October 6, 2009

Soapy Smith in San Francisco, 1884

(Click image to enlarge)
Three-card Monte operator
Jeff Smith collection

During this period Soapy was traveling around the west operating his games of no chance. The following comes from the Daily Evening Bulletin, January 3, 1884.

Jeff Smith's "Soap Racket."

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San Francisco, California St.
Denver Public Library
Call. CHS.J1188

A sharp young man, Jeff Smith by name, who has been working the "soap racket," as it is called, to large crowds on the street corners in the business part of the city for several weeks, was obliged to suspend operations at the corner of California and Front streets this morning at the request of Detectives Ross, Whittaker and Colby. They compelled him to fold up his camp-stool, strap his valise and go with them to the city prison, where he was charged on the register with conducting a lottery game. He appeared a trifle disturbed at the interruption, for it is not probable that he will gull simple countrymen for some time to come. For some time past complaints have come to the police regarding certain swindling soap vendors, whose plan of operations have been as simple as venerable, the stories of the swindled being about the same as Moses' plaint to the Vicar of Wakefield after his return from the fair. Smith it seems has been in the habit of setting up his stock by opening his valise containing small packages of soap wherever he thought he could attract a crowd. His soap sold for fifty cents a package or three for one dollar, but the attraction was that he rolled greenbacks, one dollar and five dollars, in the packages before the eyes of the crowd but by skillful manipulations the purchasers never obtained a lucky package. About a month ago another vendor was arrested, but was allowed to go on his promising to leave the city. Smith was arrested at the ocean beach on New Year';s day, but as he also promised to leave, was allowed to go.

He was not allowed to go as the newspaper published. Eight days later on January 11, 1884 the same newspaper reported that,

Jeff Smith, the "soap racket" man arrested recently under the lottery ordinance, was discharged from custody yesterday by Police Judge Lawler, who held that the offense charged did not come under the provisions of the ordinance.


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