February 7, 2011

Fugitive Soapy Smith borrows $1,725: Artifact #28.

(Click image to enlarge)

The year 1895 marks the year Soapy lost control of his beloved city of Denver. It all came to a head on the night of April 21. During a night of heavy drinking when Soapy and younger brother Bascomb paid a visit to the brothel of Jenny Rogers who was hosting the police chief George Goulding and some of his “friends.” A fight broke out but the true details vary in the newspapers as to what happened, and why. Tom Sewall, proprietor of the Side Line Saloon was cracked over the head with the pistol butts from both brothers.

Not being placed under arrest, the brothers decided to check out the Blonger saloon where they argued and apparently tried to pick fights until a police officer escorted them out. From there they made their way into the Arcade Clubrooms where “Sheeny Charley” Lorje (or Lorge) got the worst of the Smith brother rage.

When Arcade Clubroom (gambling hall) proprietor, John “Square-Shooter” Hughes tried to stop the attack the two brothers transferred their efforts onto the cranium of Hughes. Later that night the Smith brothers were arrested and then released when word was given that no one would file charges. The following day Hughes recovered from the assault enough to file charges and the brothers were once again arrested and this time they stayed arrested. Charges of “assault to kill” were filed. Bascomb was sentenced to one-year in prison but Soapy skipped out on his bondsmen, thus officially becoming a fugitive from Denver justice.

Soapy had lost his Denver empire and although he ran great risk of being imprisoned he periodically returned to the city on personal and business affairs, most likely trying to get Bascomb out of jail on bonds so that they could flee the state and settle elsewhere. Soapy’s dealings with the police and the courts were front-page headliners in the city for weeks while he dealt with attorneys to reappear in court for the charge against him. In the mean time Soapy traveled around the western states and south down into Mexico adding some fantastic adventures to his already incredible story, including a gunfight and arrest in Houston, Texas, and a bullfight connection Gillette, Colorado, just outside of Cripple Creek.

On November 18, 1895 Soapy borrowed $1,725 from the First National Bank of Denver where he had an account. Three months later, on February 19, 1896, during one of his foolishly brave sneaks back into the city he borrowed another $1,725 from his bank. In 1895 borrowing $1,725.00 is the equivalent of borrowing $53,780.00 today.

Records show that seven-month’s later; Jeff paid back the amount in full. On the same day Jeff took out the second loan, he was leaning against a building’s stone pillar on the corner of Larimer and Sixteenth streets when Parson Thomas Uzzell happen to walk by. The parson gasped and extended his hand in friendship as the two men knew each other well. The following day’s Evening Post reported their conversation.

“I never drink—no more.” Said Soapy.
“The Lord be praised,” said the parson.
“Where you hail from?” asked Soapy.
“The vineyard of the Lord!” said the parson.
“Your breath don’t show it.” Remarked the pseudo gambler. “Dear parson, you must excuse me, I’m in a fearful hurry—mining business. I’ll call on you at the tabernacle in the very near future. Goodbye. May the Lord bless you. Amen.” And Soapy hurried up the street. Uzzell continued the story by telling the reporter how in 1892 in Creede Jeff had helped him retrieve his stolen money after he had been robbed while sleeping in his hotel room.

Considering that the newspapers in Denver were plastered for weeks with the stories of Soapy’s escape from justice there is extremely little doubt that the First National Bank of Denver did not know that Soapy was in deep trouble and that there was a good chance he would never return to Denver, or be imprisoned. In either case the bank might have had a hard time getting any of their money back. yet his credit with his bank was good enough that he was able to obtain the loan, even with his reputation. On top of everything there appears to be no record of collateral in the loans.

Artifact #28: page 406.


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