February 19, 2011

The charitable Soapy Smith.

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Friends member, Rich, reminded me that Soapy had a lot of good deeds to his name as well as the bad ones. I have been meaning for some time to create a page on the main website that deals with the two counter sides of Soapy, the good and the bad. Below is a beginning charity table to compete/compliment the violence table I posted a short time ago.

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No amount of good deeds can undo Soapy’s criminal record. Does this unforgiving rule apply to his good deeds as well? Does his monstrous bad side leak dishonor and evil onto his good deeds? Are his good deeds meaningless? The answer might come from those many he helped.

Soapy had motives for making conspicuous charitable contributions, including public relations and the pleasure of receiving plaudits from the public and his peers. Many of these acts, however, also occurred under cover of night and through the rear doors of charities, and were not generally known. So many of them were one-on-one encounters that were never recorded. Decades after Soapy’s death, word of some of these other contributions surfaced.

If a good person with no criminal record gives money to charity, that contribution is considered honorable. If a good person with a criminal record gives money to the same charity, then that contribution is still good, but only depending on how bad the criminal record is. If a bad man with a criminal record gives to the very same charity then suddenly the contribution is no longer as honorable.

Does charity depend on one’s motives? When large corporations give donations they do so to make themselves look good and for tax credits. Does their contribution mean less because of their motives?

The following quotes definitely belong on a complete list of charitable acts performed by Soapy Smith, however, they don’t adhere to the table as they are general statements of overall charitable acts rather than one precisely dated incident.


"With all the hard name that 'Soapy' bore in the west, he was one of the most generous men I ever knew." (Denver businessman) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 52.

"There isn’t a man in this town, who gives more to the poor than I do." (Soapy) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 72.

"We saw him on Christmas mornings presenting dressed turkeys to a long line of hundreds of the very poor at Seventeenth and Market, a wholesale commission house keeping open to supply the big birds." (Joseph Emerson Smith, no relation) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 136.

"Every Christmas morning when happiness seemed only for the rich, he would buy a barrel of dressed turkeys and stand on the street corner. He would give one of the turkeys to every man who came along that had the appearance of being poor. When one barrel was gone he would get another and would put in the day in this occupation. He made many a home happy by doing this. Last year [1897] was the first time he missed giving something to all the poor people he met, and there is little doubt that his absence was noted more than that of any other one man who lived in Denver. Families who had not had a square meal in months got one on Christmas through the kindness of Smith." (Denver Evening Post) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 136.

"Jeff was one of the most kind-hearted men that ever lived. I will venture that there is scarcely a big city in the country where you couldn’t find some man that could tell you of a good act that Jeff Smith had done him. In his palmy days in Denver and Creede, he gave away money recklessly to almost any applicant. When hard times came to Denver, … with a well-known priest, he organized a score of free-lunch stands, and every sport in town was assessed at what Smith thought a reasonable figure. None of them demurred to giving up [a contribution], and nobody went hungry during that adverse period." (R. M. Eddy) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 137.

"According to Parson Uzzell, over eleven years, Jeff gave him $1,500 to $2,000, the equivalent of $44,355 to $59,140 today." (Parson Thomas Uzzell-Rocky Mountain News, 1896) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 137.

"Soapy was a good fellow, not half bad, not more than half bad anyhow. He would cheat you out of your shirt while you watched him, but he was the most liberal fellow I ever knew, and many a down-and-outer thanked the man for the cheerful giver he was." (R. M. Eddy) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 137.

"The answer she received was so immediate and hearty as to almost bewilder her. First he gave her a sum of money which would keep her from want for some time to come." (Rocky Mountain News, 11/11/1893) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 291.

"Jeff was mindful of how aiding the poor, needy, and desperate of Denver helped his reputation. These acts, though, usually showed little, if any, calculation. They were too often spontaneous, anonymous, or mixed in with the sponsorship of others to be clearly open to the charge of being self-serving. Those who really knew Jeff and how ingrained in him was the belief that he had the right to take suckers for all they had, looked at his charitable acts with suspicion or wonder, if not disbelief. How could a consummate, life-long confidence man with a determined and sometimes ruthless gang also be a generous benefactor?

While some did not believe Jeff’s acts of generosity, Jeff apparently did. He performed them regularly and with conviction as part of his business persona, one he regarded as having such public standing and character that he thought it appropriate to seek elected office." –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 291.

"I do not know that I will ever see you again on this earth, but I do know that one who has to my own knowledge so generously and so munificently helped the poor, relieved the distressed and encouraged the weak, will not be among the damned, whatever his short comings may be." (Judge James B. Belford) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 292.

"… during the days that followed when hungry men were roaming the streets and wealthy property holders were nervous and unable to decide upon a course to pursue, he not only took large sums of money from his pocket to assist Rev. Thomas Uzzell in feeding them, but in many ways quieted those who were talking of pillaging the town." (Denver Mercury, March 1894) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 294.

"I never knew anything about Jeff Smith only what my husband had said [about] his being the king of the gamblers, and that naturally made me afraid of him. Well, you remember that night when Parson Uzzell was giving out loaves of bread to all the hungry people? I went to the [People’s] Tabernacle one night, but I got there too late. Every loaf of bread was gone, and not a penny in the house. I don’t know what I was doing only standing alone when a gentleman came close up to me and … pushed a piece of paper in my hand, and before I could even talk, he said: Take that, lady, it will get you all the bread you want.

I turned to say thank you, sir, but he was gone…. I am only a woman, but I have got a vote and so has my husband, and anybody who does an act like that for us shows that they have hearts that are in the right place, and I think that they are better than the people who abuse them." (Denver Mercury, April 1894) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 329.

"He is generous—far more so than many bankers we can mention." (The Road, April 1895) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 376.

"He made fortune after fortune and spent it all in riotous living and in good deeds, for it must be said of 'Soapy' that no hungry man ever asked aid of him and was refused." (San Francisco Examiner, Feb. 25, 1898) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 464.

"It was the same way with down-and-outers who came back over the trail. He would bawl them out for being hungry and for not coming to him sooner. He would then see the stranger out of trouble. He would do all these things, and yet he would not scruple an instant to rob a prospector of his gold and send him away a pauper. It all depended on how the stranger came to him." (Stephan Stephans) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 481.

"Soapy kept many a poor man from starving to death." (Dr. J. S. McCue) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 589.

Jeff had “accounts at the merchants’ stores for provisions and fuel for the needy people here” and that they “amount to several hundreds dollars a week.” Additionally, the visitor learned that Jeff paid “for the funerals of friendless persons, and I can assure you that that is no small item. What are you going to make out of a character like that?” (Joseph T. Cornforth) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 591.

"Soapy Smith had his faults but there are many men in Denver who were at one time hungry and looking for a dime, who will remember that his heart and purse were always open to the poor. Perhaps the good lord will remember all those little kindnesses as well as will the beneficiaries." (Denver Times, 07/21/1898) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 591.

"When the recording angel makes up his ledger with Jefferson (Soapy) Smith, there will be innumerable works of charity to be recorded in his favor." (Leadville Herald Democrat, 07/17/1898) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 591.

"I never talk much about Jeff Smith. He was the warmest hearted man I ever knew and writers … always get things mixed and paint up the bad side of his career.

… He died with many good deeds to his credit, as well as the other kind, but it is always the bad things he did which people remember." (Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 592.

"Although a desperado, his deeds of kindness would have done credit to any man. A man in want was never turned down by Jeff." (Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards) –Alias Soapy Smith, p. 592.



  1. Excellent compilation of good deeds and positive comments about JRS II....and I am sure there are many more.
    Certainly...JRS II committed crimes and fleeced many suckers. Sure...he also probably engaged in some acts of charity for personal leverage.

    However, it is my firm belief that JRS II TRULY had a 'good heart' when it came to folks who were down and out. No phoniness there! No self service there!
    I would bet that if Jeff fleeced someone of all their funds, a person...say, who was at the 'end of his rope' [ so to speak ], and was only taking a foolish chance to raise some cash to care for his own family....and Jeff later discovered the mans desperate situation...Jeff probably would have returned the guys losses...and more! That's 'action from a 'good heart'.
    I believe this innate selective benevolence by Jeff...may have stemmed from the fact that he was a 'sure thing man'. To wit: [ I paraphrase ] "I am not a gambler...a gambler takes chances". lol
    Jeff knew that he was alway's in control of the outcome when it came to his con's. I believe his charitable nature 'may' have been a little less so...had he not had such expertise in the bunco arts. Still charitable from the heart...mind you.....but without the element of 'certainty'....of continued success.

  2. Friend Rich.

    A well thought-out and written comment you made there.

    It is harder for me, as opposed to others, to publish posts about the good side of Soapy due to the fact that I'm family. Many often assume I'm being biased. This is why it has taken me so long to do so.

    ...and Rich, you would positively win that bet about Soapy returning money to those dupes who could not afford to lose it. There are numerous confirmed reports of such acts, but I did not include them on the table as I do not consider charity; A kind act indeed, but not charity.

    Jrff Smith


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