April 30, 2010

Dave Wright. Leadville historian

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I received an interesting e-mail from Dave Wright with whom I've had many past discussions regarding Soapy in Leadville, Colorado. He apparently could not figure out how to post a comment and sent it to me. However, I do not know which post he is referring to exactly, none-the-less his comments are of interest.

Dave wrote,


Your web site is AWESOME!!! I really appreciate you keeping me on your mailing list!

I've forwarded the URL around to a bunch of my friends.

I tried to post on your blog, but I'm too ignorant to understand how to do that... here are the comments I attempted to post:

April, 1889 - Griswold
"One of the slickest and best known rascals in the whole western country is reported to be on his way to Leadville... the gentleman referred to - Soapy Smith - is known to many people in Leadville..."

"It should be here stated that the attention of Alderman Kavanaugh was called to these peddler's licenses by Alderman Monroe. The two immediately called on Mayor James, and a special meeting of the (Leadville) council is to be held tonight to determine whether or not thieves shall be licensed. This was the same technique used by Soapy Smith when he made several business trips to Leadville..."

And the question remains... when was Soapy in Leadville, and is there any proof of any of his activities while here? Does ANYONE have ANY information about his activities in Leadville? Who he might have been traveling with, when he might have arrived, etc.

(This is an AWESOME web site!)

Dave Wright
Leadville, Colorado

David Wright
Golden Burro Cafe & Lounge
Lake County Visitor Center
710 Harrison Ave. - Leadville, CO 80461

Thank you for the very kind words Dave. Since the last time we talked I have finally published my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. In it is a photograph that I think you will find of great interest. It shows Soapy in Leadville, with ex-president Grant in the background! The book has 24 references to Leadville in the context. The photo proves he was there in 1880. Although there is yet any provenance that he was actively swindling the public I would have to say it is a safe bet that he was doing just that. Soapy Smith's Leadville adventures remain an arena of mystery and exploration.


April 29, 2010

San Francisco, 1906

Above is a video of Market Street, San Francisco filmed in 1906 from a trolley car. This street is very similar to Seventeenth Street in Denver, Colorado, complete with the train station at the end of the street. Minus the cars, one can image what Denver was like for Soapy and Mary.


April 28, 2010

New to the website

Thank you's go out to the very special people who contributed to this year's website fund that keeps the main website, Alias Soapy Smith, online. Their help led to a new addition to the website on the Soapy Smith Preservation Trust page. Scrolling down the page on the right side you will come across the organizations officers. The additional title of Grub-stakers has been added. There the names of those who have helped financially are listed. During these hard times it is good to see us pull together to keep the site up and running.


Missing Soapy Smith sculpture.

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Soapy Smith bust

The mystery of the missing Soapy Smith bust. The first and only time I have heard of this artwork is from the photograph above that appeared in Leland Feitz's book, Soapy Smith's Creede (1973). Does anyone know where it is?


April 27, 2010

James B. Boisseau and Gay Mathis

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Good friends Karin and Jeff
Melody Ranch book signing

If you are a follower of this blog then you may recall the name Gay Mathis. She is a historian and genealogist who has been so helpful finding new material. She purchased my book and found that the world is small after all. Gay is distantly related to James B. Boisseau, through his mother. Boisseau participated in the duel against R. C. Adams in St. Petersburg, Virginia for the honor of Ellen Stimpson Peniston in 1820. Both men were killed and Ellen married Dr. Ira Ellis Smith, becoming the grandfather and grandmother of Soapy at his birth.


April 20, 2010

Unknown tintype of family or gang members

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tintype of unknown family members or gang members

The above tintype is a part of my collection but it is of two unknown gentlemen. It is not known if these are family members or associates of Soapy Smith. I've always let my imagination work overtime with this one, wishing it was Joe Palmer and Joe Simmons.

Does anyone have any clues?


April 17, 2010

Bobbi Sheldon's car

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The Bobby Sheldon car in its new home at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks. The museum display with a photo of the car in Skagway. It was built in the Skagway powerhouse. A replica will be constructed at the museum and sent to Skagway. Molly Dischner

Question: What does the shooting of Soapy Smith and Alaska's first car have in common?
Answer: Bobby Sheldon, one of the supposed witnesses of the shootout on Juneau Wharf.

The Skagway News published the following story.

Old Skagway car finds new home at Fairbanks auto museum

FAIRBANKS – Skagway’s role in gold rush history is widely celebrated, but few people know about the town’s other claim to historical fame. Skagway is the birthplace of Alaska’s oldest car and the building site for the only car on-record as constructed in Alaska.

In 1905, 18-year-old Robert Sheldon built his car in Skagway. According to car lore, he was in hot pursuit of a young lady whose other suitor had a fancy carriage. He didn’t get the girl, but Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not recognized his achievement because he built it solely from pictures and diagrams. He had never seen a car in person.

After driving the car around town for many years, Sheldon donated it to the University of Alaska in 1934. In 2011, a working replica may return to Skagway’s streets.

Willy Vinton, the manager at Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum where the car was recently moved, plans to build the replica by taking pictures and measuring and documenting the old car, and then piecing the new one together. That’ll take at least a year.

“My goal is to have [the replica] spend the rest of eternity basically in Skagway,” he said. This will be Vinton’s first exact-replica, but not his first effort at restoring an old car. “It’s very do-able,” he said.

The most difficult part might be the seats. The grey chairs originally came from a bar. Finding replicas a century after the originals were repurposed for Sheldon’s car might be difficult.
Vinton has access to the car because the University of Alaska Museum of the North loaned the car to the auto museum for five years with the possibility of extending the loan after the original period ends said Angela Linn. Linn is the ethnology and history collections manager at the museum of the north.
Moving the car about five miles from one museum to another was more complicated than just turning a key to start the ignition. Vinton and several volunteers from the auto museum built stands beforehand to load the car onto so that the move wouldn’t put pressure on the wheels, which are old buggy spokes, Linn said. The car-with-stands contraption was loaded onto dollies, and the dollies were loaded into a heated Lynden truck, she said.

The move left a hole in the museum’s southeast gallery, but Linn was enthusiastic about the change.

The museum hopes to renovate the Gallery of Alaska in the not-so-distant future, and she was glad it would now be part of a display focused on automotive history.

“A whole new group of people…are going to see it over there,” Linn said.

Vinton shared her excitement over the move. “We really enjoy having the car here,” he said. “It tells a great story.” The car is just one of dozens at the auto museum. But it’s the only one built in Alaska.

And nearby photos, part of a pictorial history of Alaska automobiles, show the car in Skagway.
The Skagway Museum is also part of the car’s new history. Vinton is working with them to track down the original engine, which was a 2-cycle marine engine. Linn said the part belongs to the Rapuzzi collection.

The move wasn’t the car’s first. Former UA President Charles Bunnell worked with Sheldon to move the vehicle to Fairbanks in 1934.

Linn didn’t know where the car spent the next few decades, but in 1972 it went on display at the museum in Signer’s Hall. When the museum moved in 1980, the car was transported and displayed at the new museum, Linn said.


April 16, 2010

Ellen Stimpson Peniston

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Ellen Stimpson Peniston
Mrs. Ira Ellis Smith

The above fine lady is Soapy's grandmother. She never had the opportunity see her grandson, dying before his birth. She was born, Ellen Stimpson Peniston, March 4, 1802 in Petersburg, Virgina. Daughter of Samuel Peniston and Ariana Sleymaker.

Ellen was educated in Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland. In a letter from her sister to a niece, she is described as the “Belle of Virginia” and “the Flower of Georgia.” Another family letter boldly states that she was the most educated lady in Georgia. Ellen’s brother John Gilbert Peniston tells of a duel fought in September 1820 over the sixteen-year-old Ellen. It took place in St. Petersburg, Virginia, between R. C. Adams and James B. Boisseau, but that is another story for another time.

Married in Petersburg, Virginia to Dr. Ira Ellis Smith on December 6, 1821. They had 11 children together (ten boys and one girl).

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Ellen's final resting place

Ellen died October 23, 1860 in Coweta County, Georgia where she rests in final peace at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newnan, Georgia. Her sermon was given by Rev. Alexander Means, DD LLD., who read from Psalms 73, verses 24 and 25. In a family bible under her name it reads, "In sure prospects of a blessed immorality."

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Descendants Geri Murphy, Jeff Smith and Jeannie Schaffner
with the resting places of Dr. Ira Ellis Smith and wife, Ellen Stimpston Peniston

*Do you have more information about Ellen Stimpson Peniston that you would like to share with us? Please leave a comment or contact me directly. We would love to hear from you! Thank you.


April 15, 2010

Artifact #9: Soapy Smith's unsigned check trick.

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Unsigned check sent by Soapy
was it a trick?

In August 1896 Soapy was in Spokane, Washington. From that location it appears Jeff attempted to defraud mining investor, J. Hugh Bauerlein, of a claim. Jeff sent Bauerlein of the Denver Stock & Mine Exchange an unsigned check for $2,500. Hoped for, probably, was that Bauerlein would not know who "Mr. Jeff R. Smith" was and send back the claim papers and unsigned check for for the missing signature. Once received Soapy would sell the claim to an unsuspecting victim for a profit.

The printed check Soapy sent (see above) is dated August 13, 1896 to pay J. Hugh Bauerlein $2,500 "at sight" (immediately). The draft is from the First National Bank of Denver which was indeed Soapy's regular bank he used, however, it is not believed he had any funds in the bank at the time.

Bauerlein did not fall into the trap, responding on his letterhead stationary back to Soapy. See below:

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Bauerlein's response

The contents of Bauerlein's letter to Soapy is as follows.

Newlin’s Gulch Gold Camp, Aug 13, 1896

Mr. Jeff R. Smith
Spokane, Washington

My dear sir,

Your registered letter with enclosed check for $2500 (not signed) received. I herewith return the same to you for your signature.

A big strike has just been made in the adjoining property owned by the “Covade” company.
I am pleased to learn that you have been so successful. I am sure you will be well pleased with the investment you are making with me.

Yours truly J. Hugh Bauerlein

You can return it to me signed, to room 4 “Denver Stock & Mine Exchange” care of “Covade Mountain Gold Mining, Tunnel & Milling Company.”

How or if Jeff pursued the matter is unknown.

"Newlin's Gulch gold camp"

Newlin Gulch obtained its name from early resident, William C. Newlin who settled there in the 1860s. He had brought some of the first Shorthorn Cattle into the Pikes Peak Region, driving them, some 30 cows and one bull, all the way from Minnesota. He homesteaded S.W. of the settlement of Pine Grove, and ran his cattle on the open range.

The Newlin Gulch gold mining district was centered about four miles S.W. of Pine Grove, (Parker), on the Newlin Gulch. Some mining operations in the Newlin Gulch area began in the mid 1880s, ceased, and resumed again in the late 1890s. In early 1898 mining equipment was set up and operations were begun at several locations along the gulch. Several small placer claims were made and numerous companies were formed to exploit the gold finds. As late as 1910 one mine, the Muldoon, was still in operation, employing 22 men. However, the water supply proved to be inadequate and the yield too low, so the gold fields were abandoned.

Although several promising placer deposits were found during the years previously mentioned, a large scale production was never achieved. During succeeding years, there were sporadic attempts at working the diggings, particularly during the great depression of the 1930’s. The last reported operations were in 1941.

The Parker Mining District area is no longer accessible and as January 2009 was said to be soon at the bottom of the Rueter-Hess Reservoir. During the earth work for the Rueter-Hess reservoir, one of their earth moving machines fell into a collapsed tunnel of one of the old mines.

pp. 416-17.
Parker history.org


April 14, 2010

If Soapy Smith handed out t-shirts to his friends..


Alias Soapy Smith over on Unsinkable Western History.

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Home for the boys

I received a nice review from Colorado historian, Joyce Lohse over on her blog, Unsinkable Western History. Below is the content. Thank you very much Joyce. I left my thank you and response over on her blog for those who wish to view it.

Recently, I was contacted by Jeff Smith, the descendant of a well-known colorful Western pioneer, who went by the name of “Soapy Smith”. In plain terms, Soapy was a con-artist who found creative ways to secure an income while dodging the law in the Western United States and Alaska. His name evolved from a scheme in which currency was hidden in cakes of soap and sold to gullible customers willing to gamble on its placement. Jeff Smith’s biography of his great-grandfather is an impressive collection of material regarding his ancestor. It is a hefty volume, which provides a remarkable resource and account of a character of questionable repute, who appeared in many incidents throughout Western history in general, and Colorado in particular.

My interest in Soapy Smith pertains to an episode which took place in Creede, Colorado in 1892. Squatters took over parcels of state school land. Led by Smith and his Soap gang, the squatters would not budge when an auction was organized to sell the properties. Violence was threatened under the leadership of Smith’s gang. Governor John L. Routt arrived from Denver to bring order to the situation.

At this point, Smith’s biography of Soapy Smith, and my biography of Governor Routt, provide differing versions of the incident’s conclusion. I attribute this to varying resources and different outlooks, as each biography champions the position of its main character. In the Smith version, Governor Routt, intimidated and bamboozled, never left his train car (Rocky Mtn. News, 2/26/1892). In my biography of the Routts, the aging governor came to town by wagon during a blizzard. When the sheriff sent an appeal to Denver to send in the national guard, Routt responded, “To hell with the troops. I’ll go myself.” Cursing and stomping, the aging governor entered a room full of disgruntled citizens, and took charge of the situation, thus diffusing a violent confrontation. The lots were then sold at auction to benefit the state school fund. (Denver Times, 10/12/1899; Pioneers and Politicians, Richard D. Lamm, 1984.)

Although these two versions of the same incident vary somewhat, the truth no doubt lies somewhere between them. Most importantly, both biographers acted diligently according to the resources at hand, and pursued these topics with interest and curiosity. Both biographies are a tribute to their subjects by author’s who care deeply about them, and provide a foundation for researchers to pursue when referring to them. Biographies not only preserve personal stories, but rich pieces of history which might otherwise be lost forever.

To learn more about Jeff Smith’s great-grandfather Soapy, see:
Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of A Scoundrel, Klondike Research, 2009
Jeff Smith’s web site: http://www.soapysmith.net

To learn more about Governor John Routt and his wife, my cousin Eliza, see:
First Governor, First Lady: John & Eliza Routt of Colorado, Filter Press, 2002
Joyce Lohse’s web site: http://www.lohseworks.com

Joyce B. Lohse, 4/14/2010


Artifact #8: A letter of introduction.

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An introduction letter to Jeff and Frank June 13, 1898
(artifact #8)

Artifact #8 in my private collection is a quick letter/note from Jim Wilson addressed to "Frank Clancy or Jeff Smith" and reads as follows.

Seattle, Wash. June 13th 1898

Frank Clancy or Jeff Smith
Dear friends

This will introduce to you Morris Behan a brother of Hugh Behan. He is all right and anything you can do for him will be appreciated by your friend as ever
Jim Wilson.

I believe this note was written by Jim Wilson in Seattle and handed to Morris Behan, who traveled to Skagway and handed it to Soapy. It is not known if Morris succeeded in landing a position on Soapy's payroll, an honest job at one of the local merchants, or given fare back home to Seattle.

Jim Wilson: According to Marlene McCluskey of the Skagway Historical Society, was a gambler at the Pack Train saloon. There is also "Diamond Jim" Wilson, the successful Dawson businessman and gambler who later operated the Anvil Saloon in Nome.

Frank Clancy: Frank and brother John were saloon operators in Seattle who moved to Skagway and began operating with Soapy. Posts on this blog related to Clancy brothers can be found on Aug. 20, 2009 - July 4, 2009 - June 7, 2009 and Oct. 5, 2008.

Hugh and Morris Behan: There is little known of these two brothers. Gay Mathis found and shared the newspaper clipping below that shows Hugh listed at the Grand Hotel in Seattle, after Soapy had been killed.

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Hugh Behan at the Grand Hotel
courtesy Gay Mathis

p. 552
Richard O'Connor, High Jinks on the Klondike. NY: Bobbs-Merrill, 1954, pp. 234-35.


April 13, 2010

Letter from Bat Masterson to Soapy Smith

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A letter from Bat Masterson to Soapy Smith
November 18, 1896


Addendum: Schooner Janus

The above clipping was sent to me by Gay Mathis in regards to the April 13 post about the schooner Janus. thank you Gay.


True West - "Hot off the press"

My book made the May "Hot off the press" section of True West magazine.

Alias Soapy Smith (Klondike Research, $26) by Jeff Smith is a massive biography of a notorious outlaw of Denver, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska. The author’s zeal is explicable; Jefferson “Soapy” Smith was his great-grandpa. But Soapy was a pretty small-caliber outlaw compared to, say, Billy the Kid; much more of a gambler turned-con man than a murderous thug. His grandson does not whitewash him in this well-rounded character study.

I am pleased as punch! Thank you Bob Bell.


Soapy Smith's escape ship.

This post has an addendum added HERE

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steamer Janus
Was this Soapy's ship?

On July 8, 1898 the day of the gunfight which ended his life, Soapy must have sensed the possible end of his reign in Skagway as he was obviously preparing for an exit when he purchased a ship from Captain S. E. Bright. I have found nothing on the ship except the name, Janus, and the Probate paperwork on sale of ship on display at the Skagway City Museum. After Jeff’s death Bright claimed Jeff had not paid him for the boat although he had given Jeff a bill of sale. The Janus was returned to Bright on July 23, 1898.

A schooner

Why did Soapy need such a large ship? Was it the only one in the harbor? Was it the only one he could purchase? A large ship would certainly be needed to carry out the gang, his property... and all that gold, can't forget to load the gold.


April 12, 2010

Join Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith


Artifact #7: Soapy obtains a silver mine, 1897.

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The Grand Hotel
Spokane, Washington

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Soapy obtains a silver mine
artifact #7

October 25, 2011

In January 1897, six months before Skaguay was founded, Soapy was traveling around the northwest searching for a new home of empire. He had often visited Spokane, Washington where just across the Canadian border lay the Slocan silver mining district. Numerous alloys were being mined there but silver, discovered in the early 1890s, was king. It is doubtful Soapy considered becoming a Canadian citizen but that would not stop him from attempting to "mine" the residents. There is no current evidence he ever stepped foot in Canada but on January 24, 1897 he somehow obtained a mining claim.

The following comes from Alias Soapy Smith, p. 424-25.

For $1.00 Jeff bought from one Martin Murphy his 1/8 interest in a gold mine located about 150 miles north of Spokane. The bill of sale, appearing to be Martin Murphy’s hand, evidences having been written under duress or in something akin to distraction, hurriedness, or inebriation. Words are repeated. The word heirs is misspelled and rewritten, again incorrectly. Punctuation and capital letters appear (or do not appear) in odd places, and the description is not clear, requiring a closing reference to where the claim is recorded. Dictation of the contents could account for confusion and so many anomalies. The document is on stationary from the Grand Hotel, apparently Jeff’s principal residence in Spokane, and is presented as written. Martin began by filling in the date line this way:

Spokane, Wash., Jnury 24th 1897
To all Persons Concerned.

This agreement entered into between Martin Murphy party of the first part and Jeff R Smith party of the second part, For and in consideration of the sum of $1.00 One Dollar, I Martin Murphy do sell transfer assign and sell to Jeff R Smith his heirs heiress assigns and administrators forever. My One eighth interest also the One eighth interest of Phil ORourke’s in the Bunker and Sullivan Claims in the Slocan District more fully described in Dowion and B.B. Records Recorded in the town of Kaslo.
Principal Martin Murphy
Witness Jas. E Walker

Was this a legitimate purchase, extortion, settlement of a gambling debt, or the remnant of a swindle? One dollar in 1897 is worth about $31.24 today, but it still seems a small amount for the sale of an interest in a gold mine and suggests other considerations.

Below is a modern map of the Slocan district. The location of Soapy's claims is currently unknown. The town of Kaslo is east of this map as shown by the circled yellow arrow.

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The Slocan District


April 11, 2010

Tivoli Club stationary

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The only known sheet of surviving stationary from Soapy's Tivoli Club in Denver, Colorado. A combination saloon and gambling den it was dubbed "the slaughter pen" due to the violence that occurred there. Detail of those events can be found in Alias Soapy Smith on the numerous pages listed below.

Other stories about the Tivoli Club on this blog can be found in the following links: Aug. 13 - Aug. 11 - July 23 - July 19 - June 4 - Dec. 9

pp. 79-81, 89, 120, 124-29, 131-32, 138-39, 171-72, 176, 182-83, 185, 188, 190, 197, 247-48, 256-57, 260-64, 272-78, 283-84, 286-87, 324, 336, 338, 352, 358, 389, 420.