October 30, 2008

Bat Masterson and Soapy Smith: The Denver Exchange, Creede, Colo.

The Denver Exchange
first location
(Click image to enlarge)

In 1892 Bat Masterson was hired by Watrous, Benniger & Company to manage the gambling rooms of the Denver Exchange, a combination saloon, restaurant and gambling hall. The restaurant and saloon were said to be under the management of famed boxer, Billy Woods [DeArment, Robert K. Bat Masterson, The Man and the Legend. Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1979. p. 332]. However, the February 25, 1892 edition of the Creede Candle states that Woods "dedicated his new saloon Tuesday night with two sparring exhibitions" [Creede Candle, 02/25/1892]. It is not known if Woods had his own establishment or if the newspaper was referring to the Denver Exchange. Shown below is an illustration of the temporary saloon in operation until the building in the drawing to the right was completed. Martin H. Watrous was a partner of John Murphy’s in Murphy’s Exchange in Denver [Rocky Mt. News, 02/23/1891].

Of the Exchange, a News reporter wrote that inside he observed, "at least 500 keno, roulette and faro players of all kinds and conditions and ages" [Rocky Mt. News, 03/07/1892. p. 2]. The operation was open around the clock and Masterson walked the floor an average of sixteen of those hours according to a reporter for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

"There is no telling how much they rake off the gaming table every twenty-four hours. Every gambling device known to the west is carried on in their house, and every table is literally full night and day. Masterson walks around the house about sixteen hours out of twenty-four, and knows everything that is going on" [St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 03/05/1892].

The Denver Exchange
the new building, 1892

Charlie Meyers, who worked for Masterson at the Denver Exchange in 1892, described another incident in which Masterson had to quell an impending fight between Jeff and Jeff Argyle, known in Denver, as “the Black Prince” for his wickedness. Argyle was not one to back down from a fight. In November of 1891 he assaulted city Alderman McGilvray and the following day assaulted another man. The confrontation between the two Jeff’s is described in Collier and Westrate’s, The Reign of Soapy Smith.

... Jeff Argyle was dealing, and Tom Crippen was lookout. A row started, during which Soapy yanked out his gun and yelled, "Jeff Argyle, you’re through as dealer in this game. You pull that card and you’ll pull the next one in hell! I want a change of dealers."

There was no yellow in Argyle. He looked Soapy square in the eye and said, "If Bat Masterson tells me to pull, I’ll pull it." I ran over to Bat, and he came to straighten things out just in time. Peg Leg Charlie Adams, who helped rob the Denver & Rio Grande Express, had piped up and said, "Soapy’s right, and anybody who says he ain’t is a damned liar."

Nobody cared to dispute Peg Leg because he was wearing six-guns, had a derringer in his vest pocket and another in the palm of his hand.

About that time, Bat reached the scene. He was a friend of both Jeff’s, so he sized the situation up for a second and then said, "Now, look here. You’re both friends of mine, and I won’t stand for this, be a couple of good boys and stop quarreling. You too, Peg Leg. What’s the use of getting excited? You all know Jeff Argyle’s a fair, square dealer or I wouldn’t have him here. And we all know Jeff Smith’s a square shooter. Two square guys have no call for any gun play with each other. Just remember that. Now, how about it?"

Bat usually had his men sized up right, and he proved it again this time. Soapy grinned and put up his gun. "Guess you’re right, Bat," he said, and the game went on [Collier pp. 99-100].

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