April 21, 2011

Was Soapy Smith Gay?




Was Soapy Smith gay?

No, he was not, but you’ll get the opposite answer if you ask Paul Constant, who in response to the poem, Jeff and Joe, wrote that it is “pretty clearly about two gay men.”

Here's the story from the start.

I was eBay surfing and ran across a copy of one of William Devere’s books for sale. Devere is the gentleman who wrote the sentimental poem, Jeff and Joe, that pertains to the funeral of “Gambler Joe” Simmons and Jeff’s graveside send off of his friend in Creede, Colorado March 1892. In the auction it mentioned that the poem was used in research for the film Brokeback Mountain. Well, this is not entirely true. I contacted the seller and did a little Google research and found the sellers only source for the  comment was Paul Constant.

I looked up Mr. Constant and found that he had written an article entitled, Brokeback Mountain: The Prequel, on SLOG, an online news and arts site based in Seattle.

I treat the poem in detail in Alias Soapy Smith on pages 225-229. Not once in all my years did I ever once consider that Jeff and Joe might be lovers. They weren't, but the confusion is one of definition of  Devere's nineteenth century poetry slang. Paul had no idea who Soapy Smith was. He simply came across the poem and mistakenly believed it was about two cowboy lovers.

Here’s Paul’s article

Last week, the Poetry Foundation published an essay I wrote about cowboy poetry. The thing I was most excited about in the writing of this article is the discovery (thanks to the good folks at Horizon Books) of a poem from 1892 titled "Jeff and Joe. A True Incident of Creede Camp, Colorado" that was published in an 1897 collection of cowboy poems titled Jim Marshall's New Pianner and Other Western Stories by William Devere, the self-described "Tramp Poet of the West." The poem is an exceptional artifact. Devere writes of a pair of cowhands he knew at Creede Camp:

Jeff, yer see, thought well of Joe—
Knowed him thirty years or so,
Pal'd together down below.
Joe liked Jeff and Jeff liked Joe,
An' through all the changin' years,
Sheered each other's smiles and tears.
Worked together, tooth and nail,
Punchin' cattle up the trail;
Dealt the old thing; tackled bluff;
Each one blowed the other's stuff,

The cowboys enjoy a fairly open, long-term committed homosexual relationship. Joe gets sick and dies, after being assured by Jeff that he lived a good life, as a cowboy should, and that there'll be no “gospel sharks” preaching or praying at his funeral. Devere pays tribute to the grieving Jeff:

An' as for Jeff—well, I may say,
No better man exists to-day.
I don't mean good the way you do—
No, not religious—only true.
True to himself, true to his friend;
Don't quit or weaken to the end.
An' I can swear, if any can,
That Jeff will help his fellow man.
An' here I thank him—do you see?
For kindness he has shown to me.
An' This I'll say, when all is o'er,
An' Jeff has crossed to t'other shore,
I only hope that you and me
May stand as good a chance as he.

The last stanza is Devere's statement on Jeff and Joe's relationship and repudiation of all those people—especially religious people—who would dare to judge them. People who claim that homosexuality is against American traditions need to read this poem. People who claim that America has always been a conservative, religious country need to read this poem.


I wrote to Paul and found him unwilling to accept the facts. He is positive that Jeff and Joe were gay.

Hi, Paul.

I just found out this morning about Jeff's (Jeff of Jeff and Joe) association with the film Brokeback Mountain. Jeff is Jefferson Randolph Smith II, alias "Soapy" Smith the nineteenth century bad man. I can assure you Jeff and Joe were not gay. I responded on your "Prequel" page although it is years old. I would love to clear this up, strictly for historical purposes as I am not anti-gay. My brother was gay and it made little difference to me. But I imagine some people will go on believing what they want to. I invite you to visit my websites if you are interested in learning more about Jeff and Joe, criminal associates.

Jeff and Joe were not gay. In fact, they weren't even cowboys. William Devere knew both men in Denver and Creede and took great literary license in writing the poem. When Soapy was made aware of the poem, probably by Devere himself, he was so pleased with the poem and the light in which it painted him that he made Devere a present of a thousand dollars. Here on this blog most of my regular readers know how politically and socially powerful Soapy was in Denver, Creede, and Skagway. Just for a moment let's pretend that Soapy was gay. If that fact were ever to get out his political and social world would have crumbled. His life would have been in great danger. Soapy read the poem and no where, from anyone, is there a hint  of someone mistaking the poems meaning. Had there been such a hint Devere's life would no doubt had met a quick and violent end. Instead, Soapy clipped out the poem from a newspaper and saved it for the rest of his life. It was found in his trunk in his saloon up in Skagway in July 1898 after his death. That very clipped out newspaper section now resides, framed proudly on my office wall.

I told Paul,

Try to imagine a local Chicago author writing a gay poem about mafia crime boss, Al Capone or some other big time gangster in history. Whether true or not such an author would find themselves embedded in cement shoes, and resting on the bottom of the ocean.

Paul’s proof lay in two sections of the poem. The latter half of his argument regards religion, which  has nothing to do with whether one is gay or not so let’s stay with the first sentence that Paul believes proves Jeff and Joe were gay.

Jeff, yer see, thought well of Joe—
Knowed him thirty years or so,
Pal'd together down below.
Joe liked Jeff and Jeff liked Joe,
An' through all the changin' years,
Sheered each other's smiles and tears.
Worked together, tooth and nail,
Punchin' cattle up the trail;
Dealt the old thing; tackled bluff;
Each one blowed the other's stuff,

First, Jeff nor Joe were ever cowboys. The details can be found in my book. Devere simply took literary license to show a long term friendship. Soapy met Joe in Denver in the 1880s so they could not have possibly known each other for “thirty years or so” as described by Devere.

The main line is the very last, which states that “Each one blowed the other’s stuff.” That's a pretty powerful sentence, if it were written today, but it wasn't. It was written in 1892. It's irresponsible to assign the definitions and connotations of modern slang and jargon to words that were employed over 100 years ago., by a poet. Further, reasonable, probable, and clear nonsexual interpretations of each line and each word are easily produced. Taking into consideration that the words came from a slang-versed poet the most logical meaning to blowed the other's stuff would be that they shared their money and perhaps some of their belongings while out on the fictional trail as cowboys.





Here are links to other posts on this blog pertaining to this topic:
October 17, 2008











Jeff and Joe poem: pages 89, 227-29, 448.




Jeff Smith









.

4 comments:

  1. How rediculous!!! I don't believe JRS II could have maintained the leadership of his gang of 19th Century 'rough and tumble' followers...if this was true. What a bunch of malarky!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Friend, Rich.
    You didn't comment on my pretty picture!

    You are very correct. In that era, had it been discovered that Soapy was gay, his life would have been in great danger, especially from his own gang. The gentleman, Paul Constant, had no idea who he was referring to, lol.

    I already stated that I am not anti-gay. I'm a Libertarian and thus I believe in their civil liberties as much as my own. With that said, I believe that Mr. Constant badly wanted Jeff and Joe to be gay, in order to prove his theory that there were some open relationships in the nineteenth century that were written about. Although that may be true, it is not in regards to the poem, Jeff and Joe.

    Jeff Smith

    ReplyDelete
  3. Friend Jeff: If JRS II is somehow watching all this from 'beyond the range', I am certain he is having a huge laugh. I am also certain he would be proud to see his reputation regarding this subject being defended by his great grandson.

    Yes Jeff....I noticed the pink picture. It's awful. <(*J*)>

    Maybe you can balance this section out with a 'true' masculine image of JRS II. :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. After taking a peek at the site that this Paul 'guy' writes for...it is no wonder he apparently searches for any writing's that can even 'remotely' satisfy his own [ahem] agenda [and fantasies]. Yikes! I'll never go back there again.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith