In 1889 Soapy moved his new family to St. Louis so that they would be safe from his world of crime in Denver. He visited them often but had always hoped they would be able to return so that they could once again be a family under one roof. That opportunity presented itself in 1892 when Soapy moved his core operation to Creede, Colorado during the silver boom there.
Jeff also leased a lot just above the one on which he was living “to be used for a dwelling house.” Presumably this location would be for a family home. Mary and son Jefferson did visit Creede but never resided there. Jeff’s lease of this dwelling one week before the commercial property indicates his confidence of success.
Jeff obtained enough lots in Creede’s business district for himself and some of his Denver friends. The problem was that some of these properties were on “school land.” The state contested these leases and cancelled V. B. Wason’s lease, intending itself to auction lots from the land to the highest bidder. The 102 “squatters” who had leased “school land” from Wason and who had already made improvements were ordered to vacate without reimbursement. They chose to stay and fight if necessary.
The boast is openly made that the state may sell at auction and give title which may be good at some time, but that nothing less than Winchesters carried by militiamen can give possession.
The state auction was scheduled for Friday, February 26, 1892. In the days prior to the sale, Creede was filled with investors wanting to capitalize on the misfortune of Creede’s early settlers. Governor John L. Routt and other state officials arrived in the private car of Rio Grande and Denver Railroad Co. Treasurer J. W. Gilluly. He had brought two surgeons and medical supplies in the event of trouble as threats of violence were being made if the state proceeded as planned. The engine pulled “seventeen cars, with every available seat occupied and standing room at a premium….” Numerous Denver real estate firms were among the new arrivals seeking to invest in the land sale. In the meantime, the governor remained locked in his sleeping car.
Two days before the auction, eight or nine hundred men met on behalf of the Wason leasers in a large tent at the center of the school land. The plan was to discourage, verbally—or physically if need be—outside bidding so that current lot holders could buy their properties from the state. At one point during the meeting, heard were gun shots and cries of “lot jumping” and “he is jumped.” In meetings with state officials, representatives of the “squatters” argued that current leasers should be given a fair chance to purchase the land from the state, but state law prohibited such action. Trouble looked probable.
The public sale on Friday morning, February 26, 1892, took place in a 40-foot circus tent. A stand was erected in front of the state auctioneer, occupied by E. H. Watson, chairman of the citizens’ committee. He was ready to contest the sale of any squatters’ lots. With him were 25 men of the committee all wearing red badges. Jeff had leased some of these lots, but his involvement with the citizens’ committee, if any, is not known. However, the fact that men marched in wearing red badges fits Jeff’s mode of operation. Some of Jeff’s associates, however, were definitely involved. On March 2, the following Wednesday, while the auction proceedings were still ironing out differences, a committee was appointed consisting of S. T. Harvey, A. T. Jones, Clinton T. Brainard, John Kinneavy, E. C. Burton, John Lord, G. R. Miller, Louis Kerwin, and W. J. Allen. Kinneavy, of course, was one of Jeff’s allies, and G. Miller could be George Miller and W. J. Allen could be J. W. Allen, both of the Soap Gang.
Meanwhile, on the previous Friday, violence was expected, so the governor remained in the private car and received reports. State officials warned those present that if any problems hindered progress, the sale would be adjourned to Denver. No violence occurred, but plenty of “committee” member direction did. Its coaching strategy had a desired effect, and the bidding was without rancor. A News correspondent described how excitement was high and
the crowd was enormous. When a lot was called upon which was a squatter’s cabin, the improvements and the name of the claimant were read by the chairman of the committee of twenty-five and there were loud cries of “Let him have it!” “Throw out the man who bids over him!”
The cries were hoarse with anger, but as one or two lots had been knocked down to squatters at the minimum price fixed by the state appraiser, good nature … reasserted itself. There were calls of “They will do the square thing!” and “The speculators are all right!” The sale ran along for some time without particular incident, the lots bringing a price from $200 to $300.
… Lot 14, in block 28, was claimed by a woman. When the minimum price was called, cries of “Give it to the woman,” went up.
“Let her have it.”
“Do not bid over her.”
The first bid was made in the woman’s behalf at $50. Martin Froody then raised the bid to $51, loud cries of “Put him out,” were heard, and there was a rush in the direction of the auctioneer’s stand where Martin stood. The confusion and noise was quieted with the utmost difficulty.
Stretching his hand as high as possible, Martin with the gallantry which he averred every man from Denver should possess, announced that his bid was for the woman and Rev. Mr. Brodhead called lot 14, in block 28, for the “woman.” At $51. Martin was loudly cheered and Denver friends pressed forward to take his hand…. …
A livery man with a leather coat and rubber boots mounted the platform of the belligerents and claimed a lot because upon it he had kept a few overworked mules. A woman in a plush sack took a position back of him and shouted that she had her children on the same lot and that there she made bread for them.
“Down with the livery stable; let the woman have it: she came here early, she makes bread,” were the cries that lifted the tent. The cries in favor of the woman who made bread prevailed, and she received the lot…. …
Women mounted the stand with babies in their arms and the kids took the real estate. For half an hour a woman in a fiery red dress held her position at the corner of the squatters’ stand and cast her most seductive glances at the auctioneer. When the golden opportunity came she plead to be permitted to buy lot 12 in block 12, to carry on a small mercantile business. She gave her name as Louise C. Grebor and amid wild cheers took in the perpendicular patch of ground 25 feet by 125 at $105. …
No sooner was it knocked down than she asked for the adjoining lot for her sister. Five hundred voices in the crowd asked as many questions.
“Where is your sister?” “What is the matter with one lot?” “You are overdoing it.” “Come off!”
“Well,” said Louise, “I have a business on one and she on the other and we straddle across.”
Hats were thrown high in the canvas, shrieks of laughter split the air, the auctioneer leaned back and took an observation through the bottom of a beer bottle … the crowd howled, “Let them straddle it.”
“They need it,” and accordingly Mrs. William Hoyt of New York straddled the second lot at the same figure. Louise went around back of the state auctioneer and from a black silk handkerchief, pulled a roll of bills, which was smilingly received by Register France and handed over to Bill Smith, who deposited them in his tin box….
During the excitement General Adams of Colorado Springs had his pocket picked and lost about $700. He had invested heavily in lots and was known to have money, by the toughs, who were lounging around for plunder. Money began to pile up upon the table of the land board, which was surrounded only by a rude railing.
Warden Bill Smith had charge of the cash box, and toward evening reports were sent in that a gang of thugs were organizing to make a rush for the box. There was a movement in the crowd and Bill Smith, who has the reputation of being one of the coolest men in the frontier, was somewhat worried…. For this reason and on account of the rush of business the sale was adjourned at 6:30 p.m., and a hasty exit was made from the side of the tent. Warden Smith took the precaution to stuff the rolls of bills into his outside pockets and to carry the box so that it might be taken, if anything….
… The names of those who planned the robbery are known, and they will be hunted down by the indignant settlers.
Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, pp. 202-04
Here are links to other posts on this blog pertaining to this topic:
September 16, 2010
December 30, 2010
Creede Leases: pages 201-06.