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].
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]."