July 30, 2009

More on Cathy Spude's new Soapy book

(Click image to enlarge)
Soapy's bartender (Nate Pollack or John Clancy)
stands in the doorway of Jeff Smith's Parlor with a
probable member of the Soap Gang as a man walks by

Back on June 27 and June 29, 2009 I wrote about author, Cathy Spude's upcoming book, Soapy: When Legend became Fact. She has recently posted the forward and introduction and I would like to respond. As this is a lengthy posting I will respond in red throughout Cathy's remarks. She writes,


I was content to let the Soapy Smith legend be told whatever way the folks of Skagway, Alaska wanted to tell it until the Jeff Smith Parlor became the property of the National Park Service. As a retired employee of that agency and someone who had done a significant amount of research about the early life and times of the community, I knew a thing or two about those early days. I thought everyone knew that most of what appeared in the books about the Klondike gold days was pure hype – just an exaggerated story. But when I read the following, coming from the agency where I had worked for thirty years, I knew things had to change:

The Jeff Smith Parlor Museum was the headquarters for Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith during his tenure as self-anointed mayor or king of Skagway, Alaska during the first years of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. From there he controlled a gang of con men, thieves and cutthroats variously estimated at between 200 and 300 strong. Also there, J.D. Stewart, a returning gold miner, was robbed of his gold, which led to Soapy’s death in a gun battle with Frank Reid at the front of the Juneau Wharf, in Skagway on the evening of July 8, 1898. The Parlor was intimately associated with Soapy and his gang during that early lawless period of Skagway’s existence when “hold-ups, robberies, and shooting were part of the daily routine.” Soapy, of course, was one of the main characters of the Klondike stampede. The story of how he took on Skagway and ran it to suit his own needs and how he died is found in virtually every book on the gold rush.

“Lies!” I thought when I finished reading the introductory paragraph. “Eight of them in five sentences, and only one truth.” Smith’s story does indeed end up in every book on the Klondike gold rush.

“It’s all a legend,” I sighed. It’s time. Time to tell the truth. I just cannot sit on it anymore.

Cathy does not specify exactly what is a "lie" (incorrect) or why. I personally see a slight exaggeration in the size count of the gang and in the quoted statement, 'when “hold-ups, robberies, and shooting were part of the daily routine.” ' Other than that I don't see the problems she apparently does. Cathy continues,


A visitor to Skagway, Alaska, cannot go very long without hearing about Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. The confidence man would have delighted in the notoriety he has achieved in the more than a hundred years since his death. His fame is due as much to his own efforts as to those of his many friends, colleagues, descendents and the hagiographers they spawned after law-abiding men and women thought they had laid him to rest. Putting a bullet through his heart only immortalized him and put a capstone on a legend that he himself had started to build. There has been no end to the embellishment that others, some with substantial credentials, would put on the story that Smith had created for himself.

Cathy continues to use the word legend when writing of Soapy. The word legend means "a nonhistorical or unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical." I strongly recommend Cathy read my upcoming book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, which is highly sourced and footnoted. She will see that Soapy Smith is no legend.

I first heard the legend of Soapy Smith in October 1978 when I traveled to Skagway to conduct some archaeological excavations for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which was then only two years old. Like most professionals who were trying to learn as much as they could about one of our newest National Park Service areas, I read most of what I could get my hands on. That included the study that National Park Service Chief Historian Edwin Bearrs had completed for the park in 1970, along with Pierre Berton’s seminal work, Klondike Fever, which was published in the United States in 1958 and revised in 1975. I had a great deal of respect for both gentlemen, the first for his obvious scholarly position within my agency, and for Berton for his gift with the written word and knowledge of his subject. Bearss relied heavily on the latter, in addition to his own first-hand research in our nation’s capital. I had no reason to doubt either’s depiction of Jeff Smith’s exploits in Skagway in the winter and spring of 1898.

Twenty-seven years later, I retired from the National Park Service, still fascinated with the Klondike gold rush, and still conducting historic research on the lives of the people of Skagway. It was not until I became interested in Skagway’s mayor Chris Shea, who wrote one of the first published versions of the Smith story, and Josias M. “Si” Tanner, who was instrumental in rounding up Smith’s gang in the days after the con man’s death, that I began to understand the contradictions in the various versions of the story. These were not minor alternatives, simple variations that might occur because different people observed the event from different vantage points. These were major gaps, deliberate miss-tellings, sometimes lies meant to obscure a truth to which no one meant to admit. What were these truths that were being withheld? And why?

Those "truths" are definitely out there, published here and there. Truths, like that there were two gangs (according to numerous residents at the time) operating in Skagway when Soapy was in power. I detail those truths in my book.

As I began to ferret out the hidden truths of the Soapy Smith story – such as the fact that Frank Reid was not the only one who killed Soapy Smith – it became obvious that those who wanted to protect Reid’s honor were so intent on doing so that they were willing to raise Smith to the status of a legend in order to elevate Reid to the standing of a hero.

The "hidden truth" that Frank Reid was not the killer of Soapy Smith was known long before Cathy learned about it, from me. No one needed to "raise Smith to the status of a legend." Soapy was already well known all over the nation. In fact, while the two men were alive, Soapy was more known than Wyatt Earp.

What a thought.

Take a petty criminal; turn him into a super Bad Guy. Take a tough Good Guy who dies in the process of killing the Bad Guy; turn him into a martyr. Ten years later, about the time everyone is starting to forget all of this happened; write the story down and celebrate it. Make sure the town historian continues to tell the story over and over again, adding her own embellishments.

Soapy was already far above being a petty criminal. I am guessing he started becoming a major player about 1885 or so. If by "Take a tough Good Guy," Cathy means Frank Reid, she is very misinformed.

Then, another few years down the road, have the petty criminal’s home town library index its newspapers, magazines and books. Every time someone wants to write a reminiscence of the Wild West days, because this index exists in one of the best western history libraries in the country, our Hero and our Bad Guy get mentioned. Ensure that an associate professor of English literature, one who likes the Robin Hood stories, uses that index. By the time a Really Good Writer gets a hold of the story, it has become an American legend.

The closets "home town" was Newnan, Georgia. Until recently, they knew very little of Soapy Smith. If Cathy is referring to Denver, Colorado then I agree, their newspaper, photograph, and book collection is indeed one of the best in the country. However, I admit I am confused. There are literally hundreds of thousands of newspaper articles from newspapers all over the nation indexed there, including those of Skagway, Alaska. Why is this a bad thing? When all else fails contemporary newspapers are many times the only current day link to what was going on at the time. Take those same newspaper articles and put them in with my collection of many thousands of letters and documents and a viable history is presented. In my personal research the greatest moments are when documents and letters I have directly correspond to the current day newspapers. Talk about a rush.

In doing the research for my biographies of J. M. Tanner and Chris Shea, I found more than a hundred descriptions of the Soapy Smith story. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of them were not footnoted, nor did they have bibliographies. Curiously, though, most of them sounded alike, and it became relatively easy to figure out where each writer had obtained his or her information. After 1934, it appears that most authors used the sources listed in the Denver Public Library subject card index, which almost necessarily restricted them to the Denver newspapers and national periodicals (or more likely, they copied people who had used the Denver Public Library). Surprisingly few biographers of Soapy Smith used the informative and often refreshing articles that were published in The Alaska Sportsman between 1935 and 1970 by people who either witnessed the events or who were direct descendents of witnesses.

Cathy will be happy to know that my book is well supplied with footnotes, and that I used the Denver Public Library resources (still don't know why that's bad?), as well as libraries, universities and museums all across the US, and that my rather large bibliography includes The Alaska Sportsman magazine.

Who was Soapy Smith? Born Jefferson Randolph Smith in Coweta County, George in 1860, his family moved to Round Rock, Texas in 1876. Not to stay in one place very long, the young man soon picked up and moved about the Middle West where he earned a living as a bunco and sure-thing man, learning to bilk gullible people from their hard-earned dollars with card tricks and slight-of-hand. By 1879, he had found his way to Denver, Colorado, where he learned the trick of wrapping a cake of soap in a five dollar bill, covering that with a plain paper wrapper, mixing it with a number of other plain-wrapped cakes, and selling off soap for a dollar apiece. It was in Denver that he earned the nick-name “Soapy.”

In the years that followed, Smith set up his soap-selling, pea and walnut shell, and three-card monte games in Denver, Leadville, and Creede, Colorado. Each place he went, he earned a reputation for petty con games and graft ameliorated by an indubitable charm. In each of these mining camps today, the modern tourist will find odes and tributes to a legend created by a mixture of his roguish charm and Robin Hood-like deeds. It is no different in Skagway, Alaska. In those places, as much as in Skagway, his legend is due as much to the fact that he died a violent death as to his personal charm. I do not believe that it owes anything to any greatness on his part or the fact that Jefferson Randolph Smith was a cut above anyone else who was born and lived during the late nineteenth century.

I agree that Soapy used short cons such as the shell game and his infamous prize package soap sell racket, however, newspapers clearly indicate he earned his reputation due to the power and control he held in each location. As a "fixer" he was able to protect himself as well as his many associates. He gained such a highly regarded reputation as an "election fixer" that senators across the country sought his services. Even some from opposing political parties. He gained a reputation for getting away with murder.

On the other-side-of-the-coin he gained a very real reputation for "Robin-Hood like" deeds that are documented. Some of these were for public show but many were behind the scenes and not revealed until after his death.

Cathy writes, "It is no different in Skagway, Alaska," and she is right. He ran all three of his amazing empires under the same method of operation. This is detailed in my book.

Cathy states Soapy is a legend partly because of his violent death. That he was brave there can be no doubt. Telling his men to stay put while he faced four vigilante guards alone is either brave or fool-hardy. Either way he is definitely remembered for the way in which he died, face-to-face with his foe. His infamy is growing even greater now that it is known that Frank Reid was not the man who killed him, that he was shot with his own rifle while himself wounded and unarmed. A movie couldn't get much better of a duel to the death.

Cathy writes, "I do not believe that it owes anything to any greatness on his part or the fact that Jefferson Randolph Smith was a cut above anyone else who was born and lived during the late nineteenth century." Oh, I strongly disagree...

To my considerable surprise, I discovered that the Smith legend has been told and retold in print about a hundred times (see my Chronological Bibliography). Within these pages you will find a version that you have not yet encountered, at least not in its entirety. I have attempted to separate out those sources that are derivative of previous versions, and have gone back to either original newspaper accounts by direct witnesses or people who talked to direct witnesses. I have also looked at the other major issues with which the businessmen of Skagway were dealing during the winter of 1897-1898 to show that it was not possible for a man like Jefferson R. Smith to be “ruling” Skagway between January and June of 1898. What with the controversy over the platting of the townsite; the lawsuit in which the Moores, the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad (WP&YR) and a good quarter of the property owners and merchants were engaged; the battle over rights-of-way for the Brackett Wagon Road and WP&YR; the controversy over control of the city council; continuing problems with lot claim jumpers; and U.S. government concern over starvation in the Klondike; not to mention the daily arrival of crowded ships, providing electricity, water and sewer systems in an unincorporated city with no sanctioned government, and, well, there was no opportunity for a man like Smith to become “uncrowned king.” The notion is pure nonsense, one of Smith’s pipedreams, part of the legend promulgated by himself and boasted to his friends in Denver.

Well, of course I strongly disagree, lol.

Jane Haigh has done a quite worthy biography in recent years, and her version, King Con, has all the advantages of including Soapy’s early years, and doing so with clear cittions. I understand that Smith’s great grandson, Jeff Smith, will soon be publishing his own version of the story. Many of us look forward to seeing how that account will treat the legend.

I dealt with Jane Haigh's book, King Con back on April 14. It's only a repeat of what has already been written minus what she completely made up.

Cathy knew about my manuscript in 2006. It's a 660 page biography she definitely needs to read.

You needn’t take my word for it. You can compare the legend with what I believe is the truth. Continue reading. In my mind, the Alaska story started in January 1898, after Smith had been in Skagway for about two months.

Cathy is off on Soapy's arrival in Skagway by about 4 months.

July 29, 2009

Cleaning up Creede, Colorado

(Click image to enlarge)
Creede Avenue, Creede, Colorado, 1924

I knew some mining processes were toxic but I never imagined that they could render land unusable until properly detoxified. On Monday July 27, 2009 the Valley Courier (Alamosa, Co.) ran an opinion article by Virgina Simmons entitled,
Cleaning up Creede.

At Creede in 1892, it took only one shot to kill Bob Ford, thereby removing (1) the dirty little coward who killed Mr. Howard (Jesse James), (2) a competitor of saloonkeeper Soapy Smith, and (3) a character named Ed O’Kelley, who performed the deed and later did Colorado the favor of removing himself from the state.

I do not advocate this method of eliminating disreputable people, but it would be nice if it were so easy to clean up the ground and water after thousands of prospectors, speculators, pick men, timber men, hoist men, machine men, drillers, muckers, rope riders, electricians, mill workers, teamsters, and railroad crews got through with it at Creede. Left behind were waste rock, tunnel drainage, and mill tailings that are much harder to dispose of than Ford, Smith, and O’Kelley.

For a decade, the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee (WCRC) has been devoting its energies to solving environmental problems at Creede. The board of WCRC includes nonprofit organizations, county government, state and federal agencies, and local volunteers who probably would prefer to be fishing, while, instead, they have been working on water quality studies, stream restoration, flood control, and mine reclamation.

(Click image to enlarge)
Creede floodplain, 1924

Travelers on Highway 149, approaching Creede from the south, undoubtedly have noticed the open area below town where no new building has taken place. This floodplain contains residue from mining and milling that has caused contamination of the soil, although in one portion near the airport, the Mineral County Fairgrounds Association now has a Brownfields (EPA) grant for cleanup that will involve removal of the soil or capping it so that the ground will be safe for activities.

Much of the material blanketing the floodplain came from the Emperius Mill which operated in 1934-1972 and left behind a tailings pile between the highway and Willow Creek. If the name is familiar to Alamosans, it is because Herman Emperius was a prominent rancher who traded in livestock, hay, and grain in Alamosa, was vice president of Alamosa National Bank, and was owner of the Emperius Block, while his partner for a few years was Benjamin T. Poxson, a local teacher, school principal and secretary of Billy Adams when he served in political office.

After mining and milling activities had been abandoned around 1920 at the Amerthyst vein, the team of Emperius and Poxson revived Creede by consolidating the mines and building the mill below town. The Emperius Mill reduced ores prior to their being shipped by rail to smelters, leaving behind tailings and slime on the fan that lies between Creede and the Rio Grande River.

The Emperius Mill was not entirely to blame for this toxic mess, though. Earlier, the Humphreys Mill had crushed ore at the junction of West Willow Creek and East Willow Creek and dumped its tailings directly into Willow Creek.

This material flowed down the creek, through town, and thence to the Rio Grande River, until protesters went to court and forced a halt. The Humphreys Mill then constructed a leaky, wooden flume to carry its tailings beyond town and dumped them on the floodplain, where they were dewatered and loaded into railroad cars for shipment to smelters.

Today, a mile above town in the West Willow Creek drainage, more challenging problems than the floodplain exist. The Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Site, which got its final listing on the National Priorities List in September 2008, is an EPA Superfund project that must deal with the uncontrolled hazardous waste in the area around the picturesque Commodore Mill that charms so many sightseers and artists.

The unstable piles of waste rock that have spilled into West Willow Creek at the Commodore are bad enough, but the Nelson Tunnel is a much greater problem. With a complex network of branches, this tunnel drains water containing a brew of toxic minerals from all the mines.

Ultimately, the tunnel empties through one adit into West Willow Creek near the Commodore, thence down Willow Creek where fish are unable to survive, through Creede where a flood could contaminate the town, and on down the floodplain to the Rio Grande River.

Clearly, no local or state project could come up with sufficient resources to tackle a problem like the Nelson Tunnel, but the perseverant WCRC committee got the ball rolling. The EPA is now starting its investigations and feasibility studies for the tunnel, and work is already under way on the contaminated waste rock pile at the Commodore.

July 28, 2009

Soapy Smith's saloon on National Register

(Click image to enlarge)
Jeff Smith's Parlor as a
Soapy Smith museum, circa post 1935

The photograph above shows Jeff Smith's Parlor after it had been purchased, restored and opened as a Soapy Smith museum by Martin Itjen in 1935. Our friend, B. Mike at Commencing to Get Ready to Begin, one of our inside men regarding the restoration of Soapy's saloon in Skagway, Alaska has turned in his report with an inclusion that may help put Jeff Smith's Parlor in the limelight nationwide. B. writes,

From the land of Soap: I turned in my Determination of Eligibility to the State Historic Preservation Office and they will be reviewing my work on Thursday and possibly approving it for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Ballin! So that means the Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum could be on the National Register list by the end of the year.

Thank you B. Mike.

Questions for B. Mike:

  1. You wrote "Jeff. Smiths Parlor," yes, you forgot the apostrophe in Smith's but what I refer to is the period after Jeff, which is short for Jefferson. Does this mean the real name of the saloon would be Jefferson Smith's Parlor?
  2. On July 9 (scroll down) I posted a photograph that shows Martin Itjen holding what appears to be part of the original sign that hung below the cornice of the building. Do you know if this piece perhaps still exists as a part of the 2007 Rapuzzi collection purchase? It seems to me Itjen would have saved that sign.
  3. Looking below at the ad in the Skagway News, note that the period is gone after Jeff but an S has been added to Parlor. Could this mean that there were more establishments? (see Soapy's Saloons)

July 26, 2009

Happy Birthday to us!


I've been having so much fun working on this blog that I completely forgot to celebrate its first year of existence. The blog has grown steadily into something I am very proud of. Going through numerous layout and template changes until finding just the right combination to match the content. So far the following varies and grows slowly but I have heard no complaints. I look forward to a great year of growth leaps. Onward!

July 23, 2009

Soapy Smith saloons

One of the various Tivoli Club cards

I am always happy to "finish" a page on the main website. The most recent is SOAPY'S SALOONS with a brief acknowledgment of some of Soapy's known saloons in Colorado and Alaska. The page includes some new photographs of the saloons as well as several of the business cards like the one above, from the Geri Murphy Collection.

July 22, 2009

Early reports, sales, and a reunion.

Early ad for the Soapy Smith Museum

I am quite satisfied today. My publisher at Klondike Research emailed me to let me know that orders for my manuscript are coming in already and the book is not due out until August. I'm not sure if that is normal for most books but it sure sounds like a good sign to me.

A fellow historian, Bob Wood has published a very nice post regarding my manuscript over on his blog, Where the Old West comes back to life. He writes.

Available now on advanced order is the most comprehensive book ever written about legendary "confidence man" Soapy Smith. Priced at just $26.00 softcover and $43.00 hardcover plus postage, this is the buy of the century.

Author and great-grandson, Jeff Smith, spent 25 years researching his book and has left no stones unturned. Jeff has told the truth as he found it in this comprehensive biography of his Great-Grandfather, an extraordinary confidence man, gambler and all-around bad man.

From Georgia to Texas and from Colorado to Alaska you will learn firsthand the inter-workings of a swindler/crime boss and business man with many surprise associations.

Order now to insure getting a copy from the very first printing.

Thank you Bob for those kind words! If you're interested in old west antiques then you will want to visit his blog which will lead you to his on-line photo catalog of his merchandise.

There is a family reunion now in the planning stages for next July 4-8 2010 in Skagway, Alaska where Soapy was shot dead during the Shootout on Juneau Wharf. Although it is a family reunion all are welcome to join us next year in Skagway. Pending details will be published here.

July 21, 2009

Soapy Smith and Sam Bass

(Click image to enlarge)
Sam Bass gang
(l to r: Jim Murphy, Sam Bass, Seaborn Barnes)

On this date, July 21, 1878 Texas outlaw, Sam Bass was shot dead. It was his 27th birthday.

In their own written words Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith and his cousin, Edwin Bo Smith, were talking with Texas Ranger Dick Ware just before the shooting of Sam Bass. According to Edwin, Ranger Ware lived in Georgia "within a mile of the Smith plantation." When the shooting started the two boys followed Ware outside and witnessed him shoot the bullet that killed Sam Bass. Jefferson wrote about the incident in a small notebook soon after. Edwin wrote about it twice, in later years claiming it to be the reason he did not follow his cousin into his own life of crime.

[The photograph is incorrect as being that of Sam Bass. Please see October 3, 2013 for the correction]

A train and bank robber, Sam Bass was born in Indiana in 1851. In 1875 at age 24 Bass joined several men known as the "Black Hills Bandits" and helped rob seven stage coaches.

On September 18, 1877 the gang branched out to robbing trains, the first being at Big Spring station. The bandits forced the station- master to signal the coming express train to halt and then boarded. Finding only $450 in the "way safe," they brutally beat the express messenger with a pistol in an attempt to force him to open the "through safe", which had a time lock preventing it from being opened until the train reached its destination. Finding some wooden boxes, the bandits broke them open revealing $60,000 worth of freshly minted $20 gold pieces headed from the San Francisco Mint to an Eastern bank.

(Click image to enlarge)
International and Great Northern depot
Round Rock, Texas 1876

The bandits divided the gold coins six ways and then in pairs split up, each pair heading in a different direction. Joel Collins and his partner were shot and killed a week later. Another pair, composed of James Berry and Nixon, was split up and Berry was captured; Nixon, it is assumed, escaped with his share to Canada. The third pair, Sam and Jack Davis, rode south in a one horse buggy-- their share of the haul stowed under the seat.
At some point on their trip back to Texas, Sam and Jack Davis were joined by a company of soldiers and detectives who were searching for the train robbers. Sam and Jack Davis convinced these men that they too were searching for the bandits in the hopes of receiving a large reward. After four days, Sam and Jack Davis split from the other men and rode back to Denton (Centennial Commission). Once in Denton, Sam explained his new found wealth from a strike he had made prospecting in the Black Hills. His money and good spirits attracted many people, some of whom would later become a part of the "Sam Bass Gang" when he took to robbing trains in Texas.
It is assumed that Sam would have reached Denton by late autumn; yet, by February of 1878, Bass had begun to rob trains again. Why? How could he have spent $10,000 in less than four months? Many people have believed that there was no way that he could have spent the money; so they have speculated that Bass hid his gold. Stories abound of individuals searching for the Bass gold. One story places the hidden gold in a cave in East Mountain at Mineral Wells. Another legend speculates that Bass held on to his gold until he headed to Round Rock to rob the bank, hiding the gold in a cave west of Prairie Dell near Big Blue Spring for safekeeping during the robbery. If anyone ever found the Bass Gold they never reported it. Since it is hard to imagine that Sam could have used up all of his gold before he started train robbing again, it lends credence to the story that Sam robbed for sport more than for profit.
Whatever the reason, the "Sam Bass Gang" stood up the Texas Central train at Allen Station on February 22, 1878. This holdup netted the gang $1,300 and on March 18th they again held up the Texas Central, this time at Hutchins. The Texas and Pacific Railroad was hit on April 4th at Eagle Ford and again on the 10th at Mesquite. Only the first robbery resulted in any significant payoff for the gang and the style of these robberies was highly amateurish; prompting some observers to speculate that the robbers were either extremely nervous or drunk at the time of the holdups due to the fact that during two of the holdups the gang missed large stashes of money that had been hurriedly hidden by the express messengers

(Click image to enlarge)
Round Rock, Texas

During the four months of the "Bass War", the gang became the stuff of legend; they led the Rangers on long chases with narrow escapes. The gang, relying on Sam's thorough knowledge of the back trails and thickets learned during his days as a teamster, would suddenly surface in an area only to disappear at the first sign of trouble. The gang's success in avoiding capture can be ascribed to both the difficulties of the terrain and ineptness of their pursuers. In a desperate attempt to flush the gang out, the Rangers conducted a sweep of all residents suspected of harboring the bandits. This resulted in the arrests of both Jim Murphy and his father Henderson. Jim was taken to Tyler to face charges of robbing the U.S. mails. Seeking immunity, and with an interest in collecting the reward money, Jim agreed to rejoin the Bass Gang and betray Sam to the Rangers. Thus, the stage was set for the eventual Ranger triumph over the gang in Round Rock.
The first clash of the "Bass War" occurred on April 29 at Cove Hollow. The Rangers, under the direction of Captain Lee Hall, were able to take the gang by surprise while they were resting at Jim Murphy's house. Fleeing the Rangers, Bass was struck twice, once in his cartridge belt and another in the stock of his rifle, without injury. As Sam left the scene he was said to have uttered, "Hell, boys, they've hit me at last. Let's get out of here." Undaunted, Sam was soon flashing his stolen gold pieces around and living it up in the North Texas towns. In June, a posse challenged the gang to a gunfight in which Arkansas Johnson was killed and Henry Underwood rode off never to return to the gang (Centennial Commission). Now, with Jim Murphy looking to betray the gang to the Rangers, the gang decided to head to calmer areas in the southern part of the state.
At some point on their way to Round Rock, Jim Murphy was able to slip away from the gang and send off a letter to Major Jones of the Texas Rangers indicating that the gang was proceeding to Round Rock with the intention of robbing the bank. Major Jones was surprised to hear that the gang was moving so far south; he immediately directed Rangers Dick Ware, Chris Conner and George Harold to proceed to Round Rock and be on the lookout for any members of the Bass Gang. He then rode to Round Rock with deputy sheriff Morris Moore of Travis County.
Sam, Frank Jackson, Seaborn Barnes and Jim "Judas" Murphy arrived in Round Rock Sunday night July 14. Monday they went into the town to case the bank and get a shave. Sam and Seaborn were for stealing some fresh horses and hitting the bank as soon as possible. Murphy, stalling for time, suggested that stealing horses would only raise suspicions and that they should rest their horses and then rob the bank on Saturday. After discussion, the gang decded that the robbery would occur at 3:30 P.M. on Saturday July 20.

(Click image to enlarge)
Round Rock, Texas
On Friday the 19th, Sam, Frank and Seaborn went into New Town to case the bank one final time; Murphy had stayed behind in Old Town in the hopes of getting in contact with Major Jones. The bandits hitched their horses in the alley north of Georgetown Avenue at the corner of Lampasas. They then walked up the street to Kopperal's General Store, located at the southeast corner of Mays and Georgetown Avenue. At the same time, Ranger Ware crossed the street from Highsmith's Livery Stable to the barber shop. He later recalled that he passed the bandits at this point without realizing who they were. As the bandits crossed over to Kopperal's store, they were also observed by Morris Moore, a Travis County deputy sheriff, and Deputy Sheriff Grimes of Williamson County.
Grimes indicated that he believed that one of the strangers (he had not yet realized that they were the Bass Gang) was wearing a pistol, which was supposedly against the law in Round Rock. Another account mentioned that Grimes was concerned because he thought that Sam was wearing two pistols, which was one more than the law permitted in Round Rock.

Whatever the reason, Grimes decided to investigate the strangers' intentions. Walking up to the bandits who were purchasing tobacco in the store, Grimes asked Sam, "Do you have a pistol?" to which Sam is said to have answered "yes" or "I'll let you have it." But more important than what he said was that he, Frank and Seaborn also opened fire on Grimes, killing him instantly. Grimes never even had the opportunity to draw his gun; six bullet holes were found in his dead body.

(Click image to enlarge)
Round Rock, Texas
Moore, who had been waiting outside the door of Kopperal's Store, entered and opened fire on the bandits, shooting Bass through the hand. He was then shot in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung, and was forced to discontinue the chase. The shooting had attracted the attention of Ranger Ware, who was receiving a shave at the time. He ran to the street, his face still lathered, and for a time, single-handedly fought the fleeing bandits. The firing had also attracted the attention of Major Jones, who was at the International and Great Northern Telegraph Office at the time of the initial shooting. Meeting up with Ranger Ware, Jones fired what was considered to be his only shot as a Texas Ranger at the fleeing gang; the bandits returned the fire, missing Jones but lodging a bullet in the stone wall behind him. Ware and Jones were also joined in the fight for a time by a one-armed man named Stubbs, who had picked up Grime's gun and opened fire on the bandits. By this time, the bandits had made their way back to the alley and were attempting to mount their horses. Ranger Harold and a local citizen named Conner shot at the gang with rifles. It was at this point that Ranger Harold believes that he inflicted the mortal wound on Bass. Simultaneously, Seaborn Barnes fell dead with a bullet wound to the head.
Who actually shot Sam Bass was never completely decided. The doctors who examined Sam noted that the bullet had hit a cartridge in his belt and then split in two, part entering his back and passing out near his groin, the other part lodging in his body. This statement caused the Rangers to assume that Dick Ware was the one who had administered the fatal blow. Further supporting this theory is the account from Bass himself who indicated that he had been shot before he reached the horses, not in the alley where Harold claims to have shot him, and that the man that shot him had lather on his face. At the official inquest, Ware replied that he did not believe that he had shot Bass and Harold claimed that he did; thus, this is how it went into the official record. However, Ware is credited with killing Seaborn Barnes. Part of the confusion over who actually shot Bass stems from the fear of the Rangers and Round Rock citizens. Such was the fame of Bass that it was believed that the person who shot hm would be subsequently killed by one of Bass's supporters; thus, individuals were not anxious to be known as the person responsible for killing him.
At the point of Seaborn's death and Sam's wounding, many witnesses attributed a great deal of gallantry to the young (only twenty years old) Frank Jackson. With Seaborn dead in front of him and his leader Bass injured, it is said that Frank coolly held the Rangers at bay with his gun as he helped Sam to his horse. Together they made their escape from the firing citizens and Rangers. Another account of this event states that after Seaborn was killed, both Sam and Frank were able to mount their horses and had begun to ride off when Sam was hit by the bullet. Sam clasped onto his saddle horn but was unable to stay on his horse and fell to the ground. It was at this point that Frank held the charging Rangers and citizens at bay with his gun as he helped Sam back onto his horse, and they rode off with Frank steadying Sam.

he information on Sam Bass comes from: The City of Round Rock: Sam Bass

July 19, 2009

New on the website...

The Tivoli Club

Now that the manuscript is at the printer I am once again free to update the main website. Today I opted to work on the page Soapy's Saloons. I added the above photograph showing the Tivoli Club in Denver, Colorado along with the Midway, the Orleans Club, and Jeff Smith's Parlor. The page has no text yet and is still under construction.

July 17, 2009

Quick quotes...

(Click image to enlarge)
Rocky Mountain News
June 16, 1894

The above front page cartoon shows Soapy Smith and gun-man Soap Gang member, Joe Palmer, near the top of the bottle marked, "Homopathic Pills."

“Well, chief, I acknowledge you have brought me to a stand still. Hereafter I will do the square thing.” ~Rocky Mountain News, July 17, 1894.

Yeah right...

July 16, 2009

Last night my publisher, myself and my two kids held an on-line toast for the completion of the manuscript index. It was the last section of the book not yet sent to the printer. At the moment he clicked send we all drank our toast. Now what do I do with all my free time?

July 15, 2009

Favorite business cards from Soapy Smith's Wake

(Click image to enlarge)
Best business cards

If there had been a contest for Best Business Card at the last Soapy Smith Wake these two would have most likely won. I was given these two dandies "Honest John" T and his lovely wife, "Lucky Linda." Not only are the card funny but note the address of 315 Holly Street, which is directly next door to Jeff Smith's Parlor (Soapy Smith's saloon) in Skagway, Alaska.

Thank you John and Linda! These are going into my personal collection.

July 14, 2009

Soapy Smith Wake - 2009

(Click images to enlarge)
The band play on
(Professor Dave Bourne and the band played 19th century tunes all night)

It has been six days since the Soapy Smith Wake at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. I have been too busy with my publisher to post about it. Now if I can just remember everything. I had the pleasure to have my daughter, Ashley accompany me once again this year. I brought the original grave marker and fliers for my book. This was the 6th annual affair at the Castle, a very plush 3-story Victorian home converted into a private magic club. There are many regular attendees from the membership of the Castle as well as the School for Scoundrels Forum. Some of the regular guests that I personally know included Jim and Suzanne Petersen, "German Pete", wife Maureen and their band of rogue cowboys, "Honest John" and wife "Lucky Linda," Phil Gessert brought his gambling house once again, which is always a big hit. Shay Maxwell brought out his faro table, Larry Bitterman and so many more great people who I just plain don't know their names. The period music and the gambling made this a night to remember.

I mingled while my daughter, supplied with $100 in Soapy money (supplied by the Magic Castle), decided to try her luck at the tables. I realized she had sat down at Shay Maxwell's faro table so while she played, I bent down and whispered stories about how her g-g-grandfather was addicted to the game and how he once slashed a faro layout with a 5" dirk (knife) . By the end of the night she had doubled her money. At one point she tired of faro and got up from the table to play another game. Five minutes later she was sitting at the other faro table manned by Wyatt Earp and his wife Josie. I think she's addicted.

"German Pete" and I chatting about my book
(I swear that's what we were talking about when this photo was taken)

There was so much going on and the evening went by so quickly. Let the photograph speak for themselves and tell the story.

Photographs taken by Hal Scheie (copyright)

Photographs taken by Jeff Smith

A very special thank you goes my good friend, Whit "Pop" Haydn
for putting this wonderful event on every year.

July 10, 2009

An inside man for Soapy Smith

(Click image to enlarge)

A Park Ranger talks about Jeff
Smith's Parlor (right) during a town tour

How nice it is to have an inside man when it comes to the restoration plans for Soapy Smith's saloon in Skagway, Alaska. That man, a young intern, B. Mike, has a blog called Commencing to Get Ready to Begin. I have talked about him before and the more I hear from him the more I like him.

. Mike traveled to Skagway for a week of research on the Parlor and other buildings. He has an opinion about the cost of restoration to some of the Skagway buildings but what he says at the end made my day. He writes,

Speaking of spending money on buildings, the McDermott Cabin in Dyea was the project that the interns came to Skagway to work on. This is a tiny little cabin that may have been a toll booth during the Gold Rush. It's possible that the building served as the toll booth for crossing the river before getting on the Chilkoot Trail. But really this is just a tiny old shack in the woods that we can only guess at its function. And to restore it to its possible Gold Rush appearance will cost $500,000, and that's on the cheap end. I know I am supposed to really respect historic preservation/rehabilitation at this point in the summer, but half a million bucks on a cabin when millions of Americans can't get a job just rubs me the wrong way. How about we give that money to a couple would be retirees who can't quit their jobs because they have totally lost their retirement funds. Or maybe we can just put 1898-esque siding on a couple cabins in the woods in an abandoned town that no one will ever see or care about. I'm getting a little jaded, but I still love my project and so I say bring on the millions to save Soapy's!

My hero...

(Click image to enlarge)

The mechanical Soapy made by

Martin Itjen that stood at the
bar inside Jeff Smith's Parlor,
now in storage.

B. Mike began his study of the Parlor and had this to say.

The next morning I finally got to go inside Soapy's, or as I know it the Jeff. Smith's Parlor Museum, and poke around a little bit. I had been inside for about 30 minutes the previous evening, but Wednesday afternoon I really got to explore. And explore I did. A curator named Jon showed me around the interior of the parlor museum which unfortunately has been totally cleaned out and stripped down. The only things that remain in it with any historic value are actually bar itself and the moose diorama that was built in the 1930s. It's two bull moose with locked horns that were once part of a larger bizarre wildlife diorama, but now are wrapped in plastic and sit in the middle of the room in the back of the museum. Pretty bummed that the museum was empty, but the park is in the process of preparing it for rehabilitation. My boy Jeff Smith, not Soapy but his great grandson, would just be crushed to see the museum in its current state, hell he'd be crushed to hear me keep calling it a museum. But there is some good news, which I will get to in a moment.

(Click image to enlarge)
Martin Itjen's Skagway Street Car

B. Mike continues,

What I did while I was in the museum was get a run through of all the layers of wallpaper that came off the walls when they first stripped the building down to the wood. Then I examined all the walls and any indications of old door frames and windows and then I spent about an hour climbing around in the various parts of the foundation attempting to tell what was original flooring and where clear changes in the foundation indicated additions to the building. One part of the foundation was so close to the ground that I had to lie on my back with a flashlight in the dirt just to get a look at it. I came out extremely dirty and extremely knowledge about the different types of flooring that went in to the building.

(Click image to enlarge)

Underneath Jeff Smith's Parlor.

. Mike continues,

While I was walking around the building a tour group came by and a park ranger looking woman gave them about a 7 minute talk on the history of the building. And here's the real key for my boy Jeff. No mention of either of the museum operators, Martin Itjen and George Rapuzzi. No mention that the building became a museum. The tour talk only harps on Soapy's life from wealthy southern beginnings to crime in mountain west and Alaska. One thing the tour totally missed on was Soapy's death, which the woman credited to Frank Reid who "shot Soapy right through the heart." As Jeff explains that is not the true story, but it is what the newspaper at the time reported, so hey let the 'amateurs' tell the story like that and leave it to guys like me and Jeff to set them straight. (One thing I learned about Soapy form Karl, which Jeff will undoubtedly dispute, is that Soapy was not the Grand Marshall in the 1898 July 4 parade, but actually just the leader of the 4th district. So he was a key part of the parade, but not the key part. Prove me wrong, Jeff.) But the key take away is that the tour of the Parlor Museum is actually just a talk about Soapy's life of crime. So for all my work to preserve the life and careers of the Soapy museum owners and operators the park just totally ignores that portion of the building's history. I guess you win this round, Jeff, but with all my efforts Itjen and Rapuzzi won't totally disappear. What I really learned, crime pays or at least it makes for a good story once you get shot.

We look forward to more of his posts.

July 9, 2009

Soapy Smith's saloon, 1940-1941

(Click image to enlarge)
Martin Itjen poses in front of Jeff Smith's Parlor
as it looked when he purchased it in 1935.
(Note the sign he holds appears to be possibly part
of the original sign that identified the saloon in 1898.)

I received an interesting email this morning from a Pat De Weel. I'll let her own words tell her story.

My father served in the Army's 508 Port Battalion in World War II. One of his fondest memories is being shipped to Skagway and going to Soapy Smith's Saloon. He remembers ordering a shot of every drink in the bar and then passing out only to find his fellow army buddies had shaved his head!

I am going to visit Skagway in August of this year and would like to see the saloon my father visited. Can you tell me the address of the saloon? Is it open to the public? I read information on your website and several others. Some indicate the saloon is still operating. Please let me know where it is so I can see where my father visited as a young man.

Thank you so much.
Pat De Weel
Las Vegas, NV

Jeff responds,

Dear pat.

In 1935 Martin Itjen purchased my great grandfather's (Soapy Smith) saloon (Jeff Smith's Parlor) located on the south side of 6th Avenue. He restored it back to the original way it looked when Soapy owned it and reopened it as a museum on Soapy. To my knowledge it was operational after 1940 when your father was stationed in Skagway but I don't think it served alcohol, but it is possible.

In 1963 it was relocated to the south side on Second Avenue, just west of Broadway (the main street) and reopened as a museum. The museum closed in the late 1960s and was never reopend. It is currently owned and about to go through resotration by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (National Park Service) and it will no doubt be years before it is again open to the public. You will have no problem finding it. Just ask any resident in town and they will lead you in the right direction. I strongly suggest going to the Headquarters of the NPS located in the huge train depot as you enter town and asking about their collection of Skagway war years collection. I am certain they have a display as well. Have a wonderful trip. I am certain you will love the town. that your father was so fond of.

(Click image to enlarge)
Martin Itjen poses inside Jeff Smith's Parlor
as it looked around 1940.
(Note the manicanical Soapy Smith effigy)

Special thanks to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical
Park for the use of photographs from their collection.

July 8, 2009

Here's to Soapy's ghost!

Today is the 111th anniversary of Soapy Smith death at the Gunfight on Juneau Wharf (July 8, 1898). Thirty-two years ago my father and the cast of the Days of 98 Show in Skagway, Alaska started a tradition of drinking a toast to 'ole Soapy at approximately 9:15 pm annually.

Five years ago the Wake tradition caught on at the famous Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. Magic and bunco games are close relatives as most bunco games are simply sleight-of-hand magic tricks meant to fool a dupe into giving up their money, many historians of magic tend to also be historians of the bunco men. As I live in California this is a lot easier and less expensive trek for me and members of the Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith.

Learn more about the Soapy Smith Wake and its history on the main website page HERE.

If you are unable to physically join us at one of the wakes, please, my family asks that, no matter where you are tonight at 9:15 pm, please stop for a second, raise your glass and give a toast

Relatives and Friends of "Soapy" Smith, raise your glasses

Here's to Soapy's ghost!

July 7, 2009

The Bloody Ballad of Soapy Smith

The Bloody Ballad of Notorious Bad Man
Soapy Smith’s Wretched and Violent Demise

by Ed Parrish © 2008

Ed Parrish, poet, singer, scoundrel and member of Friends 0f Bad Man Soapy Smith posted this video today on YouTube for the 111th anniversary of Soapy's death at the Gunfight on Juneau Wharf. It is the first song that describes Jesse Murphy as the true killer of Soapy Smith. Thank you Ed!

The lyrics

Alaska in the Gold Rush days, where life was cheap and thin,

Such desperate times were perfect times for brutal, desperate men.

In Skagway, Soapy’s grifter mob left many miners broke,

And if you weren’t a gambler, they’d just rob you of your poke.


With a pistol in his pocket and a rifle in his hands,

Soapy went alone to fight the vigilante band.

To shoot a few and chase the rest into the icy bay,

They’d wish they’d never messed with Soapy Smith of old Skagway.

Where your life ain’t worth a sawbuck, and your end is just ahead,

And the only law comes from your guns in a lightning hail of lead,

Soapy was the boss man. He ran old Skagway’s crime,

’Til the outlaws got together and said Soapy’s out of time.

With bad men cheating bad men, they’re going to spill bad blood.

They’re outlaws taking trips to hell down through Alaska’s mud.

The Skagway vigilantes couldn’t make him run away,

Soapy came straight at them to chase them into the bay.


With a pistol in his pocket and a rifle in his hands,

Soapy went alone to fight the vigilante band.

To shoot a few and chase the rest into the icy bay,

They’d wish they’d never messed with Soapy Smith of old Skagway.

The bullets started flying a’twixt Soapy Smith and Reid,

Until they both lay on the wharf, and there they both did bleed.

Then Jesse Murphy turned ol’ Soapy’s lever gun around,

And blew out Soapy’s heart as he lay helpless on the ground.

When the shooting stopped and cordite clouds thinned out enough to see,

Soapy went to boot hill, with the grifters’ guard, Frank Reid.

Nobody mourned old Soapy when they sent him off to hell.

Skagway wouldn’t miss him, not so’s anyone could tell.

(Final Refrain)

Bold as brass and full of fire, there in the midnight sun,

Soapy went straight at the mob, though he was only one.

He’s waiting in the pits of hell now with his guns in hand,

He’ll hunt them through eternity – that vigilante band.

July 5, 2009

Denver's dangerous dens

(Click image to enlarge)
The Arcade and Murphy's Exchange

The above photograph shows two of Denver's most notorious saloon and gambling halls of the 1890s. (A) The infamous Arcade Restaurant and Club rooms (saloon and gambling hall) and (B) Murphy's Exchange, aka "the slaughter house," so named for all the deadly violence that occurred there on a regular basis. The first floors were saloons and restaurants while the upper floors, combined together with a stairway, contained the gambling halls. (C) the Chever Block building down the street housed Soapy Smith's second floor office and the short-lived Midway saloon and gaming hall. Making a left at that corner would enable one to visit Soapy's Tivoli Club saloon and gaming den, and just a little further down, his cigar store, which was only a front for "big mitt" (rigged poker) games in a back room.

In 1890 the Arcade was Denver's largest gambling hall, with six to nine faro tables running at any one time. Some historians state Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson dealt faro there. It is said to have been one of Soapy's favorite places to gamble in. He had numerous violent outbursts while sitting at the faro tables, but it was the beating Soapy and his younger brother Bascomb, administered to Arcade proprietor, John Hughes in 1895 that ended the Soap Gang's reign in Denver.

It was in Murphy's Exchange, located directly next door to the Arcade, that Soapy temporarily placed McGinty, the petrified man on display, and it was in Murphy's where in 1892 Jeff, along with gun-man Jim Jordan, might have shot and killed gambler Cliff Sparks.

A lot more detail on the above information can be had in my book.

Special Note: McGinty still exists! I not only know where, but I believe I know who he was! (shameless plug for my upcoming book).

July 4, 2009

Skagway, July 4, 1898

(Click image to enlarge)
Fitzhugh Lee float
Soapy Smith's eagle

The photograph above was taken by Reverend John Sinclair on July 4, 1898. It depicts the moments previous to the big scheduled parade. The float, a freight wagon, holds a large wire cage containing the live American bald eagle given to Soapy Smith a short time earlier. Behind the wagon a man holding a large American flag will be followed by Soapy's private volunteer army, the Skaguay Military Company, in which Soapy is Captain. The small boy dressed as "Uncle Sam" is the 9-year-old son of Soapy's business partner John Clancy. The wagon rests in front of Soapy's saloon, Jeff Smith's Parlor (far right). The white and grey horse between the Parlor and the wagon is Soapy's. He will be riding the same as (officially) the fourth division marshal of the parade, but Soapy manages to force his way to the front of the parade, becoming the unofficial grand marshal.

July 3, 2009

Happy American Independence Day - July 4

I want to wish all my American viewers
a happy and safe July 4, Independence Day.

Soapy Smith may have been a bad man but he was a very patriotic one. I now have photographs of three separate saloons he operated in three cities that have a minimum of a large US flag flying. Two also had red, white and blue bunting draped across the front entrances.

July 2, 2009

Soapy Smith Wake, 2009

This July 8 is the 111th anniversary of Soapy Smith's murder. Skagway, Alaska will be having their 32 annual Soapy Wake/Party and the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California will be having their 6 annual Wake event. The Hollywood event is the one I attend. This is a great event in a plush atmosphere with period old west gambling, music, etc. If interested you should contact me as the Magic Castle is a members only event. Being a member I might be able to get some of you in as guests. To learn more about the event check out the Wake page on the main website HERE.

July 1, 2009

Soapy Smith art

(Click image to enlarge)

Artist Adam Record made this great depiction of Soapy and his prize package soap racket for his blog, Fall Down Tree. You can visit and purchase prints of this piece.