December 30, 2009

Charles "Doc" Baggs - Deadwood, part II

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courtesy of

Even with many hundreds of personal letters, documents and newspaper articles it still took me 24 years to feel comfortable enough to publish the true history of Soapy Smith. In regards to Charles “Doc” Baggs all I have are a few newspaper articles that can’t be confirmed. I won’t pretend that I can possibly give you a complete history of this very intelligent bunco steerer. He was on the move all the time, often leaving one location only to later return. All I can do for you is report what I have in my files. Know that these newspaper accounts may be completely inaccurate but considering they contemporary accounts, written and published at the time Baggs was alive, it is the nearest and truest account known until such a time that new provenance can be located.

The following comes from a Deadwood correspondent for the Deadwood Pioneer Press who relates a fantastic story of Baggs in Deadwood during the gold rush in 1877.

My first introduction to him brought me in contact with a veritable gentleman of the cloth, whose closely buttoned coat, glassy stovepipe (then a great curiosity here): his polished boots and polished manners; gentlemanly demeanor and pure conversation upon things celestial, more than things terrestrial, created a profound impression of great goodness, sincerity, and all that. I think he was engaged in establishing missions among the heathen of the far west and solicited my aid, which I being of a religious turn of mind, consented to give; but having an appointment for that hour, I agreed to see him later, received his benediction, and departed. A short time afterward I passed into a crowded saloon to observe the sinfulness of the place, when almost the first person I elbowed was my Christian friend (whose name I cannot now recall) arrayed in a dirty California suit, blue shirt and with the general make-up of the average miner. Although he avoided me, I was satisfied of his identity, and withdrew, pondering, pondering upon the eccentricities of philanthropy. Later, in conversation with sheriff Seth Bullock, I narrated my experience and described my quondam friend. Seth listened patiently, intently and smilingly, and when I concluded, said: “His chapel is just back of here; let’s go over and see him.” I consented. A step or two took us to a small cabin, over the door of which appeared the peculiar tablet: Employment Office. I thought it strange, but said nothing. Opening the door, Seth ushered me into a well appointed, furnished and decorated apartment, apparently a perfect bee-hive of industry, with clerks at work at high and low desks, pouring over ledgers, fingering greenbacks, rattling coins, weighing dust and variously engaged, but they no sooner rested their eyes upon my companion than all work ceased and silence reigned supreme, until Seth laughingly said: “Go on with your work boys; I am merely showing my friend around.” What could it mean? I was dumbfounded. Great stacks of coin loaded the shelves or were visible in the partially open monster safe. Bags of dust as large as the hugest bologna lay upon the counter and tables. The walls were covered with railroad hangers, lottery posters, maps and an array of articles too numerous to mention, while most surprising, upon the center table I discovered a pack of greasy cards and several dice boxes and dice. The scales began falling from my eyes, disclosing a genuine den, but of what exact kind I knew not—I was a tenderfoot. In the midst of my examination the door opened and my reverend friend entered followed by a chap young in years, and young apparently in experience; but no sooner did the guide perceive the sheriff than he remarked, “Is Mr. Bull in?” No?” And retired, quickly followed by Bullock, who said: “See here Baggs, this thing’s got to stop. Now, you mind what I tell you. You, young fellow,” continued the sheriff, addressing the lad “can thank your stars that I am here, or else you’d pay dear for the afternoon’s experience. You’d better git, and keep away from strangers.” The boy “got” and Seth and I returned to his store, when he said, “I’m ____ if I don’t pull the place, complaint or no complaint,” and summoning deputies Millard and Cochrane, we all returned to the “office” which in less than ten minutes was gutted and the contents placed in Seth’s store, where I examined them at leisure. That handsome safe proved to be a dry goods box, deftly painted and arranged. Those great stacks of coin were only brass spiel marks, while the heavy dust bags were filled with ordinary sand and provided with a small inner bag filled with brass fillings. Other arrangements were in keeping. Without doubt that bunko office was the most complete and best calculated to deceive of any of the many that the downed “operator ever established. Doc drove a prosperous business here, probably more so than he ever before or since, owing to the heterogeneous character of the population and the almost total absence of law and officials, but it is doubtful that he took $500 out of the country. He was an inveterate faro player, and would no sooner raise a stake at bunko than he would make a bee line for a faro table, at which he would sit until the last chip was gone if it took all night, which seldom occurred, as he invariably “played the limit” from “the top of the box down.” Many amusing and interesting stories are told of Doc and his adventures, but a lack of space will not permit a recital. A highly educated man, a man of extensive travel and experience; a fluent conversationalist on almost any subject, and a man without a conscientious scruple, Doc Baggs is indeed full of danger to society, and has well earned the title of “King of the Bunkos.”
Glendive Times (Montana) June 9, 1883

To be continued...


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