January 27, 2012

Film footage of the White Pass Trail and the building of the railroad

Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith member Steve sent me the following YouTube video about the building of the White Pass and Yukon Railway. There is film footage of stampeders using the trails before and during the railroad construction. I have never seen most of this before so I thought some of you might enjoy it.

1896: George McAttee, alias “Jimmy Blaine” member of the Denver Soap Gang, collapses and dies in a Cripple Creek, Colorado restaurant.
1899: A granite memorial is completed replacing the wooden grave marker for Frank H. Reid, mortally wounded by Soapy Smith in the shootout on Juneau wharf.

Jeff Smith


January 26, 2012

He Died To Save Skagway (part 2): A review.

Jeff Smith's private Soapy Smith museum

Back on January 20, 2012 I posted part one of my article review, He Died To Save Skagway. I do this thanks to Bob "Buckshot" Bradley who has supplied me with the pdf format pages from his personal collection. I have to admit that this article has been the 2nd most pleasurable article to review. Author, Cy Martin published several books on the White Pass & Yukon Railway and Skagway so he had pretty good access to some of the older books on that history and nearly all of them included something on Soapy Smith. Please enjoy part two.

He Died to Save Skagway (Part 2) Real West April 1968

Page 38
  • (Text above photograph) "Frank Reid is forgotten but his headstone is still unblemished. That tiny stone marker is the only reminder of a man who sacrificed his life to save Skagway." With all the books and articles that author Cy Martin has written on Skagway I find it hard to believe that he never paid the cemetery a visit, if not the town. Anyone who has been to that cemetery since 1900 will see that Frank Reid's memorial (see page 41 in this article above) is huge!
  • Paragraph 1: Cy writes that Soapy was a "small-time bad man from Colorado mining camps." Soapy was definitely not small-time. My book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, gives a ton of provenance that Soapy was big-time. In fact, another post on this blog (January 23, 2012) shows that Soapy was more well known than Wyatt Earp while the two men were alive. I know of no small-time bad men, or good men for that matter, that can claim the same!
  • Paragraph 3: There is no provenance that the man was a member of the Soap Gang.   
Page 39
  • Paragraph 9: I would like to credit Cy for correctly naming Soapy's opposing organization to the 101, as the 317. So many early biography's made the common mistake of calling it the 303 (exactly three times larger than the 101). This article was written in 1968 but even the well researched 1961 biography, Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men by Frank Robertson and Beth Harris made the 303 mistake. As a side note, the number 317 is the address of Jeff Smith's Parlor, one of Soapy's saloons.
  • Paragraph 11: The July 4 parade is still somewhat of a mystery as there are no known newspapers existing that cover the event. Many old residents said that Soapy led the parade as grand marshal. Newspapers previous to the parade list him as grand-marshal of the 4th division. There are no accounts from old-timers stating Soapy was at the end of the parade and there are several theories that he made his way to the front, but that is a post for another day. No matter, in the parade he was followed by the volunteers of his private army, the Skaguay Military Company, as well as a float containing a caged live eagle named "Gen. Lee Fitzhugh" after the famed Spanish-American War general.
  • Paragraph 15: John Douglas Stewart, the man robbed by the Soap Gang had $2,600 in gold dust, according to the court trial records. That amount is the equivalent of $84,832.79 in today's market!
  • Paragraph 16: The two gang members who befriended Stewart were John L. Bowers and "Slim Jim" Foster. They took Stewart towards Jeff Smith's Parlor where they met up with gang member Van B. Triplett who introduced the three-card monte game that was played and lost by Stewart previous to having his gold poke stolen away from him.
  • Paragraph 17: The robbery actually took place outside the Parlor in an adjacent alley.   
Page 40
  • (Photograph of Soapy's grave marker) This marker shown was metal and hideous. In 1997 I had a reproduction of the original grave marker (in my possession) made and placed on Soapy's grave.
  • Paragraph 1-9: The details that Cy wrote differ a little, but not my much, to what actually occurred. What actually took place can be found, with plenty of provenance, inside the pages of my book.
  • Paragraph 10: There is no other mention anywhere that I've seen that Frank Reid went to Jeff Smith's Parlor to see Soapy. Reid was only a guard the night of the shootout. He was not a leader of the vigilante organization as many old versions like to portray.
  • Paragraph 14: The "I've got 500 men behind me" speech is actually credited to the incident five months previous when bartender John Fay shot the deputy U.S. marshal (another great story).
  • Paragraph 16: Soapy was not a "rare drinker." There are numerous accounts in Colorado in which he indulged a little too much and caused a little hilarity and sometimes trouble.
  • Paragraph 19: Although Samuel Graves added interesting facts to the shootout on Juneau Wharf (Wikipedia page about the fight) his words are far from "the most accurate and factual account..."
  • Paragraph 25: "Reid was the only man Soapy Smith ever feared." Not one piece of provenance covers this statement.
  • Paragraph 26: Reid and Tanner were not known as the leaders of the vigilante movement, except in later published articles and books.
Page 41
  • Paragraph 10: Soapy's partner, John Clancy also was at Soapy's grave. There is no information on "Soapy's mistress" as this is the only mention of her.
  • Paragraph 11: The amount missing from Stewart's gold was $600, believed to have been the amount paid to Deputy U.S. Taylor as graft, not to take action in regards to the robbery.
  • Paragraph 12: There is no accounting as to how much Soapy had on his corpse when he died. He was obviously robbed of that amount. What is reported is that his assets were worth $148.60 after subtraction of inquest fees. There is numerous information that Soapy had made millions in Skagway during his reign, most of it being robbed by those he had keeping it in Skagway, Seattle, and San Francisco.
  • Paragraph 13-14: Although his marker gives the age of 38 Soapy was born November 2, 1860 which makes him 37 at the time of his death.
  • Paragraph 20: Soapy has had a total of 5 markers over his grave. The history of those markers can be viewed on the main website here.

1883: “Big Ed” Burns, member of the Soap Gang, is arrested in Denver. Burns eventually followed Soapy to Alaska in 1897-98.

Jeff Smith


January 23, 2012

Was Soapy Smith more well known than Wyatt Earp? Comparison #2

Was Soapy Smith more well known than Wyatt Earp?

I first posed that question, backed with graphs from Google newspaper archives, here in October 2010. The answer is that while the two men were both alive Soapy was indeed more well known across the nation than Wyatt Earp.

Recently, while researching with Gale Primary Source Media and Archival Solutions and their huge western states nineteenth century newspaper archives I decided to do the comparison again, using the same method to compare the number of newspaper articles that mentioned Wyatt Earp to those that mentioned Soapy Smith, between the dates 01/01/1860 - 12/31/1899. Once again Soapy beat out Wyatt, by 210% Wyatt's score is 164 while Soapy won with 345. This being the second comparison, and with such a large difference, I feel it is safe to make the comment. Just don't do so in front of hard-core Wyatt Earp fans.

Jeff Smith


January 20, 2012

He Died To Save Skagway (part 1): A review.

He Died To Save Skagway

Today I'd like to bring you another article review from an old issue of Real West magazine. I can do this thanks to Bob "Buckshot" Bradley who has supplied me with the pdf format pages from his personal collection. I have to admit that this article has been the 2nd most pleasurable article to review. Author, Cy Martin published several books on the White Pass & Yukon Railway and Skagway so he had pretty good access to some of the older books on that history and nearly all of them included something on Soapy Smith.  Following the article is my review. I hope you enjoy both.

He Died to Save Skagway (Part 1) Real West Jan 1968

Page 16
  • Comment above photograph: Mr. Martin writes that the photograph was taken in April 1898. The fact is that although some of the photographs have been etched with the date of July 4, 1898, we do not know for certain the exact dates of the three inside photographs taken inside Soapy's saloon, Jeff Smith's Parlor. We do know all three were taken on different dates as the pictures and decor hanging on the walls differ. Being that May 1 and July 4, 1898 were huge celebrations for Soapy it is a good guess that at least one of the photographs was taken on May 1 and at least one was taken on July 4, 1898.   
  • Paragraph 3: Mr. Martin incorrectly dates the robbery of John Stewart as July 6. The correct date is July 8, 1898.
  • Paragraph 4: Martin incorrectly lists the weapons Soapy had on his person. He mentions a dagger but there is no evidence he had a knife of any kind on his person. Martin writes of a .45 Colt revolver. There is a photograph of Soapy's corpse in the morgue with a double-action revolver which appears to be a model 1892 .41 DA Army revolver. Martin writes that the Winchester Soapy carried to the shootout on Juneau Wharf was a .30-30 when in reality it was a .44-40. That rifle is still in the possession of the Smith family. At the end of the paragraph he talks about running into some citizens on his walk to the Juneau Wharf and how Soapy told them to chase themselves "home to bed." This confrontation actually happened earlier in the evening. There is no evidence that Soapy confronted any citizens during his walk towards the wharf.
  • Paragraph 6: Martin states that a "dozen or so" of the gang followed behind Soapy. The number is closer to 7 or 8.
  • Paragraph 7: Martin is correct in his reporting of this supposed meeting. However, I do not believe it took place. There was a cover-up involving the Clancy brothers, John and Frank and I believe this was just one of the contrived fables to make it appear that John was nor privy to what was going on. The whole story is found in my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.
Page 17
  • Paragraph 4: Martin states that Frank Reid was standing "100 feet from the dock." Frank Reid was actually about 60 feet into the wharf.
  • Paragraph 5-6: Martin copies what many of the older biographies published as to what Smith and Reid said to one another, but the truth of the matter is that none of the 3 other guards present could fully hear the discussion and none could agree as to what was said.
  • Paragraph 9-10: Soapy could not have shot Reid in the groin in his first shot. Once Reid was hit in the groin he fell and most likely could not have possibly fired another shot intentionally. At least five wounds were received by both men. The debate continues as to what order those wounds were received.
  • Paragraph 13: Martin follows the well worn legend of the gunfight. In 1968 when Martin wrote this article there were very few people who knew what actually occurred. Even in Skagway many of the residents only knew of the story that another man had possibly shot Soapy but few knew his name. My book covers this story in great detail, including the account that Jesse Murphy, one of the four guards on the wharf was the killer of Smith.
  • Paragraph 14-16: Martin correctly includes the comment of Samuel Graves, taken from his book, On the White Pass Payroll (1908). 
Page 49
  • Paragraph 1-8: The continuation of comments taken from Samuel Graves' book, On the White Pass Payroll. Interesting to note that Graves is one of the few published works that includes Jesse Murphy's actions during the shootout, but stops just short of mentioning that Murphy pointed the rifle at Soapy and shot him dead. Again my book covers this in detail, including Murphy's actions to gain credit for the killing as well as correspondence from J. M. Tanner, one of the four guards on the wharf, naming Murphy as the killer and not Reid.
  • Paragraph 20: Martin writes that Soapy was proud of his alias ("Soapy"). This is not true. It might have amused him when it was first used but it quickly became synonymous with "criminal" and Soapy did not like to be referred to as one who was against society. His friends called him "Jeff." In a few rare instances he signed a letter or two with "Soapy," to instill fear.
  • Paragraph 21: Martin writes that Soapy arrived in the "fall of 1897." Soapy actually arrived in Skagway August 22, 1897 (summer).
Page 50
  • Paragraph 1: Martin states that the name of Soapy's saloon was Jeff's Place or Jeff Smith's Oyster Parlor. That one saloon was named Jeff. Smith's Parlor. The period after "Jeff" meant that it was short for "Jefferson." I guess to be 100% one would call it Jefferson Smith's Parlor. It should be noted that Soapy had at least 2 other saloons that were considered under his operation. Those details are in my book.
  • Paragraph 3: Martin gives Soapy credit for the terms "sure-thing" and "sure-thing men." I can't verify this.
  • Paragraph 4: There is no other contemporary works that state that Soapy's men were known as "tigers" or "lambs."
  • Paragraph 14-15: There is no evidence Soapy or his men "played a joke" or robbed any of the men of cloth that came to Skagway.
Page 51
  • Paragraph 1-7: The continuation of the supposed "jokes" or robbery of Skagway ministers. There is no contemporary evidence.
  • Paragraph 8-9: These two paragraphs can actually be attributed to much of Soapy's adult life not just in Skagway.
  • Paragraph 10: Martin writes that Soapy's private army was the "national guard." Actually, his army was named the Skagway Military Company.

End of part 1. (watch for part 2 coming soon!)

Jeff Smith


January 19, 2012

Same old bogus lottery swindle.

"Where there's a bill, there's a way"

Pensioners fall victim to bogus lottery "win"

The following comes from the East Grinstead Courier and Observer, January 19, 2012 and was post on Sussex.

AN elderly couple were tricked into believing they had won £12,000 – but instead were conned out of £1,750.

Pensioners Michael and Jane Haigh have been left struggling financially since they were stung by the overseas scam.

Michael and Jane Haigh

The couple, of Shepherds Grove Road in Hammerwood, were fooled into parting with their hard-earned cash to release the "winnings" in November.

But after weeks of daring demands and persistent phone calls from people claiming they were from the "Euro World Lotto Corporation", the pair realised they had fallen victim to a cold-calling lottery fraud.

Mrs Haigh, 69, said: "It was just awful. It was absolutely traumatic. Michael got phone calls for weeks afterwards. They absolutely hounded him.

"One day, he got this phone call out of the blue, saying he had won. He thought it must be right, because it was the same firm that he has used before.

"They gave him instructions to go down to the bank and get money out. They then said the money had not gone through and he had to do it again.This carried on going until we realised what was going on. It was just a nightmare from then on."

Mr Haigh, 70, had used the lottery firm, which no longer exists, more than a year ago, which led him to believe the fraudulent phone call was legitimate.

He explained: "They said I had won e14,000, or £12,000. I couldn't believe it at first. Then all the phone calls came. The problem was I had to pay them the VAT, which they said I would immediately get back with the winnings.

"I realise in retrospect that I was fooled, but being of an older generation I had tended to trust people more than I should, especially when the initial contact seemed bona fide.

"I thought it was worth going for, but I ended up losing £1,750.

"I don't feel bitter about it, because in one sense it's my own fault. But I feel betrayed by the people who are constantly telling me I'm a very lucky person. I feel it doesn't speak very highly of human nature.

"I'm left now picking up the pieces to restore my own bank balance."

Sussex Police has issued a warning following further reports of people in the area, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, being targeted by individuals claiming to be from foreign lotteries.

PC Kate Buckler said: "There might have been other victims. If you are contacted in this way about an alleged lottery win, please remember – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

"Keep your personal details and finances safe and never agree to any financial transaction over the phone with someone you don't know."

I responded with the following...

I am sorry for their loss. They are not alone. This bunco swindle has changed little in 150 years, minus the technology used. Human nature has not changed nor have the methods used by the gangs of con men to separate the unwary from their cash.

My great-grandfather was an American confidence man of the old west. Those interested in history might recognize the name "Soapy" Smith. Many of the same games he operated in the 1880s are still used today. Besides displaying the very interesting history of Soapy Smith, my websites also serve to educate people about the various methods employed by those who use their wits to rob their prey.

Jeff Smith


January 17, 2012

Firing the 1892 Colt double action revolver

Colt double action
Much like the one Soapy owned.

What did it feel like to face the wrath of Soapy Smith's anger? Would he punch you or knife you? Or would he shoot you with his Colt double action revolver? I found the following Youtube video of a gentleman firing his Colt. It's a very short video but it packs a wallop. 

May 5, 2011, Jan. 10, 2011, 


Jeff Smith


Did Soapy Smith go to Dawson? (Artifact #44)

The above scan is of artifact #44 from my private collection. A wonderful hand-written letter on lined paper from Soapy Smith (Skagway) to his wife Mary (St. Louis). Someone in the family possibly Soapy or Mary taped a rip. Soapy wrote to Mary telling her of sent money and to share his travel plans. Postmarks show the letter took nearly a month to reach St. Louis. Following is the deciphered contents of the letter.

Skaguay Apr. 4th 1898
Dear Mollie

I send 100 more today by express making $400 all told. Tell Kirk, there is nothing here for him or anyone in Skaguay now. There may be this fall. I am going to Dawson as every tin horn that went there have got rich. I hate the trip, 800 miles in a little canoe and sleep out at night. It is hell but I am going to tackle it. Will write you who goes with me and when I start. About June 1st you better sell in Denver or go at once and fix it up as it is due in May. Love to all Your husband Jeff. Skaguay

The letter appears in my book, Alias Soapy Smith on page 495. I have the understanding from my father that Soapy sometimes called Mary by the name of Mollie, but why, I do not know. The $400 Soapy sent to Mary is the equivalent of $12,798.26 in today's market. Kirk mentioned in the letter is probably a family friend. It is possible that Kirk was not a bunco man and Soapy had no honest work available. There may have been no bunco work available either. Before the Klondike gold rush began the United States had been suffering from a depression known as the Panic of 1893. Once the rush began and Soapy became the camps underworld boss, confidence men from all over the U.S. applied to work with him. There can be only so many bunco steerers in a gang so that the profits are good. They need to be housed and fed and if there is not enough work for all of them then the left over's are just draining the profits unless they can work elsewhere in between swindles.

There is no evidence that Soapy ever went to Dawson. Perhaps after writing the letter he thought better of attempting to cross the border as Mounties supposedly knew who he was and were prepared to turn him back. Surprising, is that Jeff still owned property in Denver at this time in his career. Perhaps he had held on to some in the hope that he might one day return as he had done in 1892 when he left Creede.

The envelope comes from the Kentucky House, a saloon according to Marlene McClusky of the Skagway Historical Society. It is addressed to Mary E. Smith at 917 Locust Street, St. Louis which was the address of Mary's mother's home. 

Interesting to note that the day before Soapy wrote this letter, disaster struck two miles above Sheep Camp at a tent city about eighteen miles from Dyea. It was Palm Sunday, April 3, 1898, at 2 a.m. when from the mountain 2,500 feet above, a heavy snow pack gave way, came roaring down, and buried everything before it to a depth of thirty feet. 70 known lives were lost. Legend has it that Soapy rushed to the slide area and set himself up as "coroner" so that he and his men could rob the corpses.

Dawson: Sept. 25, 2011, Aug. 17, 2011, Aug. 7, 2011

Dawson: 432, 441, 449, 451, 456, 466, 472-73, 479, 483, 493, 495, 498, 508, 512-13, 524, 552, 583-84, 586-87, 590-91.
Sheep Camp: 440, 450, 477, 495-96, 566.
Panic of 1893: 247, 270, 281, 294, 312, 329, 355.

Jeff Smith


January 15, 2012

Frank Herbert Whiting and the White Pass and Yukon Railway

The Whiting graves
Fairmont Cemetery, Denver, Colo.

Over on The Skagway Historical Society there is a tribute to White Pass & Yukon Railway Superintendent Frank H. Whiting. Don't confuse him with Dr. Fenton B. Whiting. One was Dr. Whiting and the other, engineer and foreman. Today's Whiting was from Denver which means that it seems likely that he would have heard of “Soapy” Smith, but if not, he would when he arrived in Skagway. Following is the contents of the post with "new" information on Whiting. 

Born in 1857 in Mt. Pleasant Iowa, Frank Herbert Whiting came to Skagway on Friday, May 27, 1898 as Superintendent of the new White Pass & Yukon Railway. He is a background character in the Soapy shooting, having been busy on another dock unloading rails and sleepers with Mr. Graves at the time. After the shooting the Citizen's Committee appointed the "Committee of Safety" to determine what the fate would be of the many Soapy conspirators, alleged friends and miscellaneous suspicious characters. The "Committee of Safety" consisted of eleven men. Four of these men managed transportation companies, two owned hotels, one blacksmith, two lawmen and of course the two White Pass managers, Graves and Frank Whiting. These eleven men selected the prisoners and forced them to sign over their money and agree to be handed over to the legal authorities.

Some of these men that were accused of vague crimes said that the "Committee" used their temporary and arbitrary power to get rid of business competitors in the witch hunt. Certainly in the volatile atmosphere, few Skagway residents questioned the doings of the most powerful men in Skagway. A total of fifteen men and one woman were deported but no doubt others left rather than be subjected to the "Committee" or possibly lynching.

Jeff Smith points out that when these deportees arrived in Seattle on the Steamship Tartar there is no evidence that any were ever taken into custody.

But back to Frank Whiting. He and his wife Martha and their 6 kids left Skagway in 1903. They probably returned to Denver, where they had lived before. Frank died on this day, January 3, 1936 in Seattle on a visit to his son. He was buried in Denver in the Fairmont Cemetery. One other note was that he was the great grandson of Timothy Whiting who fought in the Revolutionary War, and so was a compatriot SAR.

NPS website; Archives Canada; Alias Soapy Smith by Jeff Smith; Findagrave.com; familysearch.

According to Samuel Graves in his book, On The White Pass Payroll, he and Whiting were on the adjoining wharf when the shootout on Juneau Wharf took place and witnessed the gunfight that killed Soapy and Frank Reid.

Frank Herbert Whiting: page 517, 539, 548, 571.

January 15
1891: Bascomb Smith fined $110 in Denver for being intoxicated, disturbing the peace, and carrying concealed weapons.

Jeff Smith


January 14, 2012

Soapy Smith plaque: Memorial or souvenir?

Soapy Smith plaque?

Back about 2004 when I made my first introduction to eBay I found the plaque above at auction. It was in pretty back condition with chips and missing pieces, including letters and one of the shells. The composition appears to be some sort of plaster. The seller wanted a ridiculous starting bid of $600 but could not give any information about it, or even where he got it. Needless to say I did not bid and the item did not sell. I copied the photograph and never saw the item for sale again. On my digital copy I did my best to "repair" the damages so that we can see what it possibly looked like in good form.

I am in hopes that someone out there has some information about this item. Is it a one-of-a-kind item, was it part of a Soapy memorial, or was it produced as a souvenir item, perhaps in Colorado or Alaska?

Jeff Smith


January 13, 2012

Top and bottom: Dice swindle game.

Possibly a Top and Bottom game

One piece of gambling equipment Soapy and the Soap Gang utilized but rarely mentioned is dice. The most common swindle game using dice is top and bottom. My book has only three pages mentioning the game and only one with an explanation. The following is from Alias Soapy Smith.

... the News reported that about thirty bunco men were headed for Boulder and the fireman’s tournament: “There are pickpockets and soap men and shell men, eight die men, top and bottom men, flim-flamers and the smiler with the shells, and all the rest of the boys.” Associating “the boys” with the robberies was an easy link for readers. Did the robbery of Lewis raise the profile of Soapy and the bunco brotherhood? The answer seems clear. Why else would “the brotherhood’s” travel to Boulder be newsworthy?

The “eight die men” mentioned in the story ran a game called “Top and Bottom.” It was a short con with gaffed, or altered, dice in which the victim bets that the top and bottom faces of three tossed dice either will or will not add up to twenty-one. It is based on the principal that players cannot see around corners. If they could see more than three sides of the cubes at once, they would notice not only that the tops do not come close to adding up to seven on opposite sides but also that some numbers are missing entirely while other numbers appear twice. The operator of “Top and Bottom” is a skilled sleight-of-hand artist who can switch sets of dice at any given moment.

Recently I read the book, Fools of Fortune or Gambling and Gamblers published in 1890 by John Philip Quinn which contains a great description of top and bottom.

This game of dice-if it may properly be called a game-is a swindling device, pure and simple. It is, in effect, nothing but a scheme of fraud, for the successful operation of which are required two sharpers, who act as confederates, a dice box, three ordinary dice, a "ringer" and a "sucker." The place commonly selected for working it is a saloon, and the method in which it is operated is as follows:

The victim having been selected and located in a saloon, the first sharper scrapes an acquaintance with him and induces him to throw dice for the drinks or cigars. While the dice are being handled, the gambler calls the attention of the dupe to the fact that the number of spots on the faces of the three dice added to the number on the three reverse sides is always equal to twenty-one. This fact necessarily follows from the construction of all fair dice; on the reverse face from the ace is a 6; opposite to 3 is 4; and directly opposite to 5 is 2. There are, however, many persons, who not having had their attention directed to this circumstance, are ignorant of the fact. The "sucker" usually satisfies himself of the correctness of the statement made by his newly formed acquaintance through throwing the dice several times in succession, until he becomes convinced that the sum of the six numbers is always equal to twenty-one. At this point sharper number two makes his appearance. He strolls up to the pair and offers to join in throwing dice for refreshments. The first swindler proposes that they guess as to the number of spots on the upper and under sides of the three dice. To this sharper number two assents, and guesses, say, 25. As a matter of course, the greenhorn guesses 21 and wins. The second confederate thereupon remarks that he is a "pretty good guesser." To this the first swindler replies that "the gentlemen can tell the number every time." The confederate demurs to this statement, saying that it is impossible. He offers to bet the price of a box of cigars that the dupe cannot do it. His accomplice retorts that he would be willing to bet $I,000-that he can, and offers to lend the dupe money to add to whatever sum the latter may wish to bet for the purpose of laying a stake against his confederate. The bet having been made, the attention of the victim is momentarily diverted and the "ringer"-either a loaded dice or one prepared after the manner described in the paragraph upon the game of "crap"-is substituted for one of the fair dice. The throw is cast, and when the spots are added together their sum is inevitably found to be either greater or less than 21. Sharper number two thereupon demands and takes the stakes.

Ordinarily the dupe is too bewildered at the moment to understand the precise nature of the game which has been played upon him until after the two confederates have left the house. Should he, however, remonstrate and undertake to raise a disturbance, it is usually found an easy matter to quiet him by summoning the town marshal or some other police officer. In fact, I have known an officer actually summoned, who insisted upon the dupe keeping quiet, for which service he received a bonus from the pair of swindlers.
The last paragraph mentioning the summoning of the marshal or police is interesting. Before joining the Soap Gang "Big Ed" Burns ran a top and bottom gang in the Tucson area. It was there that Morgan Earp, serving as his brother Virgil's deputy, was accused in the Tucson Citizen (August 28, 1881) of being in league with the bunco gang. Casey Tefertiller in his book Wyatt Earp: The Life Behind the Legend, gives the defense that the accusation could not be true because Morgan later arrested Burns. Students of bunco gang history know that arrests by policemen receiving graft payments is part of the routine, and often are orchestrated in order to be taken to a "safe" police headquarters where personal protection and possibly a quick release can be had. Much the same way when the Earp brothers were "arrested" in Colorado on trumped-up charges by friends in order to keep them from being extradited back to Arizona on charges of murder. 

Top and bottom: page 78, 99, 262.

January 13
1929: Wyatt Earp dies. Soap Gang member Wilson Mizner is chosen as a pallbearer.

Jeff Smith


January 11, 2012

Soapy Smith and the Better Business Bureau.

Of all the places to read about Soapy Smith...the Better Business Bureau? Our friends at the Days of 98 Show with Soapy Smith in Skagway, Alaska and on Facebook, alerted me to an article by Holly Doering of the BBB entitled, Top Scams of 1912: Nothing New in 100 Years. I thought Holly did a nice job on the story and wanted to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it.

Recently the BBB issued a press release containing the Top Ten Scams of the past year. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the BBB, let’s look back in time to early 20th Century scams.

Reading the comic novels of P.G. Wodehouse, first published in 1902, you encounter a recurring character named “Soapy.” He’s an American con man who tricks gullible British peers into dubious U.S. investments. Or, as Wikipedia puts it, “who is an expert in selling fake oil stocks to those even less mentally gifted than himself.”

I always wondered if this character were based on a real life scammer. Maybe: according to List Verse, Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith was an Old West bunko man—and gangster—who operated out 0f Denver and Skagway, Alaska around the turn of the century.

SOP: Stacking up ordinary soap bars, Smith would draw a crowd, then pull out his wallet. Ostentatiously, he’d wrap paper money—sometimes $100 bills—around a few. He covered them with plain paper. Then he mixed up the cash-wrapped soap with the regular and sold to the crowd for a dollar a bar. Soon, Soapy’s plant in the crowd would buy one, tear it open, and wave around his “winnings.”

I hope the soap was fantastic, because in today’s money $1.00 is an approximate value of more than $25. The scam: Through masterful sleight-of-hand, the money-wrapped bars were hidden and replaced with cashless packages.

But it gets worse: Midway through the sale, Smith would announce that the $100 bill remained in the pile and would auction off the remaining soap bars to the highest bidders. Con artists today still lure the unsuspecting with promises that are too good to be true. Here are some additional flim-flams (scams) prevalent around 1912.

Landmarks For Sale
For most of his life, con man George Parker sold New York’s public landmarks to unwary tourists. (And he wasn’t the only one.) According to List Verse, Parker’s favorite object for sale was the Brooklyn Bridge, “which he sold twice a week for years. He convinced his marks that they could make a fortune by controlling access to the roadway. More than once police had to remove naive buyers from the bridge as they tried to erect toll barriers.” Grant’s Tomb, the Statue of Liberty, and Madison Square Gardens were also “sold” repeatedly by Parker. He was sentanced to life in Sing Sing in 1928.

While it would be hard for someone to pull off this particular scam today, tourists often become victims. Know before you go.

Fake Mediums
During the Spiritualist Movement of the 19th Century, many people, primarily women, managed to convince others that they could talk with ghosts through a system of rapping sounds. One trio, the Fox sisters, earned an international reputation as ghost-talkers, bilking the gullible out of their money for almost 40 years. According to www.cracked.com, the siblings defrauded their customers by cracking their toes.

Unfortunately there are a million ways for the unscrupulous to take advantage of the grieving. A more recent scam is for a con artist to contact a recent widow or widower with a fictitious debt owed by their spouse.

Money-Printing Boxes
Not interested in purchasing the Eiffel Tower? Not to worry. Count Victor Lustig would show you a money box instead. The contraption “printed” a $100 dollar bill, but alas, it took more than six hours to produce each one.

“If only I could make it work faster,” Lustig would lament. Thinking they were clever, the marks would purchase the box for a large sum, only to realize twelve hours later that, now, after producing two more $100s, the box was only good for blank paper. Bait-and-switch schemes of one variety or another continue to this day.

Three-Card Monte
Three-Card Monte has parted many a mark from his money. It’s basically a shell game using cards. The victim thinks he can find a specific face-down card; the dealer knows he can’t. The dealer may use confederates in the crowd to accomplish this, but sleight-of-hand is always employed. (A person’s first clue that this isn’t a good deal would be the schill “looking out” for the police. This is the equivalent of today’s “lottery winner” being told not to tell anyone—a big red flag.)

She’s Wealthy: But After You Meet Her, You’re Not
Online dating scheme? “Big Bertha” Heyman didn’t need a computer. She could con money out of men face-to-face by pretending to be a wealthy woman who was unable to access her fortune. According to Wikipedia, Big Bertha was one of the most successful women con artists in America. She stayed at the best hotels and employed both a maid and a manservant. Even after she was sent to prison, she still managed to trick men out of their money, including her own attorney!

The “Pump and Dump” Stock Scheme
This fraud was probably invented in the early 1900s by Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil and is still with us today. How it works: The scammer buys stock in a small company with small profits or creates a non-existent shell company that has no profits. Using sales staff who follow a phone script and may not even know they’re perpetrating a scam, large numbers of people are convinced to buy.

When the flurry of buying activity inflates stock prices, the scammer sells all his stock. Since the company isn’t profitable, the stock quickly plummets.

It gets worse: When victims complain, the scammer assures them that it was just bad luck–they lost their money fairly, the stock exchange is risky, etc. Sometimes they even manage to separate victims from more money at this time. Victims of such a scheme should contact the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Bottom Line
Outwardly, many things have changed since the beginnings of the BBB in 1912. But the tendency of some humans to prey on the greedy, the vulnerable, and the naive will never change. So please, investigate before you invest. Start with Trust by using your Better Business Bureau as a resource. It’s why we were created.
Source: BBB; Consumer News and Opinion Blog

* Thank you Holly!
Jeff Smith


January 10, 2012

A sucker born every minute!

There's a sucker born every minute...
...and two to take 'em!
                                                                 P. T. Barnum

Don't believe Barnum? Take a look at the following link!


1893: Soap Gang member, John L. "Reverend" Bowers assaults Denver Deputy Hanson.

Jeff Smith


January 8, 2012

Tivola: Swindle game with an elegant name.

Fig. 1:  "The table"

In my book, Alias Soapy Smith, I published a letter to Soapy Smith from George Mason of the Denver office of George Mason and Company. The firm sold gambling gear and furniture to sporting houses like Soapy's Tivoli Club. The response letter was penned to Soapy in Spokane, Washington, August 10, 1896 indicates that Jeff was running games of chance in Spokane. Below is the complete text of that letter.

From the Bob and Jonathan Shikes collection
Reproduced from Denver's Larimer Street
by Thomas J. Noel


Playing Cards and Ivory Goods,
1413 Eighteenth Street.

Denver, Colo. Aug. 10, 1896
Friend Jeff:

Yours at hand and will say am glad to hear from you and you are still on earth. We have a new small Tivola. We made a few weeks ago a New Orleans Belt with 50 spaces [—] there is [sic] 2 prizes and 3 blanks. It is a good deal larger, that is, the basket, than the old style and makes a better showing. We made it for one of you x lieutenants Power and the gang and think they are doing well with it, as they were running at Fisks Gardens and done well. Since then I see in paper they were arrested at Colo Spring and fined 50.00 and a few hours to get out of town. Since then I have heard nothing from them or seen them. There is nothing going on here at all and it seems worse than ever. We will soon make some drop cases, that is as soon as we can get at them [i.e., get to making them]. Ed Chase sent over a note for that machin[e] saying it belonged to him and he paid what charges was on it. The machine we put the celluloid on and fixed up. But your jewelry spindle is still here. Jeff wishing you success we remain yours



Larimer Street, Denver
From the R. Ronzio collection, reproduced
from Silver Images of Coloradoby Richard A. Ronzio

Jeff was known to purchase gaming equipment from this company, which was located literally next door to Soapy's Midway saloon and just around the corner from his Tivoli Club previous to Soapy's escape from the Denver courts in 1895. Gambling reforms had hit Denver hard since 1892 and the George Mason Company moved to another location just around the corner at 1413 Eighteenth Street where the above letter was written.

Fig. 2:  "The cloth"

The "Tivola" game described to Soapy by Mason was almost a total mystery to me at the time of publishing my book. What little I could find was published in the footnotes for the letter, as follows.

Notes: Tivola: probably tavola, the Italian word for “table, plank, board.” New Orleans Belt … 3 blanks…: an imprint on the table for some sort of gambling game containing a belt of 50+ spaces, presumably for bets. the basket: may refer to a “bird-cage” dice rolling basket device such as used in “chuck-a-luck.”

Recently I came across a detailed description and drawings of the game. I found it under 3 names, Tivoli and Tivolia as named by author, John Philip Quinn and then Tivola as named by George Mason. I have every reason to believe that all 3 names are referring to the same device. John Quinn is the author of Fools of Fortune or Gambling and Gamblers (1890) which I just finished reading. Below is the text from Quinn's book, complete with spelling errors. I believe it to be the definitive answer I was looking for.

Tivoli or Tivolia, the game

This game is at once one of the most seductive and the most deceptive in the outfit of the peripatetic gambler. In some minor respects it resembles the children's game of the same name, inasmuch as both are played upon a board containing a number of pins and having numbered compartments at the lower end. At this point, however, the resemblance ceases.

The gambling device known by this name is shown in the accompanying illustrations, figures 1 and 2. Figure 1 represents the table and figure 2 the cloth which always hangs behind it, and forms an indispensable feature of the game. In explaining the diagrams, the construction of the table will be first described. It is made of wood usually about 3-1/2 to 4 feet in length and 2 feet broad, and when in use the upper end rests upon a wooden framework, giving the board an inclination of some 30 degrees.
Running lengthwise through the centre [sic] of the table is a wooden partition, dividing it into two equal parts, At the lower end of each division are ten compartments, open at the top, each set being numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0. At the upper end of each division is a gate, lettered on the diagram c.c. Between the gates and the numbered compartments are placed metal pins or pegs, arranged substantially as shown by the dots on the diagram. Directly below the lower row of pins and extending over the upper ends of the compartments is a board, which runs entirely across the table, but only one-half of which is shown in the illustration.

Before describing the mode of play, an explanation of the cloth (as shown in fig. I) is necessary. This cloth is generally three feet in length by two in breadth, and is divided into 100 squares, arranged and divided as shown in the cut. The figures―$I.00, $5. 00, etc.―in the squares indicate the prizes which may be won by the players. The abbreviation "bl'k." stands for "blank," and indicates the losing numbers, on which no prize is paid. The letters "rep." are an abbreviation for "represent," and show that the player who happens to make the number in that square must, if he does not wish to lose his stake, double it and play again.

Those who wish to play, pay the proprietor a certain sum for the privilege of dropping two marbles down the board, one rolling through each of the gates C.C. The little spheres (d.d.) roll down the inclined plane, their course being deflected from point to point, by the metal pins until they finally come to rest in the compartments at the lower end, one on each side of the centre [sic] board. The operator then looks to see the numbers into which they have fallen. If the left hand marble has rolled into "0," the number of the right hand one only is taken. If the latter rolls into “0,” and the left hand one, into some compartment bearing a significant number, the entire amount is read as IO, 20, 30, 40, etc. If both numbers roll into the numbered compartments, both figures are read, as e. g. 56, 79, 84, etc.

The number made by the player having been thus learned, the cloth is inspected with a view to ascertaining the result of his play. If the number which he has made calls for a prize, the same is handed to him. If he has "drawn a blank," he has to content himself with his loss. If his number corresponds to a square containing the abbreviation "rep.," he may either lose the sum paid or double his stake and try again.

To show how utterly impossible it is for a chance player to win, it is only necessary to explain the very simple secret mechanism which enables the operator to send the marble into a losing compartment at his own will. If the reader will look at the diagram, 1, he will see a slender line running from the right hand set of numbered compartments along the entire length of the board, on its right hand side, and terminating near the gate (c.), its course being indicated by the line (b.b.). This line represents a stiff wire lever, placed below the board and entirely under the control of the manipulator. By working this lever he can raise a row of ten triangular metal points, marked a,a,a, all of which are covered by the board at the lower end of the table, and which are so arranged that one shall stand in front of each alternate compartment. When the marble strikes one of these points, as a matter of course, it inevitably glances off into one of the adjacent divisions. The peculiar beauty of the contrivance, as viewed from a gambler's standpoint, is the fact that the compartments in front of which the points are placed are inscribed with the winning numbers. The divisions into which the marbles are forced to roll invariably correspond to those numbers on the cloth which contain those words (so ominous to the greenhorn) "blank" or "represent."

In this, as in all similar games, the assistance of "cappers" is indispensable. The dupes who stake their money in good faith are never permitted to win, but unless somebody occasionally draws a prize, interest is certain to be supplanted by a sense of discouragement. It follows that confederates must be at hand. One of these will approach the table and after being recognized by the operator will buy a chance. At once the metal points are so placed that he has an even chance of winning and he perseveres until he draws a handsome prize. Ordinarily, however, the "capper" resorts to stratagem. Approaching a countryman, he offers to "divide risks" with him; i. e., to advance half the money and share equally in the gains or losses. As long as the "capper" and the "sucker" play together, they invariably lose. Should the dupe become disgusted with his "run of hard luck," the "capper" continues to play alone. The operator works the lever and his confederate soon wins a prize; the greenhorn (who always stands near, to await the issue) at once feels encouraged, and it usually requires little persuasion on the "capper's" part to induce him to make another venture.

Tivola: page 419.
George Mason and Co.: pages 123, 419-20, 451.

Jeff Smith