January 31, 2010

Soapy Smith in Whitehorse Canada?

Soapy gets caught in Whitehorse
"They always get their man?"

he above picture was found on an unrelated family trip blog to Canada that found its way to me. This is one of those face cut-out picture opportunities in which the tourist gets to replace the historic face with their own. A member of the N.W.M.P. who has just caught Soapy Smith in Whitehorse. There is no provenance that Soapy ever stepped foot in Canada.


January 29, 2010

The Columbia Hotel, Denver

I found this photograph showing the Columbia Hotel and Cafe Company located on the south-west corner of Seventeenth and Market Streets in Denver, Colorado in the 1890s. Soapy's saloon and gaming house, The Tivoli Club is just out of camera view on the far left of the photo, directly across the street (south-east corner) from the hotel.


January 27, 2010

Soapy Smith and "Shorty" Galbraith

We are back. It will take a week to get back to normal but it feels great to be operating again.

I recently corresponding with Jo Anne Galbraith, granddaughter of George Oliver Galbraith, alias "Shorty." She contacted me to find out if I had some information showing that George was involved with Soapy in Skagway, Alaska.

She writes,

Hello Jeff,

I got your name and address from the Skagway Convention & Visitors bureau. They said you have done a lot of research into Soapy Smith and his cohorts.

My name is Jo Anne Galbraith and my father told me many years ago that my grandfather used to bootleg whisky to Alaska at the turn of the century. My father even told me there was a picture of him hanging in a bar in Skagway. He was known as "Shorty" and I was wondering if you ran across that name in any of your research.
Thank you for your time.

In another email she writes,

My grandfather George Oliver Galbraith AKA Shorty was in the state of Washington by 1900 or 1904 so I would think his time in Alaska must have been before that. Probably during the gold rush.

Thanks for your time and responding so quickly!

Jo Anne Galbraith

Jo, I was not able to find any documentation on George "Shorty" Galbraith but I am willing to bet that if he was in Skagway in 1897-1898 and involved in "criminal activities" then he most likely had dealings with Soapy Smith.

There is no concise record or count of all the men who worked for Soapy. Some were temporary, while they were in town, while others worked for Soapy for years. I am very hopeful that there are records somewhere, perhaps within the Smith family collections, that show the name of Galbraith. In the mean time don't give up!

ATTENTION SOAPY DESCENDANTS: Please look in your records and see if anyone can come up with George Oliver "Shorty" Galbraith. Thank you.


January 13, 2010

Coming back real soon!

I was able to borrow an old computer from a good friend of mine, Phil Gessert. Unfortunatly it is only 112 mb, meaning it is pretty slow and unable to handle much. I am grateful that I am able to receive emails.

I took my computer into my regular repair shop, Human Computer in Riverside, Ca., and he informed me that my harddrive is good but that other componants broke down. The good news is that I will soon be back up and running! In the mean time I have been reading my own book. I had it published in October 2009 and still have not read it all the way through...

There is so much I am looking forward to sharing with you!

Until then...



January 7, 2010

My computer is down...

Hello fans of Soapy Smith and history.

My computer bit the dust. I am on disability so getting a new one may take some time. Hopefully someone out there has one sitting in a garage that they are not using and can donate to the cause for expanding knowledge and history. Unfortunatly, until then this blog will remain silent in regards to new posts.

Now is a good time to investigate the archives and check out what you missed. I hope to be up and running once again real soon.


January 3, 2010

"Doc" Baggs, Denver, part V

(Click image to enlarge)
The Denver office of Charles "Doc" Baggs
showing the infamous fake safe

Confidence man Charles L. "Doc" Baggs is known for certain to have operated in Denver, Colorado between 1880-84. We know from newspaper accounts that he operated in the same location of Seventeenth and Larimer Streets that Soapy Smith later would control.

To “Doc” Baggs all phases of life were pretense, sham and deception. He was an adept student of human nature, and made the most of the fact that a man’s first impression is a lasting one.

With this point in view, shortly after the building of the first union station in Denver, “Doc” Baggs operated a bunco shop on lower Seventeenth, near the old United States mint. He occupied the upper floor of a two-story block, the stairway to his “offices” leading from the Seventeenth street sidewalk. Here, in rooms at the head of the stairway, he installed the most sumptuous headquarters he had yet had in Denver.

To all appearances it was a suite of offices similar to those occupied in other parts of the city by prosperous brokers and real estate men. But “Doc” Baggs’ place was a pretense and sham, built up for the sole purpose of creating that first, lasting impression on the visitor. ~Denver Times

One of the all-time great stories coming from Baggs’ time in The "Queen City of the Plains" revolves around an early arrest for bunco-steering, the common term for swindling a victim with a confidence scam.

... But there came a time when “Doc” Baggs mixed with the law. Michael Spangler, who was sheriff at the time, stepped in over the lax authority of the chief of police and announced that Baggs and his band of confidence men must go. A complaint issued from the district attorney’s office charged Baggs with being a bunco-steerer and he actually spent a part of one day in jail before he secured bail.

That trial is still fresh in the memory of those county officials who still are Denver residents. Baggs much to the surprise of every body, especially to his friends, elected to act as his own attorney. Judge Victor A. Elliott presided at the trial. The courtroom was at Fifteenth and Lawrence streets over the post office. Baggs, dapper and smooth, objected to the wording of the complaint. It charged him, he said, with being a “bunco-steerer.” No such term appeared in the statutes defining criminal acts, he averred, and a man could not be found guilty on a charge not prohibited by the statutes. He also produced a big dictionary to prove that it did not contain the term “bunco-steerer.”

The court accepted his views and quashed the information.

... Sheriff Spangler adopted a strategic move to rid the town of Him. Mr. Spangler selected Emil Auspitz, a widely known German, a deputy in the sheriff’s office at the time, and instructed him to follow Baggs during his waking hours and to orally warn every individual whom Baggs approached of the latter’s identity. It kept him busy, but the deputy for days on carried out the instructions.

"Do you know the man you are talking to? Auspitz would inquire of a stranger. "If not, let me inform you that he is ‘Doc’ Baggs, the most notorious confidence man in town."

Baggs at first took the matter as a huge joke. The warning "cooked his business," to be sure, but it afforded him opportunity for much amusement. His assortment of disguises exactly fitted the occasion. It was Baggs’ delight to come down town of a morning made up in such a costume that the deputy would fail to recognize him. At times the surveillance would be off for hours. Then Baggs, surfeited with the sport he was having, would make himself known and the good-natured deputy, faithful in the performance of his duty, would continue to sound his warning to all strangers seen talking to Baggs.

To vary the sport Baggs, when lost from his "shadow," would induce a friend to give the deputy a false tip as to Baggs’ identity and many a citizen was thus overhauled by Auspitz, much to the merriment of Baggs. The jolly confidence man even went around the streets inquiring about his "shadow," as he termed Auspitz.

As the days lapsed into weeks the situation became less amusing to Baggs. He could do no "business" because of Auspitz’s warnings, his men were arrested on vagrancy charges, and he finally decided to move on. Gathering his confidantes about him one evening he boarded a southbound Rio Grande train and quit the city, as it proved, for good.

“I well remember that occasion,” commented Mart Watrous. “I was a city detective at the time and, as it happened, boarded the same train, taking a prisoner to a Southern city. Later, in the chair car, I recognized the faces of several of Baggs’ men, but did not see Baggs. I wasn’t looking for him, remember. As the train was nearing Pueblo, a sedate-looking passenger, passing down the aisle of the car, stopped a moment in front of my seat, just long enough to attract my attention. He raised the point of a false, white beard he was wearing slightly, but far enough for me to recognize him. It was ‘Doc’ Baggs in one of his ministerial disguises. He rejoined his men without saying a word. There was no criminal charge against him. It was just a little piece of bravado on his part.


Rocky Mountain News, 07/08/1884
Denver Times, 08/08/1915

To be continued...


January 2, 2010

Please join us.


Could Soapy Smith have had another family?

(Click image to enlarge)

On December 30 I received a very interesting email from Steve Lattanzio seeking his family roots. I think you will find this one unique. Does anyone in the Smith family line recognize any of these names?

Steve writes,

Hi. My name is Steve. I am wondering if it was possible that Soapy could have had a child with another woman, even possibly marrying her. Here is what I know:

My great grandfather-in-law's name is Jesse Malbert Smith and he was born in either 1895 or 1896 in Blackshear, GA to Drucilla Riggins and an unknown father. In 1899 Drucilla married Jesse's Stepfather Jessie Kicklighter and they had (I think 5) more children. Jesse Malbert shows up on censuses as having the surname Kicklighter or Riggins as a child. Later on records such as his WWI draft registration card have his surname as Smith. It is as if his father's identity was revealed to him when he became an adult and he chose to take his father's surname.

My grandfather-in-law (Jesse Malbert Smith's son), Malbert Smith Jr., claims not to know much about his grandfather. All the family has been told is that he was from Georgia, involved in politics, but not necessarily a politician, and that he was shot and killed when Jesse Malbert Smith was very young.

Only a few days ago I began to do research on ancestry.com as a favor to my wife's maternal grandfather (it's his account) to find out more about our relatives on all sides of the family. I quickly became intrigued with finding Jesse Malbert Smith's real father. I scoured all the records on ancestry.com and the rest of the internet and found some suspects, but nothing good. I eventually came across Soapy Smith and lots of things matched up. He had the right name, was born around the right time, died around the right time, was from Georgia, was involved in politics, and was shot to death. Additionally, my grandfather-in-law looks very much like Soapy. . . I showed a picture of Soapy to my in-laws at dinner and they all agree. Also, from what I read about Soapy on your website and other places, he was a fugitive for a couple of years around 1895 through 1897 and traveled around before he showed up in Alaska. Could he have spent some time in or around Blackshear, GA?

Other than all of this, I came across this on the internet:

"As for Soapy's remains, miner Calvin Barkdull, who testified at Soapy's inquest, wrote this in his memoirs in 1952: "Shortly thereafter, a woman from Georgia arrived saying she was Soapy's legal wife and was there to claim his corpse. The grave was opened, and I heard that Soapy's body was not there." No other writings support his claim, however."

If this actually happened, I don't think that this was Mary Noonan since it looks like Mary was from St. Louis. and this suggests that there is another wife that lived in Georgia, possibly Drucilla Riggins.

So, could you either tell me any information that you have that suggests that this is possible (that he traveled to GA in that time frame, etc.) or that suggests that it is not possible. I would be interested in finding out if my daughter's great-great-great-grandfather was someone famous like Soapy and it would also be nice to solve this family mystery.


Steven M. Lattanzio II

(Click image to enlarge)
Close-up of the above sterioview card

Jeff writes a response,

Hi, Steve.

I have some free time in which I can explain why I don't think Soapy had a second family, although anything is possible.

My great-grandfather saved nearly every letter and document he ever wrote and received. My family have literally thousands of such writing. In Skagway after he was killed the vigilantes found a trunk filled with personal items, letters and documents. The vast majority were handed over to his wife and son when they went to Skagway to collect his estate. There is not a single hint of another family, and only scant hint of "another woman" in Skagway. If what you wrote was possibly true then there would be at least one letter. Please believe me, if I thought there was a possibility I would not try to hide it. I am a historian who prides himself on the truth.
There is no information that Soapy ever returned to Georgia after he moved from there with his parents, to Texas in 1876.

The information you found in the book by Calvin Barkdull is mistaken. The only newspaper accounts of a widow coming to Skagway regards Mary. Those two articles are pretty detailed so there is no mistake it is Mary Smith and their son Jefferson. Soapy's grave was not opened as she did not wish to have his remains transported back to St. Louis. Interesting to hear that he said that the body was not there! In 1917 a major flood carried Soapy's grave out to sea. Thus today the marker tourists see is not over Soapy's old resting place. Looking to the south of the marker you will see a large gully dug by the flood. This is the true ex-resting place of Soapy Smith.

I am sorry I could not give what you were hoping for. I wish you all the luck in finding your family history.

Jeff Smith


"Doc" Baggs - Leadville, Colorado , part IV

(Click image to enlarge)
Leadville around the time "Doc" Baggs arrived

Around 1880 confidence man Charles L. Baggs moved his operations to Leadville, Colorado where it is said he made $75,000. While there Baggs met a woman and decided to marry. The famed "Fighting Parson Tom Uzzell performed the marriage ceremony.

The prospect was not alluring but Parson Tom, to use his own language, “didn’t like to refuse,” and he went to the notorious dive when the rooms above the gambling house beamed with light and splendor, and the wedding guests in rich attire impatiently awaited the coming of the clergyman.

The bride, whose character was not of the best, was arrayed in conventional bridal attire of the most luxurious quality, and “Doc” was resplendent in full evening dress. None of the minor fashionable details had been forgotten. The men and women were the entire sporting population of Leadville. For a moment the splendor of the scene and the dignity of the bridal party almost staggered the parson, whose drawing room experience had been very limited. But he summoned sufficient voice to unite the pair and to ask God’s blessing on the marriage. All present bowed their heads, and Tom was encouraged to elaborate somewhat on his usual form of supplication. After Baggs had kissed the bride he slipped a $20 note into the parson’s hand. When Parson started to retire the bridegroom forgot his lines and swore violently.

(Click image to enlarge)
The "Reverend" Baggs
(One of Baggs' many disguises)

“D-n you, Uzzell.” He said. “What are you thinking of? You’re not going until we’ve had something to eat.”

So Parson Tom sat down, and although his heart was in his mouth he partook, perhaps, of a more sumptuous repast that he has ever seen before or has ever seen since.

“I kept the money in my hand all the time” he said afterward, and I was mortally afraid they’d ‘do’ me, but they didn’t. They kept up appearance until I left, and Baggs sent me home in the handsomest carriage in the town.”

Baggs later relocated in Denver where a bunco gang, probably Baggs’, is reported to have raked in nearly $25,000 in a few months time.

To be continued...

Rocky Mountain News, 08/29/1880, 12/27/1892.
St. Paul Globe, 01/02/1891.
Omaha Daily Bee, 03/03/1882.

Parson Thomas Uzzell, pp. 30, 60, 84, 108, 134-38, 175, 187, 198, 231, 233-35, 266-68, 271, 294, 329, 406.


January 1, 2010

Charles "Doc" Baggs, part III.

“I am emotionally insane. When I see anyone looking in a jewelry store window thinking how they would like to get away with the diamonds, an irresistible desire comes over me to skin them. I don’t drink, smoke, chew, or cheat poor people, I pay my debts.”
~Charles L. “Doc” Baggs
The Law Goes West, Forbes Parkhill.
courtesy of Robert DeArment

It was reported in the September 20, 1883 issue of the Omaha Daily Bee that confidence man Charles L. Baggs obtained the moniker of “Doc” “from the fact that he used to carry a little grip of instruments and medicines as a guy. That story can't be confirmed as this appears to be the only source. Another story I always found fascinating about Baggs was the breakdown fake safe he used in his big-store operations. There are enough witnesses to this apparatus to believe that it could be true.


From accounts told he used the safe between the approximate years 1877 - 1884. Baggs,

...always had his false safe, an enormous affair made of wood with a silver knob, beautifully painted and labeled ‘Hull’s Patent.’ It looked exactly like a heavy iron safe. One day Doc’s office in Deadwood caught fire, and he surprised everybody by running down stairs with the massive safe on his back. … The thing cost him as much as $100. Of course he wanted to save it. He had it made of wood so he could fold it up and carry it around easily from place to place. You know every time the bunco man catches a big ‘sucker’ he moves his office. When the ‘sucker’ next comes around he don’t find anything but an empty room. Besides, Doc used to keep his money and valuables in that same old wooden chest. No burglars would venture to tackle its massive sides, and it was as secure as it would have been in any vault in the country.
~St. Louis Globe-Democrat. March 8, 1882.

Another account of the safe comes from his days in Denver.

The most amazing part of this deception was an immense safe, or vault that appeared to be built into the wall, its front flush with the far side of the main office. It was no less than seven feet square, and as the massive doors stood wide open the viewer could see in the interior depths of the safe, the shelving, boxes and pigeonholes so usual and customary in all well regulated safes.

In fact, this “safe” was a cleverly executed painting. In case of a police raid, or other emergency, it readily could be ripped off the wall. Its make-up consisted of a number of thin wooden panels about the size of a cigar box lid all joined together by a surface of silk or other strong and smooth material upon which had been painted the picture of a safe including the lettering emblems and the pretty red and blue decorative lines. The perspective view into the safe’s interior was a gem of the painter’s art.

“Doc” Baggs’ desk stood at the right of the safe, while in front of the large room, as the visitor entered, were solid oak counters and a railing and gate of similar material. At least, that was the way it looked. But they were “phoney” also. Glass panels in the doors leading out of the room bore the words “Private,” “Superintendent,” “Manager,” “Attorney,” etc. They were really doors in movable partitions which could be, when necessity arose, quickly pushed into the walls. Clerks sat on high stools back of the counters with huge paper mache ledgers in front of them, busy as bank tellers at the closing hour.

This was the situation in “Doc” Baggs’ confidence shop when it was sought to impress an intended victim with the solidarity of the institution. When the signal came to dissemble after the “trimming of the sucker,” for instance, Baggs himself removed the safe from the wall, folded it up and walked out with it under his arm. The clerks looked after the ledgers and other paraphernalia, adjusted the false partitions and followed Baggs into the street. It was all done in a jiffy.

Naturally, the victim lost no time in reporting his loss. The patrolman on that beat was conveniently near. It was whispered in those days that he has a “stand-in” with the fleecers of the innocent. The man hurriedly explained to the officer what had happened to him.

“Take me to the place at one—we’ll soon have the whole outfit in jail,” exclaims the astonished policeman.

The victim leads the way up the stairs he had so recently descended and without ceremony pushes open the door. The interior is a bedroom, just one of those common everyday, plainly furnished lodging house bedrooms. The prosperous-looking broker’s office had disappeared as if by magic. The clerks with the aid of sliding partitions, had again done their work well.
~Denver Times, 1915

To be continued...