September 30, 2009

Soapy Smith in Nebraska City, 1883

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Soapy's Nebraska City vendors license, 1883
Jefferson Randolph "Little Randy" Smith collection

In late May 1883 Soapy passed through Nebraska City, Nebraska. It is not certain when he arrived and on what day he left but on May 26 he applied and received the one day license pictured above for the purpose of "Selling Prize Soap." The fee to operate for one day was $2.50. The license is signed by what appears to be "D. J. Goff," the City Clerk, and H. F. Cady, the Mayor. The contemporary newspapers I viewed listed the mayor but not the city clerk.

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Nebraska City, Nebraska

t is currently unknown why Soapy went through Nebraska City. The newspapers showed no fairs, circuses or other events taking place in which potential victims would converge. Being the license was for one day it might be assumed that he was just simply passing through.

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Back side of the license
Jefferson Randolph "Little Randy" Smith collection

n the back of license Soapy made some handwritten notes. It appears that he had learned about two other events taking place in Minnesota that he might attend and wrote them down on the only paper available, the back side of the license. The deciphering of some of the wording is uncertain. Please feel free to reply with your own opinions as to what some of the spellings might be. The following is what I came up with.

Old settlers picnic of Tiarraban [or Tiarrabanet] & Northfield at Union Lakes June 26. Red Rock Camp meeting June 20 to July 3rd."

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Negative of the notes on the back of the license

here is a good probability that "Northfield at Union Lakes" is Northfield, Minnesota as there was and still is a Union Lake there.

The "Red Rock Camp meeting" is very possibly the annual Methodist get together, also in Minnesota. The Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Women’s Home Missionary, 1882 states that the Red Rock Camp Meeting took place “in June.”

Red Rock, about 7 miles south of St. Paul, is the spot of "a sacred granite boulder painted with red stripes and worshiped for generations by the Indians [Sioux]. ... Pastor Benjamin Kavanaugh built a two story log cabin. The first floor became a school for children of 'half-breeds' and whites, the upper floor the pastor’s home." Both the Red Rock and the restored cabin, the oldest Methodist building in Minnesota, can be seen on the grounds of the Newport United Methodist Church. Red Rock Camp Meetings were held near this site for many years.

Directions: Follow Highway 494 to Highway 61 going east. Turn left on Glen Road to Newport United Methodist Church.

* Jefferson Randolph "Little Randy" Smith collection.
* Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Women’s Home Missionary, 1882
* Red Rock, Frontier Methodist Camp Meeting by Merrill E. Jarchow.
Minnesota History, Vol. 31, No. 2 (Jun., 1950), pp. 79-92
Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

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Nebraska City, 1868
courtesy of


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