September 22, 2015

Is this Soapy Smith and his brother Bascomb

(Click image to enlarge)


Full card showing photograph

Jeff Smith collection
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I cannot find my source, but long ago I found an author who made the claim that this stereo-card shows bad man "Soapy" Smith and his younger brother Bascomb aboard a Northern Pacific train "heading to the Klondike." The train is most likely heading to Seattle, Washington where those heading to Alaska and then the Klondike, would board a steamer.

So is this Soapy and Bascomb? It could be. It sort of looks like it could be them, and Soapy did go to Washington numerous times, but unfortunately, there is no provenance.

A friend made the comment that the gentleman I think might be "Bascomb" actually looks a little like gang member John L. Bowers.

"It is popularly believed Reid killed Smith, but those claiming to know assert Murphy fired the fatal shots."
— Will Clayson
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 550.


1789: U.S. Congress authorizes the office of Postmaster General.
1862: U.S. President Lincoln issues the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It states that all slaves held within rebel states would be free as of January 1, 1863.
1886: Famed lawman Bat Masterson has an altercation with a man named Bagsby inside The Exchange saloon in Denver, Colorado. Masterson strikes Bagsby, who draws a pistol and shoots Masterson in the leg. Neither men wish to make a complaint and no one is arrested. Masterson is a friend of bad man “Soapy” Smith’s.
1891: Sak, Fox, and Potawatomi lands are open for settlement in Oklahoma Territory.

September 20, 2015

Bascomb Smith burns the Avenue Hotel, Belton, Texas 1883.

The Avenue Hotel (tinted) can be seen in this cropped enlargement
Courtesy of Commons Wikimedia
(Click image to enlarge)

n this day September 20th

1883: 14-year-old Bascomb Smith, younger brother of bad man Soapy Smith, tries to burn down the Avenue Hotel in Belton, Texas, because they would not hire him.

1888: Soapy Smith donates funds towards victims of a yellow fever epidemic in Jacksonville, Florida.

There is no other new information regarding Bascomb trying to burn down the Avenue Hotel in Belton, Texas, but I did locate a nice drawn map and a photograph I do not recall seeing in the past.

The map below shows all of Belton in 1881. The cropped portion at the top of this article shows the location of the Avenue Hotel.

1881 map of Belton, Texas
The Avenue Hotel (tinted) can be seen in the center
Courtesy of Common Wikimedia
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Belton, Texas 1883
The gentlemen in the photograph are veterans of the 1836 battle of San Jacinto
Courtesy of Barnes and Noble
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Sand Hills "Hospital"
Also known as "Shotgun Quarantine."
Courtesy of 500 Years of Discovering Florida
 (Click image to enlarge)

The yellow fever outbreak in Jacksonville, Florida scared the region severely. In 1888 medical science had not found the reason or cure for yellow fever. The fever is carried by mosquitoes, but this was not known until 1901. The mosquito problem in Florida was not eradicated until the 1950s. In 1888 it was believed that the fever was air-born and that the setting of tar fires might burn away the germs floating around. People in Jacksonville even took to shooting in the sky to kill the germs. Of the 5,000 cases, 427 people died.

The detailed history of "Soapy" Smith shows that he was very well-known for his charitable works. In this particular time of need he gave $10 to a fund, which is equivalent of forking over $332.06 today. You can read more about the event at the website 500 Years of Discovering Florida, 1888 Epidemic in Jacksonville.

1) 1888 Epidemic in Jacksonville. 500 Years of Discovering Florida

Belton, Texas: pages 32, 57, 82-83, 121-22, 216, 397.

"I never knew anything about Jeff Smith only what my husband had said [about] his being the king of the gamblers, and that naturally made me afraid of him. Well, you remember that night when Parson Uzzell was giving out loaves of bread to all the hungry people? I went to the [People’s] Tabernacle one night, but I got there too late. Every loaf of bread was gone, and not a penny in the house. I don’t know what I was doing only standing alone when a gentleman came close up to me and … pushed a piece of paper in my hand, and before I could even talk, he said: Take that, lady, it will get you all the bread you want."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 329.


1858: Camp Walbach is established to protect immigrants traveling through Cheyenne Pass between present day Nebraska and Wyoming.
1875: Cruz Vega a Mexican mail carrier helped waylay and murder the Reverend F. J. Tolby as the minister was riding between Elizabeth and Cimarron, New Mexico Territory. Cruz is arrested but released for lack of evidence. One month later, Reverend O. P. Mains persuaded bad man Clay Allison to force a confession from Cruz, which he did on October 30, 1875. Cruz implicated Manuel Cardenas and then Cruz Vega was hung from a pole. On November 10th masked men stormed the jail and shot Cardenas to death.
1877: Lincoln County War combatants, Dick Brewer, Charles Bowdre, and Doc Scurlock arrive in Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory with warrants for the arrest of Jesse Evans and his gang.
1878: A stagecoach is robbed by unknown outlaws near Cold Springs, Wyoming.
1881: Chester A. Arthur becomes the 21st president of the U.S. President James A. Garfield had died the day before.
1883: 14-year-old Bascomb Smith, younger brother of Soapy Smith, tries to burn down the Avenue hotel in Belton, Texas, because they would not hire him.
1884: The Equal Rights Party is formed in San Francisco, CA.
1888: Soapy Smith donates funds towards victims of a yellow fever epidemic in Jacksonville, Florida.

June 10, 2015

Compare the photographs of McGinty and Sylvester the petrified man.

"The Gunslinger Mummy"
Mummies Alive
Smithsonian Channel
(Click image to enlarge)

re McGinty and Sylvester the same?

1 Photographs show the two petrified figures to be nearly identical. Photographs of other petrified figures and mummies vary greatly from one another.
2 Both end up in the state of Washington in 1895.
3 Beyond the sourced facts of McGinty, is a separate theory of mine in which I believe I may know the identity of the corpse.

"It has to be him."

During my interview session, there is a moment when I say "it has to be him." They left out what I said seconds before. What I said, in full is,

"What are the odds of two petrified men,
that look nearly identical, ending up in
the same state, in the same year? It has to be him."

Posted by Smithsonian Channel on Monday, June 8, 2015

Posted by Saloon Media on Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Great animation, minus the voice over.

On June 7, 2015 The Mummy Gunslinger, the first episode of Mummies Alive aired in the U.S. I was hired as a "talking head" (documentary expert) to speak about my research on Soapy Smith's petrified man McGinty. I was filmed during a 5-6 hour interview in which I discussed the facts and evidence from my book Alias Soapy Smith. Although I enjoyed what they showed of my recorded dialogue, it left out so much. Although what I gave them is well researched, sourced, and more entertaining, they chose to leave it out, leaving me to look as though all I had was an old photograph. I decided it was time to share the whole story.


In the early 1970s my older brother Greg took a trip across the U.S. on a bus. One stop was in Seattle, Washington where he mailed us a postcard of Sylvester from the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. At that time it did not cross anyone's mind to compare the known photograph of McGinty and Sylvester. Like most parents, mine saved Greg's postcards in a huge photo catch-all box. Around 1990 I suddenly woke up from a dream, in which I had compared the two photos side-by-side. How does something like that happen, when it never crossed my mind while awake? I had not seen either photo in years! I jumped out of bed and spent the rest of the night going through the photo boxes until I found them. My dream was amazingly accurate.      


Comparing McGinty to Sylvester
(A clearer copy can be seen in Alias Soapy Smith)

The McGinty photograph was taken in Denver, Colorado (1892-94) and a copy was sent to his wife in St. Louis. Unfortunately, the photographer used flashlight photography (link will open a new window to post on this subject) as the subject was indoors in one of Soapy’s auction swindle stores, with low lighting. The photographer pointed one or more flashlights directly at McGinty and he appears white-washed. Although McGinty appears to be white, the newspaper descriptions state that it is “darkish in color.” The physical appearance between McGinty and Sylvester is nearly identical. For decades I have searched through photographs of petrified bodies and never have I seen two that look so similar as these two do. What are the odds that two petrified men that look so much alike, would end up in the same state, in the same year?

photographs of petrified bodies
Note how un-similar they are to one another.
What are the odds that two identical petrified men that look so much alike,
would end up in the same state, in the same year?
(Click image to enlarge)


Fantasy portrayal of the discovery

Note: the Creede Candle newspaper published their news in a very sensational and exaggerated manner. It is probable that Soapy Smith paid the reporter for such a thrilling report. Every word should not be taken as historical fact.

… on April 9, 1892 the Creede Candle reported how J. J. Dore had been digging about seven miles southeast of Creede, on a ridge east of the Rio Grande, when

He came to a piece of stone shaped like a man’s foot protruding from a bank of soil. There were evidences of a recent slide or falling away of the dirt which had brought the foot to view. His curiosity aroused, Dore used his pick and shovel and revealed enough of the body to convince him that he had found the body of a man turned to stone.

He hastened back to town, got an assistant [George W. Lewis and a Creede Herald reporter,] … engaged one of Hoover’s transfer wagons … and returned to the place. The four feet of soil over the body was removed and the promise of a perfect body fully verified. The curiosity was loaded into the wagon and brought to Jimtown where it was placed in [the] Hotel Vaughn….

In lifting out the body, the left arm and two of the toes were broken off [perhaps newspaper sensationalism? The photo of McGinty shows no damage].

It is probable that this is the most perfect and interesting petrifaction ever found. The man in life had been a well proportioned and perfect specimen of manhood. Every detail of flesh and muscle is shown in the stone just as it was in life. There is no sign of emaciation…. The muscles are as round and finely formed and the surface has the mark of the skin as well as a living man. It is a marvelous reality and eclipses the Cardiff Giant and Solid Muldoon attempts to design a petrified body as much as the real form eclipses a rag baby.

What is the history of this man? … There are proofs of a violent death. The throat has been cut by a knife, a great gash is down the right cheek, the forehead at the line of the hair had been struck with a heavy instrument [undecipherable] slash of a knife, and the arm and breast are badly mutilated…. These wounds were fresh when the body was interred and speak plainly of Indian butchery or fatal feud with fellow man.

That the man had been buried by white friends was evident from the posture and the hands crossed on breast.

It is believed that he was a member of Fremont’s first expedition, which passed up this way in the winter of 1842 … when all but the pathfinder and three men perished of privation or at the hands of Indians. They left a trail of dead behind them, and this brave fellow, who now is a sight for the curious, may have been one of that unfortunate band which penetrated the unknown West and made the oncoming of civilization possible.

No one can tell who or what he may have been. His grave was where no man would likely go and where perhaps no man had been until Dore wandered that way to explore the mineral resources of Creede.

The discoverer has been coining money from his find. It was laid in a box in a room of the tent hotel and there seen by hundreds, who paid 25 cents for the privilege. Dore was offered and refused $5,000 cash for him, and will travel with it unless he can get his price.

The News correspondent in Creede wrote that the petrified man, christened McGinty, was said to weigh nearly 400 pounds and was almost 6 feet tall. “The top of the head has the appearance of having been scalped.… The body is a bluish gray and is hard as a rock.” The Denver Times said it was “prematurely bald … of a darkish color.” A Mr. Baker offered Dore $6,000 for the body but was refused. The following day the News correspondent claimed to have had small pieces of the carcass analyzed. With a report that the petrified man was nearly a third iron, the reporter called the find a fake. People, though, apparently took no notice. They wanted to see McGinty.

As a news flash on the day of publication, the following was published in the “Around the Camp” section of the Candle:

Jeff Smith has purchased McGinty, the petrified man, and will travel with him. The price was $3,000. Jeff paid the money this morning and went down to get possession. Four others claimed ownership, and it required some lively discussion with fists and guns to get away with it.

The original lease paperwork for McGinty
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

The Creede Herald jumped into the excitement with news that the petrified man had been stolen, recovered, and purchased by Jeff Smith.

Happy Finale - Compromised With the Owners - Jeff Smith Purchases the
Remains and They Are Shipped to Pueblo. …

On Monday evening last in the … HERALD I had not only the pleasure but the satisfaction of publishing the discovery of the remains of A PETRIFIED MAN, and the corroboration of its identity, I am still further happy to state, was substantiated by the opinion of all the intelligent men of the camp of Creede.

But what was my astonishment this morning when I discovered the fact that the restaurant of Mr. Vaughan was surrounded in broad daylight by SEVEN ARMED MEN, who demanded possession of the petrified man.

I could hardly realize the truthfulness of the rumor, but individual investigation enabled me to learn that it was a fact. The helpless owner, as well as those who had been associated with him in the exhibiting this phenomenal freak of nature, were absolutely paralyzed. The box containing the form … was spirited away. This morning they made representations to Mr. Jefferson Smith that they had purchased THE STIFF from Mr. Dore for an almost inconsiderable sum and as it was supposed to be as valuable as the product of the Last Chance, Amethyst or any other mine in Creede, offered it to Mr. Jeff Smith for three thousand dollars.

This gentleman is of a speculative turn of mind, anticipating future results as cleverly as Mother Shipton prognosticated them. Knowing the advantages the possession of such a relic of the past would be in his hands at the forthcoming [Chicago] World’s Fair, he gave his note for that amount at once, which was honored this afternoon, and the discoverers of the PETRIFIED MAN, Mr. J.J. Dore and Geo. Lewis, went away happy. The important feature of this whole transaction lies in the fact that Mr. Smith was innocent of the manner in which the body had been secured and the exercise of implicit confidence he had in the gentlemen with whom he negotiated. They are not in town to-day, … [and] on this afternoon’s train the investor [Jeff] … left … with his property in his hands not a bit disgruntled.

To a HERALD reporter he said: “Mohan, I don’t begrudge having invested my three thousand dollars in this piece of stone because from all the evidences I have secured I am implicitly convinced that it is a genuine case of petrifaction and that not only myself and the medical world will be benefited by my exhibition of it, but [also] the entire civilized world, because of its anatomical perfections. I myself, rough as I appear, may not seem to be a book worm, but when others are asleep, I am awake and I honestly believe THIS IS NOT A FAKE. The money I have invested is nothing to me because I know I will quadruple the same in one week’s exhibition of the remains in the city of Pueblo alone. I bought the substance in good faith. I have seen the original owners and they have been paid the money required for his possession and I am only too glad to be the owner of it now. I take it away with me on the train to-day and with it my best wishes for the future of Creede, as I am deeply interested in many valuable mining properties here which, when I perfect my arrangements in Denver with reference to this, CREEDE’S WONDER, I will return to the camp with the money derived from my purchase and put … holes in the ground enough to at least stake one hundred honest miners and give them a fair chance to earn a living. I am sorry I must go away so hastily, but my lite [my “guiding light”?] has always been that he who acts quickly, acts best; good bye. If you have no kind words to say of me in my departure, say nothing at all.”

At that moment the whistle of the locomotive blew, announcing the departure of the lucky Jefferson Smith, whom he did not envy, but regretted after three months residence in Creede that he was not a part owner in as rich a mine as the successful Smith had invested his money in.

In the Herald Jeff said he planned on returning to Creede, but he does so only once, perhaps, over a month later and then in response to a monumental disaster.

Newspapers state that Jeff purchased McGinty, but the only surviving original document for the transaction is a lease for one month. At the end of this period, the body was to be returned to Dore. The lease is handwritten, apparently by J. J. Dore, on stationary from W. A. Thompson & Company, a saloon at the junction of Main and Cliff streets in Creede. It is signed by Dore and “J. R. Smith” and dated April 15, 1892.

The agreement made and entered into this the [15th] day of April A.D. 1892 by and between J.J. Dore party of the first part and Jeff. Smith party of the 2nd part.

Witnessith that I, J. J. Dore party of the first part have this day leased to the said party of the second part — a supposed petrified Human body the same being found by me on the 9 day of April A.D. 1892, about 7 miles east of Creed[e] Colorado, for the purpose of exhibition to the public for the term of one month from date.

In consideration for which the said party of the second part agrees to and bind[s] himself [and] his Heirs or [?] to pay to the party of the first part, one-half of the net proceed after paying all nesessary [sic] expences [sic] and at the expiration of the time above mentioned to turn the body over [to] the party of the first part in as good condition as when received except in case of unavoidable accident, and to permit no one to disfigure or mutilate or in any way injure the said body.

Witness J. J. Dore    J. R. Smith

This agreement is an exercise in self-protection. It documents that Jeff leased “a supposed petrified human body” from its discoverer and puts Jeff at just about the furthermost possible remove from the petrified body while still giving him legal possession of it. This way if the body were ever proved a fake and charges brought against Jeff, evidence would show that he had been defrauded. That claim might summon hoots and laughter in a Denver courtroom, but the agreement was evidence for the claim and could bring an immediate dismissal—or no charges in the first place.

Why it was made public that Jeff purchased McGinty for $3,000 is not known, but the day’s events help to explain. Excitement prevailed. The Candle reported “lively discussion with fists and guns,” and the Herald reported the body spirited away, later guarded by seven armed men, and finally, taken from town by Jeff. Had Dore and Lewis tried to sell “the man” to others? Had others taken him by force? Did Jeff and the Soap Gang have to retrieve McGinty? Were these events staged to sensationalize McGinty? The strange doings and speed of events make one or more or all of these possibilities probable. Other evidence suggests a high pressure conclusion to the transaction. The Herald reported the discoverers and owners of McGinty were no longer in town, giving the impression they were eager to be off to enjoy their fortune. More likely, however, is that they were told to leave town and not come back.

Was Dore actually the owner of the petrified man, or was he an actor in a scheme? Not at all unlikely, and in fact entirely possible, is that no money, or at least not much, changed hands because Jeff had owned the petrified man in the first place, had employed men to bury it, find it, bring it in, display it, and sell it (or lease it) to Jeff.

More evidence suggests that Jeff manufactured the petrified man. Judge Belford, Jeff’s first chair lawyer in the Col. Arkins trial, is linked to the “Solid Muldoon” hoax. Belford knew the Pueblo man who had buried the creature near Pueblo in 1877 for P. T. Barnum and George Hull. As a story to tell to pass time, Belford could have told Jeff of the failed affair. And no doubt Jeff knew the story of the Cardiff Giant and the many tens of thousands of dollars it had earned for its owners. That event was linked to the Muldoon story. Those frauds had occurred in the late 1860s and 1870s. Now in 1892, prodded by the excitement out in Fresno, California, over an apparently petrified desperado found in a cave, the time might have seemed right for a reincarnation of a petrified man phenomenon. This time, though, it would not be the form of a man sculpted from stone or shaped in molds. It would be a real man. Such a product would not be hard to come by. Apparently at least one firm in Merced, California, was in the business of putting human bodies into a state of petrifaction.

Subsequent evidence shows McGinty to be the product of 19th century cadaver preservation practices. He no more came to reside in that hillside in 1842 than the other petrified men came to their resting spots years before. McGinty was put there in 1892. The planning, the execution, and the exploitation all bear the mark of a showman with the skills of a P. T. Barnum, or in other words, Jeff R. “Soapy” Smith. Although entirely characteristic of him, it is also the most bizarre and elaborate escapade Jeff had yet managed. The scripting even bears the profundity of flair so characteristic of Jeff. Even the struggle for ownership of the stony corpse, in which Jeff won out, could have been part of the script or added to it by creative playwright Jeff R. Smith. Needing to keep several paces from the center of attention, Jeff arranged for a third-party rival to purchase the find, showing how Jeff had nothing to do with its discovery or sale because he had to struggle to purchase it. People would not have believed the petrifaction genuine had Jeff hauled the entity into camp, claiming he had found it, not with Jeff’s sleight-of-hand reputation. His having to struggle for possession in the end is the final degree of Jeff’s separation from McGinty.


Dore’s initial exhibition of McGinty in a tent adjoining the Vaughn Hotel was part of the plan of disassociation. The price of 25¢ for admission to view McGinty was a ruse. The real money came from those waiting in line, wiling away time by playing Jeff’s games of chance conveniently set up to entertain the throngs. Rather than having to search out victims for his games, they came to him, or rather, to Dore’s McGinty. Probably Dore was allowed to keep a portion of this admission money, perhaps even half, out of which he paid the Vaughn Hotel a fee for “use of the hall.”

One account has McGinty moved to Jeff’s Orleans Club and arranged under kerosene lamps with their flues painted black and placed in a draft so they would flicker. The account also has Jeff lecturing over the body to throngs of people. While no evidence shows that Jeff ever delivered lectures on McGinty, given Jeff’s personality and speaking skills before a crowd, it seems likely he would have been drawn to the opportunity to dazzle an audience with a fantastic story.


In the Creede Herald interview of April 15, 1892 Jeff said he thought he could recoup his purchase price of $3,000 by exhibiting McGinty in Pueblo alone. Not known is if he and McGinty stopped in Pueblo, but in Denver Jeff did put McGinty on display at Murphy’s Exchange. Toward the end of March, however, there was a legal hurdle. The News carried the story, and so did the Candle, which stated, “George W. Lewis has sued Jeff Smith and J. J. Dore for possession of McGinty, the petrified man.” Exhibition had to be halted until May 22, 1892, when Jeff won full ownership rights. That afternoon, a Sunday, McGinty was taken to another saloon Jeff owned, the White Front. It resided across from Manhattan Beach, a private amusement park at Sloan’s Lake four miles from downtown Denver. Little is known of the White Front saloon. The only report of crime there comes from the News, October 10, 1892. A J. C. Stevenson of Washington, DC, complained “of a gang of bunco steerers at the White Front saloon…. He lost no money but was in imminent danger of bodily injury.”

Two days after Jeff won possession of McGinty, Lewis and a C. C. Ross were arrested for vagrancy. Ross was said to have made McGinty, but nothing came of this News story. George Lewis, though, may have been in league with Jeff from the beginning as a third party to confuse legal standing. The court case could have been a maneuver to give Jeff complete ownership of McGinty. A George Lewis was reported to have joined the Charles “Doc” Baggs’ gang in about 1875. In San Francisco 1882, he killed seventeen-year-old Ed Patterson. Later a George Lewis was employed by Jeff, but the only newspaper article addressing the connection does not say in what capacity. The News cites a Lewis as having left Denver for the last time in 1886, but he may have gone to Creede from somewhere in 1892 and returned to Denver to lodge his suit. Just over four months after his arrest for vagrancy, George Lewis was shot and killed by Eugene Borel in Ogden, Utah, February 26, 1893.

McGinty made good money for Jeff, producing steady income from those wanting to view the wondrous stiff. Even more lucrative, however, were the games patrons played as they waited in line. Once crowds died down, McGinty became the draw for auction houses and other swindle joints. A week after sending McGinty to Manhattan Beach, Jeff took his petrified man back into the heart of the city, at 1643 Larimer Street, where the price of admission was a mere 10¢. In the background of the one known photograph of McGinty are display cases filled with what appear to be watches and other small items. This picture was probably taken in one of Jeff’s mock auction houses. McGinty was later placed on view a few doors north of Champa Street. Handbills, similar to an ad in the News for May 27, 1892, advertised the attraction.

A petrifaction as natural as life, showing a fine specimen of manhood; every muscle, and even pores of the skin are plainly seen by the naked eye. Parts of the petrifaction have been analyzed by the most skeptical, and it has been pronounced genuine by all. $1,000 to any one proving to the contrary. Skeptics, Doctors, and all scientific men are especially invited. On exhibition at 914 Seventeenth St. Admission 10 cents.

The original handbill
Courtesy Denver Public Library

Thereafter for years, McGinty was a conspicuous resident of Denver, especially to visitors. The yearly Knights Templar Conclave was important to the economy of Denver, so important that Chief Sam Howe ordered his police detectives to arrest all bunco steerers and sure-thing men found working the streets. Eighteen were arrested on August 8, 1892. Known is that Jeff used his petrified man as a magnet for the street hustlers of the Soap Gang, but so far as is known, McGinty himself was never in trouble. During the Knights Templar Conclave even four years later, in August 1896, thousands were said to have visited the petrified man. Along with fame, though, also came challenges to authenticity, but Jeff always spoke up for McGinty.

Some pronounced it spurious and some genuine. To the scoffers Mr. Smith proudly displayed a chemist’s certificate…. That man runs two ounces in gold to the ton,” said he.

During the three years Jeff owned McGinty (1892-95), Jeff also sold half interests in ownership of the petrified man over and over. Henry Edwards said that “until his [Jeff’s] death he was selling interest in the thing.” Edwards might have been given to overstatement, but Jeff did sell interests in the petrified man often. His methods for doing so and then legally regaining possession are unknown. Possibly contracts included a clause that gave Jeff the edge in regaining full ownership. Beyond the suit he won in March 1892, so far as is known, no others against Jeff involving the petrified man occurred.


In October 1895, Soapy planned to display McGinty in Spokane, Washington. He sold a 1/2 interest in the ownership of McGinty one last time, to a Mr. R. B. Ennis, a Great Northern Railroad mechanic, for $250. The two men rented an empty storeroom on Riverside Avenue and posted a large sign informing the public that the celebrated petrified man was to be exhibited. Soapy wired Henry Edwards to pack up McGinty and ship him to the Spokane suburb of Hillyard by Pacific Express (cash due on delivery). Jeff left Spokane without paying the delivery charge, and Ennis did not have the $31 to take possession, so McGinty remained in storage at the Pacific Express Company. Ennis waited for Jeff to return, and when he did not, Ennis contacted the local authorities. The Spokesman Review covered his plight, beginning with how “Soapy Smith, as he is commonly known, is one of the slickest confidence men on the coast. He is known in every city of the west … and has a great number of friends among the police officers.” Then the Review quoted from the Denver Times about how the mayor of Hillyard had written to the mayor of Denver bout the “stone man” and

the social standing of one Jefferson Randolph Smith. …Smith is in Spokane, and a few days ago he met a man named Ennis.... It appears Ennis had money, and Smith had none. Now Smith has money and Ennis has none.… Up to date the petrified man is still in the possession of the Pacific Express Company. … The famous corpse has many a time been the salvation of Smith. It has been sold a hundred times, but each time there is a long string on it, and Smith always gets it back…. Just how Smith will again become the possessor of the stone man is not known: But it is safe to say that … it will again repose in a box, to be shipped to some distant city, and again sold at a neat figure. The man is supposed to have come from the petrified man factory of Merced, California.

Mayor McMurray [of Denver] has received a letter from the mayor of Hillyard, Wash., inquiring as to the social standing of one Jefferson Randolph Smith, also as to said Smith’s code of morals, and to what extent the gentleman’s word is as good as a gold bond.

The mayor … referred the inquiries to the police authorities.

It seems that Denver’s “illustrated” citizen, J. Sapolio Smith, has once more disposed of a half interest in his far-famed petrified man. According to the letter, Smith is in Spokane, and a few days ago he met a man named Ennis…, a machinist in the employ of the Great Northern [Railroad] shops. Ennis, it appears, had money, and Smith had none. Now Smith has money and Ennis has none. … [Smith] wired to his “dodger,” Yankee Hank, to send it by the Pacific Express C. O. D. [And now there is] a bill of $31 on it.… Up to date the petrified man is still in the possession of the Pacific Express Company. Ennis is out $250 and Smith is out of town.

The famous corpse has many a time been the salvation of Jeff Smith. It has been sold a hundred times, but each time there is a long string on it, and Smith always gets it back. The corpse first made its name in Colorado history at the time of the Creede boom. Smith and his pals procured it in New Mexico and sneaked it into Creede and buried it in a lonely spot on Bachelor Mountain. One day amidst great excitement a prospector discovered it. It was dug up and … became a nine days wonder. When the first novelty wore away, Jeff put up a job to have some of the “gang” steal the corpse and a mock battle in which a thousand pistol shots played a prominent part told the story of how Jeff Smith rescued the body of the petrified man from the ghouls. In the heyday of its fame and prosperity the corpse came to Denver and was exhibited on Seventeenth Street, and it attracted large crowds and made much money for “Sapolio.”
Just how Smith will again become the possessor of the stone man is not known, but it is safe to say that ere many moons it will again repose in a box, to be shipped to some distant city, and again sold at a neat figure.
The man is supposed to have come from the “petrified man factory” of a Merced, Cal., man, who a few years ago indulged in the profitable business of making petrified men to order. One petrified man is quite a curiosity, but the manufacturer was so industrious that the market was soon overstocked, and there are but few who are able to make their stone man bring such excellent figures as J. Sapolio Smith.
Soapy would likely be pleased to know that his over one-hundred-year-old sideshow is still on the job.

McGinty remained in Washington state, and nothing is known of any efforts to retrieve him. Jeff probably thought about it, though, during money-making ventures in Skaguay.

I firmly believe that McGinty is still on public display. Since the mid 1950s, he has been greeting the curious at Ye Olde curiosity Shop in Seattle, Washington. Known there as “Sylvester,” he stands in a glass case among the many “curiosities.” A brochure describes him as a man 45 years of age, 5'-11" tall and weighing 121.3 pounds. Comparison of photographs of McGinty and Sylvester shows them to be strikingly similar. For example, the arms and legs of both McGinty and Sylvester are in the exact same positions in relation to the rest of the body.

In 2001, The Mummy Road Show TV series on the National Geographic Channel devoted an episode to Sylvester the petrified man. The goal was to determine whether Sylvester was a petrified mummy or a man-made concoction. He turned out to be both. X-rays revealed Sylvester to have been a living human being and that upon death had been preserved. Then in 2005, the TV show revisited Sylvester and submitted him to new technology. CT and MRI scans revealed internal organs so remarkably preserved that an embalmer must have preserved the body very “shortly after death.” Chemical examination revealed high levels of arsenic, the chemical used in 19th century embalming and also to halt the natural process of decomposition which destroys human bodies. The Mummy Road Show wondered, “Who put Sylvester into the arsenic one day in the late 19th century is unknown but the motive was to preserve him for fairground display, to make a buck. Maybe a showman did it, maybe a business man who sold bodies to sideshows.”

In life, Sylvester’s real name and history are unknown, but circumstantial evidence indicates he was a criminal by trade. The x-rays show he had been shot in the head with a shotgun but lived to tell the story, and apparently never sought out medical attention. The pellets remain in his skull, and skin tissue had healed over the wounds.

Like McGinty, Sylvester has his own legend. Jeff Smith’s petrified man appeared in 1892 out of a hillside near Creede. Sylvester appeared in 1895, half exposed from shifting sands near Arizona’s Gila Bend Desert. Dry desert conditions were said to have petrified the corpse. Are Sylvester and McGinty one and the same? It seems to this author highly likely that they are. One piece of conflicting evidence is that most newspaper accounts describe McGinty as “darkish in color” while the one known surviving photograph shows him as bright white. This difference, though, could be due to what is known as “flashlight photography,” in which latter nineteenth century photographers used flashlights to point at the main subject of the photograph. This lit up the surrounding area nicely, but often times put too much light onto the subject making them appear white, and without detail. The same exact issue occurred with the photographs taken in Soapy’s saloon in Skagway, Alaska 1898.

Height and posture, though, provide the greatest similarity between the two. Study of hundreds of photographs of petrified or mummified corpses and comparison of them to one another shows few similarities—except between McGinty and Sylvester. Added to the photograph similarity is the fact that McGinty passed from Jeff’s ownership in 1895, to a man in Washington State, where in that same year Sylvester’s story is said to have begun. The circumstantial evidence is strong and the odds grow in favor of the two being one. With the persistence of research efforts and time, a paper trail consisting of bills of sale, storage receipts, and diary entries may reveal with certainty that McGinty went on to a new identify and career as Sylvester.


McGinty - Sylvester on display somewhere
Possibly the Alaska-Yukon Exposition, Seattle 1909
Courtesy of Sideshow World


One of the disappointing moments of watching Mummies Alive, was the missing section of my interview regarding the identity of McGinty. It is just a theory, but it is an exciting one, and one that certainly holds more water than the completely fictional accounts told by the shows stars.

One possibility regarding the previous identity of McGinty is the “Louisiana Kid,”a victim of Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede. Reported in the newspapers is the sensational gun battle between the "Kid" and the Soap Gang outside the Orleans Club. The "Kid" was reported to be wounded in the head and body after shooting it out with Joe Palmer and the Gang on February 11, 1892, the “Kid” was never heard from or seen again, so the wounds received by the "Kid" are unconfirmed. Scans of Sylvester show wounds similar to those of the “Louisiana Kid.” An earlier shooting incident reported in the Creede newspapers indicate a shotgun was part of the arsenal inside the Orleans Club, a shot gun which very well could have gave "Sylvester" his head wounds.

The Mummy Road Show examiners of Sylvester state that Sylvester was manufactured into a petrified state “very quickly after death.” If the “Kid” was severely wounded and fled on foot into the night, he very well could had near died in the high elevation February snows, and then gathered up by the Soap Gang, as a cadaver of convenience for petrifaction, then two extreme possibilities come to mind. This author can imagine a petrifaction firm informing Jeff “We can make you a genuine looking petrified man. Just deliver us a body.” Even if such a firm were as far off as California, rail service could have delivered it in two days if on ice, and the “Kid” might have already been frozen, having died of his wounds while taking flight. 

McGinty (Link will open a new window. Numerous posts, be sure to scroll down) 

McGinty: pages 82, 235, 237-45, 395-96, 407, 517, 520, 594.

"Every spring Cherry Creek threatened to wash away City Hall, which needed the cleansing badly according to reformers. Although the fire department headquarters was in the building, it was engulfed by flames on November 30, 1901. The fire, reportedly started either by arsonists or the dropped cigar of a city employee, destroyed the top story and sent the town bell crashing from its tower to rest atop the basement jail cages"
― Thomas J. Noel
Denver's Larimer Street, 1982


1776: The Continental Congress appoints a committee to write a Declaration of Independence.
1801: The North African State of Tripoli declares war on the U.S. The dispute is over merchant vessels being able to travel safely through the Mediterranean.
1806: The New York Commercial Advertiser becomes the first newspaper to cover the sport of harness racing.
1854: The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, holds its first graduation.
1856: Frank Jackson, a Sam Bass Gang member, is born in Llano County, Texas.
1857: First Lieutenant George Crook is wounded by an arrow as he leads the 4th Infantry against Indians in Pitt River Canyon, California.
1858: The Army takes control of Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory.
1859: The Comstock Load is discovered in Utah Territory (Nevada). Over $300 million in silver and gold is taken out of the ground over the next 20 years.
1865: John Keene is the first person hanged on the "hanging tree" in Helena, Montana Territory.
1877: John Good, a Texas cattle rancher is accused of being a horse thief by a man named Robinson, who attempts to shoot Good, but his revolver gets tangled in his clothing and Good shoots and kills Robinson with four shots.
1881: The James-Younger gang robs the Davis and Sexton Bank in Riverton, Iowa, of $5,000.
1885: Salina, Kansas celebrates the arrival of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad.
1889: Jim Masterson, brother of Bat Masterson, and five others are tried for the murder of J. W. English, shot during the “Battle of Cimarron” in Kansas. All are acquitted.
1898: U.S. Marines land in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Bad man Soapy Smith previously created a private militia and offers it for service in the war effort.

June 3, 2015

The backside of Creede, Colorado 1892.

Creede, Colorado 1892
Behind Creede Avenue
(Click image to enlarge)

t's day all day in the day-time,
and there is no night in Creede.

Construction went on nearly 24-hours-a-day in Creede during the silver rush of 1892. The light-colored rock of the near perfect vertical canyon walls reflected the lights, making it very bright at night, hence the poem, "It's day all day.."

Enlarged Close-up showing the Orleans Club flag
Note the construction builders on the roofs

The photograph clearly shows a lot of construction going on within the business district. The surviving photographs of the town show that many of the buildings never had a chance to be painted before burning to the ground in June 1892. In this photograph there can be seen an American flag. Although not 100% conclusive, the location is right, plus the fact that in all of the known photographs of Creede, there is only one flag flying high above the buildings, and that flag was attached to the Orleans Club, the combination saloon and gaming house of town boss, bad man "Soapy" Smith.

You see, nobody would touch Soapy after he was shot. … They were just scared to touch him. This woman came down … and she offered one hundred dollars a piece if they’d carry him off, and they did. They took him down to the morgue. Cost her four hundred bucks according to the story…. That was the story that went around. I don’t know how much they got.
— Royal Pullen
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 537.


1539: Hernando De Soto claims Florida for Spain.
1621: The Dutch West India Company receives a charter for New Netherlands (now known as New York).
1784: Congress formally creates the U.S. Army to replace the disbanded Continental Army. On June 14, 1775, the Second Continental Congress had created the Continental Army for purposes of common defense and this event is considered to be the birth of the United States Army.
1800: John Adams moves to Washington D.C., being the first president to live in the capitol.
1805: A peace treaty between the U.S. and Tripoli is signed in the captain's cabin on board the USS Constitution.
1851: The New York Knickerbockers are the first baseball team to don uniforms.
1856: Cullen Whipple patents the screw machine.
1871: The Obocock Bank in Corydon, Iowa is robbed of gold and bills by 24-year-old Jesse James.
1873: A drunken soldier in a Delano, Kansas dancehall shoots Emma Stanley, a dancer, in the leg. Edward “Red Beard” Beard, the proprietor, rushes a group of soldiers, firing a pistol hitting one soldier in the throat and another in the leg. Two nights’ later some 30 soldiers invade Beard's place shooting and wounding gambler Charles Leshhart and another dance hall maiden. The soldiers then burn the dance hall to the ground.
1874: Bessie and Sallie Earp are arrested for opening a house of ill repute in Wichita, Kansas.
1887: William Moore locates the White Pass Trail near the future town of Skagway Alaska. Soapy Smith makes it his home and final empire of conquest in 1897.
1888: The poem, Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer is published.
1895: Sheriff James Musgrove, of the Cooweescoowee District of the Cherokee Nation is shot and killed by "Frog" Davis, in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Musgrove and Deputy J. Flippin approach Davis’ house to arrest him, but Davis knows they are there, and is hiding in an outhouse. He shoots hitting Musgrove in the abdomen and escapes. Musgrove dies of his wound. The following week Davis is arrested near Tulsa, Oklahoma where he is tried and convicted for the murder.
1895: Two brothers, Bob and Bill Christian, and Jim Casey, escape from the Oklahoma County Jail in Oklahoma City. The brothers were being held for the murder of Pottawatomie County Deputy Sheriff Will Turner. Casey was being held for the murder of Canadian County Deputy sheriff Sam Farris. Chief of Police John Milton Jones and Officer G. Jackson confront the escapees at Grand and Broadway. A gunfight ensues during which Chief Jones and Jim Casey are killed. The Christian brothers escaped.
1898: The San Francisco Call publishes a story in which volunteers of Soapy Smith’s private militia, the Skaguay Military Company, are robbed during a fake doctor exam.

May 30, 2015

Did Soapy Smith save his wife from a life of misery?

(Click image to enlarge)

id Soapy Smith save his wife
from a life of misery?

Soapy met his future wife, Mary Eva Noonan, in November 1885 when she sang on the stage of "Big Ed" Chase's Palace Theater in Denver, Colorado. During their life together, and after Soapy's death in 1898, she is not known to have ever said a single disparaging remark of her husband, his family life, or his career choices of being a confidence man and crime boss. Except for her intense loyalty, I never really gave it much thought until very recently.

One of my favorite books on the Denver criminal underworld is Hell's Belles: Prostitution, Vice, and Crime in Early Denver by Clark Secrest (2002). The book is an in depth study of prostitution and crime in Denver, with quite a bit on the Palace Theater and like places. According to the author, complete with examples, it was common for the young ladies working in such establishments to move into the world of prostitution and even crime. The newspaper in my own collection on the Palace Theater also show that injury, suicide, and death were also common possibilities and fears of those who worked Denver's variety houses and theaters. I am left to wonder if Mary had never met Soapy, would she possibly have met the same fate as so many of her peers?

Mary Eva Noonan

(posts sorted by relevance)

Mary Eva Noonan: pages 7, 19, 52, 104-08, 124-25, 139, 146-47, 167, 169-72, 197, 202, 281-82, 379, 407, 410-11, 417-18, 425, 428, 436, 442-44, 448, 451, 486, 495, 498-99, 503, 543-46, 554-55, 584-87, 592, 594.

"He was sprawled out with his Stetson lying there, but nobody dared put his feet together or place his hands over his heart. They didn’t dare show sympathy for fear somebody would pull out a gun."
—Bobby Sheldon
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 537.

MAY 30

1539: Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto lands in Florida with 600 soldiers to search for gold.
1783: The Pennsylvania Evening Post becomes the first daily newspaper published in the U.S.
1848: W. G. Young patents the ice cream freezer.
1854: The U.S. territories of Nebraska and Kansas are established.
1865: The first recorded celebration of Decoration Day (later called Memorial Day) takes place.
1868: Decoration Day officially becomes Memorial Day (see “1865”).
1879: William Vanderbilt renames New York City's Gilmore’s Garden, Madison Square Garden.
1883: Twelve people in New York City are killed attempting to get off the Brooklyn Bridge when rumored it was collapsing.
1883: Soapy Smith purchases a street vendors license to sell his prize package soap in Washington City, Iowa.
1885: Appache Indians attack a ranch near Hillsboro, New Mexico Territory.
1889: The brassiere is invented.
1896: The first automobile accident occurs in New York City.
1903: the first motorcycle hill climb competition is held in Riverdale, New York.
1911: Ray Harroun wins the first Indianapolis Sweepstakes. The 500-mile auto race is later named the Indianapolis 500. Harroun's average speed was 74.6 miles per hour.

April 8, 2015

Mummies Alive airs April 19, 2015

The Mummies Alive Team examines McGinty-Sylvester
(Click image to enlarge)

ummies Alive will air April 19, 2015!

In the second week of August 2014 I was hired to talk about McGinty, Soapy Smith's petrified man (mummy), for a new Canadian TV show, Mummies Alive. It was filmed in Scottsdale, Arizona for a one day shoot. I flew in from California and flew back the following day. It was a fun and educational experience, and I'm looking forward to seeing out it turns out.

New Six-Part Series Narrated by Jason Priestley
Premieres Sunday, April 19th at 10pm ET on HISTORY

McGinty (Sylvester)

When most people think of mummies, they think of Ancient Egypt. In fact, mummies have been found all over the world, from different cultures and time periods. They represent our most precious human link to our distant ancestors and are now the focus of a new, groundbreaking series, Mummies Alive, premiering Sunday April 19th at 10 pm ET on HISTORY.

The series kicks off with an episode about ‘The Gunslinger Mummy,’ a mummy that has been on display at a Seattle curiosity shop since the 1950s. According to legend, he was an American Wild West cowboy, killed 120 years ago in a saloon shootout. He’s got what appears to be a bullet hole in his stomach, but using CT imaging technology and state-of-the-art, virtual autopsy techniques, investigators discover his story may have involved much more than initially thought. A notorious con man, the sideshow circuit, and a lesson on how to turn a buck using the myth of the Old West, all become part of the investigation.

“We like to look at each episode like a classic detective story,” says Saloon Media’s series producer Steve Gamester. “It starts with a dead body and a lot of questions that need to be answered. Some mummies show signs of violence while others are found in spectacular places and linked to iconic events in history. Mummies Alive takes a close look what clues were left behind and pieces together a compelling story.”

Every episode of Mummies Alive starts out like an ancient cold case, where there is a search for clues and new leads. As the investigation unfolds, the mummies come to life in exquisite animation, using the latest motion capture technology to achieve a hyper-real look. Colour returns to sunken cheeks, lungs fill with fresh air, and ancient eyes open to stare into the camera.

Mummies Alive is produced by Canada’s Saloon Media and the UK’s Impossible Factual in association with Shaw Media, and is narrated by Canadian actor Jason Priestley.

Mummies Alive main broadcasters are HISTORY Canada and Smithsonian Channel US. Additional international broadcasters include Yesterday (UK), ZDF (Germany), and SBS (Australia).

Saloon Media video
Sylvester from Mummies Alive is
seen at minute 0:50

Mummies Alive broadcast release
Mummies Alive (Saloon Media)

McGinty: pages 82, 235, 237-45, 395-96, 407, 517, 520, 594.

There is not a man on the Denver police force who did not breath a sigh of relief when he read that “Soapy” was dead. It was bound to come, and all realized that, but the question bothering the police officials was how long “Soapy” was to go about killing other men.
Rocky Mountain News
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 584


1513: Explorer Juan Ponce de Leon claims Florida for Spain.
1789: The U.S. House of Representatives holds its first meeting.
1832: About 300 soldiers of the 6th Infantry leave Jefferson Barracks, St. Louis, to confront the Sauk Indians in the Black Hawk War.
1883: A footrace in Trinidad, Colorado between men named Maxwell and Corteze D. “Cort” Thompson. Thompson, the husband of Denver brothel madame Martha A. “Mattie” Silks, wins the race. Bad man Soapy Smith would be mixed up with Thompson in the 1892 shooting death of gambler Cliff Sparks and then Silks accused Soapy of trying to have her murdered for money in 1898.
1834: Cornelius Lawrence becomes the first mayor to be elected by popular vote in a New York City election.
1839: The first Intercollegiate Rodeo is held at the Godshall Ranch, Apple Valley, California.
1862: Confederate troops abandon the town of Sante Fe, New Mexico Territory during the Civil War.
1873: Alfred Paraf patents the first successful oleomargarine.
1891: Soapy Smith shoots and wounds Jack Devine in the Turf Exchange saloon in Denver, Colorado.