June 14, 2010

Artifact #13: 1896 letter to Soapy Smith (Alaska-Spokane) from wife Mary (St. Louis).

(Click image to enlarge)

After spending several grueling months in Alaska in 1896 (before the main gold rush) Soapy returned to Washington. In July  his wife Mary penned a two-page letter to him on Denver Ingersoll Club stationary. She crossed out Denver, Colo.” and wrote “St. Louis Mo.” July 1896.

Dear Husband,

I would have written to you sooner but Jeff swallowed a fish hook and I did not want to worry you until I found out if it would be necessary for him to go under an operation, but he is getting along all right and doesn’t seem to suffer. If he passed it, it must have been away from home for I watched him very closely. Jeff, I have never got a cent out of the rent but $11.85 cents and I had to send that right out to Brown & Bro. to pay insurance on that extra $15.00 they took out. I will send you all the statements from agent and Brown & Bro. when I hear from you again for I do not want to lose them and you might have left where you are before they would get there. I wish you would let me know how our insurance runs or if it is yet due. Inclosed you will find last notice from Brown & Bro.

It is dreadful hot here, sufficating [sic] lots of rain and then intense heat. I nearly went crazy the day Jeffy swallowed that hook but I know now he will be all right.

Well Jeff I will close hoping to hear from you at once. Jeff & Eva & Jim send love and kisses and the same from your
true Mollie

P.S. Eva nearly went crazy over your picture and the dollar you sent her, and poor Jim cried all day. M

The letter was posted August 11, 1896, to “Jeff R. Smith, Spokane, Wash., C/of Grand Hotel,” and was postmarked received on August 14. This was three days before George Carmack made the biggest gold discovery in the history of Canada’s Klondike region. News of the discovery, however, did not reach the outside world until the following summer in 1897. Mary signed her name “Mollie,” as she occasionally did. There is no current explanation why. 

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Envelope back

Jeff surely asked himself how an eleven-year-old boy came to swallow a fish hook. The letter does not express the severity of the incident as does the following newspaper account.

St. Louis Republican, June 20, 1896
Swallowed a Fish Hook.
Jefferson Smith, a 9-year-old boy residing at 203 Olive street, went fishing Thursday in Forest Park. On his way home, while near the corner of Boyle avenue and Olive Street, he swallowed a fish hook accidentally. He experienced no immediate discomfort, but Dr. Witherspoon of 4269 Washington avenue, who examined the boy directly after the disappearance of the fishhook, stated that it may cause the little fellow's death.

The Ingersoll Club in Denver is where The News in 1893 claimed that Jeff presided over gambling.

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Here is what the area of Mary's house looks like today. This does not take into 
consideration that the address locations may have changed since 1896.

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Forest Park where young Jefferson III fished

Letter: pp. 417-18.


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