June 30, 2011

Joining Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith

I am currently having some trouble with my host for Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith. If you have tried, or wish to join, you may have to email me to do so until the problem is fixed. I apologize for any inconvenience. 

Jeff Smith


Canada uses machine guns to keep Soapy Smith out: Addendum.

Crossing the summit of the Chilkoot Pass
(Click image to enlarge)

June 28, 2011

On June 28, 2011 I posted a story about two museum held machine guns used to keep the Soap Gang out of the Klondike. Friend, Gay Mathis, sent me some additional coverage from the Coshocton, Ohio Tribune July 20, 1949. She only sent the excerpt directly dealing with the machine guns and Soapy Smith.

Royal Mounted Police Museum Tells Story of Bloody Frontier

A Maxim Nordenfelt machine gun on display tells a murderous tale of the Yukon gold rush days of 1898-1900. The weapon was to intimidate the Soapy Smith gang which was preying on individuals and small groups of miners leaving the gold fields for the outside.
Thank you very much Gay. This article is slightly different from what I wrote, in that the museum stated to me that the guns were there to keep the gang out of Canada, and this earlier 1949 article seems to imply that the guns were protecting miners on the American side as well. There was not much the north-west mounted police could do once victims left the Canadian side as they had no legal jurisdiction. There were actually talks of war over the boundary disputes between Canada and the United States so shooting those guns into the American side would not have been likely. The trail from the White Pass summit to Skagway is 14.3 miles and it is unlikely the bunco men working the trails would have cared to walk the entire distance to the summit when a closer to town, five or ten miles would have been sufficient.

June 28, 2011

Machine guns: page 562.

Jeff Smith


June 29, 2011

George Brakett wagon road

(Click image to enlarge)

I have made reference before that it is believed that Soapy Smith had owned an interest in George Brackett's wagon road. Soapy's brother Bascomb also made comment about his part ownership in the improved section of the White Pass trail. The White Pass trail was so treacherous and impenetrable that George Brackett had the grand idea and clearing the road so that wagons could pass, and then charge a small toll. There was no doubt that he had the right idea, but miners who did not see the road previously did not think they should be paying anyone to use it (see newspaper article below). I believe Soapy saw a chance to make some money of his own in the road, in the form of a protection racket. There is a story that some men attempted to take over George's toll booth. This was perhaps part of Soapy's plan. Once the road was out of George's hands Soapy would come to his rescue. Naturally, Soapy could not keep "protecting" him from men who wished to take his business away from him, unless of course, Soapy might be given a percentage of ownership in the road, then Soapy would be obligated to protect the toll booth. This was not the first time Soapy dealt in protection rackets and part ownerships. Ownership of the road came into play when the railroad right of way was being formed.  

The Brackett wagon road people have had hundreds of men at work all winter building a road for summer use. They have spent something like $125,000 in the project. The road, for the most part, runs along the side of the hill, while the trail which has been used and is now going to pieces on account of the long-continued thaw, runs up the river bed on the ice. In some places the wagon road, improved by the company at large expense, is used by those going in now. An attempt was made a week ago to collect a toll of 1 cent per pound on goods taken over this portion of the road. This attempt was resisted by those using the trail and the gate which the company put up was torn down. This was repeated several times, always with the same result.

In order to prevent bloodshed twelve men, sworn in as special deputy marshals, will leave tomorrow for a point on the new wagon road where serious trouble will probably be had within the next few days. The trouble will be between the miners and packers on the trail and the proprietors of the new wagon road over the collection of toll.

Now that the bottom is falling out of both trails, that at Dyea being in the same shape as this, the wagon road people expect a large use of their road. In order to reap the benefit of their expenditure they propose to collect a toll at all hazards.

There is considerable opposition to the paying of the toll, and many threats are heard that the miners will organize and make a determined resistance. The road people know this, and are preparing for a long and bitter fight.

The Seattle Daily Times, March 17, 1898

Brackett Wagon Road: page 519.

Jeff Smith


June 28, 2011

Soapy Smith swindles an Oklahoma Wild West show, 1890.

(Click image to enlarge)

Jeff Smith appeared as a plaintiff and secured from Judge Miller, in the county court, an attachment against the advance car of the Oklahoma Wild West show, which is somewhere in the Union depot railroad yard. Mr. Smith claims that J. R. Henry, who owns this car, owes him something like $500, but it could not be learned how he contracted the debt.

Rocky Mountain News July 26, 1890

Boy, would I love to know the particulars of this story! I can only imagine that Mr. J. R. Henry either fell prey to one of Soapy's men, or possibly lost his dough gambling in the Tivoli Club. Mr. Henry appears to have been part of the "advance" crew for an Oklahoma Wild West Show on it's way to Denver. Perhaps the most famous traveling old west show in Oklahoma was the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show.

Jeff Smith


Canada uses machine guns to keep Soapy Smith out.

Display showing both machine guns.


Donald Sinclair's letter
side 1
(Click image to enlarge)
In 1985, previous to my internet use, one of my first research  tools was placing ads in western and history magazines in the US and Canada.. In June 1985 I received a letter from a Donald Sinclair in Saskatchewan, Canada stating that he knew of a museum displaying two machine guns used by the north-west mounted police at the two pass summits to keep Soapy Smith and his gang out of Canada. He wrote that the weapons are located at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum in Regina, Saskatchewan. I found the story rather hard to believe but he had given me the address so I wrote the museum to check the authenticity of the story.

Donald Sinclair's letter
side 2
(Click image to enlarge)
I also wrote Mr. Sinclair and thanked him very much. I also asked him if he happen to be related to Rev. John Sinclair, who properly buried Soapy and took some of the most well-known photographs of Soapy, both while living and deceased. Ronald Sinclair was not related to the rev. Sinclair, but rather to farmers in South Dakota in the 1870s-80s and he told me about this in his second letter seen here. Unfortunately his first letter is not around. In my earliest days of research I was not keeping a lot of my correspondence and it was one day when my father noticed me throwing away a letter that he convinced me to save all of them. While I may have a huge collection of papers they do bring back many memories that had been long forgotten, such as the very moment I tossed out a letter and my father taught me to save them. These old letters also add provenance and source to my written word.

Mr. Sinclair was also a fan of Soapy's history in Alaska. Without me asking him, he drove 150 miles  from his home to the museum in July 1985 to take a few photographs of the machine guns to send to me. All the photos in this post minus the one at the bottom are his.

Maxim Nordenfeldt .303
(Click image to enlarge)

Museum letter
(Click image to enlarge)
In July 1985 I received the reply letter from the RCMP Museum and sure enough the museum claims the two machine guns, one air-cooled, the other water-colled, were placed at the summits to be used against an invasion by the Soapy Smith gang. The museum text displayed with the guns reads as follows.

Maxim Nordenfeldt .303 calibre air-cooled machine gun. 
This machine gun was set up by the N. W. M. P. in the Klondike to deter Soapy Smith and his gang who were operating from Skagway against the miners returning south with their gold. This gun was located at White Pass Summit in the year 1898 and later served to deter the Order of the Midnight Sun Society.

The White Pass summit was equipped with the air-cooled Maxim machine gun while at the Chilkoot sat a Norden .303 caliber water-cooled machine gun, both capable of firing 500 rounds a minute.

Norden .303 caliber water-cooled
(Click image to enlarge)
Maxim Nordenfeldt .303
(Click image to enlarge)

Norden .303 caliber water-cooled
(Click image to enlarge)

The RMCP Museum is located at 5907 Dewdney Avenue, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada S4T 0P4. Their website is RMCP Heritage Center.

Machine guns: page 562.

Jeff Smith


June 27, 2011

Harry Houdini on gambling

Gambling in itself is bad enough even when the game is square (honest); but your professional gambler never plays the game that way. He is an expert with cards. His seemingly innocent shuffle of the pack gives him a full knowledge of where every card is located. He deals you a hand good enough to induce you to make dangerously high bets, but not high enough to win. He lures his victim by small winnings to destruction in the end. He uses cards so cleverly marked on the back that he can read the values of your hand as well as if he were looking over your shoulder, and governs his play accordingly. 

 Harry Houdini, The Right Way to do Wrong, 1906.

Jeff Smith


June 26, 2011

Excerpts from Grit, Grief and Gold by Dr. Fenton Whiting, part 2.

I felt like posting a humorous picture today, however, the following text is very serious. It is the finishing up of what Dr. Fenton B. Whiting had to say about Soapy Smith in his book, Grit, Grief and Gold: A True Narrative of an Alaska Pathfinder (1933).

Chapter 6, Pages 39-41,  (Wherein the Pathfinder Forestalls the Grafters)

By now the much-talked-of railway was assuming a reality. Already hundreds of tons of supplies and material were on the ground, and hundreds of men were scattered along the line for miles up the canyon, and the sound of heavy blasting rent the air night and day. The so-called "Wild Cat" railway, so dubbed by many doubting citizens, was rapidly materializing into a real one, although unwelcomed by many. The saloons, dancehalls and gambling dens were reaping a rich harvest from ingoing travelers, many of whom were often detained for days or weeks, due to impassable trails, and who remained in town and spent their money more or less freely. The packers were coining money with their horses, transporting supplies over the treacherous trail at fabulous prices, and they, also, frowned upon the new enterprise. For with a train leaving each morning for the interior, both packers and hotel keepers and others would lose this valuable trade; hence obstructions were placed in its way whenever possible.

One or two of these individuals were members of the City Council, where opportunity presented itself for further obstacles. For Skagway, although a typical frontier settlement in most respects, was also incorporated as a young city of several thousand and rapidly assuming a real metropolitan atmosphere.

Incidentally, the first mile of the line ran through the outskirts of the city from the ocean dock, and while many desired the enterprise with its permanent and substantial payroll, certain astute members of the Council seemed inspired with the same commercial spirit as many of their brethren in the States, and vague hints had reached the railway officials that affairs would be much expedited if certain members of the Council were consulted in private.

That ponderous body debated long one night, obviously inviting some substantial overture from the company. They had reckoned without their host, however, for in the interim the "Pathfinder" had not been caught napping, and during the hours of that night, a short half-mile distant, a very industrious gang of tracklayers and spike drivers labored hard and fast, and the following morning saw a very substantial track laid directly through the much-discussed territory, greatly to the chagrin of certain members of the City Council. The very first half-mile of railway ever built in Alaska was laid at night, and under somewhat peculiar circumstances.

Chapter 8, Pages 45-54,  (Rounding Up the "Soapy Smith" Gang, and the Death of "Soapy")

Things were rapidly coming to a climax in the underworld. The "Soapy Smith" gang was constantly becoming bolder, and several murders and robberies were directly and indirectly traced to their lair at "Jeff Smith's Parlors." Smith, the mastermind, with his variegated staff of crooks, feared no law nor officer of the law. The wealthy Yukoners had already learned that this section was no place for them and their gold, and had finally, through necessity, awaited the opening of navigation on the river and had dropped down from Dawson to St. Michael at the mouth, and there caught deep-water ships for the States. This meant some two or three thousand miles more of water travel, but also much safer, as they had learned from previous experiences.

Skagway's hotels, saloons and business houses had come to realize that something must be done, and were organizing for final action; something must be done immediately to regain this valuable lost trade. The U. S. Marshal was known to be in league with the outlaws, although a previous Marshal had been brutally murdered when he and a victim of the gang had returned to the scene of robbery, and both had been slain in cold blood by the bartender, the guilty one, and who had been acquitted by a picked coroner's jury which found it to be a case of "self-defense."

The end finally came one day when an unsophisticated Australian came out from the interior with a fair-sized poke of gold. "Soapy's" scouts had not overlooked him and he was soon steered up into "Jeff Smith's Parlors," where he and his bullion were soon parted during the afternoon. Smith's men never waited until night.

This proved to be the finish of the now famous band of outlaws. Things moved swiftly from then on, and within a very few short hours Skagway, the hot-bed of crime, was transformed into an exceedingly law-abiding village, where life and property were, for the first time in its history, entirely safe, and at all hours. The better class of citizens met, organized, and planned a meeting at one of the ocean docks at the lower part of the town, in order to insure privacy. A long trestle over the water led down to this. At about eight in the evening the vigilantes had gathered there, leaving several guards at the approach to hold back undesirables. One of these guards was Frank Reid, city engineer, a firm, law-abiding citizen of iron will and courage. He and Smith had been at outs for months, and the smoldering fire of animosity needed little to kindle it into flame.

This was July 8th. The previous night Smith and his gang had held up a convoy of liquor on the way up from the dock. The owner had gotten by the customs officers and was hurrying onward up town with his precious cargo. Numerous saloons were running and good liquor was at a premium. Smith's men had lain in wait and posed as customs officers, having received a previous tip. They took entire possession — team, wagon and liquor — the driver having escaped in the darkness, gladly sacrificing all in order to evade arrest. The outfit was then driven up town by the outlaws into an alley in back of "Jeff Smith's Parlors," where the liquor was unloaded and the team turned loose. The following day Smith, still celebrating the great haul of the night previous, was about town, making numerous calls at the saloons and spending his money freely. That evening the vigilantes were gathering at the ocean dock upon an important mission. Smith, through his emissaries, soon learned the object of all this, namely, to once and for all rid the town of him and his men.

His brain already afire with liquor, he was in the exact mood for trouble. Hastily notifying his men of his intention to go down and break up the meeting, he hurried onward, leaving word with his gang to follow on down immediately with their guns, and assist. As he approached the dock he recognized his old arch enemy, Frank Reid, face to face. There was a hasty recognition which was mutual, with no apologies. On his way down he had grabbed up his rifle and hurried onward. As he recognized Reid he approached boldly, and, before killing him, as he really intended to do, recklessly clubbed him with his rifle butt. Reid, revolver in hand, coolly pointed it at Smith's heart and pulled the trigger. It failed to explode, whereupon Smith lowered his rifle and fired point blank into Reid's body. Reid fell, but as he lay prone, paid a parting salute to the desperado, this time his revolver responding, and Smith fell stone dead, with a bullet through his heart, without uttering a word. Just behind him came rushing his gang, guns drawn, but observing the sudden change of affairs, they hurriedly retreated in all directions, some going into retirement in the resorts up town, others taking to the mountains. All were brought into custody within a few hours.

(Author's Note: I operated upon Frank Reid the following morning and held an autopsy on Soapy Smith's body the same afternoon.)

An infuriated and long suffering, now thoroughly aroused, community was at last taking the law into its own hands. The bullies and gunmen of the day previous, who had flaunted their insults in the faces of law-abiding citizens, were now cowed and whimpered at their feet.

We had just gone to bed at Rock Point, six miles out of Skagway. Thus far a mountain road had been constructed, running directly through our camp. We smoked our pipes and chatted casually over the doings of the day. Suddenly the door burst open and in rushed Dan O'Neil, the night watchman. He was much excited and out of breath. "They want you at the telephone down in the commissary," he addressed Heney. "Soapy and his men are on the rampage, and Hell's a-popping generally down there."

Heney sprang out of bed and hastily kicking his feet into an old pair of shoes, ran on down to the commissary without dressing. He soon returned, his face beaming with excitement.

"Get up and dress right away," he exclaimed, "they're rounding up Soapy's gang, and he's already been killed. Saddle up the horses, Dan, and we'll be right down behind you. Graves says to come on down with our horses and guns and turn everybody back on the trail who looks suspicious. Soapy's men have scattered in every direction, and some of them may be coming this way."

We were soon dressed and met O'Neil at the stable with the horses about ready, and were soon on our way clattering down the rocky road at break-neck speed.

At the upper end of town we encountered the vigilantes with a prisoner, and we continued on down to the city jail with them. There, hundreds of excited citizens swarmed about the place, a crude building made of roughly hewn logs, the front part the city hall, the back part the jail. Winchester rifles and revolvers were carried openly without the least effort at disguise. Now and then, men were seen with coils of rope in hand, like cowboys at a round-up. Some ten or twelve were by now captured, and the surrounding country was being combed for the rest. The Marshal, who had long been known to be in league with the outlaws, was encountered at his home and promptly relieved of his star, and a well-known citizen, who could be depended upon, was selected in his place, much to the relief of the former, who had expected somewhat rougher treatment. The new Marshal began his strenuous duties promptly. The U. S. Commissioner chartered a small boat and disappeared during the night, never to return.

Later, during the night, it was discovered that the three ringleaders of the gang had been secretly transferred up into the garret on the third floor of a nearby hotel for safety from the increasingly dangerous mob outside, bent upon satisfaction at any cost.

We stood at three the next morning out in front of the "Hotel Burkhard," with hundreds of others, at the foot of the stairway leading up to the top floor. Here, at the entrance, stood the newly appointed Marshal, pleading earnestly with the mob to be calm and let the law take its course. On the top floor, in a musty garret, stood three deputies with glistening Winchester rifles, braced to resist the onrush of the mob from below. Behind them, huddled together in one corner, were the three prisoners, expecting momentarily to be taken out and strung up. As the mob prepared for the final rush, one of the deputies poked his head out from a window and announced the escape of one of his prisoners by a back window. This was taken as a ruse by the gathering in front. However, a large man ran around behind and there stood "Slim Jim" with his back against the wall, glancing about anxiously for an avenue of escape. The large man "covered" him with his gun, and grabbed him by the collar, half dragged him out into the open. Out at the end of the alley stood a man with a coil of new rope in one hand and a Colt's revolver in the other, apparently undecided as to which to use, grasping the situation and realizing the opportunity of using either. Just then, however, a squad of U. S. soldiers rushed in and took charge of the prisoner, martial law having been invoked in the meantime, and the troops summoned from Dyea, four miles down the coast.

The three ring leaders were later tried before the Federal court and given heavy sentences in the penitentiary, the remainder of the gang sent to the States under a "blue ticket," with the warning not to return.

Thus ended the colorful career of "Soapy Smith," the hardest character Alaska had ever known.

In the crude cemetery just above town, in the dense timber, are many graves, most of these with a romantic history. Over one stands a huge column of native Alaska granite, endowed by citizens of Skagway, upon which is chiseled in bold letters:

"Frank H. Reid; Died, July 20, 1898, Age 54 years. He gave his life for the honor of Skagway."

Over by itself some distance away in the underbrush is another, over which stands a plain, weather-beaten board, upon which is painted in plain black letters:

"Jefferson R. Smith, Died, July 8, 1898. Age 38 years."

Many seasons have since come and gone. The deep snows of winter have fallen alike upon the just and the unjust. The chilling Arctic blast shrieks down the gulch and moans a solemn requiem over the silent city of the dead beneath the sombre spruces. The gaunt timber wolf emerges at night from the darkness out into the moonlight, glances furtively down at the few remaining lights in the deserted village below, crosses on over the graves, leaves his tracks in the cold, dry snow, and slinks once more back into the darkness. Beneath all, lie the earthly remains of Frank H. Reid and Jefferson R. Smith, sleeping on in peace throughout eternity.

June 24, 2011
June 19, 2011
April 12, 2009
January 8, 2009
January 8, 2009

Fenton B. Whiting: pages 80, 521, 537, 542, 564, 567-70, 595.

Jeff Smith


June 25, 2011

Ashley Smith: The first Smith to talk to a Reid in 100 years.

(Click image to enlarge)

I love this photo! I took my daughter, Ashley, to Seattle, Washington, Juneau, and Skagway, Alaska for a Smith family reunion and the centennial of the Shootout on Juneau Wharf in which Soapy Smith was killed (dare I say murdered?). I knew descendants of Frank Reid, the man who supposedly killed Soapy, would be in Skagway, as well as the grand marshals of the July 4 parade. All morning I prepared Ashley for the meeting. Once we saw the Reid family Ashley and I rushed over to meet them. They were sitting inside a model-T Ford. The plan was that we would both go up to the car but Ashley was to be the first to say something as I wanted her to be the first Smith to have talked to a Reid in 100 years, minus four days. The last Smith was of course Soapy, on July 8. 1898. We approached the car window. They did not know us so they said "hi" to me. I said nothing and gave Ashley a little nudge to say something. Naturally she chose that moment to have an attack of stage fright. The Reid's, having said, "hi," looked at me strange because I said nothing in return and I'm signaling Ashley with my hands to talk. She finally said, "hi," and I busted out laughing. The Reid's thought we were nuts until I explained the reason. The photo above was taken by me just after we finished our very short chat with the Reid's As a whole not many of their clan wish to talk very much to us.   

Ashley Smith:
June 17, 2011
June 12, 2011
December 21, 2009 
November 1, 2009 
July 14, 2009

The Reids:
August 26, 2010
September 18, 2009
September 16, 2009

Ashley Smith: page 2.

1894: four to six members of the Soap Gang arrive in Colorado Springs to operate some street games. They were arrested and warned them to leave town. 
1898: Soapy assaults a miner and is arrested by Marshal Taylor.

Jeff Smith


June 24, 2011

Excerpts from Grit, Grief and Gold by Dr. Fenton Whiting.

Soapy Smith's Descendants at his grave
Skagway, Alaska July 8, 1998
(Click image to enlarge)

After meeting David Nelson, a descendant of Dr. Fenton Blakemore Whiting, who performed the autopsy on Soapy, I decided to read his book, Grit, Grief and Gold: A True Narrative of an Alaska Pathfinder (Seattle, Peacock publishing co., 1933), once again. It contains the adventures Dr. Whiting had in dealing with Skagway's underworld king.

Following are a few excerpts from the book I thought you might enjoy.

Chapter 3, Pages 24-25

"Skookum Jim" and "Tagish Charlie," Indians in on the "ground floor" with Carmack in his original discovery, came out after the "clean-up" and emulated their white brethren as best they knew how in flooding the town with their newly acquired wealth—although denied the freedom of the saloons, due to their Indian blood. However, there was no dearth of law-breakers here, and they readily procured their liquor from the gentry of the under-world, and thereby satiated the well-known craving of their tribe for that luxury. The "Soapy Smith gang" was more than willing to serve them, obviously, at a fabulous price, which meant nothing to these "fattened lambs"—the "ready money" in the parlance of the under-world, the "wolves" ever lurking behind the "fold." The Smith gang covered the entire criminal field, and hesitated at nothing from actual murder on down the long line, and without fear of interference from the authorities, who gave tacit consent—for a "split" of profits. Smith, the crafty leader of the criminal wolf pack, had, long years since, acquired the art of handling both officials as well as victims diplomatically, and lost no sleep from worry. He'd had his schooling from early life in the wild mining camps of Colorado, and unsophisticated Alaska was "easy pickings" for him.

Chapter 4, Pages 28-31 ("Soapy Smith," the Outlaw)

"Soapy Smith," the Outlaw "Jeff Smith's Parlors," read the sign over one door. Here the headquarters of the notorious "Soapy Smith" gang. Here the "Fly," the unsophisticated one, was invited into the "Parlor" by the proverbial "Spider," with the usual result. Here crime flourished unhampered, with the connivance of the constituted authorities.

A few days after our arrival a very interesting character introduced himself on the street. A man of striking personality, he more nearly represented the typical Southern planter of olden days. "I believe," he began, "this is Mr."

Dressed immaculately, a man in his late thirties, wearing an expensive silk shirt upon which rested a gaudy tie, surmounted by a flashy, huge diamond, a well-trimmed Vandyke beard of ebony hue, broad brimmed Stetson hat of light color, a clear-white skin and keen gray eyes. He took some cigars from his pocket and handed over one. The butt of a heavy, ivory-handled Colt's six-shooter loomed above his belt.

"My name is Jeff Smith," he began. "They call me 'Soapy' up here," smiling slightly. "Anyway, that's alright with me. Well, now, you're going to be up here for some time, and I want you to make yourself at home at my place. Come on over now and see what you think of it."

We strolled on over to "Jeff Smith's Parlor" and entered. Stepping up to the bar, he commanded the man behind to produce his best, which command was promptly complied with. As we once more turned about, there appeared before us a motley array of faces, standing idly by, watching and waiting for the mysterious gesture from their leader. They waited in vain, however; this was simply a social affair, and the trained galaxy of hardened criminals soon caught the idea and marked time. They were, however, ready for any emergency, each suited to his own particular calling; the burly prize fighter, his massive hands resting upon his hips, wearing a heavy blue sweater, ready for action; the sure thing card shark, his bejewelled hands betraying his illegal calling. Several tough-looking gun men with well-known criminal records in the wild mining camps of the "Rockies"—Creede, Cripple Creek, Denver and others—lolled about the bar or fumbled with cards at the tables nearby. Two young striplings in their twenties waiting for messages from their chief to go out and bring in some new arrival who promised real money—a veritable rogues' gallery of one hundred per cent efficiency, on tap and ready to go the limit at a moment's notice.

"Soapy Smith," the one biggest man in town by long odds, proudly emphasized that fact by proclaiming himself the "Uncrowned King of Skagway." Many more or less prominent citizens hobnobbed with him, partly through fear, but also for financial gain, indirectly, and winked at his depredations, although well knowing of his illegal activities. He presented a striking appearance a few days later, as he rode a prancing dapple-gray horse at the head of the Fourth of July parade, in front of a noisy brass band playing patriotic airs. Dozens of cameras snapped him as he passed, much to his satisfaction and pride. He was killed four days later as an outlaw, by the vigilantes.

The Spanish-American War having broken out that same Spring, Smith had seized upon the opportunity to arm and drill many of his admirers and followers, and had volunteered their services to the President at Washington, who had courteously declined the offer, for obvious reasons, with thanks, and "Soapy" had thereupon framed the document and hung it up on the wall of his parlors as a drawing card.

This was Skagway in '98.

June 19, 2011
April 12, 2009
January 8, 2009
January 8, 2009

Fenton B. Whiting: pages 80, 521, 537, 542, 564, 567-70, 595.

Jeff Smith


Soapy Smith Wake: Denver, Colorado July 7, 2011

(Click image to enlarge)

Jeff Smith


June 23, 2011

Soapy Smith: Success vs Failures.

Sometimes while working on one project I accidentally run across the answer to another. For instance, while researching my book I was asked if there was a way to determine the percentage of successful cons as opposed to the times a victim realized they were crime victims and went to the police. All I mostly have are reports and accounts of the unsuccessful occurrences. Readers of my book are able to mainly read the times Soapy and the Soap Gang were caught red-handed, thus it might appear to some that Soapy was not that successful, and that his line of work was not very profitable. We know that is simply not the case.

That somewhat changes now that I came across the newspaper article I published in my book giving record of the very first reported victim inside the walls of the Tivoli Club in Denver, Colorado on June 20, 1889. The Tivoli opened  sometime after February 12, 1888. That means there is close to one year, and four months of successful operations without any newspaper recorded victims. As no record exists of all the times Soapy and his men were successful, a percentage of success versus failures is not possible at this time.

There is always the possibility that for that sixteen months the games in the Tivoli were honest. This is unlikely as Soapy and the boys were very busy swindling dupes everywhere else in the city, why not his own saloon? 

The Tivoli Club's first victim: page 132.

1885: Denver City Council rescinds Soapy’s peddler’s license.
1893: Bascomb shoots and kills “Shotgun Harry” Smith in the Tivoli Club.

Jeff Smith


June 22, 2011

The Ballad of Soapy Smith: A poem by Robert L. Hinshaw.

Actors in the Days of '98 Show
Skagway, Alaska
Click image to enlarge

A poem
by Robert L. Hinshaw

Jefferson Randolph 'Soapy' Smith was the wiliest scoundrel in the west!
He was invited to leave numerous towns since he wasn't a welcome guest!
He swindled gullible dudes throughout the west endin' up in Colorado,
Where he earned the sobriquet 'Soapy' and where he found his El Dorado!

He'd set up a soap display on a Denver street and invite folks to gather 'round.
His spiel began: "Buy a bar for a dollar and inside money may be found!"
The rush was on and suckers fought to buy bars of soap, gamblin' on a win!
Cops were even called to the scene to maintain order and to quell the din!

Folks tore at wrappers and one feller hollered, "I got a hundred dollar bill!"
Little did the unsuspectin' boobs know that it was 'Soapy's' planted shill!
Dupes lost their dough and with a five-cent bar of soap they were stuck,
He pulled the scam time and again and that's how "Soapy's' name was struck!

'Soapy' pulled up stakes in Denver and migrated to other towns out west.
He was successful with the soap scam and was adept at hidin' aces in his vest!
He made his way to Creede where he established the Orleans Gamblers Saloon.
There, 'Soapy' was involved in nefarious affairs and left town none too soon!

The gold rush was on in the Yukon and he pined to go there ere it was too late.
He arrived in Skagway and later on in Juneau where he was to meet his fate.
'Soapy' met his end in a gunfight and his final words were, "My God, don't shoot!"
Thus ends the ballad of 'Soapy' Smith, that swindlin', cheatin', rotten galoot!

Robert L. Hinshaw, CMSgt, USAF, Retired
© All Rights Reserved

I found the above poem at Poetry Soup, a site for writers and poets. I could tell in reading the poem that Robert had done a little research so I left a nice comment on the page where is poem is published and asked permission to post it here.

Robert writes,

Dear Jeff:

What a pleasant surprise hearing from you via the Poetry Soup site! I'm happy that you enjoyed the poem, The Ballad of Soapy Smith! I did some research on Soapy before I wrote it and as you see in spots took some "poetic license" as they say! Your great-grandpa left quite a legacy and along the way he did a lot of charitable work. I am honored that you propose to include the poem on your blog and certainly you have my permission to do so. My wife and I were privileged to visit your grandpa's grave when we were in Skagway a few years ago. Do you mind if I post information about your response to the poem, your blog sites and information about your book on my blog on poetrysoup.com? I have written over 900 poems on most every subject imaginable and about 750 of them are posted on poetrysoup under my full name Robert L. Hinshaw, should you care to take a peek at some of them I try to write about ordinary people and events much in the same vein as Robert Service, Edgar A. Guest and J Whitcomb Riley and folks of that ilk. Thanks again.
Bob Hinshaw

Thank you so much Bob!

Robert L. Hinshaw began writing poetry at the age of 72 in 2002. He has written over 900 poems dealing with most every subject including religious, military, patriotic,, western, seasonal and nostalgic pieces about "the good old days." Bob writes about ordinary people and events much in the same style of Edgar A. Guest, James Whitcomb Riley, Robert Service and folks of that ilk. He has four self-published books of poetry and many of his poems have been published in national and international anthologies, periodicals and books of other poets. Bob graduated from Hagerstown High School, Hagerstown, Indiana, in May of 1948 and immediately enlisted in the Air Force. His career spanned 30 years and he retired in August of 1978 in the grade of Chief Master Sergeant. Bob is also a retired Bailiff for the State of Colorado. While in the service, he earned a degree in Justice Administration from the Japan branch of Los Angeles City College. He and his wife, Vera, reside in Colorado Springs, Colorado

1894: General Tarsney kidnapped, tarred and feathered. Tarsney commanded the State troops during the Denver City Hall War. Was Soapy involved?

Jeff Smith


June 21, 2011

Is this the Soapy Gang?

Soap Gang in Skagway?
(Click image to enlarge)

The above photo is often reported as being of members of the Soapy Smith gang in Skagway, Alaska. Unfortunately there is no source or provenance of this statement, nor are any of the men recognized. I would love to say that it was correct but I have a morbid dedication to the truth. I'm just no fun. 

Jeff Smith