March 29, 2010

Artifacts: Letter to Soapy Smith's son, 1919.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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


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