January 2, 2010

Could Soapy Smith have had another family?

(Click image to enlarge)

On December 30 I received a very interesting email from Steve Lattanzio seeking his family roots. I think you will find this one unique. Does anyone in the Smith family line recognize any of these names?

Steve writes,

Hi. My name is Steve. I am wondering if it was possible that Soapy could have had a child with another woman, even possibly marrying her. Here is what I know:

My great grandfather-in-law's name is Jesse Malbert Smith and he was born in either 1895 or 1896 in Blackshear, GA to Drucilla Riggins and an unknown father. In 1899 Drucilla married Jesse's Stepfather Jessie Kicklighter and they had (I think 5) more children. Jesse Malbert shows up on censuses as having the surname Kicklighter or Riggins as a child. Later on records such as his WWI draft registration card have his surname as Smith. It is as if his father's identity was revealed to him when he became an adult and he chose to take his father's surname.

My grandfather-in-law (Jesse Malbert Smith's son), Malbert Smith Jr., claims not to know much about his grandfather. All the family has been told is that he was from Georgia, involved in politics, but not necessarily a politician, and that he was shot and killed when Jesse Malbert Smith was very young.

Only a few days ago I began to do research on ancestry.com as a favor to my wife's maternal grandfather (it's his account) to find out more about our relatives on all sides of the family. I quickly became intrigued with finding Jesse Malbert Smith's real father. I scoured all the records on ancestry.com and the rest of the internet and found some suspects, but nothing good. I eventually came across Soapy Smith and lots of things matched up. He had the right name, was born around the right time, died around the right time, was from Georgia, was involved in politics, and was shot to death. Additionally, my grandfather-in-law looks very much like Soapy. . . I showed a picture of Soapy to my in-laws at dinner and they all agree. Also, from what I read about Soapy on your website and other places, he was a fugitive for a couple of years around 1895 through 1897 and traveled around before he showed up in Alaska. Could he have spent some time in or around Blackshear, GA?

Other than all of this, I came across this on the internet:

"As for Soapy's remains, miner Calvin Barkdull, who testified at Soapy's inquest, wrote this in his memoirs in 1952: "Shortly thereafter, a woman from Georgia arrived saying she was Soapy's legal wife and was there to claim his corpse. The grave was opened, and I heard that Soapy's body was not there." No other writings support his claim, however."

If this actually happened, I don't think that this was Mary Noonan since it looks like Mary was from St. Louis. and this suggests that there is another wife that lived in Georgia, possibly Drucilla Riggins.

So, could you either tell me any information that you have that suggests that this is possible (that he traveled to GA in that time frame, etc.) or that suggests that it is not possible. I would be interested in finding out if my daughter's great-great-great-grandfather was someone famous like Soapy and it would also be nice to solve this family mystery.


Steven M. Lattanzio II

(Click image to enlarge)
Close-up of the above sterioview card

Jeff writes a response,

Hi, Steve.

I have some free time in which I can explain why I don't think Soapy had a second family, although anything is possible.

My great-grandfather saved nearly every letter and document he ever wrote and received. My family have literally thousands of such writing. In Skagway after he was killed the vigilantes found a trunk filled with personal items, letters and documents. The vast majority were handed over to his wife and son when they went to Skagway to collect his estate. There is not a single hint of another family, and only scant hint of "another woman" in Skagway. If what you wrote was possibly true then there would be at least one letter. Please believe me, if I thought there was a possibility I would not try to hide it. I am a historian who prides himself on the truth.
There is no information that Soapy ever returned to Georgia after he moved from there with his parents, to Texas in 1876.

The information you found in the book by Calvin Barkdull is mistaken. The only newspaper accounts of a widow coming to Skagway regards Mary. Those two articles are pretty detailed so there is no mistake it is Mary Smith and their son Jefferson. Soapy's grave was not opened as she did not wish to have his remains transported back to St. Louis. Interesting to hear that he said that the body was not there! In 1917 a major flood carried Soapy's grave out to sea. Thus today the marker tourists see is not over Soapy's old resting place. Looking to the south of the marker you will see a large gully dug by the flood. This is the true ex-resting place of Soapy Smith.

I am sorry I could not give what you were hoping for. I wish you all the luck in finding your family history.

Jeff Smith



  1. Hello?

    I'm fascinated to read the part about his body not being there when the casket was opened..I was hoping to find some information that maybe Soapy had not died in that gunfuight after all.

    I'm gonna tell you what I know, and maybe this information will intrique you to look into my story here further,.

    I live in Mabou/Inverness, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada . It is a place I do not imagine would be easy to find less you were looking specifically for it.think about back in the day.
    I am just a young man. Over the years I heard a rumour that one of the men living in the hills in this area was a man who was once a member of the Jesse James gang. I didn't think it could be true but one thing for sure..this area would be a perfect place to go if you had people looking for you and you didn't want to be found.
    Not long ago i was visiting a female friend of mine and her friend was visiting, a gentleman in his late 70's or so, and I didn't really have much to say, but I thought of that rumour from years back and decided to ask him.
    He told me there was a man. And his name was Smith. ( the area he lived in is called Smithville ; there are many Smiths live there today, It is a small area between Mabou and Inverness, Nova Scotia) This Smith's name that everyone called him was 'Colorado'.
    Ok, so the last couple of days I've decided to look this up on the internet with the Jesse James connection. And I got onto the Soapy Smith connection. Imagine my surprise when I look up his wikipedia profile and see how much his life had to do with Colorado.
    I for one would like to hear that there is a possibility that Soapy survived that gunfight, played dead, and then fled the hell outta there. Because there is a Smith man who came here from Colorado back in the early 1900's, and the story was that he was an outlaw ( I heard with Jesse James).There are many of this mans seed living in this area today. ( I am gonna see if the old man who told me about 'Colorado' has a real first name.
    (What do you think about this?)

    1. Hello, Anonymous.

      As the story above states, there is/was no source for the story that his casket was opened and his body was not there. After Soapy was killed there were at least 4 photographs taken of his body in the morgue, including autopsy photographs showing his chest cut open. These photographs and doctors who performed the autopsy were enemies of Soapy. There is absolutely no reason why they would fake his death.

      Soapy's widow, Mary and their 9-year-old son (my grandfather) both went to Skagway to claim the estate and nothing was ever said by them, nor the newspapers, about exhuming the body. Mary talked about her husband to her children and grandchildren for many years and not once did she mention anything about digging up his grave and opening the casket. Mary remarried a policeman.

      Sorry, I can say with certainty that Soapy Smith died on July 8, 1898 and was buried in Skagway, Alaska. However, thank you for writing with the very interesting story, I enjoyed it.

      Jeff Smith


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith