December 20, 2008

(Click to enlarge)

I found the following drawing of Soapy performing the prize package soap racket on the website for Denver Magazine (November 2008) The article is titled, Secrets of the City, by Brian Melton. Twelve characters in Denver history are covered but why they are called secrets I do not understand. The following is what they have down for Jefferson Randolph Smith II. Note where I inserted "[incorrect]."

The Ballad of Soapy Smith

Jefferson Randolph Smith II, Denver’s most notorious confidence man, was born in Georgia in 1860, the son of a powerful attorney whose family lost its fortune after the Civil War. The Smith family relocated to Texas when Jefferson was 16, and it was there that he began working as a cowboy [incorrect]. Adrift in the city of Abilene, Smith encountered a shell game artist, who took Smith for an entire week’s pay [incorrect]. Although Smith was broke, he looked upon the shell game as an opportunity. He had learned it was easier to swindle than work on the range.

Smith arrived in Denver in 1886 [incorrect], drawn to the city’s tolerance of gambling, and opened the Tivoli, a gaming club on the second floor of 1701 Larimer [incorrect]. To keep himself occupied, Smith would stand at the corner of 17th and Larimer streets, open a suitcase full of bars of soap and begin to gather a crowd. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness, my friends,” Smith would pitch. “But the feel of a good crisp greenback in the pocket is paradise itself. Step up, my friends, and watch me closely.” Smith would place $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills in selected pieces of soap and would sell them all for $5 a bar [incorrect]. Members of Smith’s gang would buy bars of the soap and win the hidden money, enticing the crowd to make a purchase. No one but

Smith’s confidants ever won the money, earning him the nickname “Soapy” Smith.

By March 15, 1894, Smith had nearly every politician in town on his payroll. Word of his success got back to the newly elected Governor, Davis H. Waite. When Waite threatened to remove the corrupt politicians, those in opposition barricaded themselves in City Hall while the National Guard marched on the city. Smith gathered a militia of gamblers and outlaws to ambush the National Guardsmen as they made their way down Larimer [incorrect]. No violence occurred during this “City Hall War” as Waite agreed to withdraw his troops and let the Colorado Supreme Court decide the fate of the officials. Its decision gave Waite authority to remove the offending politicians and to chase Smith out of town [incorrect].


  1. Hi Jeff,

    This is the author of the above mentioned article, and although I appreciate your inclusion of incorrect statements made about your great-grandfather, you make no mention of what might actually be correct. It wasn't as if I was making things up off the top of my head. My article, as arbitrary as you make it out to be, was well researched based on information that I had available to me.

    I consulted several historical accounts of Smith's life, from well-known historians at many of our local universities as well as newspaper clippings at the Public Library.

    Instead of blindly posting inaccuracies, perhaps you could have contacted me about my information, where it was that I collected it, and perhaps we could have helped one another paint a more inclusive picture of your relative.

    Well-wishes for the holiday season,
    Brian Melton

  2. Hello, Brian.

    I do apologize. Please understand that my post was not meant to rag or nag on your mistakes, or make you look bad. But rather meant to inform family and friends of Soapy Smith that the article and drawing existed, as many of us collect anything related to Soapy. It was not meant to be an analytical study of your article. The only reason I marked the incorrect statements is to protect my own reputation, as other authors and historians use my sites to gather information on Soapy and several have included mistakes in articles I post as factual material coming from me. One book has already published using information in this manner, listing my name as the source.

    I know you were not making up facts off the top of your head. The mistakes you wrote about have been published over and again. Had I thought you were making stuff up, that would have been a completely different matter all together. I have spent over 20 years researching my g-grandfather and could not possibly expect you and others to have had the time to access all the facts to determine which were true or false.

    Please know that I did register and try to post a comment over at Denver Magazine but for whatever reason it would not appear.


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith