January 1, 2010

Charles "Doc" Baggs, part III.

“I am emotionally insane. When I see anyone looking in a jewelry store window thinking how they would like to get away with the diamonds, an irresistible desire comes over me to skin them. I don’t drink, smoke, chew, or cheat poor people, I pay my debts.”
~Charles L. “Doc” Baggs
The Law Goes West, Forbes Parkhill.
courtesy of Robert DeArment

It was reported in the September 20, 1883 issue of the Omaha Daily Bee that confidence man Charles L. Baggs obtained the moniker of “Doc” “from the fact that he used to carry a little grip of instruments and medicines as a guy. That story can't be confirmed as this appears to be the only source. Another story I always found fascinating about Baggs was the breakdown fake safe he used in his big-store operations. There are enough witnesses to this apparatus to believe that it could be true.


From accounts told he used the safe between the approximate years 1877 - 1884. Baggs,

...always had his false safe, an enormous affair made of wood with a silver knob, beautifully painted and labeled ‘Hull’s Patent.’ It looked exactly like a heavy iron safe. One day Doc’s office in Deadwood caught fire, and he surprised everybody by running down stairs with the massive safe on his back. … The thing cost him as much as $100. Of course he wanted to save it. He had it made of wood so he could fold it up and carry it around easily from place to place. You know every time the bunco man catches a big ‘sucker’ he moves his office. When the ‘sucker’ next comes around he don’t find anything but an empty room. Besides, Doc used to keep his money and valuables in that same old wooden chest. No burglars would venture to tackle its massive sides, and it was as secure as it would have been in any vault in the country.
~St. Louis Globe-Democrat. March 8, 1882.

Another account of the safe comes from his days in Denver.

The most amazing part of this deception was an immense safe, or vault that appeared to be built into the wall, its front flush with the far side of the main office. It was no less than seven feet square, and as the massive doors stood wide open the viewer could see in the interior depths of the safe, the shelving, boxes and pigeonholes so usual and customary in all well regulated safes.

In fact, this “safe” was a cleverly executed painting. In case of a police raid, or other emergency, it readily could be ripped off the wall. Its make-up consisted of a number of thin wooden panels about the size of a cigar box lid all joined together by a surface of silk or other strong and smooth material upon which had been painted the picture of a safe including the lettering emblems and the pretty red and blue decorative lines. The perspective view into the safe’s interior was a gem of the painter’s art.

“Doc” Baggs’ desk stood at the right of the safe, while in front of the large room, as the visitor entered, were solid oak counters and a railing and gate of similar material. At least, that was the way it looked. But they were “phoney” also. Glass panels in the doors leading out of the room bore the words “Private,” “Superintendent,” “Manager,” “Attorney,” etc. They were really doors in movable partitions which could be, when necessity arose, quickly pushed into the walls. Clerks sat on high stools back of the counters with huge paper mache ledgers in front of them, busy as bank tellers at the closing hour.

This was the situation in “Doc” Baggs’ confidence shop when it was sought to impress an intended victim with the solidarity of the institution. When the signal came to dissemble after the “trimming of the sucker,” for instance, Baggs himself removed the safe from the wall, folded it up and walked out with it under his arm. The clerks looked after the ledgers and other paraphernalia, adjusted the false partitions and followed Baggs into the street. It was all done in a jiffy.

Naturally, the victim lost no time in reporting his loss. The patrolman on that beat was conveniently near. It was whispered in those days that he has a “stand-in” with the fleecers of the innocent. The man hurriedly explained to the officer what had happened to him.

“Take me to the place at one—we’ll soon have the whole outfit in jail,” exclaims the astonished policeman.

The victim leads the way up the stairs he had so recently descended and without ceremony pushes open the door. The interior is a bedroom, just one of those common everyday, plainly furnished lodging house bedrooms. The prosperous-looking broker’s office had disappeared as if by magic. The clerks with the aid of sliding partitions, had again done their work well.
~Denver Times, 1915

To be continued...


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