March 31, 2010

Jeff Smith's Parlor restoration: Part 3.

It will most likely be years before completion of the Jeff Smith's Parlor restoration by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. I will post updated news when available. I ask Karl Gurcke, historian at the park and he had this to say.

As far as the Parlor report is coming along, well, it's coming along. Our regional office hired a full time historian last year, in what we call a term position. Term positions can last up to 4 years. He's doing the historic structure reports for all the "new" historic buildings we've recently acquired. He's spent a lot of time on the Parlor report and it's gone through several full reviews and he's now working on integrating all the comments / suggestions into the report. Still no date for publication or even sending the report to the publisher. I'm not even sure it will be published, it may just be an internal report or something we put on the web. One thing I'm suggesting is that we need a section of the report dealing with what we find after we take the building apart and then restore it. There may be lots of interesting things we find that are hidden under the current fabric and we should report on that. Doing that would push the publication date back several years till after we restored the building or we could publish the report without the section and add it later in a second edition. Lots to still work out. This report has been a very interesting project - it has more twists and turns than anything I've ever been involved with.


Karl Gurcke, Historian

Thank you very much for the update Karl. I know we all look forward to the start and completion of this project.


Mary Eva Smith II

The above logo will/should indicate to family members that the following post is data for the family trees. By all means please feel free to comment, whether you agree or disagree.

I received an e-mail from a cousin who is becoming more active in the family genealogy but wishes to remain anonymous at this time. He was reading my book and came up with a question regarding the birth of Mary Eva Smith II, Soapy's daughter. He also came up with the answer. That's what this blog is all about, questions and answers.

My cousin writes,

A quick question, if I may:

Regarding the birth date of Mary Eva II. On page 108, fn. 2, you state, “Born July 4 between March 1887 and July 1989, when Ltrs in the Smith collections begin to mention her.

Do you mean by this that you know that her birthday was July 4, but don’t know if it was in 1887, 1888 or 1889? If so, I may have some helpful information. If not, then the water may still be a bit muddy.

We know that your grandfather [Soapy's son: Jefferson Randolph Smith III] was born in February 1887 (page 107), so Mary Eva II couldn’t have been born five months later in 1887.

My grandfather, and therefore all of my family, believe that he was born on November 27, 1889. If this is true, then Mary Eva couldn’t have been born in 1889, four months before my grandfather.

This leaves 1888 as the most likely year of Mary Eva’s birth.

That would be quite a busy time for Mary Eva I, but she was quite young and probably as fecund as possible. Not impossible that she could have had children three years in a row. (Children born back-to-back were {derogatorily} known as “Irish Twins.” Here we’d have “Irish triplets.”)

What do you think?

My cousin had new information that I did not have previous. Anytime that happens, it's a good day. In another e-mail my cousin added additional information.

As to Eva’s birthday: I have some solid info for you. I asked my mother about “Aunt E” as Mary Eva II was known in our family. (She lived in Milwaukee, near my grandfather and his family.) Asked about Aunt E’s birthday, my mom shot back, “Fourth of July.” I asked how she knew and she said, “We used to celebrate it. Your grandmother’s (JJ’s wife – my grandmother) was July 2, and we’d celebrate both.” So, we have clearly established that Mary Eva II was born on July 4. And as I said in my earlier email, it is pretty clear that the year was 1888. My mom will call a cousin from that family to see when she died. My grandfather died on Feb. 24, 1969, so J.J. Smith’s dates are: 11/27/1889 – 2/24/1969. Hope this helps.

Yeah it helps! Great work cuz. Solving mysteries is fun, and even more when your related to them!


March 30, 2010

Quick quotes...


Someone left a reply to the post History Channel: Cowboys and Outlaws and I accidentally deleted it. I hope you will consider reposting it.


The Taney House revisited.

Almost one year ago on May 12 2009 I posted a story on Denver's Taney House in which Soapy lived in 1883. I recently received an e-mail from Tom Taney, the great-great nephew of the builder and proprietor of the Taney. I knew what his email pertained to before I opened it. Here is what Tom had to say.

Hello Jeff Smith,

I googled "Denver Taney House" tonight and ran across your blog entry concerning that establishment and its connection to your great-grandfather. My name is Tom Taney, and I have a bit more information about the Taney Boarding House. I thought it may be of interest to you.

The Taney House was built by a great-great uncle of mine who immigrated from Ireland. I believe his name was Patrick, but I am not sure. I will look up his name and send that information later. I do know he changed his last name from Tannian, what it had been in Ireland, to Taney at Ellis Island. He did so in an attempt to associate himself with the family of Roger B. Taney, a former chief justice of the US Supreme Court. He was no relation but thought the name may help him climb the social ladder in America a bit quicker if others thought he was. He moved to Denver, made money, got married, and established the Taney House. It is referred to as a hotel, as opposed to a boarding house, in my families stories. He and his wife had only daughters, so he sent back to Ireland and paid for several of his nephews to immigrate to Denver. One of those nephews was my great-grandfather. He changed each nephew's last name from Tannian to Taney when they immigrated to the US. The Taney House was also Denver's Pony Express stop. I will investigate names, dates, and any other stories associated with the Taney House and forward them as I learn more.

Thank you for your blog entry, I did not know of Soapy Smith, nor his connection with the Taney House. You also posted a better picture of the Taney House than I had seen before. It would sure be nice to find a picture of it when it was in better shape.

Thank You,

Tom Taney

My response.

Hello, Tom.

It is a great pleasure to meet you. I love that story of the maid working for the Taney House, and now there is more to the history thanks to you. I love looking into the different places I know Soapy stayed. I had the fortune to be able to stay in four of them. I await more information. Let me know when you have exhausted your search and I will post the story. I agree, a photo of the House in its glory days would be interesting to see. Trust me, they are out there. One suggestion is to perform a save search on eBay for "Taney House." Do this on Google searches as well. It might take years to find something but sooner or later it will pop up. I have found so much that way.

By the way, the Taney is listed on page 57 of my new book, Alias Soapy Smith:The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.

Tom is not finished with his search and I hope he keeps us posted.


March 29, 2010

Artifact #5: Letter to Soapy Smith's son, 1919.

(Click image to enlarge)
Soapy's son, Jefferson Randolph Smith III was born February 8, 1887 so on August 5, 1919 when the above letter was typed and sent he was 32-years-old.
The mention of "Universal" is probably the film firm. Jeff was very active in suing the film and media industry for exposing his father in a bad light. The main website has a few instances in which Jeff and Mary fought in legal battles over use of Soapy's name. I love the part where "Hy" writes,
"By the way, I overheard two birds on a street car talking about Alaska. One of them mentioned your father. When they separated I asked him who he was. Said his name was "Tub" Lewis and he was with your father for a long time at Skagway."
I have yet to uncover anything on "Tub" Lewis.
I believe the author of the letter, "Hy," is old Rocky Mountain News reporter, Denver justice of the peace and political figure W. F. Hynes, who knew Soapy well and had joined the assemblage at the Raleigh hotel when Soapy went to Washington D.C., however a quick search on-line found plenty for Denver but no provenance that he ever worked for the San Francisco Chronicle. It was mentioned on one document that Hynes often signed legal papers with just an "H."
The following is an interesting exchange in which Hynes was witness to
During the meal Jeff was his usual highly entertaining self, full of humorous anecdotes. At the conclusion of the evening the men lounged in the lobby before exchanging good-byes. In parting Ed, drew his cousin aside and thinking he was out of hearing range, said, ‘“Jeff, give up the whisky or the gun!”’ Davis heard the statement and at outside the hotel, he declared, “Well, boys, I believe it is true that after all there is something good in the worst of us, and perhaps something bad in the best of us.” Ed quickly added, “And God only knows what’s in the rest of us!” To the News in 1929, Hynes spoke his mind about meeting Jeff: To a stranger he would pass on the street for anything but what he really was. He appeared rather like a fairly prosperous businessman. He was popular even with the officer who sometimes sought him for consultation. He was always armed; usually he carried a pet white-handled pistol. -Alias Soapy Smith, p. 446.
(Click image to enlarge)
Joe (Soapy's grandson), Mary Smith ("Mammy"), and John Little (her 2nd husband)
Son Jefferson's own introduction to the newspaper industry came as a cub reporter for several St. Louis-area newspapers, including the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the St. Louis Star-Times. Smith eventually became city and managing editor at The Times and entered local politics by serving as secretary of the Saint Louis County Chamber of Commerce (1926-1931). By the late 1920s, Smith had also logged tenures with newspapers in New York City, Denver (CO), and Miami (FL). Smith was appointed publicity secretary to Mayor Bernard F. Dickmann, organizer of the future Jefferson National Expansion Monument -- Eero Saarinen's arch and riverfront park. Political aspirations later led Smith to enter the 1933 Ferguson, Missouri race for mayor, despite his eventual loss (source: newspaper article titled “34 Ferguson Candidates File” featured in the St. Louis Globe Democrat on March 2, 1933 shows Jeff filing as a mayoral candidate for the April 4, 1933 general election.) A business card in the collection of Jeff Smith shows a date of 1931 and to "Vote for Jeff." But this is only a two year separation in a 3-4 year office term.
(Click image to enlarge) Jeff and first wife Ethel
Valued for his keen business sense, Smith was recruited by Adrian Dornbush, the Stone City art colony (Grant Wood) organizer, to serve as the second business manager. Despite the colony's popularity and increased enrollment for 1933, financial records showed heavy debt and the immediate need for clear accounting and sound promotional ideas. Smith accepted the position, assuming his duties in June, choosing to live at the colony and to join its art community. With his office found at the Green Mansion entrance, Smith was accessible to journalists, staff, and students, lending a professional air to the free-spirited enclave. While at Stone City, Smith met Florence Sprague, a Drake University art professor and the colony's sole female faculty member. The two married June 9, 1934 and returned to St. Louis, with Sprague resigning her academic career.
During the World War II-era, Jefferson Smith served as public relations director for various New York City firms, including Ward, Wells, and Dreschman, a nonprofit development organization. By 1947, Smith had relocated to Los Angeles, where he opened a photo studio and hobby shop; co-owner of the venture was his son, Randolph J. Smith. (Source:
(Click image to enlarge) Jefferson Randolph Smith III February 8, 1887 - January 19, 1952
In April of 1919 Jeff quit his job as Managing editor of the St. Louis Times to go into the advertising, publicity and promotional business with Orin R. Coile under the business name of Coile and Smith. (source: unknown St. Louis newspaper, April 24, 1919, Item 140, Jeff Smith collection. AND item 162, a business card for Coyle and Smith, Jeff Smith collection.)
pp. 105, 446 .

March 28, 2010

Soapy Smith at Find a Grave

"What a lovable con."
(latest note left for
Soapy at Find A Grave)


Was Soapy Smith in New Mexico?

(Click image to enlarge)
Billy the Kid Escaping Lincoln

I was given a link to Google Books for, History of New Mexico: its resources and people, Volume 2, George B. Anderson, Pacific States Publishing Co., 1907. On page 586 a Soapy Smith is mentioned. I wonder if it is our Soapy Smith? Will this madness ever end? I hope not.


March 27, 2010

Artifact #3 Edwin Smith's letter to cousin Soapy Smith, 1898.

(Click image to enlarge)
In November 1897 Soapy traveled to Washington D.C. to see his cousin, Edwin Bobo Smith for some political favors. Ed was a reporter for the Washington Post. This position and his prior service in the US Congress gave him numerous influential contacts, and he used them to try to help Soapy make a respectable name for himself. Soapy had different ideas as to how a respectable name could help him. The details of his trip are published in my book.
Nearly a half year later, in a letter dated March 27, 1898 on Washington Post stationary, cousin Edwin wrote to Soapy to convey remembrances from Congressmen who still reminisced over his visit to the capitol.
Dear Brother Jeff:
Glad to get your letter. I am so busy you must excuse me for not writing sooner. I saw Senator [Edward Oliver Wolcott] Wolcott and he asked to be remembered to you. Ex-Congressman [John Calhoun Bell] Bell of Colorado and Congressman [John Franklin Shafroth] Shafroth also ask me about you every time I see them. Baily of Texas wants to know when you are coming back here. He will be the next speaker if the House goes Democratic. I wish you would write and give me all the news. I want to print in the Post. Your brother Ed
Those connections along with Edwins’ faithful efforts secured Jeff something he very much wanted: permission to build at an American gateway to the Klondike.
(Click image to enlarge)
You can read more about these men pp. 444-449. .

Picture of the day: Early Skagway.


March 24, 2010

Soapy Smith's watch and Judge Van Horn's gun.

(Click image to enlarge)
Judge Norman Van Horn
Member of the Soap Gang?
(Photo by Bob Wood)

My good friend Bob Wood of Old West Antiques is most assuredly one of the busiest and honest on-line old west non-fictional aficionados I known. Besides his busy antique and collectibles business he also operates several very interesting and informative websites and blogs on the old west. They include..

His blog, Where the West Comes Back to Life is an extension of his business and I have learned much from all his sites, which naturally include Soapy Smith.

When ever Bob comes across something that he knows would interest me he does not hesitate to let me know. He has access to a lot of information I could never get to and his friendship and help are greatly appreciated. This post is no exception of Bob’s willingness to help out fellow historians. A week ago I received the following from him.

(Click image to enlarge)
Soapy's gamblers box?
(Photo by Bob Wood)

ey Jeff,

I want to relate a story to you about Soapy. I was at an Antique store in Houston, Tx. today and an 87 yr old dealer couldn't wait to show me his gamblers box. In it was a honking big Silver pocket watch with a script "S" on the back with a large link chain and the fob was a Sharps 4 barrel all engraved. And there was a boot knife with an ebony and M.O.P. handle and scabbard. The knife maker was out of Sheffield, England. The box was leather covered and very old.

The old guy tells me he was 10-yrs old and in Denver when he read his first book on Soapy Smith and he is sure the gamblers box and items were Soapy's. Of course he had no provenance, just what he was told and willing to believe.

Bob Wood

Thanks to my fathers teachings I have a skeptical mind. However, I always give owners of items like this a chance to tell their story. If there is the slightest chance that there might be some truth to the story I will print and file it for future use, or until such a time as information come available to prove or disprove the facts.

I asked Bob if he would be willing to take some photographs the next time he saw the owner and he readily agreed. He writes,

(Photo by Bob Wood)

Well I met with the owner of the gamblers box and Van Horn revolver. He does not want his name used in any write-up nor his business but he does want to sell these items. You can use my business as a go-between.

The gamblers box measures 9" X 6" X 2". It is leather covered with a cloth lining. Inside the box is an Elgin key wind pocket watch with a script "S" on the back, a Sharps 4 barrel and a Manson Sheffield knife with leather sheath.

I pressed the owner for details of provenance and he stated he bought it out of an estate but had no other details.

The pistol is a Colt .44 SAA with a 7- 1/2" barrel, nickel finish and on the back strap is inscribed "Judge Norman Van Horn".

Bob Wood

After viewing the photos Bob took I wrote back,

Hi, Bob.

Well, speaking of writing stories, you may not want me to write this one, at least not using your business name.

The watch has "SL" or "LS" for initials. Please check out the photo and see if you see the same thing. The gun has "Judge Norman Van Horn" engraved on it. The old bios on Soapy had several gang members who were made up including the story of Van Horn, the disbarred lawyer who paid Soapy's way to Skagway. The only Van Horn mentioned in the newspapers and Smith family collection is Denver's major Marion D. Van Horn, who was never a "judge." I found two references on-line where "someone" was pushing Norman as the judge Van Horn of Soapy's gang. Unless you say something different I won't write a story on the watch. I would like to write a story on the gun but the facts won't be favorable to the owner's liking. As far as using your name I can write a very favorable account of you and your kind notice that the gun exists, etc., "Bob Wood of Old West Antiques (linked) came across a gun that the owner claims....." so that you are not aligned with ownership or in "selling" it, but anyone interested in the gun will know to go to you. The idea is that your does not get smudged when you were only trying to help me. I am always one to be critical of claims like this, however, I could be wrong. If the guy was telling the truth, maybe the watch was won by Soapy in a game? Maybe I should write a story on the watch after all. Lol.

…. The "old boy's" wish not to have his name released was indeed a red flag. Unfortunately, even if he is telling the truth, his items are under suspect. I have learned to try and have an open mind on things people send me. After all, many of the artifacts in my collection have no provenance of belonging to Soapy, except by possession of the Smith family. In time my family will no longer have these items and they too may be under suspect. Whose to say I can't go out and buy antiques and claim them to be Soapy's...hmmm? When I posted a picture of the Soapy DA on my website, suddenly I received two offers to sell me his DA, lol.

(Click image to enlarge)
Revolver back strap
"Judge Norman Van Horn"
(Photo by Bob Wood)

Bob’s response follows,


Regarding the pocket watch, I do see the "LS" or "SL". So much for the gun, too. I am contacted on a pretty regular basis by people wanting to sell me so-and-so's items and when I ask for proof of their claim usually the only response they have is, " that's what they said at the auction".

I'm ok with you writing about the watch or gun or gambler's box and pointing out the inconsistencies you observe. This is a great educational opportunity for your readers and one would expect them to appreciate your insight. I concur with you that the watch was not Soapy's which places doubt on the remainder of the items in the box. The dirk is one of the most common knives from that period and is so common it's value is only around $300.00. The Sharp's is very nice but again unless their is some type of proof linking Soapy to the gun it's just a nice gun.

The Van Horn gun is most interesting since it would be the easiest to prove or disprove. If you say there was no such person then I believe you. After all, you are the expert on Soapy and his associates.

If you decide to post anything please show me as just a go-between and not someone that is promoting these items as genuine as to belonging to Soapy.

I've known Bob for years and he is one of the most honest and honorable businessmen I've ever known. We have many a time corresponded on the authenticity of items we have run across. He agreed to be the go-between for these items in this post at my request, otherwise I would not have been able to post the story and photographs. He has no other interest in these items beyond bringing them to my attention, and for that I thank him very much.


March 23, 2010

Soapy Smith: The banjo playing singing gangster.

(Click image to enlarge)
The Banjo Player

On page 29 of Alias Soapy Smith, Edwin Bobo Smith talks about his cousins "Cheap John" business. As a come-on Soapy played the Banjo and sang some songs.

Edwin writes,

... “I’ve quit the store and other jobs for a much better thing,” he confided, after the affectionate welcome. “I’ve learned a racket that’s new in this part of the world, one of the slickest and surest money-makers; I have become a cheap John, a dealer in odds and ends of merchandise, and I go from town to town selling my stuff on the streets. I mount a box; take up a banjo, which I twang to the accompaniment of a few plantation songs like the Little Old Log Cabin or Old Black Joe; this never fails to draw a crowd and the rest is easy for then they are primed to buy my stock of socks, hanker chiefs, suspenders, razor belts before the rush of customers and it is a bad day if I don’t net $20 or $25. In a few towns the merchants were so sore at losing trade that they had regulations passed to drive me out.” The story was enchanting and I thought: “This boy will be a millionaire; there’s only one Jeff.” Plans were formed to induct me into the same profession. I was to learn the cheap John technique and Jeff was to stake me to my first layout. I could sing a little and twanging a banjo took but a few lessons.

I did some checking on the two songs mentioned, The Little Old Log Cabin and Old Black Joe and here is what I dug up.

The Little Old Log Cabin In the Lane
1871 song sheet cover.

The full name is The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane. It was written by Will S. Hays in 1871 for the minstrel trade. Written in dialect, the song tells of an elderly man, presumably a slave or former slave, passing his latter years in a broken-down old log cabin.

The melody was widely used and adapted to a variety of other songs of the era, including "The Little Old Sod Shanty On The Claim" and "Little Joe, The Wrangler." You can hear the song below and read the lyrics as they are sung. Feel free to sing along, we won't tell.

Old Black Joe
1860 song sheet cover.

An American parlor song composed by Stephen Foster in 1860. You can hear the song and read the lyrics below.


March 22, 2010

Not only was your book well written but you backed it up with documented facts or noted otherwise. I can't tell you how valuable that is to me as a student of old west history.

Bob Wood


March 20, 2010

Alaskan Heroes: Soapy Smith collectors card?


I enjoy using my Paint-Shop Pro program to make up nice little memorials to Soapy. The top item is a fantasy piece. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century collector cards were popular. Much like today's sports cards, the old ones catered to heroes of the era, whether political, social or business. I even have one card from a series of Newspaper editor cards. The card I made is one based on Alaskan heroes in history. Card "number 56" is one for Captain Jeff R. Smith of the all volunteer Skaguay Military Company, heroes who answered President McKinley's call to arms in 1898.

The contents of the letter in the lower picture are non-fiction and found on page 489 of Alias Soapy Smith. I hope you enjoy these little works.


March 18, 2010

More on Tom Word, Skagway, Alaska 1898.

On March 17, 2010 I posted a story on Tom Word, an important name in the drama played out in 1898 Skagway, Alaska. The story would not have been written without Fred Wood, Tom's great-grandson. When he saw the post he e-mailed me the following.

Hi Jeff, very good blog, I enjoyed it. Some things you might want to consider about Tom is that he later became Multnomah County Sheriff in Portland Oregon for two different terms, 1904-1906 and 1913-1915. He was backed by church groups and the newspapers as he pledged be hard on the gamblers. Newspaper accounts tell of how he was "openly opposed by those operating opium dens, gambling palaces and roadhouses." Another relative that the Chinese were not fond of. But he openly stated that he would not just go after the Chinese gambling establishments but all such places. Opponents accused him of having a relationship with a 'working girl'. She acknowledged having the affair but she was unable to identify Tom even when he was standing near her. She later recanted her acknowledgment. He became a US Special Agent in 1918. He later refused an appointment to become the Warden of the Oregon State Prison as he did not want to leave Portland, I believe that his wife was sick at the time and he didn't want to move to Salem. I also seem to remember from the article (which I can't find) they wanted him to clean up the graft at the prison.

As I reread this I realize that this is probably way too much info on a small bit player and that the blog is about Soapy. But I will let you decide what, if any, you can use.

Small-bit player? Below is my response.

Hi, Fred.

Tom Word is no "small-bit" player in the Soapy Smith drama. This is great stuff my friend! Perfect for this blog! What you have added is the human element in Tom's story not previously known to the rest of the world. By telling us what you know, you have clearly shown that Tom was not a member of Soapy's gang when he approached the vigilante's about knowing John Fay's hiding place and that he would disclose it if his safe arrest and trial could be guaranteed. We know that Soapy was hiding Fay in order to save his neck from being stretched by the vigilantes. It seems likely that Soapy approached Tom, a man he felt he could trust, with a plan to get Fay safely to a legitimate court for a legitimate trial. I am willing to bet that Tom Word was a respected and well-liked member of the Skagway community.

Your information will probably (hopefully) help answer other peoples questions and curiosities. This is the kind of information I xerox and store in my "Tom Word" file. Because of this information you might even locate family members you never knew you had.

For all that I thank you. May we continue to find new bits and pieces to the many puzzles.

Jeff Smith


three-card monte leads to shootings...

The following was published at the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Cops break up 3-card Monte on beachside

by Julie Murphy, Staff Writer
March 17, 2010 12:05 AM

DAYTONA BEACH -- Three-card Monte, follow the lady, menage-a-card -- Daytona Beach police aren't going to tolerate the game of chance no matter what it's called.

"They (con-artists) come out of the woodwork for Spring Break and BCR," Chief Mike Chitwood said. "They come from Georgia, New York, Philadelphia, everywhere."

Stanley Delain, 56, of Atlanta was charged with operating a game of chance, a misdemeanor, Friday night and issued a notice to appear after officers caught him with a three-card Monte board and paraphernalia to run other games.

"We crack down on this because it leads to shootings," Chitwood said.

And it has for more than a century. Infamous Old West con man Soapy Smith, who made a living at one time as a gambler alongside Doc Holliday, was shot to death in Alaska in 1898 after cheating a victim with three-card Monte.

Though some Spring Breakers out enjoying the sun on Saturday said they wouldn't fall for the scam, variations of the confidence trick have been around since the turn of the 15th century, according to several gambling Web sites.

"I saw a guy doing that trick yesterday," said Erica Williams, in town from Atlanta. "I just walked away. You always lose money on things like that."

Carlos Vega, a young Marine here on leave for the weekend, said he might be talked into playing a legitimate game of chance but wouldn't fall for a shell game.

"I haven't seen that since the last time I was in New York," he said. "And, I'm from (Los Angeles). They'd have to come up with something better than that to get me."