January 23, 2012

Was Soapy Smith more well known than Wyatt Earp? Comparison #2




Was Soapy Smith more well known than Wyatt Earp?

I first posed that question, backed with graphs from Google newspaper archives, here in October 2010. The answer is that while the two men were both alive Soapy was indeed more well known across the nation than Wyatt Earp.

Recently, while researching with Gale Primary Source Media and Archival Solutions and their huge western states nineteenth century newspaper archives I decided to do the comparison again, using the same method to compare the number of newspaper articles that mentioned Wyatt Earp to those that mentioned Soapy Smith, between the dates 01/01/1860 - 12/31/1899. Once again Soapy beat out Wyatt, by 210% Wyatt's score is 164 while Soapy won with 345. This being the second comparison, and with such a large difference, I feel it is safe to make the comment. Just don't do so in front of hard-core Wyatt Earp fans.

Jeff Smith









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12 comments:

  1. I get the impression that Wyatt Earp did not become all that famous until after Stuart Lake's book was published, two years after Earp died.

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  2. Soapy and Wyatt seemed to have swapped places with the Lake book. Soapy won't reach the heights Wyatt has but his story is more honest. A movie certainly wouldn't hurt.

    Jeff Smith

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    1. Very interesting comparison. There is a lot we don't know about Wyatt Earp. As we know, he helped Stewart Lake edit, write "Wyatt Earp Frontier Marshal". At a talk last year, Bob Boze Bell, Editor of the True West Magazine revealed a blatant untruth in the Lake book. Wyatt claimed to be out West early in his life when court records recently uncovered showed he was still back home and had been arrested twice for being a pimp. These are my words, memory from Bob Boze Bells talk.

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    2. Hello, Anonymous.
      Thank you, your participation is appreciated.

      Wyatt Earp continues to be a mystery. At one time thought to be a beacon for law and order, new information is surfacing that clearly indicates he and his brothers were not law abiding citizens. While many see Wyatt as a hero, standing up for the rights of the many, I see him as one of the many who took advantage of the power wearing a police badge. My interest in him and his brothers stem from their association with Soapy and his gang, including "Texas Jack Vermillion, "Big Ed" Burns and Wilson Mizner.

      Jeff Smith

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  3. When depicting historical figures, Hollywood tends to go to one extreme or the other. Western gunfighters like Earp and Hickok are portrayed either as gallant knights or cold blooded psychopaths. I suspect the truth is somewhere in between.

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    1. Hi, Anonymous.

      The truth is being uncovered bits at a time. I have to say that I don't recall any "gallantly knightish" bits of information coming out about him. Most of it seems to be on the criminal side. Perhaps that's just a coincidence?

      Jeff Smith

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  4. Well, it's mainly movies and TV that mix fact and fiction, and whitewash both the peace officers and the outlaws: "My Darling Clementine" with Henry Fonda as Earp, "The Plainsman" with Gary Cooper as Hickok, "Jesse James" with Tyrone Power, all practically nominated their main characters for sainthood. Non-fiction is usually more objective, but some historians fall in love with their subject and end up putting a sympathetic spin on the biography. "Buffalo Bill" with Joel McCrea as Cody, was originally intended to be a warts-and-all account, but ended up glorifying him, because they decided not to debunk one of the great legends of American folklore. "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

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  5. Hi, Anonymous.

    I agree that film and TV "whitewashed" interesting characters like Wyatt Earp, into heroes. I have personally witnessed the fact that "historians fall in love with their subject and end up putting a sympathetic spin on the biography." I use Wyatt Earp because I am familiar with his "whitewashing" and he has connections to Soapy and members of his gang. I have read some great biographies that slide right over numerous criminal acts because they just can't believe that Wyatt could do anything illegal. These same historians glorify his murders as if they were acts of morality.

    When I was still writing my book I sought information on some of the larger history and Tombstone forums. One well-known historian admitted to intentionally hiding criminal information about Wyatt Earp from me that later became instrumental in my research. I had one historian pleading with me not to publish the fact that "Texas Jack" Vermillion, and others, were once members of the Soap Gang. I am now shunned by Earp forums that see the brothers as heroes for law and order, because of my research. I have made enemies with key members of the history organization, Wild West History Association, because of my research and they make sure that I can never get anything published in their newsletter, the Journal. I believe, that as the old guard, who grew up on TV westerns, pass away, the new generation of historians will be able to find and publish the truth about Wyatt Earp without being persecuted.

    Sorry, Anonymous, but I don't like that movie line, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." I'm a historian. Always print the facts. Legends are for fictional novelists, TV producers, and film makers.

    Jeff Smith

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  6. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is remembered for that "print the legend" line, but the movie shows the audience what really happened, as did an earlier John Ford Western, "Fort Apache." So both movies seem to condone covering up the truth and preserving the myth, but then again, I'm not so certain.

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  7. It's surprising that a historian would plead with you not to reveal that Texas Jack Vermillion was a member of the Soap Gang. Even the books and movies that whitewash the Earps openly admit that Wyatt's posse-including Texas Jack and Doc Holliday-were shady characters. I didn't think that was a secret.

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  8. "Texas Jack" was said to have gone into ministry after leaving Tombstone, but that is not the case. He worked as a steerer for Soapy in Denver and was with Soapy during the shootout at the Pocatello, Idaho train depot with a rival bunco gang. My opinion is that the Earp historians would rather not let people know about the large amount of confidence men Wyatt knew. Just in my research there is Vermillion, "Big Ed" Burns, who warned Wyatt about the cow-boys, and Wilson Mizner, one of Wyatt's Los Angeles friends and a pallbearer at his funeral. As I write this, there is a discussion about other confidence men Wyatt had associations with in Dodge. This is no coincidence. Bunco men hang around their own kind.

    Jeff Smith

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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