April 7, 2010

Did Soapy Smith have another wife?

(Click image to enlarge)
Frank Reid's grave
Note the lack of trees. Today this area is literally a forest.
In 1897-98 the trees were felled to build the town.

Boy, did I receive a shocking e-mail last night! I had to re-read it about seven times before attempting to respond. It comes from Dee Longenbaugh who is reviewing Alias Soapy Smith. Dee has her own story to tell so I'll let her tell it.

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am reviewing your new book for the "Sitka Sentinel" and KTOO radio here in Juneau. I have a personal problem. When I worked in the library of the "Denver Post" many years ago, I ran across the stories on Soapy and his time in Creede & Denver, etc. Rather amusing.

In the early 1960s we moved to Mt. Edgecumbe, Alaska (now just a part of Sitka). Our next door neighbors and later dear friends, George and Margaret Wagnon, and my husband and I decided to break the winter's monotony by taking the ferry to Skagway. Margaret had told me about her family and Soapy so she took flowers (plastic, as no fresh ones in Sitka in 1965) for Uncle Soapy's grave.

Margaret, nee Smith, told me - when she and her two sisters were children, they were fascinated to find Jefferson Randolph Smith name crossed out in the family Bible. Upon asking the adults, they were told he was a bad man. When they grew older, they found he had married a woman from a small town not far from Atlanta, then deserted her. The family was so horrified that I invited his young wife to live with them, which she did until her death.

Margaret's father was a doctor; her mother, who came to visit Sitka a few times, very much a Lady of the Old South. I shall never forget the chill in her voice when the segregationist governor of Georgia's name came up. "Poor man. No one invites him anywhere." Clearly, Atlanta society had no welcome for him.

At any rate, George Wagnon was a doctor as well (as was my husband).

In Skagway, Margaret and I were startled when we asked someone where Soapy was buried. He asked M. if she was a relative; when she replied she was, he grew abrupt and said every so often someone would come up, saying they were related. As M. had a lighthearted approach to her uncle, she was taken aback. We did find the grave and M. left the flowers. We also saw that Jeff Smith's Parlor was still there, small and shabby though it was.

Both Margaret and George died some years ago, as I expect Margaret's sisters did as well. However, I am still in touch with the Wagnon's three children.

So - my question is - did you ever hear the story of the abandoned wife? Since they never divorced as far as Margaret knew, any subsequent marriage of Soapy would not have been legal.

I had hoped your book might go into that, but there's no mention. Before I proceed with my review, I would like to hear your views on this.

Thank you.

Dee Longenbaugh
The Observatory, ABAA
299 North Franklin Street
Juneau, Alaska, 99801

I thought to myself, How in the world am I going to handle this? You want to be honest but you don't want to anger someone who is writing your books review! Margaret was obviously a close friend but according to my entire families combined 100+ years of research the story has never been heard of before now. Below is how I responded.

Hi, Dee.

Soapy has been a huge part of my family since the day he was born. He saved perhaps 90% of his letters and documents of which the family still retains. His cousin grew up with him and his sisters in Georgia and Texas. There are no stories or mention in my family of another wife, let alone any other woman, other than Mary Eva Noonan whom he married in 1886 and stayed with until his death. My family was close one and a story of that nature would have surely been heard from. This is the very first I have ever heard of it. To be honest I have doubt that Margaret is family. I hope me doubting your friend's story does not anger you, but please understand that I too could be angered by such a story.

Soapy's parents moved to Round Rock,Texas in 1876-1877. If he had married another woman in Georgia then he would have been only 16 or 17 yrs old at most.

Margaret does not show on the family tree and to be quite honest many people over the decades have claimed to be relatives but were not. If Soapy were indeed her uncle, then Margaret's mother or father would have had to be one of Soapy's sisters or brother. None had a child name Margaret.

I thank you for choosing my book to write a review of. Soapy's children and grandchildren researched his life and adventures. I myself have spent 24 years researching his life and continue to do so. In reading Alias Soapy Smith you can see that I worked very hard to keep the history well sourced and accurate. With that being said I ask that you please keep Margaret's story as a separate entity as there is no provenance that her story is true and I do not wish to confuse people. If you feel that you must mention her story I ask you to include that no such story exists in family records and verbal histories. If something should arise at a later date that indicates there is a possible chance of an abandoned wife I would be glad to look into it. As of now I can only view it as fiction.

I have always promised myself to keep an open mind so I now ask if anyone in the family has ever heard any hint of a story that Soapy married another woman and then abandoned her? Please let us know.



  1. As we have learned, in the theater of human drama, everything is possible. So surely it's best just to wait and see who legitimately might take the stage next to reveal the expected or the unexpected. I think you handled the question of an abandoned wife well.


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