March 18, 2020

"Pistol balls sped in all directions"

Denver Post, November 11, 1896
The contents of the article
can be read below
(Click image to enlarge)

istol balls sped in all directions

When Soapy Smith left Denver, Colorado for the final time, Bascom remained in Denver and thereafter in the West, never again to work with with his older brother. He continued to find trouble as revealed in a November 18, 1896, letter to Soapy from friend William “Bat” Masterson. He begins gently with salutations, commiseration over hard times, and works up to news of deep concern over Bascom’s doings:
... I have not seen Bascom since he was released after completing the year’s sentence. I hear of him, however, and always in some kind of trouble. He has been arrested twice of late for disturbance and discharging firearms down in the neighborhood of 20th and Market streets, and you know the kind of people who frequent that locality. If I were you I would advise him to leave here, as it is only a question of time until he will get a “settler” and every time the papers speak of him they generally say the brother of “Soapy” Smith, who was last heard of skinning suckers in Alaska. So you see you are not getting any the best of it. ... [1]
Masterson was not exaggerating Bascom’s troubles. The Denver Evening Post lists five charges against him, including vagrancy, drunkenness, disturbing the peace, carrying concealed weapons, and discharging firearms. He was fined a total of $153 and had his “elegant, silver-plated, highly engraved revolver confiscated.” [2] On November 5, 1896, he was in court for stealing a woman’s expensive diamond-encrusted jewelry. [3] According to the Post, Bascom still had some friends in the current administration and received an order to leave town rather than face fines still owed from his October melee. [4] Bascom left for an unidentified destination.

Following is the Denver Post, November 11, 1896 article in it's entirety.



— He Was Not Obliged to Pay $125 Fine Nor Was He Made to Serve a Term In Jail – Rosa Lee had a “pull” and Said So and Then Proved It – The Disgraceful Condition of City Hall Affairs.

     Bascom Smith has made a record for paying $125 in fines to the police court as easily as any “bad man” ever arraigned in that tribunal. He is the brother of the celebrated and smooth fingered “Soapy” Smith, said to be now working the verdant population in the Northwest. Bascom, to some extent, banks on his more astute relative’s reputation and apparently retained the influence which that peculiar Smith family always had on Denver politicians, and he worked the old “pull” to get out of the clutches of the law as recently as November 1.
     A few days preceding the recent election he filled up with Larimer street whiskey, and failing to discover enemies on the thoroughfare he repaired to his apartments. He there commenced a warfare that aroused the neighboring roomers. Pistol balls sped in all directions and some narrowly missed occupants of adjoining apartments. Bascom enjoyed the fight for a while, but was finally arrested by the officers who had been called in by frightened roomers. When the arraigned for trial (illegible) charges continuance was easily secured for several days, while the Smith powers were working with the political machine that controls the police department to settle the affair at small cost and in a manner that would not compel Bascom to pay for his fun like other men. The machine worked in the desired manner after the necessary oil had been applied.
     After several continuances, Bascom stood trial and pleaded guilty and was assessed $25 each for vagrancy, drunk, disturbance, concealed weapons and discharging firearms within the city limits. Men without a “pull” would likely have served the full term required to liquidate the aggregate punishment in the city jail or paid the money over to the police clerk. At best the ordinary lowly carouser who stood convicted on so many charges would have been compelled to do penance to some degree. But Bascom did nothing of the kind. He secured suspension of all the sentences on condition that he would leave town. Before departing if he has gone, he waited until election day arrived and put in on that occasion yeoman service for the Adams ticket. He earned in the one day perhaps $150 for himself, whatever he did with the other fellows.


[Bascom's birth name did not have the last "b" as most newspaper reported]. 
[1] "Correspondence of a Crook," Alaska-Yukon Magazine (Jan 1908) p. 330-331.
[2] Rocky Mountain News, November 3, 1896, p. 8, and Denver Evening Post, November 2, 1896, p. 10.
[3] Denver Evening Post, November 5, 1896, p. 8.
[4] Denver Evening Post, November 11, 1896.

Bascom Smith 
October 4, 2009
August 1, 2011 
May 4, 2012
September 20, 2015
September 22, 2015
March 23, 2019

Bascom Smith: pp 22, 41-42, 67, 75-76, 88-89, 92, 120-22, 139, 143, 162-63, 165, 167, 169, 176, 178, 182, 214, 247, 264, 273-75, 336, 340, 352, 355, 361, 363, 367, 370-77, 381-86, 391-99, 403-05, 408-09, 412, 420-23, 519, 554-55, 584, 588-89, 594.

“I will cast as many fraudulent votes as I want to.” Said he, “and there is no — — law can prevent me.”
—(Rocky Mountain News)
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 264.


1541: Hernando de Soto observed the first recorded flood of the Mississippi River.
1673: Lord Berkley sold his half of New Jersey to the Quakers.
1692: William Penn is deprived of his governing powers.
1766: Britain repeals the Stamp Act.
1813: David Melville patents the gas streetlight.
1818: Congress approves the first pension for government service.
1834: The first railroad tunnel in the U.S. (Pennsylvania) is completed.
1842: Nashville Franklyn Leslie, more well known as Frank “Buckskin” Leslie, is born near San Antonio, Texas. medical student, Confederate soldier, scout, Indian fighter, barkeeper, shootist, saloon proprietor.
1850: Henry Wells and William Fargo founded The American Express.
1852: Wells Fargo, a subsidiary of American Express, begins operations in the California gold fields.
1859: Cadet George A. Custer receives two demerits for throwing food in the West Point mess hall.
1863: Mexican outlaw Felipe Nerio Espinosa brutally murders prospector Henry Harkens with bullets and an ax. He claims to be seeking revenge for the deaths of relatives killed during the Mexican-American War. Other family members join him, becoming known as “the axe-men of Colorado.” They killed about 32 individuals. Espinosa’s brother is shot and killed by the Colorado Cavalry on April 27, 1863 but Espinosa escapes. On October 15, 1863 Espinosa and a nephew are tracked and shot dead, their heads cut off as proof.
1865: The Congress of the Confederate States of America adjourns for the last time.
1874: Hawaii signs a treaty giving exclusive trading rights with the islands to the U.S.
1878: The outlaw Sam Bass gang robs the Houston and Texas at Hutchins, Texas. Henry “Heck” Thomas, a noted lawman, serving as the express agent at the time, managed to hide $4,000. The robbers got away with a total of $232.80. Soapy Smith later witnessed the shooting death of Sam Bass in Round Rock, Texas.
1879: Lincoln County War combatants, William Campbell and Jesse Evans escape from Fort Sutton, New Mexico Territory.
1880: The Southern Pacific Railroad of Arizona and New Mexico is completed to Tucson, where it connects with the San Francisco and Pacific systems.
1881: Barnum and Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth opens in Madison Square Gardens.
1882: Morgan Earp is murdered, shot in the back, while playing billiards a few minutes before midnight on the 17th.
1882: Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett, finally collects the $500 reward for killing outlaw Billy the Kid in New Mexico Territory.
1883: The Cheyenne Daily Leader (Cheyenne, Wyoming) reports the total number of executions is 37 by the "gunny-sack brigade" and 2 by legal authorities.
1892: Soap Gang member and manager of the Orleans Club, Joe “Gambler Joe” Simmons, dies of pneumonia in Creede, Colorado. The saloons and gaming halls in town close for the funeral.
1898: Formation of Soapy Smith’s private militia, the Skagway Military Company in Skagway, Alaska.
1901: Outlaw Ben Cravens and Bert Welty robbed the B. F. Swartz and Company store at Red Rock Oklahoma. During the robbery postmaster Alvin Bateman is killed. While escaping, Welty is shot and killed by Cravens, whether by accident or on purpose is unknown. Cravens is tracked to the home of Isom Cunningham, northeast of Pawnee, and when a posse confronts him, he shoots and kills Deputy Tom Johnson, then escapes.
1910: The first opera by a U.S. composer is performed at the New York Met.

March 12, 2020

Artifact #65: "You stood your ground in Skagway and now have the people’s confidence and respect."

Letter to Soapy Smith
From John J. Shay
June 28, 1898
artifact #65-A
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

ou stood your ground in Skagway and now have the people’s confidence and respect."

Artifact #65 is a letter written on June 28, 1898 by confidence man and friend, John J. Shay, from Los Angeles, California, to Soapy Smith in Skagway, Alaska. The letter concerns a batch of bunco men heading towards Skagway. The letter is written ten days before Soapy's death, so there is a possibility that Soapy never saw it, though the letter was among the thousands of others in his estate.

The current correspondence between John and Soapy may have been ongoing, but the known letters start three months prior, in March 1898.

March 10, 1898

I received a letter from Daily (Old Bill), he is in Tacoma. You will no doubt see him up your way. Jeff, with all his faults, the old man loves the very ground you walk on. “Treat him kindly.” Kid Collins left for Seattle last night. Thence to Skagway. There is none of the gang here now but Link Howard, and I think Davis, alias Poker Davis, will be in Alaska ere long. Billy Cardwell (Senator Whit’s clerk), says [to me] “Who are you writing to, Jeff…?” I said yes. “Well then,” said he…, “give him my kind regards, for he is a good fellow.” By the way, Jeff, Frank Cole blowed the mineral and got not a quarter from same, and is on the hog train. He is trying hard for someone to stake him for Alaska, and owing to his being a good rustler, you might have the pleasure of seeing him in the near future, and … [let’s not forget] to mention Mr. Coy Kendall, who worked for me so long, and then went to work for Cole, is now on his way to Alaska and will no doubt call on you, and Jeff, I wish to state he is a perfect and good man, honest as the day, and no better man lives, and kindly do what you can for him, use your influence in getting him something to do, tending bar or anything else, for he is most worthy. Please give my regards to Kempter (Dutch) and to all the boys, and not forgetting yourself. I remain, Very truly yours,
John J. Shay (1)

Jeff replied to Shay, who again responded with news about mutual friends. This is artifact #65 the subject of today's post.

Los Angeles June 28, 1898

Dear old friend Jeff:
First of all I want to thank you many thousand times for the number of papers you have sent me. Not alone myself, who takes an interest in reading the valuable and clean little sheet that it is, but many businessmen and miners as well. They seem to take a great interest in reading same and express their great surprise in learning the enterprise of the people of Skagway. Am sure the paper being here does your town no harm. Henderson just came back, and states that Capt. Jack Lamey had left for … North Spokane, but a letter to Republic, Wash., would reach him. Jack made no money with Henderson on his staff. Ed is a good man. “No better,” but out of his line of business and C. H. Davis is out at some springs. And not a grafter in town. Burk has gone back to the city. Will enclose old Bill’s [Bill Banks] letter. Kid Collins was here short time ago— stayed but a few days and left again. Was sorry to see him leave, a good fellow he is. Cole was in yesterday, the first time in many weeks. He is broke and has been for a long-long time. He would make a good booster, and more than willing to join the band. However, he should go mining again. King Warren is in San Francisco. I had a letter last week from him. He tells me he is going to Alaska. Jeff, as always I am glad indeed to know of your doing well, and as I told the boys here, … you had more brains than them all put together. You stood your ground in Skagway and now have the people’s confidence and respect. Success to you is my earnest wish. My business still continues to be good. Am perfectly satisfied and happy, and hope this will find you the same, and any of my friends who might be there. I wish best wishes. I remain forever your friend
John Shay

Stateside members of the bunco brotherhood were gravitating north. How many actually arrived in Skagway and went to work under Soapy probably will never be known as the key to the success of his operations was secrecy.

Letter to Soapy Smith
From John J. Shay
June 28, 1898
artifact #65-B
Jeff Smith collection
 (Click image to enlarge)

Unfortunately, I have yet to find anything on John J. Shay. He obviously knew Soapy and his peers well enough to assume that he too was a confidence man. Probably a working associate of Soapy's at one time.

 (Click image to enlarge)
The above unknown newspaper clipping (possibly Los Angeles) was found in Soapy's personal trunk after his death, contains drawings of several bunco men mentioned in Shay's letters to Soapy.
  • "King Warren," a bunco man whose name and face (drawing) are seen in the newspaper clipping above.
  • "Kid Collins," probably "J. Collins" pictured in the newspaper clipping above. A confidence man named  "Collins" is forced to flee Leadville, Colorado with con man, "Big Ed" Burns in November 1879. It may be the same individual.
  • "Old Bill," is Bill Daily who accompanied Soapy on their first trip to Skagway in August 1897. In the 19 days they were in the brand new camp they made about $30,000.
  • E. C. "Poker" Davis, of whom nothing is known. There are several confidence men associates of Soapy's name "Davis."   

(1) Letter to Jeff Smith II from John Shay, 03/10/1898. "Correspondence of a Crook," Alaska-Yukon Magazine (Jan 1908). Slightly edited for readability.

John J. Shay: page 504-05.

"Thieves fall out and we may find out some time what became of Jeff’s property. There are men in Skaguay now who claim to have killed my brother. I have been told that Reid did not kill him, but that another man in the crowd fired a bullet into his back while he was struggling with Reid."
—Bascomb Smith
Soapy's younger brother


1664: New Jersey becomes a British colony. King Charles II grants land in the New World to his brother James, The Duke of York.
1755: The steam engine is used for the first time in North Arlington, New Jersey.
1789: The U.S. Post Office is established.
1856: California outlaw, Tom Bell, and his gang rob a mule train laden with $21,000 in gold, and tie the five drivers to trees.
1863: President Jefferson Davis delivers his State of the Confederacy address.
1884: The State of Mississippi authorizes the first state-supported college for women, the Mississippi Industrial Institute and College.
1885: The Montana Territory legislature bans "pernicious hurdy-gurdy" houses.
1889: Outlaw Jefferson Jones kills and robs Henry Wilson of $12 in the Choctaw Nation. Jones was arrested and tried in Fort Smith, Arkansas by Judge Isaac Parker who sentenced him to death. Jones was hung on January 16, 1890.
1889: Almon Stowger applies for a patent for his automatic telephone system.
1891: William Oliver is swindled of $42 in a Denver, Colorado “brace” game by bunco man John Hayes.
1894: Coca-Cola is sold in bottles for the first time.
1894: Bill Dalton, Bill Doolin and six others rob the safe of the Woodward Depot of about $7,000 meant for the soldiers at Fort Supply. It is believed that the wife of bad man Soapy Smith (Mary Noonan) is related to the Dalton family.
1894: James Young is killed by a blow from a fist, at the Arcade Gambling rooms in Denver, Colorado.
1898: Soapy Smith posts the “answer to warning” handbills in Skagway for the vigilante Committee of 101. The handbills are signed from the Law and Order Society (“consisting of 317 citizens”), which coincidentally is the address of Soapy’s saloon.
1904: After 30 years of drilling, the tunnel under the Hudson River is completed. It links Jersey City, New Jersey and New York, New York.
1906: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that corporations must yield incriminating evidence in anti-trust suits.
1909: Three U.S. warships are ordered to Nicaragua to stem the conflict with El Salvador.
1912: Ben Kilpatrick, the "Tall Texan" of the outlaw Wild Bunch gang, and Ole Hobek, are shot and killed during the robbery of the Southern Pacific's Sunset Express in Texas. They were killed by guard, David Trousdale.

March 3, 2020

Artifact #64: "I am captain of the 1st Co. of Alaska"

"I am captain of the 1st Co. of Alaska"
Artifact #64
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)

 am captain of the 1st Co. of Alaska"
Artifact #64

The coming of the Spanish-American War began with the U.S. battleship Maine blowing up in Havana harbor, Cuba on February 15, 1898. Over 200,000 “volunteers and National Guard troops … rushed to the colors.”[A]. Meetings were held in Skagway, and Soapy led the way for patriotic zeal. In one speech he gave, he said, "Spain will send her battleships to seize our ports, and they will try to capture our ships. But, be damned to them … we’ll stake our lives against their plots!" Soapy Smith's saloon (Jeff Smith's Parlor) became headquarters for the Skaguay Military Company, which he formed and commanded as its “elected” captain.

The US declared war on April 25, but because Spain had declared war on the US the previous day, the US Congress backdated its declaration to April 21, 1898. The following day, April 26th, Soapy wrote to his wife, Mary. A month into spring, Soapy had grown concerned over not hearing from home. Moreover, the gathering war clouds were seen even from distant Skaguay. Writing on April 26, he could not yet have known that war had been declared just the day before.

Dear Mollie
No word from you. What is wrong? I am captain of the 1st Co. of Alaska and will go to the war if there is any. I suppose it is on now. I expected to go to Dawson City. But now I will have to go to the front if called on. Write here. Love to all.
Your husband,

Soapy asked why he had not heard from Mary. The answer was that with the declaration of war, the mails had slowed even more than before. In writing this letter, Soapy had confirmed his commitment to the Skaguay Military Company and that if called, he would “go to the front.”

[A] Gilded Age Dictionary, Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age, 2003

Skaguay Military Company:
Oct 21, 2008
Mar 4, 2010
Mar 20, 2010
Apr 1, 2010
Apr 10, 2010
Jun 3, 2010
Jun 30, 2010
May 4, 2011
Nov 24, 2017
Nov 27, 2017
Nov 28, 2017

Skaguay Military Company: pages 79, 471, 486-90, 494-95, 498-502, 505, 510, 514-15, 595.

"In times of trouble, though, he usually preferred to rely on his wits, smooth speech, and dexterity rather than on physical force."
Alias Soapy Smith, Introduction.


1791: Congress passes a resolution that creates the U.S. Mint.
1803: The first impeachment trial of a U.S. Judge, John Pickering, begins.
1812: The U.S. Congress passes the first foreign aid bill.
1817: The first commercial steamboat route from Louisville to New Orleans is opened.
1837: US president Andrew Jackson and Congress recognize Republic of Texas. Texas will later become a state, and home to the “Soapy” Smith family.
1845: Florida becomes the 27th state.
1845: Congress passes legislation that for the first time overrides a U.S. President’s veto.
1849: The U.S. Department of the Interior is established.
1849: The Gold Coinage Act, which allows the minting of gold coins, is passed by Congress.
1849: Congress creates the territory of Minnesota.
1851: Congress authorizes the 3-cent piece, the smallest U.S. silver coin.
1855: Congress approves $30,000 to test camels for military use.
1857: Congress authorizes the postmaster general to seek bids for an overland stagecoach service to carry mail between the Missouri River and San Francisco.
1857: Fort Abercrombie is established on the west bank of the Red River south of where present day Fargo, North Dakota is. It was named for the commander of the founding party, Lieutenant Colonel John Abercrombie.
1863: Congress authorizes a US mint at Carson City, Nevada.
1863: Idaho Territory is created by Congress. Over 20,000 miners had already arrived to gold fields there.
1863: Free city delivery of mail is authorized by the U.S. Postal Service.
1875: The U.S. Congress authorizes the 20-cent piece. It is only used for 3 years.
1877: Camp Huachuca, Arizona Territory is established to protect the border. 1885: The American Telephone and Telegraph (AT and T) is incorporated in New York as a subsidiary of the American Bell Telephone Company.
1885: The U.S. Post Office offers special delivery for first-class mail.
1894: The Atlantis, the first Greek newspaper in America, is published.
1903: Barney Gilmore, of St. Louis, Missouri, is arrested for spitting.
1903: The U.S. imposes a $2 head tax on immigrants.

February 27, 2020

Artifact #63 - "This far on my journey to the North."

Letter to Mary from Jeff R. Smith II
Artifact #63
February 15, 1897
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

rtifact #63

Soapy Smith's letter to wife Mary, dated February 15, 1897 reads, in a large pen hand,
Feb 15th 1897

Dear Wife
This far on my journey to the North
God bless you

Owl Saloon

A quick note from husband to wife, written on Russ House stationary (San Francisco). It is not known where Soapy obtained the stationary. It is possible he had it on him, or obtained it in Spokane. It is even possible that having stationary from other locations, was used by confidence men as a misdirection of the cons place of residence. It was also common for saloons to carry stationary for it's patrons, and I will guess that they collected stationary wherever they could get some, not necessarily linked to their saloon, let alone their city. Though a seemingly short letter, it is known that Soapy was continually going back to St. Louis to be with he wife and children.

The Russ House
San Francisco
courtesy of San Francisco Library
(Click image to enlarge)

On July 15, 1897, the S.S. Excelsior docked in San Francisco with more than a ton of gold. Word of the treasure ship brought huge crowds, and word steadily spread across the country. But on the evening of July 16 when Seattle learned that the far richer S.S. Portland was bound for its port, the city was electrified. The great gold rush Soapy had been waiting for was on. Soapy predicted the rush, in an earlier letter to his wife, Mary. Soapy was moving about the country, but it is believed that Soapy was in Spokane at the time (280 miles from Seattle). It is very possible that he made his way to Seattle to witness the arrival of the Portland. By August 20, 1897 Soapy was docking in Skagway, Alaska aboard the Utopia.

Owl Club, Jan 15, 2015, Nov 7, 2016

The Russ House: p. 425.

"Jeff Smith, usually called 'Soapy,' made the statement publicly yesterday that he 'will cast as many fraudulent votes as I want to.' Said he, 'and there is no — — law can prevent me.'"
Rocky Mountain News
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 264.


1801: The city of Washington, D.C., is placed under congressional jurisdiction.
1827: New Orleans holds its first Mardi Gras celebration.
1867: Dr. William G. Bonwill invents the dental mallet.
1875: Stone Calf's Cheyenne Indians surrender and return two females, Catherine and Sophie Germaine, they had kidnapped from a wagon train in Kansas in 1874.
1879: John Martin is shot and killed by gambler David Stubblefield at the Palace Theater. Stubblefield is sentenced to serve ten-years in prison. He is pardoned on July 2, 1880, and dies three days later. The Palace was described as “a death-trap to young men, a foul den of vice and corruption.” In 1887, the Palace owner, Ed Chase partnered with bad man Soapy Smith in opening the Tivoli Club, a saloon and gaming house.
1883: Oscar Hammerstein patents the first cigar-rolling machine.
1885: Bad man Soapy Smith signs the hotel register at the Charpiot in Denver, Colorado. He lists his residence as Longmont, Colorado.
1887: Wichita County Seat War turns violent as seven armed men from the neighboring town of Leoti ride into Coronado attacking citizens and shooting two before armed citizens are able to fight back, killing three of the attackers and wounding a few. No one is ever convicted for the murders. Records indicate John O. “Texas Jack” Vermillion was in Coronado at the time. Vermillion is famous as one of Wyatt Earp’s vendetta riders, and as a member of the Soapy Smith gang.
1892: Alaskan Indian Chief Kowee of the Auk Tlingits tribe dies. He is most famous for leading Joe Juneau and Dick Harris to large gold deposits in July 1880 that started a gold rush that year, on land that would later become Juneau, Alaska. Indians were not allowed to make mining claims so they did not profit from the rush.
1896: The Charlotte Observer publishes a photograph of an X-ray made by Dr. H. Smith. The X-ray shows a hand and all its bones.
1896: A mob breaks into the Wichita Falls, Texas jail and lynches Foster Crawford and Elmer “Slaughter Kid” Lewis for the murder of banker, Frank Dorsey during a robbery of the City National Bank two days previous. A clerk was also wounded by the two outlaws before fleeing with about $2,000. A company of Texas Rangers, led by Captain W. McDonald, pursued and captured the outlaws, placing them in the jail where the mob overran the jailer.
1909: Jim “Killin’ Jim” Miller shoots and kills Gus Bobbitt in Ada, Texas. Miller was arrested on March 31, 1909 near Fort Worth. The murder led to a lynch-mob hanging of Miller on April 19, 1909.
1930: Famed female gambler Alice “Poker Alice” Ivers dies.

February 7, 2020

Matchbook cover and history for "Denver's Oldest Bar"

"Denver's Oldest Bar"
matchbook cover
outside cover - A
(Click image to enlarge)

new addition to my collection

A matchbook cover from "Denver’s Oldest Bar" is a new acquisition to my private Soapy Smith collection. Though it is a "modern" item from the 1960s-70s, it has a direct link to Soapy Smith. "Denver’s Oldest Bar" was once controlled by Soapy, under the name, "Tivoli Club," a saloon and gaming house.

Though Soapy operated the well-known Tivoli Club in that location for some seven years (1887-1895), the modern day owners of "Denver’s Oldest Bar" were apparently unaware of that history. Below is a photograph of the inside cover of the matchbook, complete with the history Joe Sheftel "uncovered" sometime after 1946.

"Denver's Oldest Bar"
matchbook cover
inside cover
(Click image to enlarge)

Text of the history printed in the matchbook:

The first record of Denver’s Oldest Bar, 17th and Market, is dated 1869, when a man named Brundage was developing several corrals and very soon, a livery stable, trade room and saloon. In 1875 The Denver Corrals burned to the ground, but next day it was “business as usual” in a large tent which was soon replaced with a new building housing a barroom with a new attraction – to “Honky-Tonk” girls.

In 1880 the present building was erected and from then ‘till prohibition came to Colorado, Denver’s Oldest operated under several names and owners, but was always a center for gay-blades, miners and frontiersmen – all hungry for whiskey and Honky-Tonk girl entertainment.

In 1946 Joe Sheftel acquired the location and after considerable research to determine the above facts and rightfully named his new venture “Denver’s Oldest Bar.” Upon discharge from the Army, Joe’s son Lyle joined him, and the two determined to bring back the gay atmosphere of yesterday along with modern Honky-Tonk – “Top Exotic Dancers.” Denver’s Oldest welcomes you to top entertainment in the surroundings of Denver’s early days.

I admit that I do not know the history of the lot previous to it's purchase by William Deutsch and the construction of the Deutsch block. The matchbook history states that the building was erected in 1880, but according to my research the empty lot was purchased in 1886 and that the building was erected around August 12, 1886 by William Deutsch, alias "Henry Dutch." It is believed that Soapy Smith sought some customization in the construction of the rooms he wanted to lease. The extra features included lower and upper backdoor access to be used for escapes.

The Tivoli Club
Sanborn map 1890
Escape routes
(Click image to enlarge)

The term “gay-blades” refers to the old usage of the term (A dashing or lively man) and not the modern slang, a homosexual reference.

The Tivoli Club, known as "the slaughter pen," was a combination saloon (downstairs) and gambling house (upstairs), located on the south-east corner of Seventeenth and Market, at 1337 and 1339 Seventeenth Street, under co-partnership between Soapy and Denver's gambling czar "Big Ed" Chase. It opened soon after February 12, 1888 when permission was granted by the city council to open and operate a saloon there.

The Tivoli Club
(far left)
circa 1890
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

The Tivoli occupied two stories, each with brick-walled quarters measuring 24 by 50 feet. “Open day and night” and serving “wines, liquors, and cigars,” advertising itself as the “headquarters for gentlemen, offering first class goods and First class attention.”

As with most of Denver’s saloons, gambling was located upstairs. It kept illegitimate activities from the prying eyes of the law man on the street, but it was also a matter of practicality. Being upstairs gave gamblers and swindlers time to clear out in the event of unwanted intrusions, such as a police raid. The 1890 Sanborn Fire insurance map of the street corner where the Tivoli resided gives a clue to why Jeff and Ed chose this location. It was one of the few buildings with numerous exits. leading to other stores on Market Street and an alleyway.

The diagram map of the saloon shows a back door and stairway to various escape routes through several other buildings that exited around the corner onto Market Street. Jeff and Ed likely had close business friendships with their neighbors to insure access to their back-doors.

"Denver's Oldest Bar"
matchbook cover
outside cover - B
(Click image to enlarge)

The Tivoli Club had two faro tables and two roulette tables. Seven dealers worked the faro tables while four men looked after the roulette wheels. One of Soapy's business notebooks includes the word “wheel,” a common name for roulette, but it could equally mean a policy wheel or any number of fortune wheel devices. The 1891 bill of sale lists “wheels” as well as safes, tables, chairs, and gas fixtures. Also listed were several private card rooms for “friendly” games of poker. A steam boiler in the corner kept the place warm. On the second floor off both sides off a hallway were rooms that may have been part of the Tivoli Club operation as well. 

According to legend, few of the Tivoli Club’s games were dealt fairly for out-of-towners, and on advice of attorney, Soapy placed a notice at the stairway that led to the gambling. “Caveat Emptor,” it read, the famous Latin caution, “Let the Buyer Beware.” Of course, few comprehended Latin, and if they did, none seemed to heed the warning. Legend also has it that as part of a defense in court, Soapy argued that the Tivoli Club was an educational institution for the treatment and cure of gambling addiction, something on the order of the Keeley Institute for alcohol abuse. The Rocky Mountain News even quoted Soapy's claim. “A man will be lured into a gambling hell and fascinated … until he is forever lost.” Then Soapy sprang the contrast: “After a man once comes to my place he is cured of gambling absolutely. He doesn’t want any more of it.” It is hard to say if Soapy believed his claim, but perhaps he believed he could make people believe it. He is known to have used the argument again on an anti-gambling Skaguay newspaper editor, saying that when gambling addicts came up against him, he paralyzed them. “I take everything they’ve got” and they “never gamble again…. I tell you, I’m a reformer.”

Denver’s Oldest Bar
"Ginn Mill Bar?"
circa 1970s
 (Click image to enlarge)

William Deutsch was not new to the saloon business. In 1881 and 1882, he had managed Ed Chase’s Palace Theatre’s saloon and gaming annex, the Tivoli Beer Hall. For ejecting a John Burns from the Theatre in March 1881, Deutsch was arrested for assault and battery. In 1883 he was listed as the proprietor. In 1887-1888 he was listed in the city directory as proprietor of the Alhambra Beer Hall at 1321 Seventeenth Street and as its manager in 1889.

Tivoli Club

December 9, 2008
June 4, 2009
July 23, 2009
August 11, 2009
April 11, 2010 
February 28, 2011
November 18, 2011
January 14, 2014
December 26, 2014
October 29, 2016
October 30, 2916

The Tivoli Club: pp. 79-81, 89, 120, 124-29, 131-32, 138-39, 171-72, 176, 182-83, 185, 188, 190, 197, 247-48, 256-57, 260-64, 272-78, 283-84, 286-87, 324, 336, 338, 352, 358, 389, 420.

"A bunch of con men opposed to Smith were trying to horn in and get the pull with the big bugs. Stopping to exchange a few words with a vigilance committee, contrary to his usual custom of ‘firing first and talking afterwards,’ caused his death."
—Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards, Alias Soapy Smith, p. 589.


1795: The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified.
1818: Academician begins publication in New York City.
1855: Famed detective Charles Siringo is born.
1861: The Choctaw Indian Nation allies itself with the Confederacy during the Civil War.
1865: Virginia City is named territorial capital in Montana.
1877: The Guernsey Cattle Club is organized in New York City.
1882: The last bareknuckle fight for the heavyweight boxing championship takes place in Mississippi City, between John L. Sullivan and Jake Kilrain.
1893: Elisha Gray patents the telautograph, a device that automatically signs autographs to documents.
1899: Outlaw Harry Tracy is arrested for robbery. He is the partner of David Merrill, captured the previous day (February 6, 1899). Merrill is sentenced to fifteen years and Tracy for twenty, in the Salem, Oregon prison. The two men will escape prison on June 9, 1902, when a rifle is smuggled in to them. The two men have a falling out and Tracy shoots and kills Merrill. Tracy remains at large until August 6, 1902 when a posse surprises him on a ranch near Creston, Washington. Tracy is hiding in a wheat field with two bullet wounds in his left leg. He cannot stop the bleeding and cannot escape so he shoots himself in the head.

January 16, 2020

New Soapy Smith quote

(Click image to enlarge)

new quote attributed to bad man "Soapy" Smith

Discovered in an edition of the Alaska Mining Record, April 5, 1899.


The sensational press of the east are now engaging in some real pipe dreams of their own, and allow a column or two of Canadian and American fights on the Atlin and Porcupine border to creep into their paper. One good has resulted from this, and that is, as Soapy Smith said, “I owe my success in life to the free advertising I have received in newspapers by the number of lies they have written about me.” So it is with Alaska. The tales of wild reckless life told in papers, has been the cause of many wealthy young fellows, coming to Alaska, to become a Wild Bill, but thank God these terrible fellows have been separated from their money by a bloody game of craps, and are now on the hog train going east, or among the strikers on the Skaguay railroad.


TRIVIA: While publishing this post I was reminded of a post I made back on October 3, 2010.

Comparison graphs I made in 2010
(Click image to enlarge)

Back in those days I was debating a lot with Wyatt Earp and Tombstone fans so this was is not only interesting, I admit that I was motivated to create it as a point to make with the Earp historians and fans. 

I knew that Wyatt Earp was not well-known until the 1929 biography. I guessed correctly that between 1860-1929 that Soapy Smith was more well-known across the US than Wyatt Earp was. On a Tombstone history forum, one of my friends posted a Google newspaper archive bar graph for "Wyatt Earp" between the years 1880-1970. It gave me the idea of making a bar graph for Soapy in the same time period. I was not surprised to see that my theory was right.

The top two graphs cover larger and smaller city newspapers across the United States that were available online. Today, ten years later, there is a lot more newspapers available online and it might be interesting to see how different the graphs would look.

"An enterprising showman in Denver is advertising a wax impression of the face of Soapy Smith, the late, who was killed in the boots he wore at Skaguay, Alaska. Great paper signs on the windows of the place where the exhibition is given announce in flaring headlines “Jefferson Randolph Smith, the hero of many encounters.” The show is being given on the ground which Smith himself traversed almost daily previous to getting into his fatal trouble."
Denver Evening Post,
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 557.


1847: John C. Fremont, the famed "Pathfinder" of Western exploration, is appointed governor of California.
1866: Everett Barney patents the metal screw, clamp roller skate.
1869: Lincoln County, New Mexico Territory is established with Carrizo as the county seat.
1878: Four civilians are killed in Indian raids in Limpia Canyon and Mason County, Texas.
1878: The silver dollar begins production as legal tender.
1883: The U.S. Civil Service Commission is established as the Pendleton Act goes into effect.
1890: Bad man Harris Austin is hung in Fort Smith, Arkansas for the shooting murder of Thomas Elliott in the Chickasaw Nation (present day Oklahoma) May 25, 1883. Austin remained on the run until he was captured by Deputy Marshal Carr in April 1889.
1890: John Billee and Thomas Willis hang for 1888 murder and robbery of W. P. Williams, whom they buried in a ravine in the Kiamichi Mountains, Oklahoma Territory.
1896: The first five-player college basketball game is played in Iowa City, Iowa.

January 14, 2020

Ella Wilson: murdering prostitute of Skagway, Alaska

Grave marker of Ella Wilson
Gold Rush Cemetery
Skagway, Alaska
(Click image to enlarge)

lla Wilson: murdering prostitute of Skagway, Alaska

(From Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel)
Late on Saturday, May 28, 1898, Ella D. Wilson, a prostitute, was murdered in her Holly Street cabin. The shocking details were published up and down the west coast.


Mysterious Murder of a Mulatto Woman in Skagway.

Skagway, May 29, via Port Townsend. June 3.—A mysterious murder occurred here last night. Ella D. Wilson, a mulatto woman, was smothered to death in her house on one of the busiest streets of the town by some unknown person. The murder was not disclosed until this afternoon. The woman was found lying in her bed. Around her neck a pillow-case had been drawn tightly, with the ends thrust in her mouth for a gag. Her wrists and ankles were tied together with sheets. Over her head and face a pillow was pressed down, and death had evidently resulted from smothering. Robbery is supposed to have been the motive for the crime, as the woman’s trunk had been rifled. She was thought to have had about $2000…. There is no clue to the murderer. The murdered woman had lived in the principal towns on the Pacific coast.[1]

Those who have read Alias Soapy Smith know about the controversial murder and robbery of the Skagway soiled dove, Ella Wilson and how Denver madam, Mattie Silks, blamed Soapy and U. S. Deputy Marshal Sylvester Taylor for the horrendous deed. My book goes into great detail about everything known about Wilson's death and Silk's later accusations. However, I have written very little on Ella Wilson here on this blog. The reason is that little new information has surfaced.

Marlene McClusky of the Skagway Historical Society blog wrote the following on August 2, 2011.

The New York Times of March 22, 1898 reported that a black prostitute had shot and killed a laboring man at the entrance to her cabin in the saloon district in Skagway. According to the captains of the Alki and the Hueneme the murder started as a result of trouble which began early on Monday evening over the disappearance of the man's watch.[2]

Another Murder at Skaguay
New York Times
March 22, 1898
 (Click image to enlarge)

Today's blog post centers on the newspaper clipping from the New York Times, March 22, 1898.


Another Murder at Skaguay.

SEATTLE, Washington. March 21.-Skaguay has had another murder, according to the officers of the steamers Alki and Hueneme, which have arrived here direct from the Lynn Canal. On last Monday night a laboring man was shot by a colored woman of the lower class in the entrance of her cabin, in the saloon district of Skaguay. He died shortly before the steamers sailed. The murder was the result of trouble which began early Monday evening over the disappearance of the man's watch.[3]

Marlene McClusky continues,
Apparently nothing was done to investigate this, but on May 28, 1898 - only two months later, Ella D. Wilson, a black prostitute or laundress, was strangled in her bed and her belongings stolen. Her house was on Holly Street, the same neighborhood. Perhaps the murder of Ella Wilson was simply retribution or frontier justice for the earlier murder. Although it was widely rumored that she had $3000, it is highly unlikely that a poor black prostitute could have amassed that much money. Even the high priced call girls made little money.[4]
On the Find-A-Grave page devoted to Ella, someone posted an unknown, un-sourced write-up.

Born: 1880 Died: May 28, 1898

"She gave her honor for the life of Skagway."

As a resident of Skagway's Red Light district, Ella was not given a large funeral after an anonymous strangling. She undoubtedly had many friends, but her standing in the community was not high.

Many of Skagway's ladies of the evening lived in the Red Light district cribs named for their nationalities and trade. Jap alley, Paradise alley, and French alley were enclaves of women in virtual slavery. The money only passed through their hands to the men who controlled their lives.

Eventually prostitution was outlawed from the downtown district and cribs ceased to house the "soiled doves" of Skagway.[5]
The quote, "She gave her honor for the life of Skagway" is a play on the inscription on Frank Reid's grave marker, "He gave his life for the honor of Skagway."

If you are familiar with Find-A-Grave, it would be nice to go over there and leave some virtual flowers: Ella Wilson at Find-A-Grave.

[1]: Morning Oregonian, 06/04/1898, p.2.
[2]: Skagway Stories: Ella Wilson
[3]: New York Times, March 22, 1898.
[4]: Skagway Stories: Ella Wilson
[5]: Find-A-Grave: Ella Wilson.

Ella Wilson: August 6, 2011

Ella Wilson: pages 507-12.

"'Thieves fall out and we may find out some time what became of Jeff’s property. There are men in Skaguay now who claim to have killed my brother. I have been told that Reid did not kill him, but that another man in the crowd fired a bullet into his back while he was struggling with Reid.'

'There are very few honest people up in that country,' Said Bascomb last night. 'I was told that my brother had $80 in cash in his clothes when he died, also that he owned several lots in Skaguay, a half-interest in Clancy’s saloon which was taking in probably $200 a day and an interest in the White Pass Trail.

The widow never got anything out of the estate. The money was gone and there was no trace of the lots, as they had never been recorded. Even a letter of thanks from the secretary of war could not be found and nearly everything in Jeff’s room had been stolen.'"
— Bascomb Smith, Alias Soapy Smith, p. 555.


1639: Connecticut's first constitution, the "Fundamental Orders," is adopted.
1784: The U.S. ratifies a peace treaty with England ending the Revolutionary War.
1873: John Hyatt's 1869 invention of ‘Celluloid’ is registered as a trademark.
1864: Vigilantes lynch five outlaw members of the “Innocents” in Virginia City, Montana Territory. One of those hung was Jack Gallagher, whose last words were “I hope forked lightening will strike every strangling…of you.”
1872: Russian Grand Duke Alexis celebrates his 21st birthday and the killing of his first buffalo in Nebraska. The duke missed with his first six shots before Buffalo Bill hands him his .50 caliber rifle. The Duke gets within 10 feet of his prey and shoots, killing the buffalo.
1878: Slabtown changes its name to Leadville, Colorado Territory.
1878: Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates the telephone for Britain's Queen Victoria.
1878: Bat Masterson is sworn in as Ford County Sheriff. He becomes a long-time friend of bad man Soapy Smith in Denver, Colorado.
1881: Gambler Johnny O'Rourke, alias “Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce,” shoots and kills a mining engineer following an argument in Charleston, Arizona Territory. He rides to Tombstone where he is protected from a lynch mob by Virgil Earp, Marshal Ben Sippy, and Sheriff John Behan.
1882: The Myopia Hunt Club, in Winchester, Massachusetts is the first country club in the U.S.
1886: Indians appear on doorsteps of many homes in Wichita, Kansas begging to be let in from the cold.
1887: Bad men James Lamb and Albert O'Dell are hung in Fort Smith, Arkansas for the 1886 murder of a farmer who had hired them to do some work.
1891: General Nelson Miles reports that the Sioux Indians are returning to their Dakota reservations.