November 21, 2022

BUNKO MEN AND THEIR TRICKS. San Francisco Chronicle April 10, 1898

Shell and Pea Game on the Trail
"Sketched from life by M. W. Newberry"
San Francisco Chronicle
April 10, 1898

(Click image to enlarge)

     A wonderfully detailed description of the modus operandi of Soapy Smith's three shell and pea manipulators along the Chilkoot and White Pass trails.
Witnessed and reported by Joseph D. Barry, and published in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 10, 1898. Besides this article, Barry played an important role in Skagway history, as an official witness and jury member in the May 31, 1898, inquest into the death and robbery of prostitute Ella D. Wilson. Below is the transcribed text of the article, complete with my additional comments.  

Many Are at Work on the Trails.

Weary Plodders Often Taken In.

Klondike Pilgrims and their Wealth Separated.

The Old Pea and Shell Game Finds Many Victims Among
the Climbers of the Chilcoot Pass.

SKAGWAY, March 27, 1898.—Since the grass has begun to grow short for them in town, some of the confidence workers who still remain have taken to the trails, where they continue to set snares for the dollars of unwary Klondikers. On the Skagway trail the sure-thing gambler seldom goes higher than the foot of White pass summit. Half a dozen or so of his tribe usually travel together, sharing at the close of the day the profits of the tricks they have turned.
One of the party is chosen as active operator. His necessary qualifications are a capacity to judge human character and a tongue that is gifted with glibness. The successful confidence game operator is best described by the expressive term “spellbinder.” His confederates, the steerers carefully disassociate themselves from him whenever a possible victim is in sight.
The better to disguise his wolfish character the steerer frequently dons the sheep’s clothing of a packer. It is no uncommon incident on the trail to see two or more notorious bunko-steerers faring along, one after the other, apparently heavily burdened with packs, which if investigated would prove to be nothing more substantial than straw or chips in canvas sacks.
The "sheep's clothing of a packer"
description perfectly fits the methods of soap gang member Van B. "Old Man" Triplett. According to his newspaper obituary, he was born about 1841 in Virginia and was the originator of the gold brick scam. A con man of forty years, he joined Soapy's entourage in 1894, going to Skagway where he impersonated a stampeder complete with pack (said to be filled with feathers), working three-card monte at the Skaguay entrance to the White Pass trail. It was Triplett who operated the three-card monte game against John Stewart, stealing his gold, which directly resulted in Soapy Smith's death at the hands of the vigilantes.
A little ahead of them always is the operator, equipped with a small, portable table, three shells and the elusive pea. When the first one reaches the manipulator of the ancient but to the “sucker” ever new game he stops, watches and listens, and finally lays down his pack, as if to rest, Steerer No. 2 follows his example, as do the other in turn. By the time the prospective victim arrives he finds a spurious Klondiker just winning a bet from the shell game player, amid the half envious congratulations of his confederates.
“Well, well, this is my unlucky day,” says the man with the table, “but I’ll give some other gentleman a chance to win on the little pea.” Back and forth and round about go the shells again, a glimpse of the pea being given the watchers at seductively frequent intervals. Another steerer guesses its location and wins a greenback or two.
“You fellows are hitting me too hard,” dubiously comments the operator. “I must size up my roll before I take any more bets.” He opens a well-lined pocketbook, and while his attention is taken up with its contents one of the steerers slyly raises the shell under which the pea is hidden. That catches the outsider, unless he be invulnerable against the temptations of bunko. Laying his finger on the shell indicated to him he offers to bet $10, $20, $50 or a higher sum that it covers the pea. His bet is taken, the shell is lifted and the pea proves to be somewhere else. Usually the victim makes a second and perhaps a third bet in the hope of retrieving his loss, always with the same result. A witness to one of these episodes tells of having seen a prospector who had lost $90 sit upon his pack and burst into tears. He said that his last dollar had gone on the game. Still higher up the trail that same day a man who runs a tent restaurant bet and lost $20, but the shell-game player was glad to disgorge it when the victim’s wife, a 200-pound lady of German nativity, seized him by the coat collar and screamed lustily for help.
It is also related that a man in clerical garb, said to be a missionary, dropped $100 in a single bet. He immediately picked up his daintily bound pack and resumed his journey. Without uttering a word of regret or complaint.
Yesterday a woman who said she was going to the Klondike in the interest of the Smithsonian Institution complained to Captain L. A. Matile that confidence workers were so annoying on the trail that she feared to continue her journey. She is traveling alone and had called at the Regular Army encampment on her way out of town. Captain Matile, who commands the troops here, sent an escort of two soldiers with her as far as the northwest mounted police post at Summit lake.
After working one point on the trail thoroughly the confidence workers scatter, to reappear at another point under like circumstances some time later in the day. On the Skagway trail the shell game is not in operation regularly. The men engaged at it are supposed to be a detachment of “Soapy” Smith’s gamblers. Those who operate in Dyea, Sheep Camp and along to the base of Chilcoot are under the leadership of “Tom” Cady, a notorious Colorado mining camp confidence man.
While it is true that the con men operating in Dyea and the Chilcoot (spelled Chilkoot) trail were under the leadership of Tom Cady, it is believed that Cady reported to Soapy Smith. Thomas P. "Sure-Shot" or "Troublesome Tom" Cady was a member of the soap gang in Colorado, operating the shell game for Soapy. Cady, known for his nasty temper and habit of carrying a 12-inch dirk, followed Soapy from Denver to Creede, Colorado, in 1892 and back to Denver, where he b
ecame a prime suspect with Soapy in the 1892 shooting death of gambler Clifton "Cliff" Sparks. He accompanied Soapy to Mexico in 1894 and likely followed Soapy to Alaska, becoming Soapy's manager of operations in Dyea.
Other devices for catching “suckers” besides the pea and shells are heard of occasionally. The salted-mine man is one of the most recent additions to those who seek to get something for nothing. J. T. Jones, president of the Guarantee Title and Abstract Company of Juneau, yesterday saved a Dyea merchant from falling into the clutches of one of this variety. The merchant told Jones that he had a chance to buy a placer mine for the very low price of $500. It was a new strike, only five miles outside of Dyea, and the locator, being out of funds, was willing to sacrifice his claim. Jones was then shown specimens of gold from the placer, it being in shot and smaller particles.
In the afternoon the miner accompanied Jones and the merchant to his claim, where he panned samples of the dirt. The specimens obtained looked genuine, but feeling dubious, nevertheless, the Juneau man to-day had them tested. They proved to be a composition of copper, zinc, bismuth and tin.
As a United States Deputy Marshal Cudihee is now the sole guardian of the peace for Skagway and Dyea, it is almost impossible to keep sure-thing gamblers and others of their ilk off the trails.
Amazingly, I do not have much on U.S. Deputy Marshal John Cudihee other than he was in Soapy's May 1, 1898, parade in Skagway.



Shell and pea game: pages 8, 10, 15, 27, 51, 53-55, 58, 64, 72, 78-80, 92, 99, 110, 112, 115, 141, 205, 210, 229-31, 248, 250, 256, 308, 351, 362, 368, 465-67, 471-72, 475-77, 482, 492, 498, 505, 535, 548, 594.
Joseph D. Barry: page 506.
Ella D. Wilson: pages 506-512.
Van B. "Old Man" Triplett: pages 90-92, 471, 475, 526, 554, 564-67, 575-79, 595.
Thomas P. "Troublesome Tom" Cady: pages 79, 210-11, 229, 250-51, 253-57, 260, 264, 362, 450.
 Clifton Sparks: pages 79, 250-59, 263, 268, 289, 291-92, 502, 507, 529.
 U.S. Deputy Marshal John Cudihee: page 500.

"With spots quadrangular of diamond form, Ensanguined hearts, clubs typical of strife, And spades, the emblems of untimely graves."
—William Cowper

October 23, 2022

Soapy Smith's son, James Luther Smith (James Joseph Smith)

James Luther Smith (James Joseph Smith)
Cabinet card of James
"J. Collier, 1643 Larimer Street Denver Colo,"
Evidence that James was born in Denver.

Courtesy of Sarah Moriarty

(Click image to enlarge)


James Luther Smith or James Joseph Smith
11/27/1893 – 02/24/1969

OK, James wasn't actually "lost," but rather his where-abouts became unknown, probably after Soapy’s widow, James’ mother, Mary passed away in 1947. A name change may have played a part in it. My side of the family didn't know where he went, and James’ family didn't know where the siblings went. 1998 witnessed the 100th anniversary of Soapy's death in Skagway, Alaska. This event brought the family back together again, and by complete coincidence! Members of my side of the Smith family arrived in Skagway, including yours truly, without knowing that one of James’ grandchildren (Jim Caraway) was also attending! Thanks to Jim Caraway, Mike Moriarty, his daughter Tia and Gay Mathis, James’ story continues to develop nicely. Upon meeting James’ grandson, Jim Caraway in Skagway, one of the first issues he brought up was James’ name.


Jefferson Randolph ("Soapy") Smith II and Mary Eva (Noonan) Smith had three children; Jefferson Randolph III, Mary Eva and James "Jimmie" Smith. The early family trees, mostly produced by my uncle Joseph Jefferson Smith, indicate that he was born James Luther Smith, however, Jim Caraway stated that his middle name was Joseph, which created a mystery in the family. When I got back home I did some research and although most of the family genealogists on my side of the family stated that the birth name was “James Luther Smith,” I could not find any solid provenance of “Luther” as the middle name. The earliest record is an 1893 baptism in St. Louis for “James L. Smith.” The next earliest record being the 1900 federal census, when James was 7 or 8 years old, only shows his name as “James Smith.” He is “missing” from the 1910 and 1920 census, and by the 1930 census’ he listed his name as “James J. Smith” (James Joseph Smith) He died in 1969 as “J. Joseph Smith.”

It is believed that at some point he changed his name, which is not uncommon in my family. When James Caraway got back home he also did some research, writing, “I believe that at some point my grandfather became a Christian Brother and, perhaps due to his strong Catholic faith, changed his name from James Luther to James Joseph. Thereafter, he was known as ‘JJ’ or ‘Joe,’ and never James.”
James Joseph Smith
May 20, 1918

 (Click image to enlarge)

Mike Moriarty stated that it was while James Smith was attending St. Viator College, that "this was the point in James' life in which he changed his name to Joseph James Smith."


Best as I can determine, James’ date of birth is November 27, 1892. Some early family trees show James being born in 1889, however, the census’ of 1900, 1930 and 1940 state he was born in 1893, however, James’ military enlistment record, that comes direct from the enlistee, shows he was born November 27, 1892.

The 1900 census for St. Louis shows that James was born in November of 1893. It is common for census records to be mistaken as they are copied by hand from the census takers original notes. For instance, the 1900 census shows that James’ father (“Soapy), was born in Kentucky, though records clearly show he was born in Coweta County, Georgia. The dates of the other children, Jefferson and Mary Eva are wrong as well. Was this the fault of the family or the census taker?


Another mystery is James’ birth place. In 1889 Soapy had some troublesome events occur. The Logan Park brawl, Soapy’s attack on Rocky Mountain News editor/manager John Arkins, and the shootout at Pocatello, Idaho, convinced Soapy to move his wife and son (Jefferson III) to St. Louis, Missouri for their safety. Mary is not known to have lived with Soapy in Denver ever again, but enough records, including his own word, show that James was born in Denver, Colorado at the end of 1892. A cabinet card of James that reads, "J. Collier, 1643 Larimer Street Denver Colo," is a pretty good piece of evidence that James was indeed born in Denver. So, the question remains, did Mary move back to Denver for a time?
James Joseph Smith
1942 Draft registration
National Archives and Records Admin.

(Click image to enlarge)

On the draft registration (WW II) card filled out and signed by James in 1942 he lists himself as,

  • James Joseph Smith.
  • Born November 27, 1889 in Denver, Colorado. 
  • Married to Eulaila A. Breen. 
  • Residing working as a teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

James Joseph Smith
with daughter, Mary Jean Smith
Courtesy of Mike Moriarty

(Click image to enlarge)
* Many many thanks to Jim Caraway for all his expertise on his grandfather James. To Mike and Tia Moriarty, and Sarah Moriarty for the use of their wonderful family photographs and their family history. And last, but never least, to good friend and top-notch researcher and genealogist, Gay Mathis for the wonderful and fact filled documents.


James Luther (Joseph) Smith

James Luther (Joseph) Smith: pages 108, 418.

"Whether he likes it or not, a man’s character is stripped at the poker table; if the other players read him better than he does, he has only himself to blame. Unless he is both able and prepared to see himself as others do, flaws and all, he will be a loser in cards, as in life."
—Anthony Holden

October 16, 2022

The Schooner Janus: Soapy Smith Escape Ship.


The Janus.

On the morning of July 8, 1898, the day “Soapy” was killed in the shootout on Juneau Company wharf, Soapy may have sensed the possible end of his reign in Skagway, Alaska, possibly preparing for an exit route, when he purchased the schooner Janus from Captain S. E. Bright. My first introduction to the boat was in the probate paperwork, on the sale of ship, on display at the Skagway Museum. After Soapy’s demise Bright claimed that Soapy had not paid him for the boat, although he had given Jeff a bill of sale. The Janus was returned to Bright on July 23, 1898.
     The Janus was a twenty-ton schooner, “is but little larger than a fishboat,” but large enough for Soapy and the Soap Gang to escape in. According to the dictionary a schooner is “a sailing ship with two or more masts, typically with the foremast smaller than the mainmast, and having gaff-rigged lower masts.”
     The first known newspaper account of the Janus came from my friend, Gay Mathis, published in the Oregonian, August 27, 1897.
Contents of article below

The Little Schooner Janus to start for Alaska.
ASTORIA, Aug. 28. ― A party of 11 San Franciscans has purchased the little schooner Janus, and is fitting her out for a trip to Alaska. The adventurers expect to start within a few days. Some of the party will sale from here on the little vessel, but the majority will go on board of her at Port Townsend. The Janus will be taken as far as Dyea and there sold. E. C. Merwin will have charge. The Janus is but little larger than a fishboat, and the trip will be an extremely hazardous one.
The next newspaper account was reported in the Delta Atlas (Delta, Ohio) on September 24, 1897.
Seek Gold in Copper River
Delta Atlas
(Atlas Ohio)
September, 24, 1897
Contents of article below
Click to enlarge
Seek Gold in Copper River.
     One of the most interesting expeditions that have yet gone to the gold fields of Alaska or the Northwest territory left Port Townsend last week in a twenty ton schooner called the Janus, headed direct for the Copper River country. The party is in charge of a man named George I. Rinnacks, who has spent all of five years in the Copper River country and has brought out large sums of money at different times, aggregating fully $200,000. The other members of the expedition are mostly Californians. The party is incorporated as the “Oakland Mining and Trading Company” and starts out under a copartnership agreement that binds them to remain together for two years. Their schooner was purchased at a cost of $1,500, and they put on board $2,000 worth of provisions and supplies. In addition to this each man is supplied with two repeating rifles and 500 rounds of ammunition; also two revolvers.
     The schooner Janus is headed direct for Port Hidalgo lagoon, which is a new route for entering Alaska, the Janus party being the first to go in this way. A landing will be made at a point called Turnigar, at the head of the lagoon, a place where no boat has yet landed, and which in reality has no official name. In order to reach this lagoon it is necessary to sail through the narrow passage between Seal rocks and Cape Hinchumbrook-a dangerous undertaking, on account of the shoals and treacherous currents. This passage leads into Prince William sound, with open-sea sailing until Snug Corner cove is reached, when another narrow body of water must be sailed through, with Bligh’s Island on the left. Here the lagoon is entered and the journey to Turnigar is continued. This lagoon is a narrow neck of water, at places very shallow, which makes it difficult of navigation.
     The Janus party expects to reach Turnigar within thirty days. On the way north the schooner will call at Juneau and Sitka to take on board thirty dogs that will be used to transport the supplies overland from Turnigar to the Copper River, which will be reached at a point just above Beaver River. From this place the general direction of the river will be followed northward, and it will be crossed three times, the final destination of the expedition being Tonsina creek. Six members of the party will be left on Tonsina creek, where Rinnack’s partner, Michael O’Donnell, is now holding their claims and mining some work, and the others will be sent eastward to the tributary of the White River, where it is claimed that location can be made that will not only rival but surpass the famous Klondike.
     Almost four weeks later the Janus was thought to have been sighted by the schooner Pilot, and appeared to be “wanting assistance.” The story was published in the Sacramento Daily Union, November 2, 1897.
Unlucky Voyage of a schooner
Sacramento Daily Union
November 2, 1897

Contents of article below
Click to enlarge
Caught in a Terrible Storm in Northern Waters.
The Little Craft Comes Near Going to the Bottom of the Sea.
Her Crew of Four Men Compelled to Subsist on Quarter Rations for Many Days, the Vessel Not Being Able to Get Into Port Until Her Provisions Were Nearly Exhausted.
PORT TOWNSEND, Nov. 1. — The schooner Pilot returned to-day from an unlucky voyage to the halibut district of southeastern Alaska, her crew of four men having been on short rations for two weeks, and subsisting on quarter rations for the past eight days.
     The Pilot left Port Townsend eight weeks ago, but met with contrary winds from that time till she arrived home to-day.
     Passing out through Dixon's Entrance three weeks ago, a terrible storm was encountered. For twenty-eight hours Captain Johnson stood in the storm with bare poles, and the little craft was tossed about like a chip. When the storm was first broken he sighted a little schooner heading northward with the American flag flying. She appeared to be wanting assistance, but gave no further indications as the Pilot hove nearer, and Captain
Johnson again hove off. The schooner was finally lost sight of. At no time could her name be distinguished, but her description fits the schooner Janus, which left here September 5th with a party of twelve California men bound for Copper River.
     Eight days later a newspaper article in the San Francisco Call on November 10, 1897 clarifies that it was not the schooner Janus that Captain Johnson of the Pilot saw in distress and “wanting assistance.”
"All is well with the schooner"
San Francisco Call
November 10, 1897
Contents of article below

Click to enlarge
    PORT TOWNSEND, Nov. 9.- A letter has been received from one of the members of the schooner Janus’ crew bound for Copper River.
     The letter was dated October 10 and sent from Port Neville, off Vancouver Island, about forty miles from Alert Bay. At that time all was well with the schooner.
     This makes it improbable that it was the Janus in distress that was sighted in a storm in Dixon’s entrance by the schooner Pilot.
     The success of the expedition is unknown, as is the fate of the Janus, before and after the time Captain S. E. Bright took possession and sold it to Soapy Smith on July 8, 1898. The original probate document reads as follows.
Probate document
July 23, 1898
Contents of document below
Courtesy of Skagway Museum
 Click to enlarge
JEFFERSON R. SMITH, DECEASED. Affidavit of Capt. S. E. Bright.
S. E. Bright, being first duly sworn, says “I am the owner of the Schooner “JANUS” and other property, which I conveyed to Jefferson R. Smith on the 8th day of July, 1898; but the same was conveyed in trust only; and no consideration was passed from said Smith to me, although I gave said Smith a Bill of sale for the same.
The said property, although conveyed by me to said Smith was conveyed for the purpose of having said J. R. Smith to attend to and handle said property for me; and belongs entirely to me.
S. E. Bright
Subscibed and sworn to before me this 23rd day of July, 1898.
C. A. Sehlbrede U. S. Commissioner for Alaska.
     If only Soapy had not waited around in Skagway, escaping that same morning. A completely different story of Jefferson Randolph Smith II would be known.


Apr. 13, 2010
Apr. 13, 2010
Nov. 16, 2011

The Janus: pages 530, 545.

"There are few things that are so unpardonably neglected in our country as poker. The upper class knows very little about it. Now and then you find ambassadors who have sort of a general knowledge of the game, but the ignorance of the people is fearful. Why, I have known clergymen, good men, kind-hearted, liberal, sincere, and all that, who did not know the meaning of a 'flush.' It is enough to make one ashamed of the species."
—Mark Twain

April 11, 2022

New photograph of "Soapy" Smith?

Object ID 2017.6.350
Courtesy of Salvation Army Museum of the West

(Click image to enlarge)

New photograph of "Soapy" Smith?
     A B & W photograph, said to be of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, and two colleagues. Soapy is in the middle, marked with an "X." The photo was taken in Alaska, exact location unknown.
     Soapy grew his beard in 1889 after the shootout at the Pocatello, Idaho) train depot. He remained bearded for the remainder of his life. 
SOURCE: Salvation Army Museum of the West.
Link to the photograph.



"Cards are war, in disguise of a sport."
—Charles Lamb

March 31, 2022

New information on Soap Gang member Joe Simmons (Josiah Boren Simmons)

Samuel Silas Simmons
1858 - 1924
Brother of Joe Simmons
Courtesy of
Anne Simmons Wise
(Click image to enlarge)

he birth-name of Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons was Josiah Boren Simmons.

     In researching Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons for my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, I utilized Beth Simmons Jackson, the granddaughter of Joe Simmons, who helped round out Simmons' early history.
     On August 12, 2019, I received a welcomed email from Linda Jackson Rankin, the daughter of Beth Simmons Jackson, and great-granddaughter of Joe Simmons. She writes,

     My name is Linda Jackson Rankin and my mother Beth Simmons Jackson contacted you a while ago regarding my great-Grandfather Joe Simmons. As you know, we have been trying for years to figure out where he came from. Thanks to, I now believe I know! I searched for Joe Simmons and stumbled upon a person named “Josiah Boren Simmons” who was born in Smith, Texas, in 1860 and died in Creede, Colorado, in 1893. He was the youngest son of Caleb Woodson Simmons who was originally from Wilkes, GA. The Simmons family tree shows that they were early settlers in Surrey, VA, and Currituck County, NC. (1600s).
     Of course I was suspicious because this new information did not align with what we were told originally (German, father was a brewmaster from Wisconsin). The final confirmation was when I found out that I have DNA matches to people who are related to the Simmons family tree! So, now we know for certain where Joe Simmons came from. ...

If the information is correct, and it likely is, then Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons was born Josiah Boren Simmons in 1860 or December 17, 1862, in Smith, Texas according to one Simmons family tree on Ancestry. Interesting to note that Joe was born in the same year as Soapy, when previously it was believed that Joe was older than Soapy. Smith, Texas, is about 250 miles from Round Rock, Texas, where the Smiths took up residence in 1876. In 1880 20-year-old Joe moved with his parents to Williams County, Texas, where in Round Rock, 20-year-old Jeff Smith may have still lived with his father and siblings, making it possible that the two young boys may have known one-another in Texas. Joe's father, Caleb Woodson Simmons II, died in Round Rock on November 26, 1881, so it is possible that they had lived there since 1880. The problem is that Soapy may have already moved on. He is believed to have operated in Ft. Worth by 1878-79 and to have visited Denver in 1879.

Linda continues,
     I would really like to know how Joe (and Soapy) ended up in Denver. After all, that appears to be where my Grandfather (William Edward Simmons) was born.
     If you have information on how Soapy (and possibly) Joe ended up in Denver, I would love to hear it.

All the best,
Linda (Jackson) Rankin
 I responded twelve days later.
August 24, 2019

Hi, Linda.
     First, allow me to apologize for my lateness in responding. It is certainly not because it isn't important to me.
     I remember your mother [Beth Simmons Jackson] very well. Mistakes in family research happen all the time. I have made numerous ones myself, and continue to do so.
     From what I am gathering from your email, Joe Simmons' birth name is Josiah Boren Simmons?
     Up until now, Josiah ("Joe") Simmons is not mentioned until he was manager of the Tivoli Club (Soapy's saloon) in Denver. I don't think Soapy and "Joe" came to Denver together, as his son, William Edward Simmons, was born in Denver in 1876 and Soapy was still living in Round Rock, Texas at the time. The earliest recording of "Joe" being with Jeff is November 1890, though they no doubt knew each other before then. Soapy arrived in Denver in 1879, but was still a nomad, moving around the West until making Denver his permanent home in about 1885.

     I also just received an email from "Anne Simmons Wise"
who states that "Joe" was born December 17, 1862, and being that son William was born February 1, 1876, that means "Joe" was only 13 years old at the time. One of the dates must be incorrect. The photo I attached is of "Joe's" brother Samuel Silas Simmons. She also states that the Simmons family lived in Round Rock, Texas, around the time the Smith family lived there. I also attached the old photo supposedly of Joe Palmer and Joe Simmons (on right, standing). If the other photo is Joe's brother, then I do see a resemblance.


Josiah Boren "Joe" and Samuel Silas Simmons
A comparison

(Click image to enlarge)

Anne Simmons Wise responded, agreeing with the family resemblance between Josiah "Joe" Simmons and his brother Samuel.

Aug 22, 2019
     I'm sure you can see the family resemblance as I did.
     DNA evidence has linked a descendant of Joe Simmons to my Simmons family from Round Rock and Tyler, Texas. I'm descended from Samuel Silas Simmons, a stonecutter. Josiah Boren "Joe" Simmons was born 17 December 1862 in Smith County, Texas, and family story said that he died in a gunfight in Creede, Colorado, 18 Mar 1893. We didn't have any more information on Joe until the DNA link showed up to "Gambler Joe." The year is wrong, but everything else seems to match up.
     I saw that someone else did a genealogy match up with a different Joe Simmons from Wisconsin. I would think that the DNA match would trump that claim. Also, when I read your blog, I saw that Soapy Smith moved to Round Rock, Texas, in the 1870s with his family. My Simmons family (including Joe) was living in Round Rock in the 1870s and 1880s.
     I'd love to learn more about "Gambler Joe" and his best friend.

Anne Simmons Wise
Four days later I responded.

Aug 26, 2019
     Hello, Annie.
     I apologize for the delay. "Joe" Simmons is very important to the history of Jeff "Soapy" Smith.
     I certainly do see the resemblance in the photographs.
     I have spoken numerous times to that Wisconsin family (Beth Simmons Jackson and her daughter Linda Jackson Rankin). Linda has gone through the DNA information and found Josiah Boren "Joe" Simmons to be accurate. This is pretty exciting news!
     There are still a few questions and issues, which is common (as you know) in history and genealogy.
• You mention that "Joe" was born December 17, 1862. His son William was born in Denver on February 1, 1876. That would put "Joe" at 13 years old when his son was born.
• "Joe" died of pneumonia in Creede, Colorado, on March 18, 1892. There are great newspaper articles, drawings, and a poem written about "Jeff and Joe." Great stuff!
• Very interesting that the father was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, two hours from Coweta County where "Soapy" was born. Then the Simmons family ended up in Round Rock, Texas. Do you have my book? It has all the information on "Joe" as a member of the Soap Gang in Denver and Creede.

That same day, Anne wrote back.
Aug 26, 2019
     That is awesome. I believe that it was Linda Rankin that I spoke to about the DNA results linking her family to Josiah Boren Simmons.
     Until this DNA breakthrough I knew nothing about Josiah "Joe" other than that he died in Creede, Colorado. I've been in contact with one of the other Simmons researchers who originally found that information. Hopefully, we'll turn up some sources for that. As far as I know it was family legend.
      You are correct about the birth date possibly being incorrect. Although I believe he must be younger than his brother Samuel Silas Simmons, who was born in 1858.
     I've been enjoying your website and blog.
     I just ordered your book, and am excited to read it.
Anne Simmons Wise
There are some minor issues with dates but overall it seems pretty clear that Josiah Boren Simmons is Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons, or more correctly,  
Josiah Boren "Gambler Joe" Simmons

Joe Simmons (Josiah Boren Simmons is Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons): pages 33, 89, 131, 210, 214, 225-29, 273, 594. 

"The story of Soapy's death is at best Murky,
Be it known the killer was really Jesse Murphy."
—Jeff Smith

February 27, 2022

George W. Lewis: Soap Gang member

Salt Lake Herald
February 28, 1893
(See text of article below)

(Click image to enlarge)

he life and Death of George W. Lewis

At the time Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel was published, the information on Soap Gang member George W. Lewis was pretty limited. I knew he was a member of the Soapy Smith gang, as well as the Charles “Doc” Baggs’ gang, and that he was shot and killed in Ogden, Utah, February 26, 1893. I found a newspaper article on his death which lent truth to earlier accounts, plus a lot more detail on his activities and death in Ogden where he was the "king pin of Ogden’s sure thing men." Lewis was 44 years of age at the time of death. He was reported as being wealthy, owning real estate and other property in Ogden, San Francisco and Leadville, Colorado.



Eugene Borel, a Victimized Sheep herder, Kills George Lewis.


Borel Had Been Fleeced of His Hard Earned Savings.

He Brooded Over His Loss and Sought a Terrible Revenge – Four Shots Fired at His Victim – The Murderer Attempts Suicide.

OGDEN, Feb. 27. – George Lewis, the well known gambler, was shot three times and almost instantly killed a few minutes before noon yesterday by Eugene Borel, a French sheep herder. The grand jury, which is now in session, took the matter up this afternoon, and although no official report was made, judging from the nature of the evidence which was undoubtedly adduced, an indictment for murder will be found and returned tomorrow morning.


In the latter part of November the Frenchman came to Ogden, fresh from the Wyoming hills, where he had been herding sheep for several years. By denying himself every luxury he had saved between $1,700 and $1,800 of his wages. Shortly after his arrival the herder who was not so unsophisticated as his general make-up would indicate, was lured into a sure thing dive, which then existed on lower Twenty-fifth street, and fleeced of $1,700 of his money. The gang then shipped their victim off to San Francisco, one of them accompanying him as far as Reno, as recounted in THE HERALD at the time.


Upon his arrival in San Francisco Borel hunted up a brother he has there and borrowing $100 returned to Ogden in search of his vanished fortune. Lewis, who was then and continued to be up to the time of his death, the king pin of Ogden’s sure thing men, was arrested, but the other members of the gang escaped. The preliminary examination was held before Judge Bishop, but the evidence was not deemed sufficient to convict on the charge of flim flaming or obtaining money under false pretenses. The court, however, cinched him on general principles and imposed a fine of $30 and costs for gambling. Lewis appealed to the district court.

As Borel had no money left with which to furnish bonds, he was sent to the city jail and held as a witness. On Friday Lewis withdrew his appeal and paid the fine and all costs in the case.


During his detention at the jail the Frenchman became very taciturn and evidently brooded greatly over his loss. He never was talkative, but as the time passed he withdrew even more within himself and seldom spoke. It became evident that the loss of the money had greatly affected his brain and the officers agreed that he was not exactly right under his hat.


When made acquainted with the fact that Lewis had dismissed the appeal, Borel was seemingly indifferent, but he did not remain long in that state of mind. Hunting up Lewis he demanded his money and was put off by the gambler, as he had been several times before. He then waited upon Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Allison and requested that the case be taken up before the grand jury. That body being otherwise busily engaged, he was requested to wait.


On Sunday morning Lewis and another gambler named Kirby entered Morse’s book store, and after having made some purchases, turned to leave. At the door they encountered Borel. He again demanded his money. Lewis laughingly remarked, “Wait until tomorrow,” turned the corner of Grant avenue and proceeded south. The Frenchman followed and when the two reached the middle of the block, drew a 38-calibre revolver from his breast and commenced firing. The first shot took effect in the gambler’s hip, the second passed through Kirby’s coat sleeve, the third also missed its mark, but the fourth entered the small of Lewis’ back.

The wounded man started to run after the second shot had been fired and when the fourth struck him under the point of the left shoulder blade he fell in the entrance of a laundry, nearly at the corner of Twenty-fifth street. The last ball did the fatal work, and within twenty minutes Lewis was dead.


After doing the shooting, Borel deliberately walked to the police station, revolver in hand, and entering the jailor’s room, laid the gun on a table, muttered something about having “done it,” took a small vial from his pocket and swallowed part of its contents. The pump work of Dr. Joyce saved the would-be suicide’s life. On his person was found a diary, written in French, the contents of which, when interpreted, plainly showed that the killing was premeditated, and might have been more extensive had Borel met Mr. Allison.


Lewis was 44 years of age. He had real estate and other property on Ogden, San Francisco and Leadville valued at from $25,000 to $50,000, according to the encumbrances there are upon it. His entire estate was virtually willed to his mother, who lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and his half brother, Professor T. B. Lewis, of this city. The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon.



A story on George Lewis published in the Rocky Mountain News, March 2, 1893 states that he had once belonged to the Charles “Doc” Baggs’ gang.

"Lewis was a great man for roping in ministers," said a well-known sport last night. "In '79 he and 'Doc' Baggs used to travel together and they were never so happy as when they struck a pious fish. I remember one time they ran across a minister from a small country town who had come to Denver to get some cash from a well-known local capitalist. He had about $600 with him when 'Doc' Baggs picked him up, and you know 'Doc' is a pious looking guy himself. 'Doc' got to talking with the dominic, and finally persuaded him that it would be a good scheme for him to take back to his church $1,200 instead of $600, and the only way to do it was to play three-card monte. Lewis, of course, dropped in at the right time, and it was not long before the dominic got on to the game, but his money was all gone. Lewis gave him $5 and bought him a ticket back home."

It has been written that in San Francisco in 1882 Lewis had shot and killed seventeen-year-old Ed Patterson, but as of now I have found no newspaper accounts.


The Rocky Mountain News cites Lewis as having left Denver for the last time in 1886, but this is not accurate. It is not known when George Lewis joined the Soap Gang, or how long he remained. It is known that he was in Creede, Colorado in 1892 where he was one of Soapy’s “witnesses" to the excavation of McGinty the petrified man. His name pops up again in Denver when Soapy put McGinty on display at The Exchange saloon and gaming house. Towards the end of March there was a legal hurdle regarding ownership of McGinty. The Rocky Mountain News and the Creede Candle carried the story in which “George W. Lewis has sued Jeff Smith and J. J. Dore for possession of McGinty, the petrified man.” J. J. Dore had "leased" Soapy Smith the petrified man, and now attempted to regain possession. Soapy wanted full ownership of McGinty, so he had George Lewis return to Denver and sue him and Dore, as if he was the real owner. It is likely that Dore was never made aware of the legal case. Soapy won full possession of McGinty. That afternoon McGinty was taken to another saloon Soapy owned, called the White Front. It resided across from Manhattan Beach, a private amusement park at Sloan’s Lake four miles from downtown Denver, where it was unlikely that J. J. Dore would ever find it.

June 10, 2015

George W. Lewis: page 82, 235, 238-39, 242.

"Your best chance to get a Royal Flush in a casino is in the bathroom."
—V. P. Pappy