April 11, 2011

Barbara Meeks, Sue Henry, and Soapy Smith

(Click image to enlarge)

Most people who come across Soapy's history and wish to contact me don't have too difficult of a time being able to find me. Googling Soapy Smith or Alias Soapy Smith is the easiest way as my sites are number one on most search engines. Searching for Jeff Smith doesn't work so well as there are far more famous Jeff's in the search engines listed and I didn't bother seeing how far back I was listed.  Most people also search regarding recent events so everything is fresh and new, but what happens when the information they are working with isn't so fresh?

Every now and again someone finds me using a little elbow work Today, I'd like to introduce to you, Barbara Meek, a persistent elbow-er, who brightened up not only my day, but that of an author I worked with back in 1996 whom I haven't talked to since the late 1990s. A new friend is made and an old one rekindled. 

A number of days ago I received the following email,

I have a Sony e-book and tried to find your book The True Story of Jefferson Randolph Smith by Jefferson Randolph Smith III. But I couldn't find it in the Reader Library. The only book they had on this subject is Klondike. Can you please do whatever it takes to get your books in this library.

Thank you,
Barbara Meek

When I read the email the first time I thought it was the beginning introduction to a sales pitch from someone at the Reader Library trying to get me to shell out the money to have my book placed in their eBook sales listings. I'm not a fan, let alone knowledgeable, of eBooks yet. I'm one of those die-hards who like to hold my books. I also understand that footnotes and source listing are an ongoing issue that raise the prices for eBooks. Being a historian who loves to research my books footnotes I am not ready to give that up just to have my book on a contraption. I'm sure people said that very sentence about most great new devices. Hell, I remember wondering why people would ever need a computer in their homes. Oh God, I'm old! I digress...

I wondered where Barbara got the idea that the name of my book was The True Story of Jefferson Randolph Smith, and that my name was Jefferson Randolph Smith III. The latter made me think of Cathy Spude who continues to call me that, knowing full well it's not my name. Regarding the title, I just figured Barbara forgot the true title as she was typing the email to me. I always respond to my emails and did so with Barbara's.
Hello, Barbara.

The name of my book is, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel by Jeff Smith (I'm not Jefferson Randolph Smith III). There are currently no plans to put my book on ebook. From what little I understand about ebooks placing all my footnotes, etc. would be cost prohibitive. My publisher is a smaller firm in Juneau, Alaska. I'm very sorry but the only way you will be able to read my book is to do it the old fashion way. Books can be ordered in several ways. Click this LINK to see more. You might enjoy the page even if you don't plan on buying a book.

If there is anything else can help you with please don't hesitate to write.

Jeff Smith

Barbara did not hesitate to write,

Hello, Jeff,

Ok, thanks, I will do this. Where I received my information was from a book called Death Takes Passage by Sue Henry. It mentioned on page 79 that Jefferson Randolph "Jeff Smith, IV, Soapy Smith's great grandson wrote the book The True Story of Jefferson Randolph Smith. Just so I know, is this incorrect information?
Thank you for this information. I'll be ordering your book soon.

Thank you again,
Barbara Meek

That email explained everything to me. I went through my library and found my sacred copy of Death Takes Passage and all those long-gone memories of writing and talking with Sue Henry came flooding back to me. That period of my life from 1996-1998 was fantastic. The Klondike gold rush centennial was being planned and executed and Soapy and I were right there in the mix. I was invited to be one of the few passengers on the Spirit of 98 during it's reenactment of bringing a ton of gold into Seattle. The reenactment included actually bringing a ton of gold into Seattle on that ship one hundred years to the day. The Washington State Museum in Tacoma asked and received from me, a loan of several artifacts of Soapy's for a room devoted to him during a special exhibit on the history of the gold rush. This kept me from being on the ship but enabled me to make the trip to Seattle and be on the docks when the ton of gold arrived! I have always believed Soapy was there on the docks when the original ship, the Portland arrived into Seattle July 17, 1897. It was a great time, which you can read about and see some photographs I took on a page devoted to the event.

I now understood where Barbara was coming from and told her so.   

Hi, Barbara.

Ok, now I know where you're coming from. That is me depicted in the book. I wanted to be the bad guy in the end but Sue's publisher felt there might be legal issues so I ended up as an unknowing pawn in the books heist. The book was written in 1997 and my book did not come out until 2009. In 97 I did not have a title yet, lol. Thank you for sharing that with me, it will probably make the pages of my blog, if you don't mind.

... Sue Henry did her very best to base her fictional story around a real event. I was actually supposed to be on that ship during the ton of gold reenactment but a museum loan and offer beat them out of my commitments. In fact, because the museum was in Tacoma I made arrangements to spend the day in Seattle and met the ship coming into dock. Soapy very well might have been in Seattle down on that dock in 1897.

Sue and I talked over via mail and telephone numerous times to get her facts straight. The changes made were not the fault of hers. At the time I thought my book would be completed by the time hers came out. I was only off by 12 years!

Jeff Smith

You can preview Death Takes Passage at this link. Page 20 is where I am introduced and my character begins

Barbara writes,

Hi, Jeff,

Yes, Sue is an excellent writer and I absolutely love her books, as I love Alaska. I do understand about her research vs your research. And I know she tried her best to be totally accurate. I know you missed a real treat by missing that particular boat ride, but know it was enjoyable to meet the ship in Seattle. You're right, Soapy may have been there in 1897. I think it would be an honor to meet you and discuss your research/book and also to meet Sue. I am so glad she writes books around the AK area.

First, to try to find you and the book, I went to the Reader Library for my e-book. This did display a book by another author about Soapy, other characters back then and about the Klondike. but I wanted to read your book since you are directly related to Soapy and I know the facts would be, without a doubt, correct. I'm not saying the other author isn't correct, but I know you definitely are. . But, you're right, I found you by Googling "Soapy Smith" and it referred you to me.

Barbara Meek

Barbara ordered my book and her and I have continued to write to one-another everyday since.  In one of the conversations we discussed Sue Henry and how Barbara really wanted to let her know how much she enjoyed her books. I looked through my files from 1996 and found a letter from Sue that had her phone number. It has been 16 years since I last talked with her on the phone and naturally figured there was a good chance the phone number was no longer correct. Amazingly, it was! I told Sue about her special admiring fan, Barbara and Sue wanted me to make sure I told her that she really appreciated her devotion. Sue wanted Barbara to know that her latest book will be out hopefully in the fall of this year. Sue and I then caught up on old times and what has happened since. It was real nice to talk with her again. In fact, Death Takes Passage now sits on my nightstand where I am enjoying it as much as I did when I first received it.

In Barbara, I think I've found a life-long member of Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith, as well as a personal friend.

Jeff Smith


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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