June 11, 2010

Artifact #12: 1896 letter to Soapy Smith (Spokane) from George Fisher (Denver).

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Letter to Soapy Smith from George B. Fisher

I consider myself very fortunate to possess so many letters and documents from the family collection. It is my goal to share my entire collection with the rest of the family, fans and friends of bad man Soapy Smith. Some of the family feels the way I do as artifacts, letters, documents and photographs slowly make their way to me and then to this blog. 

It is a great joy to have some of the artifacts complete with envelopes that tell a story all their own, such as who and where the letters are addressed to and from. Postmarks tell us how long a letter took to get to its destination and what cities it may have stopped in. My father once told me that as a young boy he began collecting stamps. He admitted that there were a few artifact letters that he "swiped" stamps from. We never seem to realize that the items we care little about around us will someday be prized processions of some future family member or collector. What my father did was bad but he was a youngster. What can be said about the adults who threw out Soapy's old coat and hat because they were moth eaten. Oh to have those items now...  

In 1896 Soapy was a wanted fugitive in Denver, Colorado. He had escaped a probable prison term by fleeing bonded promise to appear in court. He was in Spokane, Washington when his younger brother Bascomb completed his one-year prison sentence for the beating of Johnny "Square-Shooter" Hughes. Bascomb was released on September 20, 1896 with a promise to “go straight” but fell back into old habits. Twelve days later he was arrested for carrying a concealed pistol. The Denver Evening Post described the events leading to his arrest.

 Artifact #12, page 2
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"Bascomb’s thirst continued all of yesterday and far into the night. Whisky induced a desire for war and Smith carried his artillery with the bravado of a Leadville militiaman. At midnight Bascomb became involved in an argument with Miss Dora Harris, who was a sweet faced babe in gay “Paree” just 45 years ago. Bascomb and Dora flirted and quarreled. When the reformed county jail graduate missed a roll of $25 he threatened to inaugurate an extended slumber in Riverside [cemetery] for the giddy French girl. She retaliated by having Bascomb jugged for carrying concealed weapons. Now la petite Dora languishes in a prison cell pending her trial on a charge of larceny from the person…."

Artifact #12, page 3
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Soapy sent letters to friends and associates in Denver, trying to establish contact with his brother. One reply came to Jeff at The Grand Hotel in Spokane, arriving November 12, 1896. It was from George B. Fisher, who penned in flowing script a letter of three pages on his own letterhead stationary: “Established 1879 / Geo. B. Fischer / Jobber and Dealer in / Old Whiskies, Imported and Domestic Wines. / Fine Cigars A Specialty. / 1535 to 1539 Seventeenth St. Cor. Wazee.” Fisher was a saloon proprietor whose place was next to Soapy's cigar store operated by Bascomb as a front for backroom "freindly poker game" swindles. The letter betrays a friendship of long standing.

Below is the contents of the letter.

November 8, 1896
My Dear Jeff.
You must pardon my delay. Election day I was sick in bed, so did not vote, came near having pneumonia. However it passed off without assistance. Tomorrow an auction shop is to open across the street, also a place on Wazee near 17th. The firm of Lester, Jackson & Thornton [—] my neighbor “Kastner” says these firms represent McKinlys [President William McKinley’s] advance agents of prosperity, so business is expected to boom this month. I hear of Bascom but I do not see him. He usually comes in the store nights when I am away. Should I see him will have a talk with him.

My dear Jeff, I regret much the result of the national election. The laborer has disfranchised himself, the producer has declared against the perpetuation of independence, the masses has [sic] expressed themselves as incompetent to legislate for themselves, while the east has slaped [sic] the youth, energy and progression, square in the face. A rebuke that intelligence can rally from and forgive, but never forget. The Nov thinking, has insulted the philosopher, the parent and grand parent, has anathemized [anathematized] and coerced there [their] offshoots of nature, because they simply desired to perpetuate home government, happiness and prosperity. In the next four years President McKinly [sic] will be critised [sic] by every nation in the world. The Swiss government will be studied from coast to coast, [the] United States for 4 years will be a political study room. Initiative and Referendum will be recognized as the only political panacea to bring peace and prosperity ¾ to a liberty loving people. We are all quite well now. Henry & Yank join in good wishes, I received a picture of Mr. Ewing’s child, it is beautiful,

I am as usual Geo. B. Fisher

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Artifact #12 front of envelope

Jackson and Thornton, the men opening the auction shop, are surely Soap Gang members W. H. Jackson and James “Duke of Halstead” Thornton. Yank is most assuredly Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards.

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Artifact #12 rear of envelope

Bascomb remained in Denver and thereafter in the West, never again to work with his brother as he had in Denver. He continued to find trouble as revealed in a November 18, 1896, letter to Jeff from friend William “Bat” Masterson, but that's another story for another day...

George B. Fisher: p. 122, 285, 421.
the letter: p. 421.


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