October 11, 2010

Soapy in Dodge City?

Soapy traveled all across the United States in his early career following fairs to swindling the unwary. Several city street vendor licenses he saved show that he legally paid for the privilege. We know some of the cities he visited and operated in and I am always watchful for hints and signs of all places he stopped over for a day or two. Considering we know that he worked all holidays, it is a safe bet that he worked nearly all the towns he stepped foot in.

One such place I always wondered about is Dodge City, Kansas. Did Soapy visit and possibly operate there for one or more days? I hoped a new book, Dodge City: The Early Years, 1872-1886 by William B. Shillingberg (1999) might give me the answers, or even a few hints to keep me searching there.

The book is a well done history and I encourage anyone interested in Dodge's history of corruption, gunfights, and not so angelic facts about Wyatt Earp and "Bat" Masterson to find a copy. Unfortunately for me, because of the many exciting gunfights, the author, like many before him, did not seem to find much interest in the secret doings of the bunco gangs. 

When searching locations for possible Soap Gang activity I always take note of the criminal names listed. Many times they are a clue, especially if Soapy is associated with the name in some form. Shillingberg did mention a few names and hints of bunco activity but not nearly enough. On page 183 he wrote,

"Marshal Larry Deger faced troubles of his own with Robert Gilmore—the ubiquitous Bobby Gill, a member of Mayor Kelley's gang and a man described by Bob Wright as 'one of the most notorious characters and...the best all-around sure thing man that ever struck Dodge City.'"

Another hint of bunco activity is on page 276 that reads,

"To the relief of many, Mayor Webster issued a strongly worded proclamation: 'To all whom it may concern: All thieves, thugs, confidence men, and persons without visible means of support, will take notice that the ordinances enacted for their especial benefit will be rigorously enforced on and after to-morrow, April 7, 1881."

Page 389 mentions for the year 1886 that,

"More and more citizens wanted some sort of reform. A rash of robberies and an invasion of confidence men forced the city to hire six extra policemen."

Could Soapy have visited Dodge? I will keep searching for the answer.



  1. Howdy Jeff: I have on order another book about Dodge City: "Dodge City: Up through a century in story and pictures"
    Fredric R Young

    I'll let you know if their is anything regarding JRS II mentioned within.


  2. Great! I suspect Soapy's early associates were there as well.


  3. "Dodge City: Up through a century in story and pictures"
    Fredric R Young

    Received this book yesterday: A very nice hardcover tome with slews of photos, diagrams and period ads.
    The text seems very pithy too.

    Sorry Jeff, nothing referencing JRS II thus far.

    But man o' man I am sure getting a good feel for life in Dodge City 1872...forward.

    Easy question: What was the name of Dodge City before it was Dodge City?

    Slightly harder question: Why was the name changed from ----- to Dodge City? <(*J*)>

  4. Oh man, I just read Shillingberg's book but don't remember. You stumped me! Anyone else know?

  5. Ok...Here is the answer...drum roll please......

    Dodge City was originally named Buffalo City...and it is only logical that it be called that.
    In 1872 a herd of buffalo was spotted moving south near Dodge. The herd is said to have been 2 miles wide by 10 miles long!

    The name was changed to Dodge City because there already was mail being delivered to a location elsewhere in Kansas...named Buffalo.

    Reference: "Dodge City: Up through a century in story and pictures"
    Fredric R Young

  6. ...and now you know the rest of the story.

    Great trivia question and answer Rich, thanks!

  7. If JRS II did visit Dodge City...odds are he booked a room at the building at the right [with the chimney]. That is The Dodge House hotel. The lower building connected to the right is the restaurant,saloon,and billiard hall.

    The main competitor to the Dodge House was the Great Western Hotel [ south of the RR tracks ] which was supposedly somewhat 'plainer'. That's why I believe JRS II would have chosen the Dodge House.
    Not to mention...the guests at the Dodge House probably would make for more..."profitable marks" <(*J*)>

  8. Here is an interesting first hand account circa 1873...of The Dodge House and more...by the wife of an Army Colonel:


  9. Great information Rich. I would have to agree that Soapy would have probably stayed at the Dodge House when/if he visited Dodge City. The description of the hotel in the link you sent http://www.skyways.org/orgs/fordco/dodgehouse.html is excellent

    Jeff Smith

  10. Fun question/fact: What was Wyatt Earp's full name ?

    Ans: Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp


    When the Dodge City Saloon Wars ended in June 1883

    A bunch of unsavory characters were told to get out of Dodge.
    I love the names: Shotgun Collins, Black Jack Bill, Cold Chuck Johnny, Dynamite Sam, Dark Alley Jim, Dirty Sock Jack, Six Toed Pete, Three Fingered Dave, Red Nosed Johnny, Cock-eyed Joe, Hunchback Jim, Off Wheeler, Guy Jim, and Red Top Bill.

    Source: "Dodge City: Up Through a Century in Story and Pictures". by Fredric R.Young

  12. I believe not a single shot was fired during the 'wars,' is that right?

  13. I have read that there was some gun play....but no one was hurt during the Saloon Wars. The 'wars' were described as 'bloodless'.

    It seems it was a rare night in Dodge when nary a shot was fired. <(*J*)>

  14. That certainly seems more realistic. Just about every boom-town I have read up on has the same issue with daily gun play.


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