April 18, 2014

lease donate.

(Click to donate)

April 5, 2014

There are so many in business here … who are involved with Jeff Smith and are coining money from the sporting element, that they willingly tolerate Smith’s influence in civic affairs. His word is the law!
Thomas Whitten, Skagway hotel proprietor
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 514


1676: Sudbury, Massachusetts is attacked by Indians.
1775: American revolutionaries Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, ride though the towns of Massachusetts giving the warning that "the British are coming."
1818: A regiment of Indians and blacks are defeated at the Battle of Suwann, in Florida, ending the first Seminole War.
1846: The telegraph ticker is patented by R. E. House.
1847: U.S. troops defeat almost 17,000 Mexican soldiers commanded by Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo, during the Mexican-American War.
1861: Colonel Robert E. Lee turns down an offer to command the Union armies during the Civil War, instead, joining the Confederacy.
1877: Charles Cros writes a paper that described the process of recording and reproducing sound. In France, Cros is regarded as the inventor of the phonograph. In the U.S., Thomas Edison gets the credit.
1895: New York State establishes free public baths.

April 16, 2014

"Fry Pan:" One method of hiding a hot poker deck.

"Fry Pan" Cold deck
(Click image to enlarge)

ig mitt" or "big hand," the slang Soapy Smith used to call a rigged poker game might have been one of his most common swindles in Denver, Colorado. In fact, there are at least 31 pages in Alias Soapy Smith that mention the swindle in operation.

Soapy did not write down or describe his methods, thus we do not know exactly how he dealt out his cheating poker hands. He surely knew the art of manipulating the Devil's paste-boards (deck of cards), however, the amount of times these "friendly games of poker" are mentioned in Alias Soapy Smith, it is obvious that this was an assembly-line set up, making money hand-over-fist, as fast as the gang could gather victims and trim them of their ready cash, and perhaps a check from their bank back home. This was not a show of dexterity, but a fast version of the big-store con, done in as little time as possible. The only difference between big mitt and robbing someone with a pistol, was that the victim, if taken properly, would never know he had been robbed. This production line larceny, milking the money from dupes as quickly as possible, from one game to the next, was set up in back rooms all around the lower business district of Denver. It is not unrealistic to imagine Soapy moving from building to building, game to game, playing his role in extracting the greenbacks from the prey. What was needed was the simplest, fastest method of convincing the marks that they held a sure-thing poker hand, and could not possibly lose. Their greed would do most of the work of encouraging them to bet heavily. All that was needed was for one of the Soap Gang to produce a better hand than that held by the victim being robbed.

Without much debate, the obvious choice is that Soapy introduced a "cold deck" into the game, a cold deck being a prearranged deck that would give the dupe a sure-thing hand, while giving another member f the Soap Gang, the winning hand. There are numerous way of getting a cold deck into Soapy's hands, but today's post is centered on Soapy's chore of getting rid of the "hot deck," the poker deck currently in use at the table.  

This is where a "Fry Pan" would possibly come into use. This secretly hidden device approximates the shape of a small frying pan with a cloth bag attached. In the description for its use, an author writes, "The Cold Decker would be attached to a strip of wide elastic pinned to the operator's back under his coat. The device would be placed between the operator's legs and used as a deposit for a deck of cards after a switch had been made. When the operator stood up later, the Cold Decker shot up the back of his coat, thus concealing the presence of the switched-out deck."


Rigged poker games

Big mit: pages 66-69, 87, 122, 126, 128-29, 190, 194-197, 268, 277-78, 284, 341, 351-55, 363-64, 366, 382, 402, 505.

He is the most gracious, kindhearted man I’ve met. To know him is to like him.
— William Saportas (Alias Soapy Smith, p. 590)


1818: The Senate ratifies the Rush-Bagot bill for an unarmed U.S.-Canadian border.
1862: Confederate President Jefferson Davis approves a conscription act for white males between 18 and 35.
1862: Slavery is abolished in the District of Columbia.
1881: The “Battle of the Plaza” takes place in Dodge City, Kansas when Bat Masterson arrives after receiving word that his brother Jim was being threatened by his saloon partner, Al Updegraff, and a bartender, A. J. Peacock. As Bat exited the train he saw both men and gunfire was exchanged. Al Updegraffe is wounded and Masterson is arrested. After paying an $8 fine, the Masterson brothers leave for Colorado. It is probably in Denver at this time that Bat meets and becomes a life-long friend of bad man “Soapy” Smith.
1882: John Allen shoots and kills Cockeyed Frank Loving in Trinidad, Colorado. The fight starts at the Imperial saloon and ends at Hammond's Hardware Store.
1884: Trick-shooter, Annie Oakley is billed as a “markswoman” in Columbus, Ohio while touring with the Sells Brothers Circus.
1900: The first book of postage two-cent stamps is issued.

April 5, 2014

Save Soapy Smith's historical integrity.


harity covereth a multitude of sins

                                                                            1 Peter 4:8

Take this important opportunity to cleanse yourself of all evil! Ok, truth be told, this is going to help Soapy more than it will help you, but helping Soapy is always a good thing, right?

I don't like to talk too much about my personal health or economic issues too often, but in this case I don't see any other way around it. I need assistance for a "good cause," in a historical sense. I'm on social security, meaning I live on a very tight budget. Many people these days live on tight budgets, but if you are a fan of Soapy's and you feel you can help him out, I'm hoping you will. Let me explain what I'm talking about.

If you've been a fan for a while then you may recall reading about my adventures with author Cathy Spude. She's the one who wants to see J. M. Tanner become more famous. Tanner was the vigilante turned deputy U.S. Marshal, after Soapy was shot dead on Juneau Wharf. Over the years, Cathy has told me several times that "Soapy is in the way," of Tanner's climb up the ladder of fame. I believe that Cathy believes that if she could knock Soapy off the "ladder," Tanner will take his place. Cathy has published the anti-Soapy book, "That Fiend In Hell": Soapy Smith in Legend. She tried her best but did not convince Skagway as many of them already know the real story, some even read my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, which is for sale in some of the stores there. Cathy could give talks all over Alaska and I would hardly flinch, but at the end of July 2014 she is scheduled to give a presentation on Soapy in his beloved Denver. As many of you know, Soapy ran the underworld of Denver for as long as 16-years. Over the decades, Denver has, for the most part, largely forgotten about Soapy Smith, and not one store carries my book! They say first impressions are lasting, and the last thing we Soapy fans need is a lasting impression that states that Soapy was "nothing more than a small-time crook," whose history is largely fiction.

Do you think Cathy Spude can hurt Soapy's history?

Cathy has already did some damage, in the way of at least one National Park Service book and recently, in an episode of Mysteries At The Museum. The answer is yes, she can hurt Soapy's history. A long term example, but not associated with Cathy, is the old story that Soapy was a cowboy. This has been proven not to be true, yet, I personally have had authors refuse to change their pre-published writings to correct the error.

I need to attend the Roundup of the Wild West History Association where Cathy Spude is speaking. I need to counter her mistakes and misleads. I cannot express to you how important this is. I need donations to be able to go. Please donate!

For more details please visit the Save Soapy Smith Fund page.

(Click to donate)

Thank you!

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.
— Maya Angelou

Tom "Soapy" Biss passes on.

Latest advertisement for the Days of 98 Show With Soapy Smith

om Biss passing.

Tom Biss as "Soapy" Smith
 (Click image to enlarge)

Long time friend, Ken Erickson, notified me that Thomas B. Biss, age 61, has passed away on March 28, 2014. Tom is one of the creators of The Soapy Smith Show in Skagway, Alaska, which later bought out the Days of 98 Show and became The Days of 98 Show With Soapy Smith. I met Tom in 1974 when I went to Skagway for the first time. He was still playing Soapy in the Eagles Hall. I saw Tom again previous to 1987 during the grand opening of his restaurant Soapy Smith's in Seattle, Washington.

Ken Erickson sent along the link of telling of Tom's passing in the online Stroller's Weekly.


It is with sadness that I note the “voice” of Strollers Weekly, Tom Biss, passed away today. He went painlessly and peacefully. After several years of dealing with a number of debilitating illnesses, he’s found his rest.

Tom was one of the four individuals who made up the collective voice of Strollers. For now, Strollers Weekly will quietly go into archive status.

Condolences for Tom may be sent to his mother at:

Donna Leibole
PO Box 364
Arivoca, AZ 85601

‘da Webmaster

PS: The Anchorage Daily News published Tom’s obituary 04/03/14

Thomas B. Biss died March 28th peacefully at Our Lady of Grace Home in Anchorage. His ashes will be spread at Pt. Woronzof where he often enjoyed the view of Sleeping Lady’.

Tom was born August 23, 1951 in Ithaca, N.Y. and moved to Alaska at age 9 months. He graduated from Anchorage East High in 1969. Tom was a gifted storyteller and actor. In the early 70s, along with Judy and Jim, he created the Soapy Smith show in Skagway. He was often heard reciting Robert Service to a captive audience. In the 80s, among his culinary achievements were the Great Alaska Salmon Bake in Anchorage and Bubba’s Steak House in Almira, WA. In the 90s Tom returned to Alaska, pursuing his passion for politics and public policy in Juneau.

Tom is survived by his mother, Donna and stepdad John Leibole; sister, Lee Ann Poro; nephew, Fran Byerly; half brother, Alison Biss; auntie, Anne Dalzell,; cousin, Bob Flansburgh; two step sisters, two step brothers; several nieces, nephews and cousins for whom Tom, ever the actor, loved playing Santa. Arrangements by Cremation Society of Alaska. Words of comfort can be shared with Tom’s family at www.alaskacremation.com

Strollers Weekly

Tom Biss

I have seen American citizens deliberately plundered before the marshal’s eyes in dens kept for that purpose…. I had to pay the marshal $20 after he had recovered stolen property, before he would make a return to the court commissioner, as he threatened to turn it back to the thieves unless I did so. [Lewis Levy, commissioner for parks, Tacoma, Washington.]
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 512.


1614: American Indian Pocahontas marries English colonist John Rolfe in Virginia.
1621: The Mayflower sails from Plymouth, Massachusetts, on a return trip to England.
1792: President George Washington casts the first presidential veto, against a measure for apportioning representatives among the states.
1806: Isaac Quintard patents the cider mill.
1827: James H. Hackett becomes the first American actor to appear abroad as he performs at Covent Garden in London, England.
1843: Queen Victoria proclaims Hong Kong to be a British colony.
1859: The unofficial state of Jefferson is formed by residents in the western part of Kansas Territory (present day Colorado).
1863: 140 cavalrymen route 200 Indians during the Battle of Spanish Fork in Utah.
1869: Outlaw Benjamin Bickerstaff and his men ride into Alvarado, Johnson County, Texas, firing weapons into the air and some store windows. Irate armed citizens shoot and kill Bickerstaff and several other members of the gang.
1869: Daniel Bakeman, the last surviving soldier of the U.S. Revolutionary War, dies at the age of 109.
1872: The first Cypress Hills Massacre occurs as American wolfers and Assiniboine Indians fight in the Sweet Grass Hills, Montana Territory, near the Canadian border.
1879: Frank Loving, a faro dealer in the Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas, shoots and kills Levi Richardson. Levi fires 5 shots at Loving, missing all 5 times. Loving fires hitting and killing Richardson with three shots. It is ruled as self-defense. Loving is shot and killed about a year later in Trinidad, Colorado.
1887: Anne Sullivan teaches a blind and deaf Helen Keller the meaning of the word "water" as spelled out in the manual alphabet.
1892: Walter H. Coe patents gold leaf in rolls.

March 26, 2014

Soapy Smith on Jeopardy

Would Soapy have made a good game show host?
(Click image to enlarge)

will take CON MEN for $400 please, Alex...

March 25, 2014 will be remembered and treasured within the family of Soapy Smith. The date, and its importance, is permanently included in the ON THIS DAY calender of events I publish at the bottom of each blog entry (scroll down). On the very popular TV game show, Jeopardy, Soapy's name came up in a question under the category Con Men. No one got the correct answer about where Soapy hid a little ball. The answer? Under a shell. As my good friend, Whit "Pop" Haydn write, "It pays to keep up with this page folks! It might one day help you on Jeopardy."  About five of my friends, all fans of Soapy, contacted me on Facebook and in emails, about the mention. You just know you made the big time when your name is mentioned on a TV game show...

Not the least amusing trait of “Soapy” Smith’s character is the eager interest which he takes in the preservation of law and order. The interest is, of course, not purely unselfish, for he realizes that crimes of violence create a sort of public opinion likely to be unhealthy for his own peaceful, if peculiar, industry. He feels that there are times when fine distinctions get confused, and therefore he is always foremost for law and order coupled with life, liberty and the pursuit of a sure thing. [San Francisco Examiner]
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 493.


1804: Congress divides the Louisiana Purchase into the District of Louisiana and the Territory of Orleans, and then orders the removal of all Indians east of the Mississippi to Louisiana.
1862: The Civil War, Battle of La Glorieta Pass, in New Mexico Territory, ends. It was called the "Gettysburg of the West." 1862: Union troops capture 50 Confederate soldiers in a fight near Denver, Colorado Territory.
1874: Rancher, John Iliff, brings in the body of C. M. Manchester, a cowboy who was killed by Indians near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
1879: A mob pulls Bill Howard, a convicted rapist, from his jail cell in Fort Scott, Kansas, hanging him from a lamp post, and then setting his corpse on fire.
1881: Outlaw Bill Ryan, of the James gang takes shelter from a storm in the White's Creek Store and Saloon near Nashville, Tennessee. He drinks heavily and is arrested. Jesse and Frank James learn of Ryan's arrest, and fearing he might talk to authorities, Jesse leaves Nashville with his family for Kansas City, Missouri, while Frank takes his family to Virginia.
1882: Frederic Remington's first nationally published illustration, “Cowboys of Arizona,” appears in Harper's Weekly.
1884: Charles Kusz is shot and killed through the upstairs window of his home Manzano, New Mexico. Kusz published The Gringo and the Greaser, a controversial newspaper that attacked numerous groups, including Catholics, rustlers, the education system, etc.
1885: Eastman Kodak (Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company) produces the first commercial motion picture film in Rochester, New York.
1910: Congress passes an amendment to the 1907 Immigration Act that bars criminals, paupers, anarchists, and carriers of disease from entering the U.S.

March 25, 2014

Soap Gang member "Slim Jim" Foster in 1923.

The con man Foster
Alias "Slim Jim," "The Kid," "W.E.," "J.H., and "W.F. Foster"
handcuffed to other members of the Soap Gang, aboard the steamer Cottage City
(Click image to enlarge)

oster was one of the men who led unfortunate miner John Stewart down the alley beside Jeff Smith's Parlor (Soapy Smith's saloon) in Skagway to a waiting three-card monte game, in which Foster grabbed Stewart’s gold sack and tossed it to the monte game operator, Van "Old-Man" Triplett who ran away with it.

After Soapy's death Foster was arrested with the other members of the Soap Gang and placed in a room on the second floor of the Burkhard hotel. A blood-thirsty mob was just outside clamoring for a lynching. Fearing for his life Foster escaped by crashing out a second story window where he was nearly hanged by those who caught him. At trial, he was fined $1,000 and sentenced to a year in prison with an additional six months for assaulting Stewart.

Upon returning to Denver, Foster worked for the Blonger confidence gang. He was arrested with Lou Blonger and nearly the entire Blonger gang in a huge sting operation on August 26, 1922. Prior to the raid, Foster was working with con men, J. K. Ross and Arthur Cooper in extracting $50,000 from C. H. Hubbell, who said he was arranging to hand over the entire sum when the three were arrested (Denver Post, September 6, 1922).

Foster was released on a $5,000 bond, dropped down from $11,000. He returned to the court on time, one month later (October 28, 1922) and had his trial. Upon being found guilty, Foster attempted to escape hiding in a locker. That information is included in a story on Foster published seven months later, in 1923.

Foster as he looked after 1898
Published in the Rocky Mountain News
August 27, 1922
(Click image to enlarge)

Bunko Man, Heavily Guarded, to Visit Dentist-Teeth Hurt

DENVER. May 17.—False teeth and jail victuals, according to the officials of the district attorney’s office, are the responsible for a court order issued today permitting J. H. Foster, convicted bunko man, to leave his cell at the county jail.

Foster is to start visiting a dentist to have a new plate made. He will be the first of the twenty convicted men to appear on the city’s streets since the trial.

“I’ve got to have a better fit, if I’m going to chew this jail grub,” is Foster’s complaint.

Foster, alias the Kid, according to Deputy Sheriff Jim Marshall, will be accompanied to the office of a dental specialist in the Metropolis building by an armed guard.

Special precautions are necessary, according to Marshall, because it was Foster who hid in a small closet the day the twenty bunko men were being led to their cells after the jury verdict had been returned.

Foster was missed from the line and a search was made for him immediately. He was found hiding in the locker, possibly intending to make a break for freedom before he was missed. Marshall declares that he is determined to keep close watch on the man to prevent any possible attempts at escape in the future.
Fort Collins Courier (Fort Collins, Colorado) 
May 18, 1923

I was not able to find any more information on Foster. 

"Slim Jim" Foster 
September 8, 2009
October 31, 2010

"Slim Jim" Foster: page 80, 92-93, 471, 475, 525-26, 554, 564-67, 569-70, 575-76, 579, 595.

You may lend “Soapy” Smith $100 or more at any time and be certain to get your money back with interest sooner or later, all without a scratch of the pen. [San Francisco Examiner]
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 493.


1634: Lord Baltimore creates the Catholic colony of Maryland.
1655: Catholic forces win a military victory over the colony of Maryland. The Puritans jail their Governor Stone.
1668: The first recorded horse race in America takes place.
1774: English Parliament passes the Boston Port Bill.
1776: The Continental Congress authorizes a medal for General George Washington.
1813: The frigate USS Essex flies the first U.S. flag in battle in the Pacific.
1856: A. E. Burnside patents the Burnside carbine.
1857: Frederick Laggenheim takes the first photo of a solar eclipse.
1865: The steamship General Lyon catches fire and sinks at Cape Hatteras, killing 400 people.
1865: Confederate forces capture Fort Stedman in Virginia, during the American Civil War.
1877: John Slaughter, a Cheyenne and Black Hills stagecoach driver, is shot and killed by Robert McKimie, of the outlaw Sam Bass Gang as they rob the stage outside of Deadwood, South Dakota. Also there is Sam Bass, Joel Collins, James “Frank” Towle, and either Bill Potts or James Berry. This is the first robbery of the Bass Gang. 17 months later bad man Soapy Smith would later witness the shootout that ended the life of Sam Bass in Round Rock, Texas.
1879: New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace orders the arrest of John Slaughter on suspicion of cattle rustling.
1879: The Army captures Cheyenne Indian Chief Little Wolf and 113 followers at Box Elder Creek, Montana Territory.
1886: Apache Indian Chief Geronimo meets with General Crook at Canon de los Embudos, Mexico to agree on terms of surrender.
1894: Jacob Coxey and his Army of the Commonweal begin their famous march to Washington. It is bad man Soapy Smith’s poem that is believed to be the suggestion idea for the march.
1898: The Intercollegiate Trapshooting Association is formed in New York City.
1900: The American Socialist Party is formed in Indianapolis.
1901: Cuba discloses a fear of annexation by the U.S.
1902: Irving W. Colburn patents the sheet glass drawing machine.
1905: Confederate battle flags captured during the American Civil War are returned to the Southern states where they came from.
2014: A question involving Soapy Smith appeared on the TV game show Jeopardy. The category was “con men.” No one got the correct answer about where he hid a little ball--under a shell.

March 23, 2014

U.S. Versus Jefferson R. Smith

(Click image to enlarge)

n Saturday June 25, 1898 Soapy Smith assaulted a prospector named F. R. Staples. There is no other known information of the incident minus the above court paperwork. It appears on page 520 of Alias Soapy Smith. You have to wonder how many incidences took place that were never recorded. It was definitely not easy for victims to make a legal complaint against Soapy and the gang. First, one had to fight a law man. They probably made themselves scarce after each con. To file a complaint, a victim had to go over to Dyea, five miles away. Once filed, the corrupt U.S. Deputy Marshal Sylvester S. Taylor was required to find, serve, and arrest Soapy. Being arrested was expected if Soapy expected Taylor to remain on the job. It is a little surprising how fast this case came together, but that may be due to Soapy's notoriety at that late date. So late that Soapy has but 13-days to live.

Below is the text of the court record pictured above.

In United States Commissioners Court for the Dist. of Alaska at Dyea.

United States vs. Jefferson Smith. [one undistinguished abbreviated word] sec 537 [three undistinguished abbreviated word]

June 25, 1898
Complaint charging defendant with the crime of assault and battery sworn to by Staples filed, and warrant issued and placed in the hands of S. S. Taylor U.S. Deputy Marshal for service.

June 25, 1898
Defendant arrested and brought before the court and arraigned. Sworn and Appeared by U.S. Deputy Marshal A. J. Daly, and the defendant appeared by his attorneys W. R. O'Donnell and R. D. Weldon.

June 28, 1898
Defendant pleads not guilty and asks for continuation of said court until 2 o'clock p.m. Tuesday June 28, 1898.

June 28, 1898
Marshal makes motion of warrant which is received and filed. Upon request of defendent court continued until 2 o'clock p.m. June 28, 1898.

June 28, 1898
2 o'clock p.m. The prosecuting witness appears and refuses to prosecute this case, and pays the cost and the court is duly dismissed.

C. A. Sehlbrede, U.S. Commissioner.
Court costs $1.95 Paid.



W. R. O'Donnell advertised his attorney firm with R. D. Weldon in the pages of the Daily Alaskan. Their office was located in the Occidental Hotel. O'Donnell was made the solicitor for Soapy, meaning that he was Soapy attorney although deceased. It was O'Donnell who gave Reverend Sinclair the supposed Soapy Smith derringer.
Rev. John Sinclair also attended the inquest and witnessed sections of the autopsy. In his diary for Saturday, July 9, 1898, he wrote that he went to the inquest for awhile, “taking my camera along to get a picture. But Mr. O’Donnell, solicitor for the deceased, had had U. S. Commissioner Sehlbrede order that no photos be taken.” When the adjournment for lunch came, however, O’Donnell came to Sinclair and asked him to “conduct a funeral service for Smith next Monday, promising to pay me well for it.” Rev. Sinclair “complied” but refused payment.
When he insisted, I told him I would much prefer some relic such as Soapy’s small derringer pistol which he always carried with him in a holster concealed under the waistband of his trousers. O’Donnell at once agreed he would secure the derringer for me. I am happy to have it as there is no doubt it will be an interesting souvenir and much sought after.
O’Donnell later “came quietly” to Sinclair and said that because he “was a clergyman,” he could take photographs for his “own private use. “So,” wrote Sinclair, “I have negatives of the corpse, one very lifelike with eyes open, one showing the breast exposed and surgeons conducting the post mortem and the third showing the bullet wounds.
Although his name is not listed in the newspaper account, three of Soapy's attorney's were among the eight people who attended the burial, so it is highly probable O'Donnell was one of them.

R. P. Weldon was in charge of the estate finances and monies collected. He was most likely one of the eight attendees at the burial as well.

F. R Staples: page 520 
W. R. O'Donnell: page 542-43, 557
R. D. Weldon: page 544

It is true that if you go up against his game you will certainly lose your money, but it is a process of painless extraction. I may as well acknowledge an imperfect sympathy for those who let themselves be swindled in the persuasion that they have themselves a sure thing.  [San Francisco Examiner]
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 493.


1792: The Humane Society of Massachusetts is incorporated.
1813: The first raw cotton-to-cloth mill is founded in Waltham, Massachusetts.
1821: The Philadelphia College of Apothecaries establishes the first pharmacy college.
1822: The city of Boston, Massachusetts is incorporated.
1836: The siege of the Alamo begins during the Texas Revolution, in San Antonio, Texas.
1839: The first express service in the U.S. is organized between Boston, Massachusetts and New York City by William F. Harnden.
1847: Mexican General Santa Anna is defeated at the Battle of Buena Vista in Mexico by U.S. troops under General Zachary Taylor.
1858: The U.S. Senate approves statehood for Kansas.
1861: President Lincoln secretly enters Washington D.C. to take his office after an assassination attempt in Baltimore, Maryland.
1861: Texas is the 7th state to secede from the Union previous to the Civil War.
1870: The state of Mississippi is readmitted to the Union after the Civil War.
1874: Walter Winfield patents a game called sphairistike, later known as lawn tennis.
1875: J. Palisa discovers asteroid #143 (named “Adria”).
1877: Mormon Elder John Lee is executed at the site of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, twenty years previous, for his part in the murder of a wagon party heading to California.
1882: An illegal posse, led by Wyatt Earp out for revenge, has a shootout at Iron Spring, Arizona Territory, with men thought to be the “cowboy’s gang” of Curly Bill Brocius. Earp claims he shot and killed Brocius but later reports indicate the “cowboys” were actually miners, each party believing the other was bad. One of the posse members is “Texas Jack” Vermillion, who later becomes a member of the Soapy Smith gang in Denver, Colorado.
1883: Two people are killed by Indians at Point of the Mountain, Arizona Territory.
1883: Alabama is the first state to enact an antitrust law.
1886: Charles Hall completes his invention of aluminum.
1889: President Harrison opens Oklahoma for colonization.
1896: The Tootsie Roll is introduced by Leo Hirshfield.
1904: The U.S. acquires control of the Panama Canal for $10,000,000.
1905: The Rotary Club is founded in Chicago, Illinois.
1910: The first radio contest is held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

March 16, 2014

Soapy Smith in Opera

The Color of Gold
Preacher Finias Lynch, played by David Miller, faces
off with saloon owners Ellson Babcock and Belinda,
played by Sylvain Demers and Mary Catherine Moroney
Photo courtesy of Sam Harrel/News-Miner
(Click image to enlarge)

oapy Smith in Opera?

FAIRBANKS — The rich history of Interior Alaska’s gold rush past is now set in song in an opera making its world premiere in Fairbanks.

“The Color of Gold,” composed by Emerson Eads and written by Cassandra Tilly, tells the story of the frantic blitz of miners who converged on the Interior in search of the precious metal, resulting in the founding of Fairbanks and its growth from boomtown to thriving city. The production is produced by Opera Fairbanks in conjunction with the 2014 Arctic Winter Games cultural events and debuts tonight in the Pioneer Park Theatre in the Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts.

The opera tells the story of John Turner and his family, who come North in hopes of striking it rich. What they are greeted with are the beginnings of an era filled with fellow miners and saloon girls, businessmen and scoundrels, and hopes and dreams set amid the crushing realities of pioneer life in Alaska.

“It’s been really rewarding to do this,” said Tilly, who wrote the libretto, or text portion, of the opera. “It’s filled a personal goal for me in that I’ve gotten to bring an idea to life on stage. It’s been a fascinating process. I think it’s great to have an opera based on and inspired by Fairbanks.”

For that inspiration, Tilly drew upon her love of history and nonfiction books chronicling Alaska’s gold rush past. Many of the characters are loosely based on real life pioneers, including the famed E.T. Barnette, Felix Pedro, Soapy Smith and Klondike Kate. Others are creations of Tilly’s imagination, such as the characters of Abigail and Belinda — two pioneer women dealing with vastly different circumstances.

“The big trigger was looking at my daughter, who was about 6 then when I started writing this, and I started thinking about options open to women in a gold rush town,” Tilly said. “If you didn’t have a husband, there wasn’t much open to you.”

An opera is born

Tilly, who is a founding member of Opera Fairbanks, had been considering writing an opera based on the city’s past. About two years ago, she approached the board of directors of Opera Fairbanks and pitched her idea. They gave her the go ahead, and she started the process of putting her ideas down on paper at nights and on weekends when she wasn’t involved with her career as an attorney with the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

As opera depends on music, she enlisted Eads’ help to compose the music. Like Tilly, Eads’ musical prowess was known to Opera Fairbanks, and about a year ago they commissioned him to compose the music.

“I was finishing up graduate recital work and was in ‘Carmen’ last year, so I worked like crazy until the beginning of November getting a finished version I could show,” Eads said. “The whole time I was in collaboration with Cassie. I started in August, by the end of November I was editing and by December had a full vocal score and orchestral score and we started rehearsals in February. The combined effect was kind of colossal.”

To help visualize his efforts, Eads started watching the television series “Deadwood,” which tells the story of the fictional city of Deadwood, S.D., and how it grew from a railroad camp to a pioneer town. “That gave me the kind of character sketch of the types of people that Cassie may have been writing about. Anytime I had questions, I called Cassie. She was huge wealth of information.”

Musically, Eads spared nothing on the performers, opting for big orchestral pieces requiring big performances. “I figured, basically, I was going to be writing in a style of what I consider the whole gold rush effort to be — the westward dream of moving North. I’m honestly overwhelmed by the opportunity to do this with the fabulous musicians who are putting so much into it. It’s a phenomenal honor.”

Bringing 'Gold' to life

With Eads and Tilly in collaboration on the music and libretto, the next step was finding the right director. For that, Eads reached out to Cindy Oxberry of New York, who he knew through their experiences together during the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

Oxberry told Eads he had to convince Opera Fairbanks to let her do it, and when she got the phone call offering the job, she took it.

“Emerson and I have a great relationship, and I had gotten to know him through Festival,” Oxberry said. “He wanted me to come, and I did it for him. And I’m a big history nerd. It was easy for me to get into the history of Fairbanks and do research. I love reading about all of this. When you go in the history books and you can actually read about all these people who your draw as your sources of inspiration, I say yippee.”

Oxberry has a vast background in the world of theater and opera as actor, performer and now director, and she drew on that in assembling a team to recreate the city’s pioneer look on stage. She researched archival records of Fairbanks’ past and created gold rush-era signs and set designs that recreate the vintage look of an early mining community. Even real pioneers of Fairbanks will be involved in the production as part of the set includes images and photos from gold rush days that will be projected onto the stage.

“This is a historical opera about here,” she said. “Who gets to do that? Not many directors get to do that. You’re the first person to put your stamp and image on it and I get to put that on stage, and that’s very exciting.

“I absolutely love what I do,” Oxberry said. “I’m lucky to be able to say that I earn my living doing what I love.”

Daily News-Miner.com

“Soapy” Smith is not a dangerous man, and not a desperado. He will fight to very good purpose if he must, but he is not in the least quarrelsome. Cool in the presence of danger, absolutely fearless, honorable in the discharge of those obligations which he recognizes, generous with his money, and ever ready with a helping hand for a man or woman in distress, he bitterly resents the imputation that he is a thief or vagrant. [San Francisco Examiner]
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 493.


1621: Samoset, a native Indian from the Monhegan tribe in Maine, walked into the Plymouth settlement (later Plymouth, Massachusetts), and greeted the occupants.
1802: Congress establishes the West Point Military Academy in New York.
1836: The Republic of Texas approves a constitution.
1850: The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is published.
1861: Arizona votes to leave the Union during the Civil War.
1861: Sam Houston resigns as governor of Texas over the state's secession to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Later, in 1876, the parents of bad man Soapy Smith, make Texas their home.
1871: The State of Delaware enacts the first fertilizer law.
1874: John Younger is killed during a gun battle with lawmen near Monegaw Springs, Missouri. John’s brother, Jim was with him but unhurt.
1881: a posse in Tombstone, Arizona, consisting of “Buckskin Frank” Leslie, “Doc” Holiday, Bat Masterson, and Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp, attempts to find suspected stage robbers, Bill Leonard, Harry Head, and Jim Crane. Masterson is a long-time friend of bad man Soapy Smith.
1882: The Senate approves a treaty allowing the United States to join the Red Cross.
1883: Susan Hayhurst graduates from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. She was the first female graduate of pharmacology.
1903: Judge Roy Bean, known as the only "Law West of the Pecos," in Langtry, Texas, dies in San Antonio, Texas by over indulgence in alcohol.