December 4, 2009

The Gant Livery and Soapy Smith, Denver 1890s.

(click image to enlarge)

I recently had some enjoyable correspondence with Mike Blackstone, a great-great grandson of John E. Gant who owned the Gant Livery on the north-east corner of Sixteenth and Wazee Streets in Denver, Colorado. John's son, Harry recalled in his memoirs how he had met Soapy Smith.

Mike writes,

"Harry Gant, born 1881, was a cowboy in the late 1800s up to 1911, and got involved with the Edison Film Company when they came to Colorado and Wyoming. He went to California with them and became a cameraman. He wrote a memoir in 1959 which he couldn't get published; I published it myself this year. He wanted to give a true picture of the Old West to those who only knew it from movies, and called it "I Saw Them Ride Away." You can read more about him at my website.
I believe that the Gant livery business was only there from late 1889 (at the earliest) to about 1892. After that they moved to a ranch near Fort Collins. In those years, Harry Gant would have been age 8 to 11.
Here's the passage where he mentions Soapy Smith (with a little context). He was a little ambiguous about dates, but this was probably 1892, when he was 11 years old, and his father ran a livery stable in Denver.
'My father dealt in horses of all types, quarter horses, harness horses, draft stallions, but mostly bought green range geldings and had crews of men breaking them for shipment to various city horse car companies [1890s]. The latter part of the 1880s he ran a livery and sale stable in Denver, Colorado, on Wazee Street, between 16th and 17th. Had corrals that looked like a stock yard that ran within a few feet of the Denver Union depot on 17th Street which was the main street of Denver at that time, where the plodding old horse cars ran out to the east then south on Broadway. ...
At home that evening Mother said she had been worried about me sleeping out among the rattlesnakes, and running my horse among the prairie dog holes. Father’s rejoinder was that he had slept out many nights and had never had a snake crawl in with him. After this trip, Father was more tolerant of my hanging around the livery stable. I think partly because he felt safe in having me deliver or go get rigs that we boarded for business firms up town. The livery stable office was a social gathering place for many who liked the smell and banter that went on. Among the habitues at various times was Smithy. I liked him because he slipped me a dime and on occasions a quarter. Afterwards, I learned that this nice man was the famous Soapy Smith, probably the greatest con man of his time.
17th Street was the main street and for two blocks on each side was lined with saloons, pawn shops and other deadfalls. People coming into Denver, either tenderfeet or workmen from the mines, if they did not ride a horse car, walked up town from the depot past these places. Soapy worked as a shill for the jewelry pawn shops where they auctioned off supposedly high class jewelry that was not redeemed. But his main source of income was the game where he acquired his name. He would gather a bunch of prospects around him at his little work table and tell them of a five to one bet he was running, wherein, before their eyes, they could see him wrap a $5 gold piece or pill, whichever he happened to be featuring that particular set-up. He apparently laid it down while he wrapped others. Then he would say, “Which of you men would like to pick out, for one dollar, one of these little packages?” Of course, Soapy had no five dollars wrapped. But to console the loser he would say, “There is the best cake of soap you ever used, and is well worth a dollar to anybody”. About then his shill would put up a dollar and get a package with five dollars in it. They had him in jail once in a while but he would get out by proving that he always told them to watch close and besides the soap was “the very best”. His philosophy was that if he did not clean them the soap or somebody else would.'"

Thank you very much Mike for sharing this wonderful story with us!



  1. See--what did I tell you? So many new things, I see an additional book in the making!

  2. Thank you very much for your insightful prediction!


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