May 6, 2014

Soapy Smith's shoulder holster

SOAPY SMITH'S SHOULDER HOLSTER
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)







oapy Smith's shoulder holster is another artifact that I plan to take to the Wild West History Association Denver roundup in July. The story of this holster and how I came to possess it, is a story in of itself.

After the Klondike gold rush had passed and Skagway settled down, some of the residents started collecting up some of the early artifacts. Hotel entrepreneur, Harriet Pullen, collected and displayed artifacts in her Pullen House. When there were enough people lodged in the hotel she would give a talk in the hotel parlor amongst some of her treasured artifacts and tell the story of Skagway, Soapy Smith, and the gold rush.

Shoulder holster close-up
Note the nice stamp-work
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)

The pictured holster was most likely given to Harriet Pullen. for her gold rush museum, by J. M. Tanner, one of the vigilantes who was on the wharf the night Soapy was shot dead. Tanner became a deputy U.S. marshal, handling Soapy's belongings so it makes sense that he would have this, although he was supposed to have logged it with Soapy's estate for auction. He also donated other artifacts to the Pullen collection which will be discussed at a later date.


Shoulder holster close-up
Note the inked signature (center) "HSP" [Harriet S. Pullen]
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)
In 1954 the threat of losing an important historic jewel galvanized the community as residents rallied together to save the endangered Pullen Collection. Harriet Pullen had run her grand hotel until her death in 1947, and in more than 40 years of operation she had collected an enormous treasure trove of gold rush artifacts. Pullen's granddaughter reopened the hotel in 1950 but the collection had already begun to deteriorate. Bruce Black, park naturalist at Glacier Bay National Monument (GLBA), visited the Pullen House and found the hotel in a state of disrepair - he was particularly concerned with the artifact collection. Since the NPS had no official role in the city, all he could do was urge the Territory of Alaska or some other entity to take possession of the collection and care for it properly. His plea and those of many other concerned citizens were unheeded - the Pullen House closed for the last time in 1959 and the collection went to Lynnwood, Washington with its owner. Pullen's treasures were eventually sold piecemeal at auction, and the collection was lost to posterity.
- Legacy of the Gold Rush pages 53-55.


From 1959 until the early 1970s, the Pullen collection was on display in a building adjacent to a food pavilion. The owners of the property wanted to do some improvements and so evicted the Pullen collection. The owner of the collection at this time was Mary Kopanski, a great-niece of Harriet Pullen. Knowing the importance of the collection to Alaska, she gave the state the first option to purchase it for $200,000. They turned down the offer, which upset a whole lot of people in Alaska. The price was very fair. In fact, Mary made more than the $200,000 she offered to sell it for. In July 1973 a five day auction in Seattle, Washington sold off the collection piece-by-piece.


Shoulder holster
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)

My uncle Joesph Jefferson Smith, was the first in my family to learn of the action plans. He contacted his brother, my father, John Randolph ("Randy") Smith about it, and my father, my mother, and I made the trip to Seattle and attended all five days. The adventures I had attending that auction are a story in itself. My father passed on the shoulder holster as he had spent $6,000 already, just for the roulette table and there was the grave marker still awaiting sale. The holster, handcuffs, saps, and a few other Soapy Smith related items went to one high bidder, and that was the last time anyone had seen those items since. Who would guess that these items would once again surface for auction, and that the Smith family would be given a second chance to obtain them? In case the thought may have crossed your mind, yes, these items are the very same items that sold in 1973. The auction house tags and catalog numbers all match up with the ones I have in my collection.   

Shoulder holster
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)


I still need donations to cover the costs of my trip to Denver to put this item, and many other items, on display. You can read the story of this planned trip, as well as donate if you choose.







At scheduled intervals the Guards would exercise a neat maneuver and fire a volley into the air as Jeff would lift his hat and acknowledge the plaudits of the crowd. It was Soapy’s greatest hour.
— Rev. John Sinclair (Alias Soapy Smith), p. 522



MAY 6


1835: James Bennett begins publishing the New York Herald.
1851: The mechanical refrigerator is patented by Dr. John Gorrie.
1851: Linus Yale patents the clock-type lock.
1856: The Army from Fort Tejon and Fort Miller ride out to protect Keyesville, California from attacks by Yokut Indians.
1859: John Gregory discovers gold (Gregory's Gulch), “the richest square mile on earth,” near the city of Denver, Colorado.
1861: Arkansas is the ninth state to secede from the Union during the Civil War.
1868: The U.S. begins paying annuities to the Crow Indian tribes of Montana Territory.
1877: After defeating General Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Indian Chief Crazy Horse surrenders his people to the U.S. at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, whereas, Sioux Chief Sitting Bull leads 1,500 of his followers into Saskatchewan, Canada to ask protection from the Queen.
1882: Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act, which bars Chinese immigrants from the U.S. for 10 years.