December 30, 2010

Soapy Smith Leases lots in Creede, Colorado 1892: Artifact #23.

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The following artifact from my personal collection is a lease document for lots in Creede, Colorado in 1892 at the very beginning of the silver rush there. It is very similar to artifact #22, also from my personal collection, posted on September 16, 2010.

Jeff and his men arrived in Creede sometime after October 4, 1891 and before February 2, 1892. On January 30, Jeff purchased a town lot from a W. J. Kurt for $100. Five days earlier, on January 25, 80 acres of state land in Creede, leased to a V. B. Wason as “school land,” was reported subleased illegally to squatters. Not known is where Jeff was when he purchased the lot, but 3 days later on February 2, 1892, Jeff was in Creede to file a non-payment action on a check for $750. J. M. Burkhart of Trinidad had written it to Jeff, perhaps had suffered buyer’s remorse, or, more likely, saw himself the victim of a swindle, and on February 5 had stopped payment of his check. Jeff’s document filing official protest of non-payment was written up and notarized by H. J. Alexander and given to the Miners Bank of Creede. Jeff had opened a checking account there. The outcome of the attempt to collect is unknown. The document shows Jeff still had an account at Denver’s First National Bank.

On Tuesday, February 9, 4 days later, Jeff acquired leases on lots 5 through 13 in block 24 on Cliff Street for a mere $22.50 a month (see lease above). On the same day he also acquired lots 14 and 15 of block 24 for only $5 a month (see September 16, 2010). Names on the leases include Soapy, John Kinneavy, Soap Gang members John Bowers and L. S. Palmer, the latter possibly being Joe Palmer. The leases covered three-quarters of the west side of Cliff Street between Wall and Second streets, some of the most prime real estate in Creede. Additionally, saloons and gaming halls to be operated by Jeff and his friends came to be located on the east side of Creede Avenue, the main street in the camp and one block west of Cliff Street. Jeff also leased a lot just above the one on which he was living “to be used for a dwelling house.” Presumably this location would be for a family home. Mary and son Jefferson did visit Creede but never resided there. Jeff’s lease of this dwelling one week before the commercial property indicates his confidence of success.

Jeff obtained enough lots in Creede’s business district for himself and some of his Denver friends. The problem was that some of these properties were on “school land.” The state contested these leases and canceled V. B. Wason’s lease, intending itself to auction lots from the land to the highest bidder. The 102 “squatters” who had leased “school land” from Wason and who had already made improvements were ordered to vacate without reimbursement. They chose to stay and fight if necessary. —Alias Soapy Smith.

Creede Lease: pages 201-203.


New replica of Jeff Smith's Parlor, part V

Rear of Parlor
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Wolfgang continues his project. A total photographic history can be seen on his webpage.


December 27, 2010

Outlaw Harry Tracy planned to rob John and Frank Clancy.

After Soapy was killed his partners John and Frank Clancy took over the Parlor and opened their own saloon. They had been in the saloon business in Seattle, Washington before the Klondike gold rush, and returned to Seattle sometime afterward and reopened (if it ever closed) their business. In 1902 outlaw Harry Tracy talked about robbing the Clancy saloon.

Although Tracy appeared exhausted, he continued to loudly tell violent tales with no fear of being overheard. After a few choice stories, he told Scott that he could go. “What are you going to do?” asked Scott. Tracy said that he was going to hold up a policeman for his gun, and then go down to Seattle by Pike Street to hold up Clancy’s Saloon, because “I hear they have got some dough down there.”

Here is the entire article, posted on by Alan J. Stein, March 6, 2003.

Harry Tracy enters King County aboard a hijacked launch on July 2, 1902.

On July 2, 1902, escaped convict Harry Tracy (1877-1902) enters Seattle aboard a launch hijacked from Olympia. After landing north of Ballard, he begins making his way towards the city with one of the kidnapped crewmen, whom he later releases. Tracy had escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary one month earlier with the help of fellow convict David Merrill. He shot Merrill in the back near Chehalis.

The World is His Oyster

Harry Tracy arrived at the Capital City Oyster Company near Olympia around 5:00 a.m., and entered the shanty of Horatio Alling. Alling and his cook William Adair were shocked by the intruder’s audacity, but when Tracy introduced himself, they immediately knew who he was, having seen his escapades on the front page of every newspaper. The escaped killer ordered them to fix him some breakfast, which they proceeded to do.

Company workers Frank Scott and John Messegee entered the cabin, and were forced at riflepoint to sit with the other two men while Tracy finished his grub. Tracy asked them about the gasoline launch N & S, which was moored in the bay. He ordered the cook to call Captain A. J. Clark, the ship’s master, and Clark's 15-year-old son Edwin ashore for breakfast.

Captain Clark came in and noticed the man with a gun, but thought the fellows were playing a jolly prank on him. He and his son sat down for breakfast, and ate it all despite being a bit puzzled as to why the men were so strangely quiet. After they had finished, Tracy introduced himself, and told them that he needed their boat.

Sailing to Seattle

Tracy ordered Messegee to tie up and gag Alling and Adair, and then marched him down to the beach with Frank Scott, Captain Clark, and the boy Edwin. Scott was sent back to the building for some clothing. Tracy said he was in discomfort because he was wearing shoes that he'd stolen from a “cripple,” and one had a sole several inches larger than the other.

Once all four men and the boy were aboard, they headed north to Seattle. Captain Clark wanted to make good time and be rid of their captor, but Tracy told him to slow down so that they would arrive under the cover of twilight. It was only 9:00 a.m., and it was going to be a long, slow ride.

All day long, Tracy regaled them with blood-curdling stories about his life. He told them of his escape from the Oregon Penitentiary with his partner-in-crime David Merrill. He told of a duel between the two of them a few days later, when Tracy shot Merrill in the back, “before he turned to shoot me in the back,” he explained. “He was nothing but an impediment to me,” said Tracy, “and I am glad he is out of the way.”

As the launch passed the United States penitentiary on McNeill Island, Tracy wanted the boat moved closer to shore so he could “shoot a guard or two,” but the men persuaded him otherwise. Instead, he popped off a shot at a harbor seal (he barely missed), this being the only shot fired from his rifle during the entire boat trip. He did take aim at a tug captain whom he thought was approaching too closely, but nothing came of it.

Well, So Long

Tracy wanted to be dropped off at Smith Cove, but was surprised at the number of ships there and told the Captain to sail up to Meadow Point, north of Ballard. They anchored offshore at 6:30 p.m., and waited for an hour. When he disembarked, Tracy told Captain Clark, “I’ll send you a lot of money for kidnapping you and the launch, for I will have a lot of dough pretty soon now. You have acted pretty decent by me. Well, so long.”

Tracy insisted on taking Frank Scott with him, but first made him tie up the other men. Tracy noticed that Edwin Clark had a sore wrist, and told Scott to tie his elbows instead. As the men began walking along the Great Northern railroad tracks to Seattle, Tracy griped that he didn’t have a six-shooter. All he had was his Winchester rifle, and 200 rounds of ammunition.

At one point a man approached and Tracy wanted to hold him up. “For God’s Sake,” pleaded Scott. “You’ll implicate me!” Tracy hesitated a few seconds and said, “Well, damn it, I don’t want to get you in trouble, so I’ll wait until you leave me.” They made it into Ballard and rested alongside the rails.

Although Tracy appeared exhausted, he continued to loudly tell violent tales with no fear of being overheard. After a few choice stories, he told Scott that he could go. “What are you going to do?” asked Scott. Tracy said that he was going to hold up a policeman for his gun, and then go down to Seattle by Pike Street to hold up Clancy’s Saloon, because “I hear they have got some dough down there.”

Scott Free

Tracy bid his unwilling assistant a fond farewell and, after thanking him and shaking his hand, resumed his walk to Seattle. Scott hightailed it back to Meadow Point, and out to the launch. The men had already extricated themselves from their bonds, and had been waiting for Scott to return. They motored south.

When they reached Seattle, it was past midnight. They immediately notified the police, and a posse was organized. After the posse left northward, the hungry kidnap victims went out to a restaurant with a group of newspapermen.

Each told of their harrowing tale of being kidnapped, but agreed that Scott was the one that Tracy appeared to almost befriend. “I was mortally afraid of Tracy,” Scott told the pressmen, “yet he made a fellow feel at home.”

“Convict Harry Tracy Lands Near Seattle,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1902, p. 1, 2; “Captain’s Son Relates Story,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1902, p. 2; “Tracy Definitely Located in Vicinity of Bothell,” The Seattle Times, July 4, 1902, p. 1, 2; “Story of the Search for Tracy,” The Seattle Times, July 4, 1902, p. 2, 3.

On the following day, July 3, 1902 Tracy ambushed and killed Detective Charles Raymond and Deputy John Williams. Tracy took more hostages before engaging other law officers in a shootout in which he killed Cornelious Rowley and Enoch Breece before escaping. On August 6, 1902 in Creston, Washington Tracy was trapped by a posse from Lincoln County. During the shootout more lawmen arrived and Tracy, badly wounded with a bullet to the leg, could not escape. He chose to end his life by his own hand.

For more on Harry Tracy there are many online accounts of his life, including on Wikipedia.
For more posts from this blog on the Clancy's see the following links.

June 24, 2010
April 14, 2010
August 20, 2009
July 4, 2009
June 7, 2009
October 5, 2008


December 26, 2010

Soapy Smith and Wyatt Earp in Tombstone, Arizona

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One of my more interesting mysteries to research has been the connection between Wyatt Earp and Soapy in Tombstone, Arizona shortly after the famed gunfight near the OK Corral of October 1881. It is my belief that Soapy knew the Earp's more intimately than recorded history has us believe.  It is also believed that Soapy met John "Texas Jack" Vermillion (later known as "Shoot-Your-Eye-Out Jack") who eventually became a short-lived member of the Soap Gang. It was also in Tombstone that Soapy either met or reacquainted himself with "Big Ed" Burns, a soon-to-be long-time member of the gang.  

On December 28, 1881 Virgil was shot and wounded by unknown assailants while walking to his room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. Peter Brand, author and historian, wrote an article for Wild West magazine (March 2007) entitled, Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Posse in which he writes,
"By mid-January 1882, Virgil's condition had improved slightly, and Wyatt decided to headquarter the Earp families with Virgil at the Cosmopolitan Hotel for safekeeping. Tombstone was a powder keg, and Wyatt knew there was safety in numbers."

Daily Epitaph January 26, 1882


Soapy arrived in Tombstone and signed the register at the Cosmopolitan Hotel three times between January 26 and February 16, 1882. “A lady” accompanied two of those registered arrivals. Was Soapy possibly a part of Wyatt’s plan for “safety in numbers” or is it merely a grand coincidence? Why would he want to be a part of the violence? What was in it for Soapy? It certainly would not be the first time Soapy jumped at the chance to fight for those behind the badge whom he sought an alliance with so that he could operate his chosen profession unmolested. Was he assisting the local lawmen protect their families from more death at the hands of the “cowboys,” in exchange for the right to operate his games with minimal interference.

Was he perhaps helping friend, “Big Ed” Burns, who was likely fighting to retain power and control of his operations in the area. It would be interesting, but not surprising, to know if Burns also help the Earp family in their time of need.

I shall continue searching for the answers and hopefully one day I'll find them. In the mean time here are a few links to other posts on this blog regarding the Tombstone mystery:
August 19, 2010
November 13, 2009
September 25, 2009
March 23, 2009


Dr. Tom Noel and Soapy Smith


Here is an article I have been hanging onto since October. It was published under Dr. Tom Noel's history column in the Denver Post on October 31, 2010. Dr. Noel is a fan of Soapy's history and I had the pleasure of meeting him in 1985. Occasionally he writes articles that include Soapy as does the following.

Dr. Noel sent me a Word file of his original article, which included a photo of Soapy at the top. This photo does not appear on the website where I first found the article so I included an election poll drawing I like, and have been waiting to use. Below is Dr. Noel's article as it appeared online at 

$2 a vote, and free drinks to boot
by Tom Noel

Tuesday's election promises to be bizarre. It features everything from a Republican Tea Party candidate imploding to Denverites voting on establishing a welcome committee for extra-terrestrials seeking a place to land their space ships. (Arizona, of course, is out. Can you believe that the Mile High City actually beat Boulder to the ballot on this spacey proposal?)

Ballot day shenanigans will probably not be as astounding as in the murky past. In the 1904 election, the Democratic machine managed to resurrect some 10,000 dead or absent Democrats to elect Robert W. Speer to the first of his three terms as mayor. And don't forget the 1905 chaos where Coloradans wound up with three governors in one day.

When it comes to blatant fraud, however, the 1889 Denver city election probably grabs first prize. The Republicans enlisted a popular businessman, grocer Wolfe Londoner, who had not been previously politically active. They wanted a fresh, honest face for the grand old, crooked party. Democrats and Prohibitionists consolidated in a rare and short-lived marriage as the Citizens' Ticket, a reform party.

They rode a wave of stinging Rocky Mountain News exposes and rising popular concern about the rotten Republican machine. Although strange bedfellows, Democrats and Prohibitionists expected a big win for their mayoral candidate, Elias Barton.

Election Day, April 2, 1889, however, turned into a carnival of abuses. The Republican Party raised enough money to pay $2 per vote, as well as free drinks. Tramps, hoodlums, hookers and others were recruited to vote early and often. Many legitimate voters arrived at the polls only to be told they had already voted. Downtown precincts reported huge majorities for Wolf Londoner.

Although reform-minded voters in outlying neighborhoods went for the Citizens' Ticket candidate, the swollen core city vote gave Londoner a 377-vote win.

Con man Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith and gunman Bat Masterson starred among the Republic Party stalwarts. They prepared and distributed hundreds of slips containing phony names.

Soapy Smith boarded up his polling place. He claimed the glass had been broken. Voters then had to hand their ballots through planks to an unseen "poll judge" who could easily discard unwanted votes.

The Rocky Mountain News pronounced the 1889 mayoral elections "the most disgraceful in the history of Denver politics." A judicial investigation came to a similar conclusion.

Londoner and the Republicans appealed their shaky case to the Colorado Supreme Court, but it too ruled that this election stank.

Before joining the reformers who roundly condemned voting traditions in the good old days, think for a minute. Many more millions are spent this fall to buy elections with often fallacious television ads that smear nearly every candidate. By the end of the race, winners as well as losers have been discredited. Instead of spending vast fortunes on such media excesses and dirty political tricksters, why not just pay voters directly as we did a century ago?

If voters were reimbursed and plied with free drinks to boot, we could greatly improve turnout and create better feelings about candidates. Disgusted by the current process, many citizens stay home on Election Day. It is a struggle to get 50 percent of the eligible voters to the polls. In 1889, after all, voter participation ran over 100 percent.

Tom Noel welcomes comments at drcolorado


December 24, 2010

A Smith Family Christmas


Skagway's Deputy U.S. Marshal Sylvester S. Taylor


JANUARY 25, 2023

     In every empire Soapy constructed one of the first hurdles to jump was roping the courts and the law under his control. Large graft payments were a common necessity in order for Soapy and his men to be able to operate in newly arrived camps and towns. In Skagway, Alaska 1898 one of the hurdles was 31-year old Deputy U.S. Marshal Sylvester Slade Taylor. There are no details of how or when he was lured into the criminal side of the law and placed on Soapy’s payroll as it was pretty much kept secret until early June 1898 when Mattie Silks publicly accused Taylor of being involved with the murder and robbery of Ella Wilson as well as being instrumental in the planned murder of Silks herself. All of this was according to Silks herself and is questionable. Details of her accusations and story are equally interesting and can be found in my book, Alias Soapy Smith.
     Taylor’s fall happened after the robbery of John Stewart’s gold on July 8, 1898 in which he was accused of silencing the news of the robbery and failed to arrest the culprits in the case.
     Not much has been known of Sylvester S. Taylor beyond his involvement with Soapy Smith, that is until about a year or so ago when I had the pleasure of corresponding with a descendant of Taylor (second cousin twice removed). This descendant wishes to remain anonymous for privacy reasons and I will respect that. At the time the Taylor family was not certain that their Sylvester Taylor was the same Taylor in Skagway. That link was recently confirmed during a renewed investigation and email exchanges between the family and various historians, including Marlene McCluskey at the Skagway Historical Society blog who did a superb job of assisting the descendant. Any questions or comments regarding Taylor and the family can be placed in the comment section and I will see to it that the family gets it.
     After Soapy’s death and the collapse of Soap Gang rule in Skagway, the vigilantes accused Taylor of being involved with Soapy. Vigilante’s went to the home of Taylor to arrest him, only to find Taylor sitting in a chair holding a baby (probably Stephan Alaska Taylor, born two months prior). Taylor was ordered to stay inside his home or risk death. Later he was accused of offering the return $600 of Stewart’s gold to Alaska’s Governor Brady if allowed to leave Skagway a free man. This request was denied and Taylor was charged with “willful neglect of duty,” in which he was acquitted.
Taylor took his wife Maud [Maud Ellen Stewart] and four young children back to Idaho, and with the help a person named Pleasant Taylor [Pleasant John Taylor, and older brother of Sylvester’s], perhaps a cousin, who was a Showman and “Movey Projectionist,” Sylvester became a “Manager of Show.” That profession must have worked out for him because in 1910, living with Maude and two more children in the family, Sylvester’s occupation was that of “Showman, Vaudeville and Movey Projectionist.  Alias Soapy Smith

In 1898 Taylor’s children were
  • Stewart S. I. Taylor (1892 – unknown)
  • John Elenor Taylor (1894 – 1971)
  • Ruby Linda Taylor (1896 – 1943)
  • Stephan Alaska “Lou” Taylor (May 13, 1898 – 1990)
It is known that Taylor had married several times, including once before Maud that included the birth of a child, and had three other children born after 1900. Those interested are welcome to continue researching the Taylor family with the sources listed at the end of this post.

My Taylor descendant source writes,
     His occupation on all the census’ of his adult years is listed as having to do with the entertainment industry except the 1930 and then he was listed as a Cigar Salesman. If I remember correctly his years in Alaska were in between the census years of 1890 and 1900; therefore his occupation of US Marshal is not listed on a census. I have some info I received from the Idaho US Marshal Office but I did not follow up [yet]….
     (from NARA 30 June 2010 Textual Archives Services Division- WREjr) I searched Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of Treasury, Entry 316, Emolument Returns for district Attorneys, Clerks of Courts, and Marshals, July 1842 - March 1907, and located a S. F. Taylor as deputy marshal under Marshall J.I. Crutchen during the years 1891 - 1896. The documents do not mention the first and middle name of Taylor. There were no entries for Alaska. There are no files for Alaska in Entry 316.
I was able to find the following on Taylor’s past as a lawman.
     “Ex-Deputy US Marshal Taylor’s case was special. Marshal Shoup said that when he appointed the man, he came “with exceptionally strong recommendations, having served in a similar capacity in Idaho…, where his reputation as an officer was unassailable.” Skaguay News, 07/15/1898.
     When Rev. Dickey was in Skaguay (October 8, 1897 to April 1, 1898), he associated with Taylor, had dinner with him “and his friendly wife in their snug home.” In the fictional account of his time in Skaguay, Dickey characterized Taylor as “Strange and puzzling…,” “clever,” acting “With great courage,” a man of feeling who “completely broke down” in telling of a little girl who had died some ten years before.

And yet some people in Skaguay suspected that he was in fraternity with Soapy Smith and his league of cutthroats. We never believed that. And yet…. … Our conclusion was that he was a big-hearted man who fully determined to do right but who had in some way come under the power of Soapy and that he writhed under it. … There was something there, but whatever power Soapy had over him we never knew. It may be that he found himself powerless to enforce the law strictly and decided to follow a mediating path with the law breakers to amend their effect as best he could. Having submitted to appeasement once, perhaps he was in Soapy’s power…Alias Soapy Smith.
     In the following Texas newspaper article from August 1922 Sylvester reminisces his early days in Texas, which includes a strong link to a career in law enforcement, considering his three older brothers were Texas Rangers.
     Early settlers will remember the three brothers of this family, who were Texas Rangers, known from border to border of the state of Texas as Ham [Hannibal Giddings Taylor], Eph [Ephraim Kelly Taylor] and Pleas [Pleasant John Taylor] (Doctor Stephen Slade Taylor’s sons). They lived in the days of Indians, and became Rangers to protect their homes, according to Sylvester Slade Taylor, of Reno, Nevada, who is in Fort Worth, visiting his son, S. J. Taylor, 1312 College Avenue.
      This is the second visit to Texas in thirty-five (35) years and the first time he had seen his sister, Mrs. Sarah Susan Taylor Click for thirty (30) years.
"I went back home and went swimmin’ in the old swimming’ hole, in the nature way,’ the Texan said. ‘But the most exciting of the whole trip was when we went out to the Hart Ranch and saw a oil well brought in. They seem to bring ‘em in while you wait out there. It was the first one I’ve ever seen brought in and believe me it was some sight to these old Nevada eyes."
He recounted many interesting things about the early days and the Indian raids. Remember the killing of the elder Dalton, father of Robert Dalton, owner of the Dalton Oil Tract. He saw his first train in Fort Worth, Texas.

     New information is always forthcoming and welcome, such as the fact that Sylvester’s middle initial “S” stands for Slade. With new information also come the inevitable mistakes published in my book that need to be addressed. In my book I have “He died comparatively young, though, in 1916 at age 49.” This information was found on but since publication the information has been updated and his actual death date is believed to possibly be May 23, 1931.

  • Photograph: Taylor and Maddox Reunion August 6, 1922 Palo Alto, Texas. Taylor and Bevers Pioneer Families of Palo Pinto County, Texas, by Bobbie Ross, 1996.
  • Anonymous Taylor descendant.
  • Dickey, R. M. Gold Fever: A Narrative of the Great Klondike Gold Rush, 1897-1899. Ed, Art Petersen. Juneau: Klondike Research, 1997.
  • Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.

Taylor, Sylvester S.: pages 508-12, 520, 527, 562, 575-78, 580-81.


December 17, 2010

Soapy Smith the hero?

Occasionally I receive emails from people who feel I am glorifying Soapy as a "patriotic hero." Recently I got one from a gentleman who felt this way because of the small logos and pictures I post below each article. I can understand how this thought might come to mind when viewing pictures such as the right to the right. However, this is a mistaken assumption. I, personally, do not actually believe my great-grandfather was a hero. I do consider that it is possible that he may have felt that about himself at times. There is no doubt in my mind that he was very patriotic towards his country. Some of his outward zeal could have been for public show to improve his standing in the eyes of his community. It is this "zeal" that many of my little after-post pictures represent. I make and use these little gems to represent how Soapy perhaps felt about himself.


December 15, 2010

December 14, 2010

Hallmark and the Prize Package Soap Racket

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My cousin emailed me with a great story that gave me an excuse to use the new picture art I made above.


How is life treating you? Hope you’re ready for Christmas. I was Christmas shopping last night and I go to Hallmark and get ready to pay look to my left and what do I see….

A box full of Soap and the box says “Do you think you will be lucky at the soap game??? “ You buy a bar of soap for $10 and inside the soap is either a $1, $5, $10 or $20 dollar bill. I about fell over I thought I would share this with you just funny how Soapy lives to this day yet no many know his name…..

Have a Merry Christmas to you and your family!!!

Keep the Soapy site alive I love visiting it weekly

Doug Hartzell

Thank you Doug, that is a great story! I checked online and apparently the store you went in is perhaps the only one giving away cash prizes just as Soapy did so long ago. Get a photograph if you can! lol.


New replica of Jeff Smith's Parlor, part IV

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Construction on the replica of Jeff Smith's Parlor continues through December. "Wolfgang" finished the foundation and put up one side wall. More on this project can be seen Wolfgang's website page devoted to the history of the project.


December 13, 2010

Soapy performed the prize package soap racket in Hope, Alaska 1896

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In May 1896 Soapy was traveling in Alaska seeking a new empire to conquer. On June 9, 2010 I posted a letter Soapy wrote to his wife while in Cooks Inlett at Resurrection Creek where the gold camps of Hope and Sunrise stood. I knew Soapy had visited there but have never heard of any accounts from others there, until now.

Below is a very nice article published in Alaska by Clark Fair that reveals a brand new (to me) clue about Soapy's early days in Alaska including a diary account from a gentleman who witness the last known and recorded performance of Soapy operating the prize package soap racket. Here is the article in its entirety.

The Redoubt Reporter
Dec 8, 2010

Almanac: ‘Soapy’ squeaks through Hope
By Clark Fair

It was a tantalizing prospect. Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, the infamous 19th-century scourge of Denver and Skagway, may have visited the streets of tiny Hope, and even attempted his famous soap scam there.

Hope and Sunrise Historical Society members had one solid piece of evidence to support the idea, an 1896 diary entry from a young gold-seeker who professed a firsthand sighting of the famous con artist in action in Hope. They lacked only an equally solid second piece of evidence to support and lend credence to the first.

This fall, they got their wish.

In August, Dr. Jane Haigh, assistant history professor at Kenai Peninsula College and author of “King Con: The Story of Soapy Smith,” came to speak about Smith at a historical society meeting in the Hope Social Hall. Haigh knew before she arrived that the historical society members believed Smith had come to Hope, but she was skeptical of the claim because she hadn’t yet seen the group’s documentation.

A few months earlier, Haigh had met with a few of the historical society members, heard their claim about Smith’s visit to Hope, and agreed to bring her information to them and combine it with their own. After Haigh spoke in general about Smith at the August meeting, those in attendance got down to the real business at hand.

Diane Olthuis, historical society president, produced a copy of the diary entry.

The diary had been written by Joel A. Harrington, who had been born in Montana in 1873 and had, in 1896, traveled onboard the Marion to Hope when the gold rush there was just getting under way. The diary that Harrington kept might never have come to the attention of the Hope and Sunrise Historical Society if it hadn’t come first to the attention of the Anchorage Daily News in the summer of 1953.

Serialized by the newspaper under the title “Saga of Cook Inlet Gold,” excerpts of the diary ran over the course of several weeks. Sometime later, a newspaper friend of historical society member Billy Miller borrowed the paper’s copies of the diary and mimeographed them for Miller.

Miller and his wife, Ann, read over the diary entries and homed in on the mention of Soapy Smith in their town. Ever since, said Ann Miller, “I’ve always been trying to convince everybody of that.”

On May 19, 1896, while in Hope, Harrington wrote, “Later we took a stroll through the town, saw the stump where ‘Soapy Smith’ had his stand, wrapping $5.00 and $10.00 bills in the soap wrapper and selling them, but no one got a bill, except his ‘cappers’ who were working with him. His pickings were poor here, ‘tis said.

A “capper” is a “shill,” a person who poses as a customer in order to decoy “marks” — victims, in other words — into participating.

These accomplices were helping Smith run the very con that had earned him his famous nickname. It was a scam that Smith, arguably the most renowned confidence man of the Old West, had already run repeatedly and successfully in Texas and in Denver and Creede, Colo., and would continue to run again when he moved his operations to Skagway the following year.

The “prize soap racket,” as it was dubbed by newspapers of the time, involved Smith offering a special monetary enticement as he sold soap on a street corner. As a crowd gathered, he would extract from his wallet several bills, often ranging from a dollar to $100, and wrap them around some of the bars of soap. Then he would wrap plain paper over the bills and appear to mix all the bars together, and then sell the soap for one dollar per bar.

At some point, one of his shills would buy a bar, tear off the wrapping and proclaim loudly that he had won some money — and the rush would be on. Soon, Smith would announce that no one had yet won the bar wrapped in the $100 bill and would auction off the remaining soap. Of course, he had palmed the big-money bar, and his shills got most of the rest.

If selling soap had been Smith’s only claim to infamy, he might have gone down in history as a very minor villain. But Smith was more than that. He bought the influence of politicians, officers of the law and even judges. He organized crime rings, controlled businesses through strong-arm tactics, ran large gambling operations and robbed unsuspecting miners of their hard-earned gold.

At the August historical society meeting, the appearance of the very specific diary excerpt excited Dr. Haigh, who then produced two corroborating pieces of evidence for the Hope faithful.

First came a very short report from a Juneau newspaper: A gambler named John Rudolph (a Smith pseudonym) had been arrested in the spring of 1896 for “flimflaming the guys” with a scheme involving the sale of cakes of soap supposedly wrapped in $10 and $20 bills.

“No one else in the West is known to have practiced this particular con game,” said Haigh.

This information placed Smith in Alaska a year earlier than had been previously reported, but the next piece of evidence, especially in combination with the newspaper story and diary entry, seemed to solidify the Smith-in-Hope claim.

Soapy Smith’s great-grandson, Jeff Smith, the author of a recent history of his famous ancestor, “Alias Soapy Smith,” also runs an extensive website of information, photographs and artifacts related to his namesake. Among the numerous personal letters in the online collection is one (scanned in its original form and also displayed in a typed transcription) from May 10, 1896 — only nine days before Harrington wrote his diary entry in Hope.

The brief letter to Smith’s wife back in St. Louis, according to Jeff Smith, was written aboard the steamer General Canby near Coal Bay, on the northern shore of Kachemak Bay, inside the Homer Spit. It reads (with errors intact): “Dear Mollie. Am well, will be to my destination tomorrow if nothing goes wrong. Have had a hell of a trip. You can write to Resurection Creek, Cooks Inlett, Alaska. Have no time to write now as we hail a steamer bound for San Francisco to mail this. Have heard no word from you since I left Denver. Yours Jeff — Love to all.”

“These three items together,” said Haigh, “add up to the conclusion that Smith was indeed in Hope in the spring of 1896, a period that had been a gap in my own timeline of his travels.”

Hope and Sunrise Historical Society members share Haigh’s satisfaction — and a certain level of vindication — at the findings.

“We were thrilled to find out we were correct,” said Olthuis.

Soapy Smith sojourned in Hope only a few days before realizing that the level of action there didn’t meet his expectations, and so he moved on. By 1897, he began establishing another criminal empire in Skagway, one of the entry points for the crush of gold-seekers funneling into the backcountry to join the Klondike Gold Rush.

In Skagway his criminal exploits caught up with him, and by the summer of 1898 he was dead. After three members of his gang bilked a miner out of his sack of gold during a game of three-card monte, the miner sought help, and in stepped a vigilante group called the “Committee of 101.”

On July 8, during what was later called “The Shootout on Juneau Wharf,” Smith began an argument with armed and angry city engineer Frank Reid; gunfire ensued and both men were mortally wounded.

As with many of the famous and infamous alike, however, Soapy Smith continues to make news long after his passing. As Smith once profited from the denizens of Skagway, they arrange tours around Smith lore and continue to profit from his presence there so long ago.

Clark Fair's article is excellent. However, the part in which Jane Haigh takes credit for my research upsets me. She couldn't exactly take credit for the letter in my personal collection but she did take credit for the Juneau arrest of Soapy under the name of "John Rudolph" which was first exposed in my book. Below is my thank you response to Clark for his fine article.

Hello, Clark, Hope, and Sunrise.

I am the author of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel that is mentioned in your article. I have known for years that Soapy had been in Hope and Sunrise, and contacted the Historical Society there with my information, including the letter he wrote to his wife in 1896. It was in my book that Jane Haigh learned of the Juneau arrest as I own the original article in which Soapy (my great-grandfather) wrote a note to his wife about losing his money and signed the clipping. I hate to sound like a party-pooper but it bothers me when Jane Haigh takes credit for my research that I spent 25-years of my life on. One only need read her book to see how little she knew of Soapy before publication of my book in 2009. Now, suddenly, she's the expert.

I admit never having heard about the diary in your article which is very exciting news. My book clearly shows evidence that Soapy was indeed in Hope and/or Sunrise, but the diary shows that he performed the "prize package soap racket" while there and that makes it even more exciting as this is recorded evidence of the last known time Soapy performed the swindle, whereas previously the last record was in Juneau when he was arrested under the name of "John Rudolph".

Thank you very much for including my name and my book. All those interested in learning more about Soapy Smith are encouraged to visit my website and blog devoted to his exciting adventures.

Clark was quick and kind enough to send me the nice response below.

Dear Jeff

I'd heard that you kept your eyes and ears open to any news or articles relating to your great-grandfather, and that you were known to respond to almost everything you discovered. Still, I was surprised to hear from you so quickly.

Thank you for the comments on my article. It's nice to know that I got the facts straight and that I was able to help bring to your attention another piece of information. I try to be very careful in attributing my information to the proper sources, which is why I was careful to state that the letter Soapy wrote on board the General Canby came from your website (which is astonishingly thorough, I must say).

Based on your comments about Jane Haigh, however, I am concerned that you and she may have had some sort of disagreement in the past, and that my story may have exacerbated that disagreement. If that is the case, I apologize. She is, after all, the one who directed me to your website in the first place.

Good luck with your continuing research. I understand that copies of Joel A. Harrington's diaries can be found on Anchorage Daily News microfilm in Anchorage, probably in the city library. But I noticed also, online, that there are copies of the diaries--and maybe even the originals--in Idaho, where Harrington eventually settled. I think that Idaho State University may have what you need. I'm suggesting these possibilities because I know (from examining your website) that you like to show ORIGINAL copies of artifacts whenever possible. On the other hand, perhaps that one excerpt is all you require.

Anyway, thanks again.
Clark Fair


December 10, 2010

Soapy Smith borrows $1,725

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Soapy borrows $1,725

Marlene, over at the Skagway Historical Society sent me the above scan and note.

Jeff this is a scanned image from page 38 of the November 1947 issue of The Alaska Sportsman magazine that I have. You probably have already seen this, but just in case you haven't here it is!

Yes, I have that issue and the note is mentioned in my book on page 397. I wrote back to Marlene and told her that I hate telling people when I already have items because sure enough they will find something I don't have, and think that I do, lol. 

What ever became of that artifact, and all the other letters published by Tanner and others, is unknown. I believe it was Alaska-Yukon magazine who actually lost many of the letters that Tanner had sent them to publish. 

Sadly Alaska Sportsman is no longer published. The old issues are a gold rush of historical bits and pieces. I have a lot of issues in my library but I am positive there are plenty of issues out there that contain Soapy Smith stories that I have never heard of. There are enough issues with items on Soapy and Skagway that I am tempted to buy every issue that comes my way in hopes of finding something I've missed.


New replica of Jeff Smith's Parlor, part III

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That's me looking in the hole where the two windows will go.

Wolfgang was out at the Whitehorse Ranch Tuesday through Thursday working on his replica of Jeff Smith's Parlor. The front planking, I found out, was cut by "Wolfgang" to match the location in the original photographs he is working from. He is determined to construct the replica as close to the original as possible, minus the length and inside. He is making it so that the building can be lengthened when the time comes as eventually I would love to see the insides replicated as well. You can visit Wolfgang's updated page on the Parlor HERE.    


December 9, 2010

Soapy Smith play money (1923-1938)

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Circa 1923-1938
(Side A)

(Click image to enlarge)
Circa 1923-1938
(Side B)

Play money to use for gambling has been a fun part of the annual Soapy Smith wakes (parties) in Skagway, Alaska and Hollywood, California for many years. A post on this blog from July 14, 2009 has videos that show some of the play money in action at the Hollywood event. The main website has a page on the wakes that shows the front and back of the modern day "Soapy bucks." I have several pieces in my personal collection and by far the one pictured at the top is the oldest I have, but perhaps not the first issue of the bills.

My connection at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park sent me the following about the above pictured $20.

Most accounts give 1923 as the beginning date for the "Days of '98" show which was initially started as a fund-raiser for the Skagway Hockey team. The musical pageant "Days of '98 Show" appears by 1926 (not sure what the difference was). As the steamers of the 1920s-1930s were often in port in Skagway for 36 hours, the passengers were an ideal audience for these early "Days of '98" shows. Those fund-raisers were first held at the White Pass Athletic Club, which also had a dance floor. I believe the club was located on 4th Avenue, east of Broadway before it was demolished. By 1938, the White Pass Athletic Club (with dance floor) was no longer in use. Not sure when the "Days of '98" show moved to the Eagles Hall.

Si Dennis, Jr., who played drums in the "Days of '98" show during the 1960s, looked at the photo and remembers money similar to this. The guests would gamble before the show for about half an hour using this play money. The person winning the most fake money got a statue of a prospector from Jack Kirmse. Si said they changed the money every 2-3 years probably as they ran out of the older fake money and he thinks this dated to before he worked there.

So, I would suggest that the money pictured probably dates to the time when the show was at White Pass Athletic Club (ca 1923-1938) given the "White Pass Dance Hall" imprinted on the fake money.

The "Midnight Sun" newspaper advertises the "Days of '98" show in the 1930s. Howard Clifford describes the beginnings of the "Days of 98" show in "The Skagway Story" (pages 164-65.).


Drawing of the Soapy Smith house in Denver, part II

I want some!

At the bottom of my post on Soapy's Denver house (December 7, 2010) I wrote,

It's not over yet. Our friend over at the Skagway Historical Society blog posted an article on December 2, 2010 about Colonel Thomas Childs Woodbury of the United States Army, whose father and grandfather were generals. Their names are not given but one has to wonder if General Roger Williams Woodbury is the father or grandfather? Oh how the small world turns.

Marlene from the Skagway Historical Society did some research and came up with the following she sent in an email.

Hi Jeff,

Here is the link to the site which lists his father and grandfather who attended West Point: Thomas Childs was his grandfather and Frederick Lynn Childs was his father - they are listed under the class of 1814. Thomas's father was Daniel Phineas Woodbury as was his grandfather, Daniel Woodbury born New Hampshire, married in North Carolina and died in Florida.

His 7Xg- grandfather Humphrey Woodbury came to the US in the mid-1600's (b. 1607 in England d. 1686 in Beverly Massachusettes) . Your Roger Woodbury's 6Xg- grandfather was also Humphrey Woodbury but his son was William and Thomas's was his brother, Thomas (1639-1717). Ok, I know, t.m.i. [too much information, lol] but the point is that yes, they are related but would be 7th cousins, I think, so .....this has been fun!

These records are all from the pedigree site on Familysearch.

Thank you very much Marlene. Indeed, this is fun!


December 7, 2010

A drawing of the Soapy Smith house in Denver

(Click image to enlarge)

 (Please also see Part II)

The above drawing was found in The History of the City of Denver, Arapahoe County, and Colorado (1880). It looks amazingly similar to the Smith home photograph below, although photographed some 10-years later.

(Click image to enlarge)

When I visited the Smith mansion in Coweta County, Georgia a few years ago I found that the builder reproduced several exact copies of the same house. This was, and still is, a common practice. Therefore it is possible that the drawing at top is not the same home in the photograph. I will attempt to verify this with Denver.

(Click image to enlarge)

The gentleman who owned the home before the Smirh's was General Roger Williams Woodbury. His obituary by Charles A. White has the best biography I could locate thus far.

Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Weld County): July 16, 1903, p. 4.

Old Colorado Pioneer Well Known in Greeley, Gone to Rest.

General Roger W. Woodbury of Denver died at Sedalia, Colo., Saturday night last. The writer knew General Woodbury from his boyhood days and played with him over half a century ago.

When the Civil war came upon the country, R. W. Woodbury enlisted in Co. A. Third New Hampshire volunteer infantry in the early part of August 1861, and on the return of the writer from the “three months service” hoisted his old home in Manchester, N. H., and on the 12 day of August, 1861, enlisted in Co. A of the above named regiment on the mustering of the regiment into the United States service both Woodbury and himself were made sergeants. With Sergeant Houghton and Morrill they tented together and were fats friends during those dark days. IN 1864 Morrill, then first lieutenant, while on staff duty was at the front, reading rebel signals and while doing so was mortally wounded and died a few days later at Fort Monroe. Houghton became captain and during the siege of Fort Wagner, Morris Island, S.C., he served on the staff of General H.H. Terry as aid-de-camp. Captain Houghton died in Denver May 13, 1903.

Soon after the regiment got into the field, Woodbury was detailed as clerk to Captain Schule, brigade commissary. He afterward served in the same capacity for Captain Morgan, chief commissary of the Port Royal expedition. In April, 1863,Woodbury was detailed as acting second lieutenant by regimental order and during the summer received his commission. He served buy a short time in the regiment before he received an order to report for staff duty. During the siege of Fort Wagner he served for a time as depot commissary. During the balance of his service, which terminated August 2, 1865, he served as ordnance officer on the staffs of Generals John W. Turner, Adelbart Annis and Alfred H. Terry. When General Terry looked about for an ordnance officer who possessed the requisite ability for so important a place, and selected Captain Woodbury for the place, notwithstanding he was then serving on General Annis’s staff as ordnance officer. Thus it will be seen that Captain Woodbury was for a time staff officer for two generals. General Terry considered Captain Woodbury one of the best staff officers in the corps.
On leaving the service Captain Woodbury went into the newspaper business and on his arrival in Colorado in 1866 he was for a time engaged in mining in Summit county, but finally with Deacon Walker bought out the Denver Tribune and conducted it for a time. IN the early 70’s the paper was sold I the course of a year he became owner of the Denver Times, which he conducted until he went into the banking business sometime in the 80’s.

He served as president of the Union and the Union National Bank for some years.
General Woodbury belonged to that class who believe in fair and honorable dealing. He had the confidence of the citizens of Denver and his loss will be deeply felt. The building up of the chamber of commerce of Denver was due, in a great measure, to his great business ability. His family has the sympathy of his many friends and associates.

It's not over yet. Our friend over at the Skagway Historical Society blog posted an article on December 2, 2010 about Colonel Thomas Childs Woodbury of the United States Army, whose father and grandfather were generals. Their names are not given but one has to wonder if General Roger Williams Woodbury is the father or grandfather? Oh how the small world turns.