April 7, 2021

Uncrowned King of Skaguay, San Francisco Examiner, February 25, 1898

The Uncrowned King of Skaguay
The San Francisco Examiner
February 25 1898

(Click image to enlarge)



  
 
 
t was in good old times. Every man had moneyunless he met "Soapy."


 

Soapy Smith had been traveling around the Pacific Northwest since 1896. For the most part he remained an unknown, successfully keeping his past identity from the newspapers. That began to change once he settled in Skagway, Alaska and made a noise for himself. Newspaper reporters researched who "Soapy" Smith was, and published their findings in their newspapers, and as the Klondike gold rush was on everyone's minds, the newspapers capitalized on the "uncrowned king of Skaguay." The San Francisco Examiner found a copy of Soapy's cabinet card (see below) taken in Denver and had an artist draw Soapy for publication with an article on Soapy.
     As the newspapers of the states increased their publications on Soapy Smith, exposing his crimes, as well as those of his gang, the growing concerns of the citizens of Skagway were that the Klondikers coming to, and going from, the gold fields, may choose another route, by-passing Skagway all-together. Skagway witnessed how quickly the neighboring town of Dyea died, and they had no wish to be victims of the same fate. In the coming five months Soapy worked diligently to retain his power, his popularity with the Skagway residents, and improve relations with the newspapers, especially those on the west coast, Tacoma, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
     Below is the transcription of the
San Francisco Examiner article pictured above.

Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith
Circa 1890
Jeff Smith Collection

(Click image to enlarge)

 

 

THIS GAMBLER ASPIRES TO BE AN ALASKAN CHIEF OF POLICE.



Rules the Sporting Fraternity at the Gateway of the Gold Fields and Thinks He Would Be the Best Man to Preserve Peace in the District.

“SOAPY” SMITH, THE UNCROWNED KING OF THE TOWN OF SKAGUAY.


      “Soapy” Smith, one time known as Jeff, gambler, politician, “sure-thing” man, has added to his other titles that of “Shah of Skaguay.” He also longs to be called "Chief.” In the Boom town at the entrance to White pass, "Soapy" is a power and a prominent citizen. The sporting fraternity own allegiance to his cause and when the place is incorporated will further his ambition to be Chief of Police.
     It was Smith who saved the neck of Fay, the bartender who recently shot United States Deputy Marshal McGowan [sic: "Rowan"] and another man. Vigilantes would have lynched Fay had "Soapy" not gathered his forces and prevented the execution.
     The story of the career of the would-be policeman teems with tales of adventure. He is known all along the Pacific Coast as a most desperate gambler. It was, however in Colorado that he first achieved prominence. The memory of "Soapy" Smith lingers in Denver like the recollection of a bad dream. Is almost impossible to ascertain when "Soapy" came to Denver or Whence, but out of the tangle of rich anecdotes of his earlier career there rises a picture which is indelible.
     It was in good old times. Every man had money
unless he met "Soapy." Up Seventeenth street from the Union Depot there streamed a throng of people. In the midst of them stood "Soapy" on a box. He had soap to sell; it was not plain, ordinary soap, fit only for the washing of dirty hands or soiled linen. It was, on the contrary, very remarkable soap. "Soapy" touched the soap and lo! there was an inner wrapping of crisp bank notes around every bar. The eyes of the spectators bulged out. What was the use hunting over the hills for deceptive silver mines? Here was a fortune close at hand. “Soapy” had just a few left for sale. Under his magic touch a bar was seen to be enfolded in money. With eager eye fixed upon the tempting treasure, the spectator passed his hard-earned cash to the magician and grabbed the potent bar. Upon opening the outer wrapper, breathing short and quick the while, he foundjust soap; but it was a very good soap. That was one thing to be said of "Soapy." He was always conscientious and in little things and was far above petty tricks. Other people bought soap and "Soapy's" business came to be profitable and he devoted himself to it till greater ambitions inspired him to more original endeavors.
     "Soapy" became very proficient in the shell game and in all the various schemes of the high class bunco man. For many years he enjoyed power and influence in Denver, for his political relations and the authority he welded in the downtown districts gave him immunity from police interference. Year after year he flourished, buncoed visitors, conducted a gambling-house and made his name a by-word and a synonym. He made fortune after fortune and spent it all in riotous living and in good deeds, for it must be ever said of "Soapy" that no hungry man ever asked aid of him and was refused. Smith left Denver in 1896, driven out at last by the women empowered with the suffrage. He went to New Orleans, was imprisoned there for vagrancy and finally drifted to the Pacific Coast.

The following comes from the book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.

The article correctly exposed Jeff’s past in Denver, including a detailed exposé of the prize soap sell racket. But even in this damning article, the reporter apparently felt compelled to include that Jeff also had a good side. ...
     ... Jeff’s infamous past had caught up with him. Too soon every Skaguay resident would know his full identity. An obviously powerful friend in San Francisco, known only as “John,” wrote to Jeff about the article and to warn him about a “squealer” thought to be in Skaguay. This interesting and colorful but long and somewhat repetitive letter has been shortened; otherwise, with a few assists, it appears as written.

Esmond House, 43 Sixth Street
San Francisco, Cal., Feby. 25 1898
Jeff Smith, Esqr.
Chief Police, Skaguay, Alaska:
    
Friend Jeff:—Today’s San Francisco Examiner gives you quite a good send off with a large picture of you. It seems by this able sheet you will be the next or first chief and if so I am glad of it, so you can regulate some of the wolfs that’s in our line of calling. They must have some man of judgment to regulate them or they will break up any place they go. There is one in particular, who is strickly out for himself and I here he is in your town (Skaguay); he will undermine you or any one else in order to gain his own point. I tell you Jeff he Dutch or John Rennels would put you and everyone else in jail to have the graft himself. If he had his way in this city while with me he would have had many of the gang drove out or put in the workhouse. You will always find him sneaking around talking to officers and telling other people[’s] bisness to them. Jeff he … is beyond a doubt one of the most dangerous men in the country and avoid[s] any principle. The only friend or God he knows or acknowledges is the mazuma and to reach that he will stop at nothing, he has not a charatable or Honorable hair in his head. When I had to drop him from the pay roll he got drunk like any cheap guy on 5¢ beer—large glasses, and combined with old McCormick to write me and the police department up through a pettifogging attorney here [—] he with McCormick in their letter given to the Daily Call newspaper claimed that I had the Chief of Police right and was given him the chief money. Now I and everyone else knows this to be true that Rennels and McCormick are the guilty ones—…. Such people ought to be in the sewer. You can rest assured he is your enemy. He has roasted you to me more than once and told me what smart capers he cut while in Denver, Col.
     There was nothing bad enough he did not say about you he can give you plenty of taffy while there is money in it but he is full of deceit, if you touch his pocket you can find out where his Dutch heart is if he has any. There is only one thing to do with him to keep him on the walk [—] drive him out of town for you or anyone else can not do a thing he will not tell officials to get into favor. I learned that deceitful rascals faults at my own expense. Why Golden Gaggers and others would have driven him from here a pauper only for me, and he repaid me well for my favors shown him by writing up the police dept and saying I was giving them percentages. … They put some of the gang on the tramp, but I am living well and eating the same and no trouble on my mind, for I am O K and treated all as I would wish to be treated myself. …McCormick, Atkins and others … are dead letters here as well as many other places. Their pedigree is ahead of them in many citys. Any information or anything I can do for you here I will do cheerfully in the way of ordering anything you might want. Hoping I may have the pleasure of hearing of you been elected Chief and with best wishes I remain
Your Friend and well wisher.
JOHN.

[P.S.] This is no heresay. The cop, the attorney who wrote the article and Billy Atkins who was there listening to Dutch getting McC to do it all tell me Dutch is to blame for all.










San Francisco Examiner article, Feb 25, 1898: page 463-64.





"In a bet there is a fool and a thief."
—Proverb










April 4, 2021

Jesse Murphy mentioned as shooting Soapy in The Dyea Trail, July 9, 1898

Skaguay Rises in Righteous Wrath
The Dyea Trail
July 9, 1898

(Click image to enlarge)






 
 man named Murphy had done his best to kill Soapy."
 
 
 
 
An extremely rare opportunity slid by me in an eBay auction listing for the July 9, 1898 (Vol. 1,No. 26) issue of The Dyea Trail (Dyea, Alaska), which sold for $406.00.
     This 8 page weekly publication measuring app. 12"x18" was started on January 12, 1898 and was one of two weekly newspapers in Dyea (the other being The Dyea Press). The inner pages (3-6) are printed on slightly smaller paper (10¾"x17"). This Newspaper only lasted about a year, roughly coinciding with the peak and ebb of the Klondike gold rush. There were 5,000 to 8,000 inhabitants in 1898 but by 1900 the town had dwindled to just 250, and by 1903 it had become a ghost town.
     This issue is important because it is the first report of Soapy's death from the shootout on Juneau Wharf, in Skagway, five miles away. Being published the day after the gunfight, it contains the earliest mention of Jesse Murphy shooting Soapy. The Skagway newspapers make no mention of Murphy having fired a single shot. I really hated not being able to get it.
     Unfortunately, the photographs used by the eBay seller are too poor to transcribe properly. 

 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
"Midway Saloon"
The Dyea Trail
July 9, 1898
"Renie Baker, Proprietress"
(Click image to enlarge)
 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
(Click image to enlarge)



 




"I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."
Ecclesiastes 9:11








April 2, 2021

Mock Auction House, Denver Republican, Feb. 12, 1882

MOCK AUCTION WATCHES
Denver Republican
February 12, 1882

(Click image to enlarge)





 
 
ore on the snide watch, mock auction house
 
This is the second, and more detailed article from the Denver Republican's expose on a Larimer street mock auction house, beginning on February 11, 1882. I do not recognize the names of H. E. Myers or H. Simon, the operator of the mock auction house, and though the operation is near identical to Soapy's auction houses he ran in the late 1880s-90s, I am pretty certain this is not Soapy's operation, as Soapy is still a nomad, roaming the western states, looking for a permanent location for his operations. It appears that Charles L. "Doc" Baggs is still the king-pin bunko man of Denver. Below is the transcribed article.
 
 
AUCTION WATCHES.

Myers, the Auctioneer, Declares That He Is Above Suspicion.

A Watch-Man Ventures a Few Queries and Suggestions Regarding the Matter.
      A Publication was made in yesterday's REPUBLICAN regarding the purchase of a 3-karat gold watch by a man named H. A. Taylor, from H. Simon an auctioneer doing business at 371 Larimer street.① The article stated that Taylor bought the watch at auction, for $24, on the representation that the cases were of solid gold and the watch was in good running order for two years. After he had made the purchase, Taylor says he began to suspicion that he had been swindled, and consequently took the watch to a well-known jeweler to have it tested. The jeweler tested the cases with acid, and the result was that the gold was eaten away, and several black spots appeared, which could not be [?]. The jeweler informed Taylor that it was a snide auction watch, worth at the utmost $15 or $18. Taylor returned to the auction house and endeavored to get his money back, failing in which he publicly proclaimed that he had been swindled, he came to THE REPUBLICAN office and made a statement in regard to the matter.
MR. MYERS' STATEMENT.
      Mr. H. E. Myers is the auctioneer in Simon's establishment. He came around to THE REPUBLICAN office yesterday, in high dudgeon, contending, in a very forcible language, that the statement of Taylor in regard to his being swindled was totally wrong, and that the watch was just what it was represented to be when Taylor bid it in at $24. A reporter called around at the auction house last night and heard Myers' statement. It was substantially as follows: He held a watch in his hand, which he claimed to be an exact facsimile of the one sold to Baker. "This," said he, "is a solid gold case, with a National movement, Elgin Illinois. We guarantee these watches, and I gave Taylor a guarantee. He took the watch to a jeweler and had it tested, and then he brought it back to me very much disfigured, and wanted me to give him his money back. I told him if the watch was not just as I guaranteed it I would refund him his money. I sold him the watch with the guarantee that the cases were of solid gold-but I did not say how fine the cases were. They might be 4-karat, or 6 or 8, or anywhere up to 18-karat, and still be solid gold. I did not guarantee the fineness, but if he had asked me to do so I would have put in the guarantee that the cases were 10-karat, which they were. There is no such thing as a 3-karat watch. The lowest grade is 4-karat. Now, the acid used by the jeweler in testing these cases was 18-karat acid, with salt in it. You probably know that acids are of different strength. An 18-karat acid will eat into a 10-karat case and a 10-karat acid will eat into a 4-karat case. Of course the 10-karat case on Taylor's watch could not withstand 18-karat acid-and any jeweler will tell you that this is true. I can take the strongest quality of acid, put salt in it, and eat up a twenty-dollar gold piece. The watch sold to Taylor is strictly in conformity with the guarantee, and there was no misrepresentation in making the sale. In fact, the profit on the watch was so small that I would readily have taken it back and refunded the money, if the watch had not been defaced and disfigured. There was no snide in the matter, and we are willing to stand by our guarantee."


The Other Side of the Case.

Denver, Colorado, February 11, 1882.

To the editor of the Republican.
      An article in this morning's REPUBLICAN, and headed "A Three-Karat Watch," hits the nail square on the head, and as this question has been opened for discussion, allow me a small space in your independent paper to make a few remarks on it.
     The jewelry and watch auctions are carried to such an extent in this city and the bidding is so palpably fraudulent that it seems as though a man with ordinary intellect could not help but discover the humbug at once, but it appears that as soon as one victim retires to meditate upon the demerits of his bargain another will surely take his place. If people would only watch the auctioneer closely they would surely discover that nearly all the bidding is done by the auctioneer himself, as for instance: He starts a watch that cost him $5 at $7; then he commences to bid it up to say $9.50, and keeps crying that bid until some "sucker" bites by bidding $10. Of course the watch is surely his, and it don't take him long to find out that he is sold. People often wonder when they hear one of these mock auctions who does all the bidding, lots of them never dreaming that the auctioneer is the "many bidders."
      There is a distinct difference between the jewelry and watches sold at auction and those sold by the regular jeweler. The watches sold at auction are usually of the poorest kind. The watches they sell for gold are from 4 to 8 karat. The cases are extremely light, so that usually the engraving on the outside shows through on the inside of the case. The movements are the poorest and cheapest to be had, and, although it may be an Elgin or Waltham watch, let me inform the reader that these companies make watches that cost only $3.50. Add to this a gold case that costs $12 and you have a total of $15.50, and these watches are sold at auction from $25 to $45. Now do you see how auction stores can pay big rents and employ expensive auctioneers?
      With jewelry it is just the same. An article may be gold and very poor; in fact, not half as good as a good rolled plate article, while a rolled plate article may wear as good as solid gold, and it may not wear as well as good common gilding. The same difference exists in watches and jewelry as in clothing, hats, dry goods or other merchandise. Lots of men who will not buy anything snide in other goods, will go to auctions and buy the snidest kind of jewelry and watches, and when they find out that they have been sold, they will take good care not to let anyone else know it, because they fear that someone will laugh at them, and that would be terrible. The auctioneer knows this, and that's why he keeps on with the same old cry.

Yours against all humbugs,
Watchman.


Footnotes
①: See post March 30, 2021 for the Denver Republican, February 11, 1882.
 











Mock Auction House
Auction House: pages 15, 43, 75-76, 88, 90, 92, 120, 129-32, 138, 162-63, 180, 188, 190-91, 242, 294, 360, 421-22.





"QUOTE QUOTE"
—Robert









April 1, 2021

Bad Man From Colorado: Bascomb Smith in Butte, Montana, 1896.

BAD MAN FROM COLORADO
The Butte Miner
Butte, Montana
December 4, 1896

(Click image to enlarge)



 
ad Man From Colorado
Bascomb Smith in Butte, Montana 
 
A hard accounting of "Soapy" Smith's younger brother, Bascomb.
 

As of this newspaper article, Bascomb was a recent released one-year prisoner of  the Colorado prison system. His brother was gone, having fled Colorado to keep from being placed behind bars, likely he was looking at a longer sentence than Bascomb. Soapy tried to convince Bascomb to leave Colorado with him, and though Bascomb had numerous chances, he chose to stay. This article is one of the harshest accountings of Bascomb I have ever seen. I do not know how much of it is accurate. Below is the transcription of the article. 

The Butte Miner
Butte, Montana
December 4, 1896



BAD MAN FROM COLORADO.



Bascom Smith, Brother of the Famous “Soapy” Smith, Makes His Bow.

     

Bascom Smith, bad man from Colorado, and brother of Col. Jefferson Randolph Smith, better known throughout the west as “Soapy” Smith, has turned up in Butte and it is not unlikely that the police will have as much trouble with Bascom as the authorities of Denver have during the past four years.
     Colorado is very glad to lose Bascom. The atmosphere in Denver got a little too sultry for “Soapy” about two years ago. He was wanted on a charge of flim-flamming a “guy” out of several thousand. “Soapy” disappeared with his sudden wealth and was afterwards heard from in old Mexico. Since then he has given the Queen City a very wide berth.
     As a confidence man and now and then gun player “Soapy” was king of the rollers in Colorado for years. Bascom Smith, who has unexpectedly honored Butte with his presence, worked in “Soapy's” team for a time but his art got to coarse, so his slick brother deserted him. Bascom in other words used his gun on a man down there and sent him to a swift account. He was tried in the district court and served a slight sentence. He figured in other gun plays and came near breaking up “Soapy” in business. For genuine toughness Bascom has many marks against his name on the criminal blotter of that city.
     His first bow to Butte was in the role of a person who subsists on the earnings of a low woman. Officer Griffith arrested the man on complaint of Elsie Edwards. She says that Smith has been living with her both in Denver and Butte. They came to this city two weeks ago and since that time Smith has spent over $100, earned by the woman, drinking it up over the bar of a Galena street saloon. She complains of ill-treatment, more particularly described as threats to kill, and several beatings.
     Whether the woman's story is true or not, such brutal treatment would be nothing else than a repetition of the man's wild career in Denver. He was taken before Justice Holland and released on bonds of $100, which were furnished by Edmund Levi. Smith will enter his plea this morning. In the meantime Elsie Edwards is in absolute dread that Smith will take her life, but the police are apprised of his history and will keep an eye on the bad man from Colorado.



Points to consider
  • Soapy was not wanted ('about two years ago') "on a charge of flim-flamming a guy out of several thousand." Both he and Bascomb were awaiting trial for the assault on John Hughes, proprietor of the Arcade restaurant, saloon and gaming rooms in Denver.
  • It is well-known that Bascomb "worked in 'Soapy's' team for a time," but did "his art get to coarse, so his slick brother [Soapy] desert him?" I don't believe that this is true. Soapy always backed his brother.  
  • "Bascom in other words used his gun on a man down there and sent him to a swift account. He was tried in the district court and served a slight sentence. He figured in other gun plays and came near breaking up 'Soapy' in business." I believe the article is referring to Bascomb's killing of Harry Smith in Denver, June 23, 1893. Bascomb got off using the self-defense plea, and there were enough witnesses to back it up the story.

After this article was published, Bascomb was arrested, held for a few days, and then discharged (see post March 26, 2021).











Bascomb Smith
 











Bascomb Smith: pages 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. 





"And when I die,
don't bury me deep;
leave one hand free
to fleece the sheep."
From the film, Honky Tonk (MGM, 1941).









March 30, 2021

"this is a snide auction watch." Mock Auction House, Denver Republican, Feb. 11, 1882

A 3-KARAT WATCH.
Denver Republican
February 11, 1882

(Click image to enlarge)





 

ell," said the Jeweler, "this is a snide auction watch."

 
 
 
It is not known for certain if Soapy Smith was operating any of his "mock auction houses" in Denver in 1882, but the methods are the pretty much the same. It could be one of "Big Ed Chase's operations, or even "Doc" Charles L. Baggs' place, as he was the "bunko boss" in Denver at the time. Below is the transcribed newspaper article from the Denver Republican (February 11, 1882) describing one of the early "mock auction houses" that prospered for decades in Denver.
 
 
A 3-KARAT WATCH.

How a Young Man “From the Country” Was Taken In One of Many Similar Cases.


      “A young man from the country” walked himself into one of the cheap jewelry auction shops on Larimer street yesterday, and was induced to buy a gold watch. The “ticker” was a fair-looking hunting case, warranted to be gold, and had an Elgin movement. It was a taking piece of property and sold for the wonderfully small sum of $24. The young man bought and received the following guarantee:
                                                                      Denver, Colorado February 10th 1882.
Mr. H. A. Taylor,
      Bought of H. Simon Auction and Commission House, 371 Larimer street, red front.
No. 1,319.
One solid gold watch fortwenty-four dollars, and I guarantee the above-mentioned to be solid gold cases and in good running order for two years. H. Simon.
     By and by it dawned upon the young man that maybe he had been swindled, and meandering into Ingalls’ jewelry store he submitted his "solid-gold" ticker to have judgement passed upon it. "Well," said the Jeweler, “this is a snide auction watch. It is worth at the utmost from $15 to $18. The case is a gold that runs about three karats fine and the works are the cheapest Elgin procurable." The jeweler was asked to test the case with acid. On applying the liquid it sizzed, hizzed and boiled and forever tarnished that "solid-gold" case. The young man left the jeweler's office with blood in his eye, but up to a late hour last night no murder had been committed.
     It will be observed that the auction man made no false representations. It is a “solid gold” watch and the watch is also “in good running order for two years.” The only safety the public has is to deal with reputable Jewelers.

View the following day's more detail article on this case: April 2, 2021
     Below is cartoon showing the standard path of a victims lesson in dealing with one of these establishments. Do click on the image for an enlarged, readable view.
 
 


(Click image to enlarge)
 
 
 









 Mock Auction House
Auction House: pages 15, 43, 75-76, 88, 90, 92, 120, 129-32, 138, 162-63, 180, 188, 190-91, 242, 294, 360, 421-22. 





"If ye must bette, at least bette upon a sure thinge."
—Anonymous

"… and have we got a sure thinge for you!"
Jeff Smith







March 29, 2021

Artifact #79: Acting school program for Ethel Catherine Reitz, Soapy's daughter-in-law, 1907.

Ethel Reitz performance
January 24, 1907
Artifact #79
Jeff Smith collection

(Click image to enlarge)





 
 
rtifact #79: Acting program by Ethel Catherine Reitz
 
 
 
Ethel Catherine Reitz (10 AUG 1888 - 26 AUG 1931) was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where she met and married Jefferson Randolph Smith III (Soapy Smith's son) on April 30, 1908, making Ethel Soapy's daughter-in-law. Ethel is my paternal grandmother.
 
Before getting married, nineteen-year-old Ethel was enrolled in the Vivian Page School of Acting. On January 24, 1907, she performed as "Joan" in a public showing at the Strassberger Conservatory Hall.
 
Ethel Catherine Reitz
Original black and white

 (Click image to enlarge)
 
 
Ethel Catherine Reitz
Colorized
 
 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
 
 
Strassberger Conservatory Hall
Circa 1905

 (Click image to enlarge)
 
 
 
Strassberger Conservatory Hall
As it looks today

(Click image to enlarge)
 
 
 
 
 
 Ethel C. Reitz, animated
 
 
 
 
Ethel Catherine Reitz
Colorized
 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
 












Ethel Catherine Reitz
February 5, 2011 







"One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to show you a brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken. Then this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this brand-new deck of cards and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not accept this bet, because as sure as you stand there, you're going to wind up with an ear full of cider."
—Damon Runyon
Guys and Dolls, 1955









March 28, 2021

Did Soapy Smith go to Deadwood, South Dakota in 1897?

SOAPY SMITH IS IN TOWN
The Deadwood Evening Independent
May 18, 1897

(Click image to enlarge)





 
id Soapy Smith go to Deadwood, North Dakota in 1897?
 
 
 
 
 
If you watched HBOs series Deadwood (2004), then you may recall seeing a character loosely based on Soapy Smith ("Soap with a prize inside!"). A lot of research went into the making of the series, and apparently they found the old published letter from a Deadwood pioneer writing about a particular stagecoach ride in which one passenger was "Wild Bill" Hickok, and the other was "Soapy" Smith. While it is possible that there was a passenger who went by the alias of "Soapy," it is likely not Jefferson Randolph Smith, who at age 16, was still living at home with his parents and siblings in Round Rock, Texas. It would be another nine years (1885) before he would obtain the moniker "Soapy."
     The topic of Soapy Smith in Deadwood comes up occasionally, but until now there has been no evidence that he visited the town. The primary Deadwood gold rush ended in 1890, but gold was still being mined, and the population maintained a slow growth, so there was money to be made for someone of Soapy's career choice. He had visited smaller towns in his travels, so it is possible. 
     After 1890 famous gambler's, such as Alice Ivers Duffield, known to most as "Poker Alice Tubbs," were still arriving and working in Deadwood, via train, also a newcomer to the gold-town. Al Swearingen and his Gem Theatre were still operating (until 1899). Gambling and prostitution were still legal (until 1898), indicating that Daedwood was still on the wild side, a natural attraction for Soapy Smith to visit in 1897.
 
Still wild
Deadwood in 1897

 (Click image to enlarge)

     The newspaper piece is dated May 18, 1897 so one of my first tasks was to try and pin-point where Soapy was known to be operating around this time.
  • January-February 1897: Spokane.
  • May 1897: St. Louis.
  • July 1897: Seattle.
     Soapy was constantly moving around during this period. Few of the letters written to him at his last known location, did not reach him right away. Thus, it is very possible that he was in Deadwood in May 1897. 
 
MAYBE THIS REALLY IS SOAPY?
 
 
Seth Bullock, Sol Star and Soapy Smith?
 
(Click image to enlarge)
 
Back on December 18, 2020 on Facebook I posted the above photograph taken in Deadwood, South Dakota, showing Seth Bullock and Sol Star, with an unidentified gentleman that looks surprisingly like Soapy Smith. At the time I did not think it was Soapy so I did not post it here in this blog. When I posted the newspaper clipping that mentions Soapy Smith in Deadwood in Deadwood on May 18, 1897 I sought out the photograph of Seth Bullock and Sol Star and have to wonder if that third gentleman is actually Soapy?

 



"It is a notorious fact that confidence men and gamblers and other traffickers in the weaknesses of human nature are shrewd, companionable and generous men. They are generous on the order of “lightly come, lightly go.”"
Daily Alaskan, July 25, 1898.