December 31, 2011

Big mit: A Soapy Smith rigged poker game story from 1894.

"Big mit" in action

Big mit/big hand:  A crooked poker game set up by the Soap Gang. 

Looking through the thousands of xerox copies made from rolls of microfilmed newspapers I came across the following in the Denver Rocky Mountain News March 28, 1894.
L. A. Varner claims to have won $360 in a gambling house over the Niagara saloon at Seventeenth and Market streets, and when he asked the proprietor to cash his chips he refused. Jeff Smith says that Varner has cost $4,000 in the last week and he doesn't propose to leave any shorn lambs around unprotected during the cold spell.
What does this exactly mean?

The facts:
Interesting that the newspaper calls the Tivoli saloon, the Niagara saloon. Was there a name change? Did Soapy sell the saloon part of his business (again) and/or put "new management" in control of it? Was the sale real or just on paper as in other "sales." The upstairs gambling house, unnamed, is under Soapy's proprietorship.

The $360 won by Varner is the equivalent of winning $11,051.66 today. Soapy states that Varner "cost $4,000 in the last week...," the equivalent of $122,796.23 today.

It's the last statement statement made by Soapy that has me stumped.
Jeff Smith says that Varner has cost $4,000 in the last week and he doesn't propose to leave any shorn lambs around unprotected during the cold spell.

PLEASE, any suggestions as to the meaning?

Rocky Mountain News
Tom's Inflation Calculator


Keith Cobb, professional magician and big fan of Soapy Smith wrote me to let me know that plans are going forward with the first annual Soapy Smith wake in Chicago set for July 2012. This event will mark the third official Soapy Smith event set for July to coincide with the families annual wake. Keith is such a big fan of Soapy's that he traveled from Chicago to Hollywood just for the Soapy Smith Night event held annually at the Magic Castle. We here at the Soapy Smith Preservation Trust are very proud of Keith's accomplishments in his personal business ventures as well as his honoring Soapy in such a grand way. If you have not done so yet I think some encouragement and thanks are due him! — J.S.    

Big mit:  pages 87, 197, 248, 483, 505.

Jeff Smith


December 29, 2011

The confessions of a con man as told to Will Irwin (1909)

Artwork from the book Confessions...

I ran across a book from 1909 that contains a little about Soapy Smith and his time in Skagway. The book is titled The confessions of a con man as told to Will Irwin. I had actually heard about the book some years ago but could not find out if it had anything on Soapy or not until recently. The author, Will Irwin, does not disclose the name of the con man the book details.  Following is the complete text of the section regarding Soapy and Skagway. I hope you enjoy it.

On Saturday, no one had ever heard of Dawson City. On Sunday morning the papers were full of it, and the overland trains were jammed with mushers hurrying to Alaska. At the time, Jeff Steers and I were working about Chicago, playing mainly for the truck-farmers. We hadn't been doing very well, and we decided that a mining country with a strike was just about the place for us. Steers was a friend of Soapy Smith. He figured that you couldn't keep Soapy away with a twenty-mule team. We got him on the wire. He answered: "Meet me in Seattle."


At the time we were just about broke, but we hooked a German truck-farmer, beat him out of six hundred dollars, left two hundred of it behind with our families, and started. Soapy met us at the train. He had Just money enough to get himself to Skaguay. The police of Seattle were pretty strict, and we couldn't find anything to do. However, Steers and I proceeded to a lumber town near by, caught a sucker, and, by playing the card game which we call "giving him the best of it," we raised three hundred dollars―enough, with what we had, to take us into Skaguay.

A lot of foolishness has been written about Soapy Smith. As a grafter, he was nothing more than a poor fool. He couldn't manipulate, he couldn't steer, he couldn't do anything. But he had a lot of nerve and fight, and he was just conceited enough to pose as a bad man. That made him valuable wherever the grafters needed a head and protector. When we reached Skaguay we found a job for Soapy at once. The town was only a transportation point, a stopping place for the mushers who were going on into Dawson. They all had money; and most of them were reckless with it. There was hardly any city government, and the permanent citizens, who were living off the mushers themselves, didn't particularly object to our game. I played three-card monte myself, picking up my steerers from two or three excellent ones who had come up independently. Even as early as that I was acting the innocent Texan; and though I hadn't worked my spiel up to perfection yet, it was pretty entertaining. Well, I've had a gang of twenty or thirty Skaguay business men stand around and watch me work, just for the fun of the thing!

Still, there was always a Purity Brigade which wanted to stop us. Soapy's job was to act, as protector for the whole gang, bribing official who would take money, and intimidating those who wouldn't. For that he charged a sixth of our profits, after the nut was taken out. Many kicked at the price. A gang of shell-workers struck out on the train toward Dawson and worked independently. I've heard that they made twenty thousand dollars while the graft lasted. I started once to try Dawson on my own hook. I was half-way up the pass when some Northwest Mounted Police told me that a man couldn't get out of Dawson all winter. No town for me where I couldn't make a quick getaway! I doubled back to Skaguay.

I found trouble in the air. The official who was most troublesome to us was the surveyor-general. He warned Soapy to quit, and Soapy warned him to look out for bullets. Business men who had been my friends began to cut me on the streets. Every day you heard rumors of a vigilance committee.

I stopped one morning for breakfast at the restaurant of a Jap who stood in with us. As he laid down my ham and eggs he made a circle around his neck with his finger and pointed heavenward.

"The deuce you say," said I. "When?''

"Yesterday,'' said the Jap.

"How many?" said I. He counted on four fingers.

"What for?" said I.

He imitated the motion of a man manipulating the shells. And the grin of the simple-minded Oriental showed that he thought I was in bad.

I went out on the street. The people looked at me crosswise. Every one had heard that the four shell-workers who worked on the Dawson trail had been lynched. As a matter of fact, they had only been run off the trail; but Skaguay didn't know any different as long as I lingered.

I hunted up Soapy, and told him that we were overdue in Seattle.

"You ain't got no nerve," said Soapy.

"No," said I, "maybe not. But neither do I want to secrete a parcel of bullets in my inside from somebody's shooting- pistol.'' I took passage on a steamer which left that afternoon.

Two days later Soapy got his. The vigilantes were meeting on a wharf. Soapy walked straight up to them with his gun―he surely had nerve, that fellow. The surveyor-general was the man he wanted. They drew simultaneously. The surveyor-general dropped, but he shot Soapy from the ground. Both died that day.

Alaska people have talked like a dime novel about the Soapy Smith gang in Skaguay. Only lately, a paper said that our "coffee and doughnut men'' used to rob and kill people, and drop their bodies into the bay. That is rank foolishness. Grafters don't work that way. Soapy wouldn't have protected any man who did. The straight money from three-card monte and the shells came so easy that we would have been crazy to take such risks, even if we had been thugs and murderers. A man who knows anything about graft realizes the rattle-headedness of such talk. And I know better than any one else, because I was on the inside.

The only clue there is in regards to the identity of the con man is his partner's name, Jeff Steers. I checked the Skagway name list from the historical society and found no Steers or anything similar. I check the internet and found only references to this book.

If author Will Irwin wrote down the story exactly as the anonymous con man told it then for some reason he places Soapy pretty far down the ladder of importance, obviously to make himself out to be the more important person in the telling of his story. It is possible this con man never knew Soapy but if he indeed spoke the truth and had actually traveled to Skagway with Soapy then I believe he was not on the best of terms with Soapy to begin with and certainly not a friend or regular member of the Soap Gang. The first time Soapy went to Skagway he went with two other men. They stayed for one month and brought home around $30,000. If this con man had actually gone to Skagway with Soapy then it was most likely not on Soapy's first trip. The man's comments about Soapy's abilities teeter towards the ludicrous. If he knew Soapy he did not like him. I believe he may have been one of the many independent bunco men who flooded Alaska in the hopes of finding easy money and work in general. He may have worked for Soapy or he may not have, there is no way to know for certain. He admits at one point ("... and though I hadn't worked my spiel up to perfection yet, it was pretty entertaining.") that he is new in the field and because of this I believe he was rejected by Soapy, who was already over-loaded with men wanting to work for him, and this is where the loathsome comments stem from. Further into the story the con man mentions that Soapy "charged a sixth of our profits" leaving me leaning more towards the idea that this man was an independent operator. Another comment that got me to thinking was when he said that a "gang of shell-workers struck out on the train toward Dawson and worked independently." This is odd as the first passenger carrying train left Skagway on July 21, 1898, which is after Soapy was killed and the train only went four miles outside of the city. According to the con man he had left two days before Soapy had been killed.

The one comment made by the anonymous con man that I believe was made at the end of his story on Soapy.

Only lately, a paper said that our "coffee and doughnut men'' used to rob and kill people, and drop their bodies into the bay. That is rank foolishness. Grafters don't work that way. Soapy wouldn't have protected any man who did. The straight money from three-card monte and the shells came so easy that we would have been crazy to take such risks, even if we had been thugs and murderers. A man who knows anything about graft realizes the rattle-headedness of such talk.

Source: The confessions of a con man as told to Will Irwin (1909)
California Digital Library:

Will Irwin, The Confessions of a Con Man: pages 531, 599.

Jeff Smith


December 26, 2011

Whit "Pop" Haydn's collection of videos

A monte gang snags their prey.

My very good friend, Whit "Pop" Haydn is not only a first-class magician and the sponsor of the annual Soapy Smith nights at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, but is also an educated historian on nineteenth century swindles. He has created some YouTube channels that I'd like to introduce to you. Often times I place YouTube videos people have made on this site. The YouTube channels are nice because people can place good videos into a collection so that others don't have to waste time looking all over for them. One of the channels Whit created is called Soapy Smith Night. It began as a collection of video filmed at the annual event at the Magic Castle. There you will find great footage from the 2007-2011 parties. Whit has recently started adding all interesting Soapy Smith videos he can locate. I have shown all these videos here on this site in the past but it is a sure thing more videos will be added to his channel. Do visit Whit's channel: Soapy Smith Night.

Another one of his I like is his Scams channel. Periodically I'll find and post a nice little video, usually through Whit, of a modern shell and pea operator or three-card monte tosser. Whit is now collecting all these great videos into one spot for all to enjoy and learn from. At this posting Whit has posted 40 shell game and monte videos. I had no idea that there were that many out there! All of these are real operators taking in good money, except for one video, which is the one Whit was a part of producing.

The Tetleys

The Tetlleys is a recreation of the Cracker Parker mob script for three-card monte. This was a London mob that worked from 1950-1970 on Oxford Street. If you watch this video and then proceed to closely watch Whit's other videos in his collection of operators in action you will notice that they all follow the same methods. It's a great education into the world of bunco gangs.

Trivia: In the above video, the victim (sucker) is played by none other than Whit "Pop" Haydn myself. The man can add "acting" to his resume. Be sure to visit Whit's Scams channel.

Whit "Pop" Haydn: page 10.

December 27

1883: Soapy purchases a street vendors license in Phoenix, Arizona.

Jeff Smith


December 25, 2011

Artifact #43: A letter to Soapy Smith's wife 1895

Today I post another item from my collection. Artifact #43 is a letter from Hi Ki and "Yank Fewclothes" in Denver and addressed to Mary Eva Smith, Soapy's wife, in St. Louis, Missouri. It is a handwritten letter on stationary from the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, which still proudly resides as a historical landmark. The next time I visit Denver I plan to stay there. Having the stationary does not mean that Hi Ki and Yank were staying or living in the hotel. It was common practice to use stationary where one could find it. I would venture to guess that since they were staying in the Smith home the stationary may have come from there. "Yank" wrote to Soapy in August using Brown Palace stationary again. This letter is dated October 15, 1895. The envelope, also from the Brown Palace, is postmarked in Denver on the 15th at 9:30 a.m. and postmarked again in St. Louis on the 16th at 8:00 p.m. Below is the deciphered contents of the letter and then further down I explain some of the content.

Mrs. Mary E. Smith
                Dear Friend:

Your welcome letter of the 12th inst., was received by due course of mail, and I am very sorry to hear of Jimmies accident; but am pleased to learn that it was not any serious affair and that he may come out in good shape in a short time. Tell him that Hi Ki and Yank send him their warmest sympathies, and hope that he will soon be able to get up, and go out to Elitch's Garden, and see the bears and monkeys and then take me out boat riding at City Park. Am pleased to know that the other children are well and attending school. Would like very much to see you all, and hope you will come back soon, even lf you do not remain only for a short time. Met Mrs. Chase the other day, she was pleased to hear from you, and sends her kind regards and would like to see you when you return. Wished you would send her a card and she will call on you. Forwarded your letter last week to Texas. Things here are just as you left them. Hoping this will find you in good health and spirits, and that you will be here soon, with kind regards and best wishes to all family friends we remain as ever

Hi Ki and Fewclothes

(Click on image to enlarge)

Hi Ki is the wife or lover of "Yank Fewclothes" whose real name is Henry Edwards, a member (steerer) of the Soap Gang. I know very little of Hi Ki. Certainly that can't be her real name. Yank's history is detailed in my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.

(Click image to enlarge)

When Mary had to leave Denver Soapy did not stay in their home. He preferred to stay downtown near his businesses and the action of the saloons and gaming houses. Hi Ki and "Yank" were invited to live in the home and take care of it surely with the hope that one day Soapy would let Mary return to Denver.

Mary had been living in St. Louis, Missouri since 1889 when Soapy sent her to live with her mother after the mention of her and the children in the Rocky Mountain News and Soapy's subsequent beating of the newspapers general manager, John Arkins for mentioning them. The letter is written six years after the fact and a later letter makes mention that Mary had been to Denver previous to December 5, 1894. We know she went to Creede, Colorado for a visit when Soapy was there in 1892 so it is easy to imagine she made a trip to Denver to check on her house and see old friends like Hi Ki, "Yank" and Mrs. Chase whose husband "Big Ed" was a partner of Soapy's in the Tivoli Club (and probably other ventures as well). 

(Click image to enlarge)

Ever since the April 20, 1895 beating of Arcade saloon manager John Hughes Soapy had been staying away from Denver for fear of going to prison. In August Mary and her husband spent time in Galveston, Texas.In this letter there is mention that Hi Ki had forwarded Mary's letter to Texas, which most likely was addressed to Soapy.

Hi Ki mention's "Jimmies accident," Jimmie being Soapy and Mary's youngest child, James Luther Smith, born November 27, 1889 making him one month shy of 6-years-old. There is no information on what happened to him but a another letter at the end of December has him still recuperating. Elitch Gardens mentioned in the letter as a planned trip is a famous amusement park in Denver which opened in 1890 as a zoo, which explains the mention of bears and monkeys. It was the first zoo west of Chicago. The zoo is no longer there but the park is still open as a thrill ride and water park today.

Hi Ki wrote Mary another letter, using Brown Palace stationary on December 14, 1895 (see artifact #6

Henry "Yank V. Fewclothes" Edwards: May 29, 2011, April 11, 2010
James Luther Smith: Sept. 19, 2010
Ed Chase: Sept. 3, 2010

Henry "Yank V. Fewclothes"Creede: pages 50, 52-53, 80, 92, 111-12, 172, 232, 243, 258, 386, 388-89, 395-96, 422, 582, 589, 592, 595.
Brown Palace Hotel: pages 368, 404.


1907: Soap Gang member, Joe Palmer, is placed in the county insane ward, imagining old enemies, alive and dead, were coming back to shoot him.

Jeff Smith


December 23, 2011

eBay photo IS NOT Soapy Smith

NNOTE: The seller contacted me and has removed the item from eBay. I applaud his honesty!N

The 3rd man from the right is marked as "Soapee Smith"

Close-up of "Soapee"

Today I received my eBay searches as usual. The above photograph is being offered as that of Soapy Smith. Taking a quick look at the close-up on the left and you will see that it is not him. The seller writes the following in the description.
These three original photographs were taken in and near Skagway, Alaska in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. The photographer was George Max Esterly. He came to the gold rush as a miner, did make it to Dawson, but then returned to Alaska and ran various transient businesses until leaving for Oregon where he continued mining. He was not a "photographer", but apparently just a miner who took several pictures. The Yale University Library has a photo album of his, and some other papers. These three photos survive outside his library holding. In trying to gather a bio on him, I think he was a member entrepreneur of the storied Soapy Smith's gang in 1898, before Soapy was killed on July 8, 1898.

The first picture
[the one at the top of this page] measures 5x7 inches, and shows 14 men on the street in Skagway. There is a written notation in the top right, "Soapee Smith", with an arrow pointing to the third man from the right. On the bottom, in the same hand, is written "at Skaguay, Klondyke stampeede 98".
According to Skagway records Esterly was a mining engineer. There is nothing linking him to Soapy Smith and the gang.

The man in the lite-colored hat is identified as "Soapee Smith"

The eBay seller writes the following about the above photograph showing a man, most likely a confidence man, playing a game, most likely the shell and pea game. He identifies the man as being Soapy but the close-up I posted clearly shows that the man is beardless. It is not Soapy Smith.

Beardless "Soapee"
The second picture measures 6 1/4 by 4 3/4 inches, and shows several men participating at a small table game in the snow. The same hand has a written notation above, with an arrow to the man on the right, "Soapee Smith working at his game". On the bottom of the photo is "Skaguay 98". This must have been early in Soapy Smith's adventure, because out in the snow on the trail was not where Soapy Smith usually worked after being established.
I have never seen these reprinted anywhere. The first picture has corner creasing. On the back of two is some black album paper, and the third still is on a black album page. There is a stamp on the back of each picture, "George M. Esterly / Lano De Oro Mines / Waldo, Oregon." They are nice and very interesting photographs.

It was another eBay sale of another copy of the very top photograph that was the direct cause of my meeting my publisher Art Petersen. That photograph did not have the "Soapee Smith" claim, but did claim that it was part of the Soap Gang. He was interested in purchasing the photograph but I warned him that none of the men are known members of the gang, let alone identified. Odd, that the photograph (see in link below) is a far better copy than the one marked with "Soapee." Naturally, I wrote to the seller. I have yet to hear back from him.

The ebay auction can be viewed HERE.

June 21, 2011

Jeff Smith


1930s video of Skagway, Alaska

Skagway T-Shirt

I was sent a wonderful link to a Youtube video showing Skagway, Alaska from the 1930s. For those that are younger, it means that the video is in black and white and silent. Enjoy!


Skagway, a gold rush town from 1897-1898 sort of froze after the rush was over. This video shows many original buildings left over from the stampede days. Some are gone now but many shown in the film have not only remained but have been expertly and properly restored. The footage of the White Pass and Yukon Railway traveling up the middle of Broadway and along the White Pass gold trail of 1898 is breathtaking.

Embedded into the film is a counter/timer and using it you can see the following Soapy Smith related items.

  • 01:01:08.00: Martin Itjen's original "streetcar" tour bus drive by.
  • 01:01:45.01: Martin Itjen's "new" bus goes by and in the rear of the bus you see an effigy of the infamous Soapy Smith saluting the crowds (Soapy is my great-grandfather).

Martin Itjen: April 8, 2011, Feb. 16, 2011


Kristen Alberda, a Facebook fan from Alaska is considering starting a website called which focuses on helping people find pet-friendly rentals/sublets/services in New York City. We applaud her humanity, as well as her choice in names.


1898: For the robbery of John D. Stewart; John Bowers is sentenced to one year for larceny and six months for assault and battery. “Slim Jim” Foster is sentenced to one year and fined $1,000 for larceny, and six months for assault and battery. Van B. “Old Man” Triplett is sentenced to one year for larceny.

Jeff Smith


December 22, 2011

The Sins of Soapy Smith: A review

A fantasy card I made for Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, Colorado

In the fall of 1997 Old West magazine published an article by Jon Kirchoff entitled, The Sins of Soapy Smith. My friend Bob "Buckshot" Bradley sent me the article in pdf format so that I might share it with you today. Below the article I review the article's facts.

The Sins of Soapy Smith

The article is about Soapy Smith but the author, Mr. Kirchoff, spends the first 7 paragraphs writing about Bob Ford. Purely in regards to the facts Mr. Kirchoff, makes a mistake in his first sentence. He spells the name of Bob Ford's killer as Edward O. Kelly. Ever since Judith Ries, a descendant of O'Kelley's, wrote the biography in 1992 the debate ended as to the correct name. We know now that his real name was Edward Capehart O'Kelley. This oversight can be forgiven as Ries' book was not mass produced, however, a search on the internet might have turned up something on her book.

Mr. Kirchoff does mention the two possible reasons O'Kelley murdered Ford. The first being that "Kelly [sic] killed Ford to avenge James' (Jesse James) death ten years prior." Although many Jesse James fans like to believe this there is simply no evidence to support the claim. O'Kelley did not know or have any connection to the James gang except for the fact that he was born in Missouri. The known facts are that Ford and O'Kelley knew one another and had a serious falling out. Mr. Kirchoff does imply that Soapy Smith hired O'Kelley to kill Ford in a power struggle for control of Creede. Although this theory is plausible there is no evidence. There are no records showing that Ford was any sort of political or underworld power in Creede, let alone any competition to the Smith regime.

The author does a nice job of describing Creede's beginnings but gives no sources for stating that the camp "averaged three killings a day." In reality, the Creede newspapers reported the first and second killing in the camp as major news, not occurring everyday. Kirchoff describes Ford's Exchange, a "combination gambling hall and brothel located in the Bachelor Camp." This is the first time I have ever read of a location mentioned outside of the Creede business district for Ford's place. Although the author does not list any sources for his statements it may be correct, the reason being that in all my research I have yet to come across a single mention of Ford's business in Creede before the fire of June 5, 1892 in any contemporary newspapers or writings. It is known that he opened a tent saloon directly after the fire. Other authors have written that Ford ran a dance hall rather than a brothel.

Kirchoff finally gets to describing Soapy and publishes the following quote from the Rocky Mountain News of 1878.

Lured by Smith's pleasing baritone, the gullible buy the cakes in hopes of winning the twenty dollar bills Soapy minutes before seemingly slips inside the wrappings of the cakes.

The problem I have with this is that according to records and Soapy's own word, he did not appear in Denver until 1879. I read the Rocky Mountain News page by page for 1878 and did not find anything relating to Soapy. I am left wishing that Mr. Kirchoff would have listed his sources and exact dates.

Kirchoff explains the story of the infamous bandit barbers which is detailed in The Reign of Soapy Smith (1935). Unfortunately I have yet to uncover any facts about the barbers and whether Soapy had any connection.

Next the story of how Soapy fooled a judge is fictionalized. Soapy did indeed go before a judge, but he did not show the court his soap sell racket. What he actually did was show the judge some of his knives he gave away as prizes in another swindle, naturally showing the judge good quality products over that of what he actually gave away to his victims.

Kirchoff messes up the chronological order of events and uses that mix-up as the reason Soapy left Denver to go to Creede. First, Soapy and the gang went to Creede in 1892, not 1891. The move was indeed due to city anti-gambling reforms but not because of Soapy's "caning" of the Rocky Mountain News general manager (not owner) John Arkins, mainly because that attack took place in 1889 not 1891 as implied by the author.

The author's story about Soapy undercutting Ford and the latter's rumblings about it, are all fiction from the author's imagination. So is the part about the Creede Chronicle writing about Ford's Exchange. I researched all the Creede newspapers and a Ford's Exchange, let alone any other business he may have owned is never mentioned. Kirchoff's quote from Ford about "killing off the entire Chronicle force" did not actually come from Ford, but rather from a female distraught over his killing.

Kirchoff does correctly talk about Ford's banishment from Creede for shooting up the town in April of 1892 but it was only for ten days not "several weeks" and Ford's partner in the rampage was Joe Palmer not "Jim" Palmer. By the way, Joe Palmer was a member of the Soap Gang and manager of the Orleans Club for a time.

Kirchoff gets into Ed O'Kelley again, stating wrongly that O'Kelley claimed to be related to Cole Younger, a crime partner of Jesse James, and that he considered himself kin to Jesse James. In reality O'Kelley never mentioned Jesse James or Cole Younger, at least not in public. Another mistake made by Kirchoff is not entirely his fault. He writes that both Soapy and O'Kelley lived in the Zang's Hotel which still stands in Creede and boasts that the two men stayed there. The problem with this is that Zang's was built after the June 5, 1892 fire. Soapy left Creede in April, at least two months before the hotel was constructed. O'Kelley killed Ford on June 8, 1892, three days after the big fire so it is highly unlikely he stayed there unless they were able to build the place in two days.

There is no evidence that O'Kelley ever played poker with Soapy, let alone ever entered the Orleans Club. Bat Masterson was not a marshal of Creede. Ford's new tent saloon erected after the fire was not called The Leadville, which was next door to Ford's tent. There is no evidence that Frenchy Duval was a member of Soapy's gang in Denver. The remaining article pertaining to Ford and O'Kelley is filled with fiction and I strongly advise not using it as historically accurate material.

July 26, 2022, Feb. 7, 2010, Sept. 20, 2009,

Dec. 29, 2009, Oct. 14, 2008,

Ford: pages 216, 218-21, 246, 273.
O'Kelley: pages 246.

December 22

1887: ”Big Ed” Burns is the defendant in the first recorded court case of the shell game in Los Angeles, California.

Jeff Smith


December 14, 2011

Three-card monte: Dia Vernon and Soapy Smith

Three-card monte

Today's video is of magician Dai Vernon explaining three-card monte, the short con used by Soap Gang members, Bowers, Triplett, and Foster to rob the gold poke of John Stewart, which resulted in Soapy Smith's death.

Dai Vernon was a huge fan of Soapy. In fact, Dai came to visit my father, John Randolph "Randy" Smith in Anaheim, California in the 1980s. Dai Vernon and the Magic Castle in Hollywood now holds an annual Soapy Smith night honoring the date of Soapy's death.


Play an honest version of three-card monte

April 12, 2011, January 4, 2009 

Three-card monte: pages 8, 10, 15, 27, 51, 53-55, 59, 69, 75, 80, 91, 121, 141, 248, 360, 467, 472, 526.

Jeff Smith



December 13, 2011

Vaudeville and Burlesque of 1898-1910


What sort of entertainment could Soapy enjoy in Denver of the late 1890s besides his usual daily regiment of saloons and gambling houses? Vaudeville, variety theaters, hurdy-gurdy houses, and even burlesque dens filled the void between staring at the paintings and prints on the walls of the local saloon and dressing up nice for an evening at the concert theater. Below are two videos of early entertainment between 1898 -1910. I prefer "part two" myself. 

Part one

Part two

Jeff Smith


December 10, 2011


20% OFF
Alias Soapy Smith:
The Life and Death of a Scoundrel

1898: Deputy US Marshal Sylvester Taylor of Skagway is acquitted of the charge of negligence of duty for his lack of performance after the robbery of John Stewart.

Jeff Smith