March 15, 2012

Ted Sweeney: unlucky Denver criminal, 1894.




In April of 1889 Soapy Smith had an auction house on Fifteenth Street that was burglarized. Here's a little story about the man, Ted Sweeney, who chose to buck Soapy's empire.

Ted Sweeney
Ted Sweeney, alias Harry Nixon alias Frank Newell, was first arrested by Denver police April 12, 1889, for burglarizing Soapy Smith's jewelry store on Fifteenth street. He was sentenced to one year in the pen. ...

The "jewelry store" is no doubt one of Soapy's auction houses where pocket watches and cheap merchandise were auctioned off to unsuspecting victims who thought they were buying gold time pieces, only to later learn that they had paid a small fortune for a cheap shiny brass watch. Mr. Sweeney made the mistake of trying to rob Soapy Smith, a man with great and powerful ties in the city. This bumbling burglar should have learned his lesson and quit his career in crime, but for reasons known only to him, he thought his luck might change after trying to rob the king of Denver's underworld; It didn't.

... On November 18, 1891, he was again arrested for burglary. He broke into a jewelry store at Alamosa. On December 15, 1891, he was sentenced to serve two years and was released September 15, 1893. He was immediately rearrested by Sheriff Lees of Douglas county and taken to the Arapahoe county jail. He was wanted on several indictments for highway robbery in Douglas county and his trial is set for next month. He was a hack driver in Denver some years ago and is well known about the city. He has a very pleasant face and a quiet disposition. He is commonly known in Denver as Ted Newell. ...

Ted Sweeney is wanted in Castle Rock for holding up John Swelgert. Sweeney fired a shot at Swelgert, who objected to losing his money. This occurred January 21, 1893.
Rocky Mountain News, 10/12/1894


While in prison Sweeney plotted a prison break with two other prisoners, Frank Murray and Jim Barlett. On the evening of October 10, 1894 the three men sawed through the window bars and made their escape into the night. In an apparent attempt to rob a train the three men began wrecking train tracks at a location about "a mile south of the Overland park crossing." A farmer happen to witness their work and informed train officials who did not take the warning serious enough but had the engineer on that particular line keep a watch. The engineer traveled slower than normal but not slow enough to stop in time. The engine and its passenger cars went off the tracks but stayed upright, thus saving lives.

The three escapees decided not to rob the train and in the early morning made their way into the town of Littleton where they robbed and tied up a store clerk. They then broke into a saloon, drinking their fill before breaking into the post office and attempted to open the safe. Someone was alarmed by the noise and the escapees fled. Behind them followed a posse of private citizens and behind that posse came various city and county lawmen from Denver. The citizens posse quickly gave up but the lawmen pursued the escapees through the following day. A fresh posse was formed and went after the 3 escapees the next day.

Unfortunately, I did not realize at the time that Ted Sweeney was one of the escapees so I did not continue searching for the rest of the story in later dated issues of the newspapers I was researching. However, I was really only interested in Sweeney's robbery of Soapy's store. I think the point is made well enough; DON'T MESS WITH SOAPY SMITH.       




COMING UP!
  • Another saloon possibly owned by Soapy in Skagway, Alaska.
  • An eyewitness description of Clancy's saloon and Soapy's operations within. This may lead to a possible shooting that was never reported.






MARCH 15
1839: Samuel H. Blonger, Soapy’s successor in Denver, is born.
1894: Colorado Governor Waite sends Special Order No. 242 ordering the Colorado National Guard to assemble at the armory and prepare to invade city hall to force the old commissioners out.
1898: Alexander McLain, a businessman, is sandbagged and robbed in front of his home in Skagway.









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