September 21, 2009

Soapy Smith in Portland, Oregon

Soapy Smith selling his prized soap cakes
from the cover of Soapy


A Sleight of Hand Performer in the Role of a Street Hawker — He Soft-Soaps the Unsophisticated and Rakes in Their Coin.

As a contemporary sapiently remarked a few days since, "there are some curious phases in human nature." Perhaps one of the most singular is the extreme gullibility of the average human, which exceeds that of the brutes. The sight of a piece of red cloth will put a bull or a turkey cock in a rage; the timid antelope can be attracted within gunshot by the waving of a rag tied to a ramrod; the wary trout is captured by a piece of fur or feather, and so on, but the human race appears to be more gullible than either of the above. All that is needed to attract them and charm the hard earned coin out of their pockets is for some glib tongued fellow to stand on the street corner and keep up an incessant talking, and no matter whether he is pretending to give a dollar's worth of lead pencils for a quarter, to sell some nostrum warranted to cure all the ill flesh is heir to or bits of soap with a ten dollar greenback wrapped around them, for one dollar, he is sure of an audience. A "fakir" whose tongue appears to be hung in the middle and run at both ends, has been working the latest racket on our street corners for several days. His stock in trade consist of an old valise and stool to support it, and a number of small pieces of alleged soap, an unlimited amount of cheek, a great gift of gab and a considerable skill in sleight of hand. He wraps a greenback around a piece of soap and drops ... among a number of similar looking packages. Then he takes another for $20 and pretends to go through the same operation, but while mixing up the packages with both hands, tucks it up his sleeve. After this has been carried on for some time, he picks out all the packages containing greenbacks and opens them to show that they were in the valise, and then the greenhorns rush in and buy his bits of soap at 50 cents each or 3 for a dollar. During about 10 minutes in which a STANDARD reporter was watching him, he took in about $20 and only gave a $1 greenback and this he sold for $3. The whole business is one of the most transparent frauds imaginable and should be stopped. It may not come within the scope of the police, but there can certainly be no law requiring out city authorities to grant licenses to carry on such a hogging gambling game and we call upon them to refuse this bilk another license and upon the police to see that he is driven off the streets. The class of people who want to get something for nothing are no match for those who give nothing for something, and the law should protect them. our laboring classes are robbed of thousands of hard earned dollars by the cursed tribe of frauds which infest our city, and it is high time that at least an effort was made to prevent it. —Daily Standard, August 2, 1882



  1. We still have guys just like that operating in downtown Portland.

  2. Lol. Just about every major city has shell games and three-card monte operators. Keep your distance as they can be dangerous. I heard of people getting beat-up for just mentioning that they knew how it was done.


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