. Boyer, author of I Married Wyatt Earp, about several accounts in the book that indicate Soapy Smith and Wyatt Earp knew one another. Mr. Boyer did not footnote the information so I could only hope he might have more about the accounts in his files.

Mr. Boyer is a hard man to contact. A number of years ago he was caught intentionally forging historical information and since then is not willing to communicate with people he does not know personally. Needless to say this places the information in his book about Soapy under suspicion which is why I wanted so badly to talk with him.

Not too long ago a friend of mine mentioned Boyer’s name and that they often emailed one another. My friend offered to forward an email to Mr. Boyer. Finally I had found a way to communicate with Mr. Boyer. I wrote a polite letter with my email address and gave it to my friend to forward. I did not know what to expect but I was hoping for the best.

I may never forget the first message Mr. Boyer sent to my friend. It reads that Mr. Boyer does not believe I am a descendant of Soapy Smith. And why does he believe this? Mr. Boyer claims Soapy and his wife never had any children!

It’s no joke. The man believes my family is lost as far as genealogy goes. Further more he refuses to talk to me unless I can prove my heritage. Understand that we are talking about a well known old west historian and author here. He wrote about Soapy Smith so one would figure that he must have researched a little on Soapy. I do not recall this claim of “no children” from any other source.

Although our family has plenty of proof in the way of original letters, documents and birth records Mr. Boyer is obviously not worth talking to. It may be surmised that he guessed what questions I was prepared to ask him, namely where he obtained his information. It may be safe to assume he had made up the accounts in his book and went on the defensive with me in order to keep from being exposed for yet another fraud.

Jeff Smith

October 7, 2008

Quick Quotes...

Soapy Smith, bunco steerer, thief, gambler, desperado, holdup, marshal of the town of Creede in its early days, a big man in Skaguay, and who has played numerous other roles during his eventful life, has at last handed in his checks and passed over the snowy range with a cigar in his mouth, a curse on his lips still wet with the firey liquor, and his thick-soled boots tightly on his feet.
~ Denver Times, July 17, 1898.

October 5, 2008

Skaguay Oyster Parlors...

The above ad for the Skaguay Oyster Parlors is from the Skaguay News, September 23, 1898, nearly three months after the death of Soapy. Frank Clancy, manager of the saloon is the brother of John Clancy, who had a 1/2 interest in Jeff Smith's Parlor located directly next door. Both Clancy brothers were partners of Soapy Smith. Frank Clancy managed the one business while John managed Clancy's Cafe, now located in Soapy's old saloon.

Mysteriously, both Clancy brothers escaped the wrath of the Citizen's Committee, the vigilante organization formed to take out the Soap Gang.

October 2, 2008

Quick Quotes...

In my childhood I saw Soapy Smith putting on his lucrative soap act in the streets of Denver, with a gullible mob milling around his “pitch” and eagerly shoving money at him. I have no clear memory of him, but to youngsters all through the Rocky Mountain region his name was as familiar as that of Santa Claus.
~ Lemuel F. Parton, New York Sun, February 15, 1935