Soapy Smith auction houses
According to the Rocky Mountain News of 1915 Baggs had made trips to Denver in the 1870s however I could not find anything on him in Denver that early. Perhaps he might have been there in the very late part of the 70s but most certainly he had arrived by 1880. He continued to travel around the country while residing in Denver. I found him in Omaha, Neb. and Minneapolis, Mn., in September 1882. From there it is believed he went to Chicago where he opened a “big store” operation before returning to Minneapolis, then Brainerd and St. Paul in 1883 (source: St. Paul Daily Globe, April 11, 1883).
In May he returned to Omaha (source: Omaha Daily Bee, June 2, 1883).
“While ‘trimming a sucker.’ To use his own parlance, he was a man of many parts. His disguises were numerous and varied for the occasion at hand. He could be a ranchman, stockman, miner, banker, minister or laboring man, with equal faculty.
His two most famous disguises old timers say, were in playing the part of a stockman or a clergyman. As a stockgrower, just in from the country on business first and sight-seeing later, he not only dressed the part, but reeled off phrases of the cowboy and ranchhand. As a minister, with high silk hat, long Prince Albert coat, white tie and black gloves, he walked the streets as sedately as would any gentleman of the cloth.
His wardrobe of disguises would have been the pride of any theater property man.”
(RMN Aug 8, 1915)
(Click image to enlarge)
"Doc" disguised as a prosperous stockman
1884 was Baggs last hurrah in Denver. The following are 1884 newspaper excerpts regarding Baggs.
“We would like to know why “Doc” Baggs doesn’t run for alderman. He posses peculiar fitness for the position, and if he could secure a Republican nomination his election would be a foregone nomination in any ward of the city if he will only pay the price.”
(RMN Feb 27, 1884)
Doc Wins"'Doc’ Baggs had the novel experience of getting the law on his side yesterday, the jury in the County court in the damage suit against W. B. McCrary & Co., bringing in a verdict in the doctor’s favor for nearly $300 damages. The defendant commission merchants will take an appeal to the Supreme court. Thirteen witnesses were examined in the case, and the worthy doctor displayed nearly as much talent and shrewdness as his attorney, General Montgomery. Judge Harrington had never met the doctor before and gave it as his private opinion yesterday that the so-called ‘M.D.’ was a very smart man. ‘Doc’ Baggs has evidently mistaken his profession. He should have been a lawyer.”
(RMN March 27, 1884)
Baggs BotheredHe is Put to a Trifling inconvenience on Account of Bunkoing a Man Out of $1,000. A few days ago there arrived in Denver from San Jose Cala., a nice smoothly dressed, middle-aged gentleman named J. A. Moultrie. He stopped at the Windsor. Moultrie is an ex-prosecuting attorney and an ex-judge, and had evidently seen and heard enough of the world to know enough to take care of himself under ordinary circumstances. But the contrary appears. Yesterday morning he fell in with “Doc” Baggs, and Topper and Robertson, his friends. It was soon developed that Moultrie had money. He was induced, without any very great degree of persuasion to visit “Doc’s” rooms and try his luck in the famous old-time method of winning it at lottery. At first great luck was his. Then the system switched, and in a very short time Mr. Moultrie had lost $1,000 in good Uncle Sam greenbacks. At first he failed to tumble to the racket, but after he had thought over the matter for a short time, it began to dawn upon him that he had played a great engagement as a sucker. Then he became very warm and wrathy, and sought Sheriff Graham, to whom he related his grievances. Together they proceeded to Justice Jeffries and had issued warrants for Baggs, Topper and Robertson. About half an hour later the sheriff had the satisfaction of meeting “Doc” Baggs and placed him under arrest. He was not under arrest very long however. As is usual in such cases a compromise was effected, Moultrie receiving the most of his money and “Doc” being allowed to go free, as Moultrie would not prosecute. Thus ended another of the daily occurrences of confidence games in our city.
(RMN July 1, 1884)
Eight days later on July 8 Baggs was in the newspapers again for being accused of running the lottery racket against a victim for $400. However the police had a different view.
“The police say that they do not suspect “Doc” Baggs as having any connection with the affair and do not believe that it was any of the gang that “skinned” the victim. There appears to be a number of new bunko men about town just now and they do not appear to all belong to one gang either. … “Doc” was very stylishly dressed yesterday morning-a new gray summer suit and a white plug hat and carrying a new silk umbrella..."
(RMN July 8, 1884)
In 1884 the infamous bunco gang of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith had risen to become the chief rival of Baggs so it is likely that the “new” bunko men about town” were members of the Soap Gang.
"Doc" Baggs, the Denver bunko steerer has been indicted by the grand jury of Arapahoe county, and he is to be tried at the present term of court, for swindling and wholesale robbery.
The Tribune-Republican is waging war on the variety theaters, the bunko-steerers, and places of iniquity in general about Denver. It is furnishing a series of biographical sketches that is not very flattering to the individuals written of, or to the police force and members of the City Council who permit this class of people to prey upon every susceptible stranger who comes to that city. The gang of blacklegs that hover around the Union Depot in Denver should be given an application of turpentine and run out of the city, and any City Council flavored with any instinct of decency would see that their absence fill a "long felt want."
(Fort Morgan Times (Fort Morgan, Colo.) November 20, 1884.)
The Denver Tribune-Republican prints the following in bold faced type, under the head of "Warning to Strangers" and below it gives a biographical sketch of the principal operators in confidence games, including "Doc" Baggs, Ed Chase (Soapy Smith’s partner) and John Bull.
Denver is infested with bunko thieves and confidence men. The ordinances of the city forbid their presence and forbid their plying their nefarious occupation, but these ordinances are not enforced and no attempt is made to drive their violators out of the community. You are warned not to make the acquaintance of men who accost you in the hotels or on the street, and who desire to show you the town. Many of them are "cappers" of bunko houses and thieving gambling dens. You may see them in conversation with policemen and police officials. This affords you no guaranty as to their standing, for these men and their practices are well known to the police and to the city officials, yet they are not interfered with, but are permitted, unmolested, to rob and swindle.
The following day Baggs was in a Denver courtroom where he tried the previously successful tactic of quashing a case against him for running a confidence game “on the grounds that the charge of practicing a confidence game was not specific enough in its character, a particular case not being set forth. His request was denied and trial was set for December 4 (source: RMN November 21, 1884).
Bags days in Denver were numbered. The outcome of the December trial is unknown at this time but by the end of the month Baggs was reported in Texas.
“Doc” Baggs, he of bunko fame, has been arrested at Fort Worth, Texas for fleecing a “sucker out of $1,000.
(Fort Morgan Times (Fort Morgan, Colorado) December 25, 1884.)
By 1885 Baggs was on his way out of the game heading towards retirement, leaving Soapy Smith the opportunity to step into the position of becoming Denver's criminal underworld king.
Baggs was such a well-known fixture to the Denver residents that during one trip away from town it was rumored he had been killed. On January 9, 1885 the Denver high school held a moot court for the pretend trial of his murder entitled, Baggs’ Body (source: RMN, January 8, 1885).
It is not known if Baggs ever returned to Denver. In March 1885 it was published in the Rocky Mountain News that he and partner, Clay Wilson, were jailed in South Carolina for selling a gold brick for $3,000 (source: RMN, March 7, 1885).
As late as 1890 the RMN expected Baggs to show up in Denver and resume his operations there (source: RMN July 10, 1890).
“Doc” Baggs had not long been away from Denver until reports began reaching here from various parts of the country of his operations in his wider gold-brick field. Associated with him in the greater number of these deals was Clay Wilson, who created a great Denver sensation in 1881 by shooting and killing Jim Moon, the police terror and gambling house proprietor.
Prior to quitting Denver, Baggs was not known to have disposed of more than one gold brick. That one he sold to H. M. Smith, a Leadville banker, for $20,000. Cal Somers aided him in turning that trick.
The carbonate camp [Leadville] was new then and every man was intent on money making. The game of selling a gold brick, playing entirely on a rich man’s cupidity, was not an old one in those days.
A Mexican, it was represented, living in a shack at the foot of Chestnut street, had in his possession a gold brick which, long years ago, had been stolen in a stage robbery while being transported under guard from a Mexican mine to a coast city. The stage holdup was captured, but not before he had buried the treasure. A few days prior to dying in prison, he had confided his secret to a fellow convict, who, on leaving the prison, dug up the plant and was then in Leadville ready to dispose of the gold at less than half its value. Such a long period had elapsed since the robbery that none of the principals still lived; the mine had been abandoned and its owner had left Mexico.
Banker Smith was willing to pay $20,000 for the gold if he were permitted to do his own testing of the gold’s value. This he did. He sawed into the brick in various places, carefully wrapped the filings in a piece of newspaper and took them to an assayer. The gold was as represented, the money paid over to the Mexican and the brick placed in the bank’s vaults.
“Doc” Baggs was the Mexican and Cal Somers his go-between. Somers had deftly substituted genuine gold particles wrapped in a piece of newspaper, for the filings that Banker Smith had taken from the brick, at some time before the filings reached the assayer.
It was two years later that Banker Smith took the brick to the mint and the fraud was exposed.
In 1891 Baggs and Clay Wilson at the Hotel Coronado in California, swindled an Eastern man out of $80,000 by the same Mexico robbery story, and before the details became public they had caught Tom Fitch, who afterward became known as the “silver-tongued orator of the Pacific coast,” and I. R. Howard of the Cedros Island Mining company, for another $15,000. The only variation in the game was that Baggs, in this case, personated an Indian who couldn’t speak a word of English, and an interpreter had to be secured.
Not known for certain is what became of Baggs after his release. One story states he pulled one last sting coming away with $100,000 (use inflation calculator) and retired (RMN 1915). Another story states that “as late as 1930…, Baggs was in good health at the age of ninety-three, living quite comfortably under another name on an estate located near New York City.” Amazingly upon his “disappearance,” no known criminal charges hung over him.
Members of the Baggs gang who stayed behind in Denver after “Doc” Baggs left town included “Troublesome Tom” Cady, Gene Laughlin, Cliff Sparks, Tom Daniels, Joe Armstrong (alias George Millsap), Cal Somers, George Wilder, John L. Bowers, J. B. Parmer, Bill Kelly, and Con Sullivan. Daniels reorganized Baggs’ outfit under his own leadership. Some stayed with him while others applied for membership in Soapy Smith’s gang. By the end of 1885 Soapy was recognized as Denver’s new underworld boss.
A post on True West Magazine Forum led me to the Mangold Auction firm where lot #296 had two gaming chips said two have been Soapy’s. The description reads,
Display of famous "Old West" conman Soapy Smith pics, postcards and two poker chips owned by him. Molly of Fly Photography, Tombstone, Arizona postcard of Ed Schiefflin, the founder of Tombstone. Antique booklets, calendar and more.
Soapy Smith: Here is the reply from the consignor on lot 296.
At one time we did have a letter but don't know what happened to it. We bought the chips from an antique store in Globe AZ. We have no reason to doubt his word. He also told us that he had sold Doc Holliday's dentist tools which we found out was true from soneone else. We had never heard of Soapy Smith until he told us about who he was and that he knew Wyatt Earp so we bouoght them. He had a stack of chips but we just bought 2. We later bought the postcards off ebay or made copies of the photos from books.
The photograph is poor but having collected gambling artifacts in the past I’d say they sort of look like the wood/paper pulp compressed chips of the mid 1900s, well after Soapy was deceased.
John's a very conscientious and reliable researcher, and my only (faint) hesitation in taking that birth date as gospel is the fact that it would have made K. [William "Klondike" O'Donnell] only five years older than Capone, and barely in his 30s when most of the action was going on; for instance, McSwiggin was killed in 1926, when K would have been only 32 if the birth date is correct. Yet the picture I got from the Sun-Times files shows a man who (at least to me) looks to be at least in his 40s. At this remove, I don't remember the details or where I got the information, but on p. 82 I wrote that he "was older than the general run of gangsters" and "much older" than Myles. OF course, can't say how much older.
The fact that your O'D was not nicknamed "Klondike" after all makes the coincidence much less startling, in fact barely a coincidence, neither "Wm." nor "O'D" being terribly rare.
SO I guess I have to backtrack and say the order of likelihood that they are the same person has become--in light of John's findings and the non-shared nickname--much diminished, maybe to the vanishing point.
Good luck with your book.
Dear Mr. Smith:My Web site derives from my book, MR. CAPONE, which I believe is generally reckoned the standard biography--because of the extensive research that went into it, reflected in the 93 pages of source notes at the end. My note, on page 386 of the notes section, referencing page 82 of the text, which is the first mention in my book of O'Donnell and his west side gang, reads like this: "No source even speculated on the origin of his nickname; description (also of Myles, below) DN 5/27/26; no source gave exact ages or background of either". DN = Chicago Daily News, with the date of the issue; it was cited specifically for a description of K [“Klondike”].Kind of slim pickings. There were three west-side O'Donnell brothers. In the text, K. is called the oldest brother and only one of much account, Myles being much younger and rather sickly, and the middle brother, Bernard, being "lucky to have a job." After K., in fact, the most capable gang member was James J. Doherty, who was killed in the famous ambush that Capone orchestrated in which Bill McSwiggin, an asst. state's atty (Chicagoese for DA) was killed, McSwiggin a boyhood and ongoing pal of gangsters, out for an evening with his pals when Capone struck.Now, as to your specific question. It seems to me very possible that the two were the same man. You wrote that your Klondike was deported. Now, "deported" generally means sent back to the country of origin. Do you know where K. was deported to? If to Ireland, that would weigh heavily against they're being the same person. If to the U.S. it strengthens the supposition. It would certainly be a striking coincidence if there were two Wm O'Ds who had the same (surely not very common) nickname and-- unlike the vast majority of people--were criminals. If they were the same person, that would explain what is a passing strange nickname for a Chicago fellow. In my text (all of which derives from contemporary newspaper accounts, like that DN reference) I wrote that K. was much older not only than his brothers but also than the general run of that era's gangsters. I have a picture (in one of three 8-page picture forms, this one after p. 192) of both K. and Myles, and K. is, indeed, visibly older. If we can assume that he was no more than in his early 20s in 1898, he would have been about the age shown in his picture.Although I'm not a crime buff (I wrote the book because I thought it was a good idea and my agent agreed), out of curiosity, sparked by your e-mail, I Googled K. and read the first hit, the Wikipedia entry. I was mildly flattered to see that one of the two sources cited at the bottom was my book. The other was a recent '06 book than I've never heard of PADDY WHACKED, I think the name was. You might consult it as a source. Trouble is, the book evidently has Myles as the oldest brother and founder of the gang--which certainly is at odds with what contemporary newspapers said. So I don't know if the other book is reliable. The part they used mine for was the episode with Eddie Tancl. Unless the other book gives some pretty convincing sources, I would believe reporters who, after all, lived there, knew and covered the O'Ds. (And in the two contemporary pictures that I found, Myles is clearly very much younger than K.) The Wiki. entry says (source, I assume, the other book) that Myles was born on the west side. If so, then presumably so was K., but that doesn't mean much, since he could very well have lit out for Alaska with news of gold.In short, I don't know how you can, at this remove, prove the case either way. But it does seem likely (maybe even probable) that they are one person.If you want to read more about the brothers and the gang, you should be able to find my book in any fair-sized library. Or, if you want to own a copy, go back on my Web site, go to the "Know More" page, and you'll find links to the apposite page of Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Boarders. I believe Amazon offers the best deal.
Good luck with your research.
Hello, Robert.Thank you very for your detailed and sourced information. It is greatly appreciated. I will forward this to the Skagway Historical Society and place a hard copy in my files.It seems possible that another mystery has been solved. My g-grandfather's gang is as interesting to study as he is. A number of years ago I opened a can of worms in the western genre when my research led several of the gang directly to Wyatt Earp's "gang" which strengthened the concept that the Earp's were not the pristine lawmen many believed them to be. I made enemies with that one but it sure was fun.My book just came out this last October. I spent 25 years researching and am still finding new information, as you are aware.To answer one question and correct a comment, the O'Donnell in Skagway was not nicked named "Klondike." The word deported was the wrong word. Perhaps evicted would have been a better choice. William O'Donnell was evicted from Skagway (by vigilantes) and sent by ship along with others to Seattle, Washington.
Klondike O'Donnell, according to two different official records, was born May 12, 1894. This is also consistent with information in the U. S. Census.
JohnWell don't that beat all... I'll let Robert Schoenberg know about this new information and give him a chance to respond but right now it looks like there are two criminals name William O'Donnell. It wouldn't be the first time this has happened and it surely won't be the last.
. . . His strength was something terrible, and his deep chest was a human embodiment of Hercules . . . but with all his massiveness of frame he was agile and quick as a ballet dancer. Standing by the bar in a saloon he prided himself upon the fact that he could kick a man’s hat off with a single sweep of his foot. . . .
Burns did anything to make money, and as he seldom had the cash to engage in any of what are termed square gambling schemes, he earned a precarious livelihood by “skingames.” The old Theatre Comique was his favorite haunt. In a little side room known as “the joint,” many is the honest miner whom Big Ed robbed by dice, bunko or crooked poker. A cabinet of mineral specimens in one corner was always the pretext under which the victim was enticed into the den, and the gigantic form of the swindler did not make it desirable for the “sucker” to kick very loud or long.
. . . Might was right, muscle was master, and wherever brute strength was needed, Big Ed was called upon. The quieting effect that his massive form had upon a crowd, was something not readily expressed in words, and when he leaped into a wrangling circle of men, flung a chair out of the window, and said: “Let there be peace,” the silence was painful.
I wanted to write to you for a long time.
Let me first say how wonderful your book on "Alias Soapy Smith" is, which I obtained through Klondike [Klondike Research]. I have read most of it thoroughly. It is wonderful to have all this material available, and it is good to have all the primary references (such as RMN [Rocky Mountain News]). Many books without primary references turn out to be useless in the long run.
I had asked DeArment ("Knights of the Green Cloth") [Robert DeArment] about primary references, and he replied that he wrote the book a while ago, and did not keep the primary references. Thus, whatever he writes in the book, has to be taken in good faith.
Let me tell you a few things about myself. I have been interested in magic and gambling for maybe 50 years, and have been an avid collector. I have one of the biggest (and one of the few) collections in gambling and confidence games. (Perhaps ca. 800 volumes, in many languages).
One of my main interests have been "3 Card Monte" and the "Shell Game". Hence my familiarity with many aspects of Soapy. I am a friend of Whit Haydn, and, e.g., if you look in his book on "3 Card Monte", you will find my photos and antique illustrations. The same goes for photos of the "Shell Game" in more recent releases. He wanted to introduce us during several visits of mine to California but somehow this never was possible.
I was particularly intrigued by the reproduction of the photo of a 3 shell man (facing p. 353).
Here is perhaps an interesting tidbit. I have witnessed an actual "Soap Scam", as described in your book. This was in London, in the 50ies (presumably on Pettycoat Lane. One of my magic friends in London, Patrick Page, will know all about this scam in England. The scam I observed used soap in wrappers.
Incidentally, nobody seems to know where the now ubiquitous word "Scam" suddenly came from, about 35 years ago. It should be absent from all your original sources.
Obviously, you know much more about "Soapy" than I ever will know, and you have all the original materials. Nevertheless, let me make a few comments at this time.
You acknowledge Darryl Beckmann with respect to Alexander (alias Conlin). At one time, the hypothesis was put forward that Alexander in his youth was a member of the Soapy Gang in Skagway. This hypothesis would have been extremely interesting, because Alexander at one time marketed a "Shell Game Routine" through Thayer (under the pseudonym "Dr. Q"), and some people theorized that this routine may be related or have originated with Soapy.. The current expert on Alexander, however, is David Charvet. He has written a comprehensive book on Alexander. A revised second edition appeared a couple of years ago. While the first edition still maintained the Alexander hypothesis, this aspect since has been refuted (also by the family of Alexander), and seems no longer valid. It is not contained in the second edition, to the best of my knowledge (I have the book somewhere, but cannot lay my hands on it right now. I also met Alexander's remaining family members at the Magic Castle some years ago). (By separate memo, I am sending you an e-mail; concerning the first edition of the Charvet book).
(The photo from Skagway, in the bar, has been trimmed on the right side so as not to contain any "unknowns"). (I have discussed this aspect with Charvet).
I have also briefly looked in my library for references to Soapy that you do not include in your bibliography. (You may have your own reasons).
Mike Miller and Stan Sauerwein have published books on Soapy. (You allude to Clifford in your forward to the book).
Herbert Asbury may deserve mention. His "Sucker's Progress" is the best known history of gambling in the United States, and contains a chapter on Soapy. (Herbert Asbury wrote many other books, including "Gangs of New York", which was made into a movie a few years ago).
Generally, Herbert Asbury was a careful researcher, depending mostly on primary sources. His book has been accepted as the gospel not only by many gambling devotees, but by practically all Departments and Libraries of Western History . Unfortunately, if Asbury is wrong on any issue, the resulting wrong opinions seems pervasive in the U.S.
Irvin, "Confessions of a Con man" , which you include, is an interesting and somewhat unexpected (to me at least) reference.
Here are some others, that you do not include:
Alexander Klein, "Grand Deception" , on the legendary Mizners, which includes Soapy. This chapter is based on the New Yorker magazine.
Henry Chafetz, "Play the Devil, a History of Gambling in the United States from 1492 to 1950" is one of a small number of histories of gambling in the States (I probably have them all). and has a chapter (p. 131 ff)on Soapy . (P.S. I knew Henry Chafetz, who used to work at the fourth Street Bookstore in New York City. Henry died a long time ago; the bookstore has been closed for almost the same amount of time)..
Bill Kelly, "Gamblers of the Old West" mentions Soapy.
P.S. I have followed your wonderful web pages for quite some time.
I am very glad you liked the book.
I have kept all my primary references used in the book, plus just about everything I have ever come across about Soapy. Naturally my situation is different from DeArment's, whom I know. He and I have had numerous conversations and I trust his book(s), although I completely understand and agree that authors should keep their files. Then again if you write as many books as DeArment has then you end up needing storage units, lol.
I too (once) collected gambling and gaffed items but divorce cured me of that habit. Now I stick purely with Soapy and his associates.
As you know already, I know Whit too. We met for the first annual Soapy Smith party (Wake) at the Magic Castle. I am sorry we did not find the time and place to meet.
You mentioned that photo of the shell man facing page 353. The suit and hat are identical to what Soapy wore. It could be him, however, that was a common outfit for many 'Klondikers' and businessmen at the time in Alaska and the Yukon.
I have witnessed three-card monte and the shell games in New York and Los Angeles but never had the pleasure of seeing the prize package soap racket! On-line you can find "Money Soap" which is the same principal and is obviously a swindle as they advertise that you can win a fifty dollar bill.
I disagree that David Charvet is the leading expert on Conlin. I have personally known Darrel for a number of years now and he has impressed me with his knowledge and sources. On the other hand, David, whom I have met only once but have exchanged many emails with, continues to mislead his readers with bogus information about Soapy's death using my own words out of context. Although for several years I have proven to him that I did not agree with his made up story of Conlin killing Soapy, in which on the Magic Cafe he finally consented that he was wrong, yet he refused to take out the information in his second edition. This is definitely not the method of a historian. Whether Conlin was actually a member of the Soapy Gang is only "reported" as I state in my book. Darryl contacted me years ago in performing his research whether Conlin knew Soapy, whereas David, although knowing of me, chose not to. Darryl agrees fully that the only evidence of Conlin and Soapy was that Conlin supposedly got taken in a shell game. I chose to use the word "reported" as it was. The jury is still out on that issue as it is with so many other stories about Soapy.
In writing about Soapy many authors used books and sources already in print which is why I did not place the Mike Miller and Stan Sauerwein books in my bibliography. I alluded to the earliest sources. The Miller book is a novel by the way. Many of the books and stories I did not use were due to lack of provenance. Another edition could easily be written just on stories about Soapy with no provenance or sources. I alluded to Howard Clifford in my forward because in the early days of his Soapy fascination (1960s-80s) he was strictly the type of historian I admire, sticking with just factual information. My father and I met him in 1973 in Seattle during the Pullen auction (well known in Alaskan artifact history). Many of the facts he used in publications after 1980 came from my father and myself. However, he changed in the late 80s and catered towards sensationalism and his later works and reasoning suffered in my opinion, coming out with theories that were out in left field.
I am about to move my residence so all my books are in storage, including Sucker's Progress. At this moment I do not recall what he wrote about Soapy but again there was obviously a reason why I did not include his work. I will throw out a guess that his section on Soapy was a repeat of earlier works. This was so common that you will note how little I mention the two main biographies up to the date of my publication, The Reign of Soapy Smith and Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men. It has nothing to do with whether I thought the books were deserving of attention but more along the lines of preferring to source with the earliest provenance.
I used Irvin's quote from Confessions of a Con man because it beautifully said what I believe to be true. Being a descendant of a famous person has its perks and downsides. One for the latter being that many are willing to "take my word for it." It is far better for me to quote an existing and very early quote rather than use my own words that so many might not accept as valid.
You listed some more books including, Grand Deception (New Yorker magazine), Play the Devil. The only one I do not recognize or own is Gamblers of the Old West. My reasons for not using them is the same as above. At 650 pages I was forced to cut a lot of uncritical information and was not allowed to repeat.
I want to honestly thank you very much for corresponding with me, and I hope that we can continue! I don't pretend to know everything about Soapy. In fact, one of the most amazing points I often make to people is the amount of new information I continue to run into even after 25 years of research. I have a blog and discussion forum (links below) that you are invited and most welcome to post on, whether you agree with a topic or not. I would value your input as I am not just seeking pats on the back, however good they feel. The goal of my sites is for everyone to explore and learn, including myself. There are some discussion boards about Tombstone and Wyatt Earp that are very serious in their debates on history. I have always hoped that some day my Soapy sites would get the responses those Earp sites do. Not sure that you would agree but I feel Soapy Smith is far more interesting a study than Wyatt Earp, but I guess I'm just a little prejudice, lol. Therefore if you feel up to it please feel free to post comments, questions, facts, etc. I will be more than happy to continue our private correspondences as well. May I have permission to post your email, leaving out private contact information of course. Along with it I will post my response that you just read. My goal is to open up interest not make you look bad in any way.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Thanks so much for your very detailed and kind answer. I agree: Let us keep in touch.
You may use my letter, deleting, as stated, confidential info.
I respect your opinion about Charvet.
This leaves, however, the question: Was Alexander (obviously not under that name) a member of the Soapy gang in Skagway? Is there any evidence other than a (superficial?) resemblance to one person in one photo?
Do you have any information about Soapy's "3 Shell Game" routine?
I agree with your reasons for not using the Soapy biographies by Miller, Sauerwein, etc., who depend only on secondary sources. The question remains whether such biographies should be included in a comprehensive bibliography, perhaps with a (cautious?) restrictive comment.
I have googled "Money Soap", which I would never have found without your hint. Hilarious!!!!!
Your comments about Clifford were very interesting to me. I once talked to him over the phone. We night remember that he was of an advanced age. Is he still alive?
If I remember, Mason sent up a roulette wheel to the Northwest. The table was made locally. Is this the outfit that Ricky Jay bought?
By the way, and this has nothing to do with Soapy, I own a gaffed Roulette wheel, made (or at least sold) by Mason in Denver.
Do you know when Mason opened its branch in Denver?
In one of the books I remember having seen a big white marble bust of Soapy, made in Denver. I do not remember reading about it in your book. What is the current knowledge about this sculpture?
Most people, and I am sure you will agree, do not know much about the Shell Game or 3 Card Monte. I would be very interested in any information that I might not have.
I am aware of your blog and web sites about Soapy.
Some years ago, I was in Leadville doing some gambling research. Still an interesting city. One of these days, I want to go to Creede, for the same reasons.
I hope I have addressed all points.
Thank you for letting me use your comments on my blog.
Regarding Conlin, the first photo comparisons in which one person in Soapy's saloon appears to look like Conlin occurred in the 1980s. I had never heard of Conlin until John Pomory contacted me and said he performed expensive computer testing that "proved" the man in the photo was Conlin. I wrote back (snail mail back then) and congratulated him on his find (This is the letter Charvet used to show I agreed with his "Conlin killed Soapy" farce). Years went by and I found out more about Conlin, like that he was over six foot tall, which the man in the photo is obviously not. Other than what Conlin wrote, there is no provenance that he was ever a member of Soapy's gang, which again is why I published "reported member of the gang."
The only known information about Soapy's experience with the three shell and pea game is published in my book. I am hopeful there is more about this (and so much more) in family collections, which when revealed will be posted on my blog.
I did not include Soapy biographies by Miller, Sauerwein, etc., in my comprehensive bibliography in the book because as you know, I did not use them. A published book bibliography is not supposed to mention every book ever written about a subject, but rather only the ones actually utilized by the author. With that said, these books are valued editions in my book collection.
Unfortunately, Howard Clifford seemed to pass away unnoticed by the press. I tried contacting family with no luck. I never even found out when he died.
The roulette table Ricky Jay purchased was Soapy's. He ceased communications with me and I sure would love to know how that table is doing if you have contact with him.
I do not know when Mason opened their doors in Denver. I know they were not far from Soapy's Tivoli Club.
That large bust of Soapy is a mystery. It has to exist somewhere but as of yet I do not know where. Someday it will pop up somewhere.
I perform the shell game and three-card monte but have no inside information for you other than what is already in print, sorry.
I've been throughout Colorado on research. Creede is fun to visit but there is little there. After the June 5, 1892 fire the business district and the gamblers (in general) did not rebuild. It is quite a trek getting to Creede as well. If I had the chance I'd probably go again.
I hope I answered all your questions even though information may be lacking. I look forward to hearing from you.
... An interesting part of the letter involves a father telling his son to “look out for your hand.” A family story called “The Curse of Wagon Wheel Gap” tells how a victim of Jeff’s games near Creede put a hex on the Smith family. Forever, the hand of all first-born males would be impaired. Fear of this curse was renewed in the Smith family when the first grandson was born with a deformed left hand. Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, pp. 447-448.
November 02, 2009 2:39 PM
Marshall & Sharlene Behrman
we saw your show last Friday night and loved it! We spoke with you after and told you how our luck has changed since buying the Soapy Smith tombstone chip! You were the auctioneer that night! We keep it displayed and truly believe it has brought us good luck. Great things have happened and horrible things we feared have vanished from our lives!
Jefferson Smith’s youth was overshadowed by the Civil War. It began on the early morning of April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces opened fire on the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter in the Charleston, South Carolina, harbor. Georgia was the fifth state to secede from the Union and join the Confederate States of America. Two of Ira’s sons, Ira Ellis Caspar Wistar and Columbus Darwin, joined the Confederate cavalry to fight for the Southern cause. Both men survived the war. Young Jeff was able to continue his education at a Sabbath school throughout the war.
The War Between the States is a significant part of the history of Newnan and Coweta County. Newnan was known as the "hospital city of the Confederacy," having six field hospitals located city-wide in churches, homes, and other buildings and serving as many as 10,000 wounded soldiers of both the North and South.
On July 30, 1864, the carnage and violence of the war approached Newnan. During the siege of Atlanta, Union Brigadier General McCook with 3,600 Federal cavalry began a campaign of raids against Southern railroads, the final objective of which would be the attempt to rescue 32,000 Union prisoners at Andersonville. In the path of the army advancing on Andersonville was Newnan. Believed at the time was that General McCook intended to capture wounded Confederates at Newnan. The Union troops were only three miles from the town when Major General Joseph Wheeler with 1,400 Confederate cavalry caught up with the Federals, engaged them in battle, and won a victory. Captured were approximately 2,000 prisoners, several ambulances, and a full battery. Also won was the release of about 500 Confederate prisoners that McCook had in his possession.
The Confederate triumph, known as the “Battle of Brown’s Mill,” probably saved Newnan from the destruction that many Southern cities suffered. —Alias Soapy Smith:The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, pp. 22-23.
I'd like to ask you a question about Soapy. There is a chapter in Fred Sutton's memoirs "Hands Up" (as told to A.B. MacDonald) that is about the death of Jesse James. The story line follows Jesse's murderer Bob Ford to Creede, Co and briefly but graphically describes Ford's death. According to Sutton the shotgun blast that killed Ford blew his collar button through his neck. That button was said to have been picked up by soapy who carried it with him until his death and was buried with it.
Do you know anything about that?
I have heard the story, except in the one I heard the collar button was embedded into a tent pole and that someone else found it and gave it to Soapy. I never heard the part about him being buried with it. It is not mentioned in any of the newspapers or estate records in Skagway, Alaska where he is buried. To my knowledge it has not surfaced within the family, then again, would anyone know it was Ford's? What an incredible find if it did exist!
Bob Ford's Creede adventures are covered well in my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel but due to the massive size of the book my publisher edited the collar button story out along with many other stories that had no provenance.
In the spring of 1889, Jeff, Ed Chase, "Bat" Masterson, John Morris, Ned Parker, John Kinneavy, John (Texas Jack) Vermillion, city detective Sam "Sheeny Sam" Emrich and a host of others were involved in the criminal act of fraudulently registering hundreds of names to vote so the ballot boxes could be stuffed with hundreds of false and fictitious votes."Election day, April 2, 1889, turned into a carnival of abuses. Reportedly, because of their twenty-thousand-dollar slush fund, saloonkeepers were able to pat two dollars per vote. Bonuses for repeaters were generously awarded in the form of lottery tickets and free beer. Tramps and hoodlums from nearby towns were brought to Denver and marched to the polls by election-day special deputies." —Tom Noel, The City and the Saloon.
Telling it like it was
By Amy Fletcher | Juneau EmpireAnimated characters are usually geared toward children, and for this reason, a quick glance at the cartoonish images of "A Klondike Tale," Avery Veliz's planned feature length film set in Skagway, may lead viewers to a false conclusion. Namely, that this is a gentle story, one that willingly covers over the harsh realities of greed, corruption and prostitution rampant in Skagway in the 1890s, or at least one that treats them with disparaging humor.
But this is not the case.
Featuring a host of real-life characters such as Soapy Smith and Slim Jim Foster, Veliz's animated story doesn't shrink from the grim truths of the day, and contains many actual events and details, such as Smith's fake telegraph office and the dolls used to indicate prostitutes' availability in Skagway's saloons such as the Red Onion.
"This is a very serious story," Veliz said. "Although a lot of the art is very kid-friendly, the story has a lot of deep undertones that may not be appropriate for kids."
Veliz's creative map for the work-in-progress is laid out in a book, also called "A Klondike Tale." The book and 12 printed images will be on display and for sale at Zephyr on Friday as part of the First Friday Art Walk (see Page C8).
Veliz, who studied illustration for film and animation at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, wrote and illustrated the story contained in the book. Her sketches and digital images show her creative process in formulating the story and hint at what the film would look like on-screen. She also includes a textual version of the story at the beginning of the book.
The story, in abbreviated form at this stage, tells of Soapy Smith's reign in Skagway and the effect on those around him of the greed and corruption he epitomized, particularly the reaction of five Tlingit characters. Most of the Tlingit characters, represented as both animal-spirits and humans, attempt to push back against Smith and his ilk, and provide a counterbalance to Smith's corrosive influence on the town and the land around it. Prostitutes such as Mae provide another important aspect to the story, as she and her peers are trapped in Smith's world.
For Veliz, 25, the story is more than a professional project; it brings to the surface elements she's seen and heard her whole life. Her family has been based in Juneau since 1914, and though she went to school in Denali she spent every summer here, and grew up with an appreciation for a history of the area.
"I've always been fascinated by the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike Gold Rush," she said. "I did hike (the trail) when I was 10, but I was really fascinated with it even beforehand."
Though Soapy Smith and his crew are compelling - and perhaps repulsive - characters, the story resurfaced in her mind with the image of a totem pole awakening on a mountainside, releasing the five animal-spirits held in the carving - eagle, orca, wolf, bear and beaver.
"A lot of the story is about contact, and when white men first come to the area," she said. "It's about that confusion, 'What do we do about it?"
Each of the five Tlingit animal-spirits spend much of the story as their human counterparts. Though Eagle is the most powerful character of the five, Veliz has placed Beaver and his human equivalent Swiftwater Bill in the main role. His character branches off from the other Tlingit spirits after he discovers the power of gold in that culture.
"He's got a lot of gold in his creeks and his streams and he realizes that that's what the people are after," Veliz said. "He doesn't place any value on it until the people come and the greed comes and the corruption comes. So he sells out basically to become one of them, and becomes really popular with the people and forgets the Tlingit world."
The incorporation of the Tlingit characters allowed Veliz to tap into another childhood appreciation: Her love of Native art. She remembers gazing at totem poles in Klawock as a young girl while visiting the family cabin on Prince of Wales island.
"I am really fascinated with the Tlingit art form, and the form-line and the graphic quality of it. And the fact that they use totem pole carvings and flat graphic artwork helped me to be able to transform things from 3d to 2d and back again."
Veliz has carried aspects of Tlingit form-line design over into her non-Native human characters as well, most notably in the dark-set, mask-like eyes and ovoid shapes, to make them look like they are all part of the same world.
Though the subject matter is difficult and often grim, the story succeeds in bringing about a positive outcome. For one thing, Soapy's reign as 'King of Skagway' comes to an abrupt end.
"There's a lot of historical context I had to keep true," she said. "He still gets shot in the end of the story, so that's not a spoiler."
The main female character, the prostitute Mae, also manages to find redemption.
The design for Mae, like Veliz's other female characters, is reminiscent of the artwork of French painter Toulouse-Lautrec - and this is a well-considered decision. Toulouse-Lautrec was active at the same time as the Klondike Gold Rush. In addition, his milieu was not all that different, as he favored images of Moulin Rouge can-can girls and the men who watched them. His bright, garish color palette also provided inspiration.
"Some of his pictures are hard to look at because it does create an emotion in you... his color palette is almost meant to make your stomach turn over," she said. "And I kind of wanted that with my villains, you've got the puke green with the oranges. Its usually not a pleasing mix but somehow it works."
Veliz said she has already stirred interest in the movie through her blog, averylveliz.blogspot.com, and received a very positive response. She plans to stay right here in Juneau to promote the book and eventually other Alaska stories.
"This project made me really homesick," she said. "I really liked California, but after I started getting into this project I knew I had to come back."
• Contact Art & Culture editor Amy Fletcher at 523-2283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.