October 7, 2009

Deciphering Soapy Smith's notes.

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Soapy's notes on the back of a license
Jefferson Randolph "Little Randy" Smith collection

Back on October 2, 2009 I posted a license made out to Soapy so that he could sell soap in the city of Washington, Iowa. On the back of that license were some notes made by Soapy that he had radically scratched out. As with all of the letters in my collection that I have trouble deciphering alone, I decided to ask for help. It was at the True West Historical Society forum that I met with great success. Author Gayle Martin wrote the first post with a very good idea. She writes,
what I would do is put this into PhotoShop, and, pixel by pixel, carefully turn the scratch marks into the background color, while leaving those scratch marks that appear to be covering the script in place. Over time you should be able see a pattern emerge that should give you a pretty good clue as to what the words are underneath the scratch marks.

I took her advice. Below are the examples.

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Rear of license after alterations

Using my Paint Shop Pro program I painted out the scratches as carefully as I could without damaging the text. The left column was scratched out less and thus easier to distinguish the text from the scratch marks. However, the right column had more scratches and the marks were much closer to one another making it nearly impossible for me to decipher most of the text. This plus the fact that there was smudging allowed only 3 words to be deciphered whereas all the words could be mostly deciphered in the left column.

From the start I posted my progress on the True West forum in which Bo Walker aka "Badlands Walker" offered his thoughts of what the text might concern. He writes,
Jeff, do you suppose that some of that writing could be his first booze order after he received the license? That would make sense to me, although I don't know that I would have written on the licenses? Also, I think Gayle's onto something there with the pixel idea? That just might do the trick Amigo.

Bo knew that Soapy was in the saloon business in Denver but he did not take into account that this license was for one day only, plus the current knowledge that Soapy's first saloon opened in 1888. However, Bo took another crack at the text and hit the jackpot. He writes,
The left hand side of the back of the license where the writing is? The first column [first column on the left, bottom] he or someone has written there appears to be Cedar Falls 3000? Is it possible that this is the city of Cedar Falls? ... Two up from that one Jeff, looks like it could be La Platt or La Plata? If it's La Platt, that's now an old ghost town near Durango.

Seeing a possible list of cities I began looking up city names, beginning with Iowa. I soon discovered that all the cities appeared to be from that one state. The numbers were most likely monetary. Soapy has the same style of calculations in a small notebook in my possession so I am pretty confident in saying that this is a list of cities and an approximation of what he has made in each city. It is likely not an exact tally as it is written on the back of a city license and the figures are rounded off. Likely this was just a quick guesstimate thus far of his profits during a traveling bunco trip around the western states.

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Left column alterations with city names

Jim Catalano from the True West forum had a good question. He writes,
Jeff, could those numbers be from his soap operation, $3000 from soap? That seems like a lot from a small town. I'm not questioning Mr Smiths business practices but those numbers back then would make Bernie Maddoff tip his hat.

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Right column alterations with city names

Considering that all the licenses I have posted recently date closely to one another and all are regarding the prize package soap racket, I would say yes, that the figures he wrote down pertain to his total sales in each location. It is indeed a large sum. Using an inflation calculator, $3000 in 1883 is the equivalent of $84,243.76 in today's market. Everybody loves soap with a prize inside. To prove my statement go to eBay HERE (if auction is ended just search under "money soap.")

The last line on the right column has a figure of what appears to be 100,000 an enormous amount compared to the rest of the notes. The text in front of it could not be properly deciphered so could it possibly be "winnings," a total sum? Even if the figure is actually 10,000 with a mistaken extra zero the total sum does not add up. Is this why Soapy scratched it out?

To all at TRUE WEST who offered their ideas and opinions


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