April 14, 2011

Soapy Smith 1892 lot protection agreement. Artifact #31.

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Artifact #31 from my personal collection is a handwritten, signed lot protection racket document from Creede, Colorado February 27, 1892.

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In the early days of most every new silver or gold rush camp lot jumping was a serious problem. Miners and businessmen came to the camps and purchased a lot or two to build a home or business on. Building took time. The newer the camp the longer it might be due to a lack of ready materials and trained builders. Miners in a hurry to get to the mother lode might leave the lot as is. Business owners would have to leave the lot unattended to go to where contractors and building supplies might be had. Leaving an unattended lot could be "jumped" by another and built upon before the original owner returned. Possession is often considered in a court of law unless proper proof can be shown as to the true owner. Confidence men often sold and resold lots, that were not theirs to sell, as many times as they possibly could before leaving the camp. Courts had their hands full with cases in which numerous parties claimed ownership. Documents were forged and backdated to protect the crooks if caught, which only made things worse for the original owner who could easily lose his case.

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Honest lot protection firms were called for but few are known to have existed. Instead, men like Soapy utilized their power to honestly protect lots ... for a price. Not all lot owners felt the need for such protection at first, but might be quickly convinced to pay the price when having to physically fight off a staged lot jumping by members of the Soap Gang. Seeing the great need, they were often forced to pay a higher fee because of the "obvious danger" presented in protecting this particular lot.

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In modern times house squatting of empty homes for sale has become a legal, time-consuming problem. So much so that real estate agents are hiring house watchers, or allowing people to stay in homes that are hard sells, so that squatters don't move-in. Another modern problem is confidence gangs renting a vacant home to honest renters, only to have the original owner show up to find someone has moved into their home.    

The above document is between Soapy and a George Patterson, which reads as follows,

This Agreement made and entered into this twenty seventh day of February A.D. 1892 by and between Geo J. Patterson of Creede Colorado party of the first part and Jeff Smith, Will Henry and C. H. Davis all of Creede, Colorado parties of the second part: Witnesseth That the said party of the first part for and in consideration of services to be performed herein-after mentioned and stipulated by the said second parties does covnaut [covenant] and agree to and with the second parties aforesaid that in case the lots belonging to the said first party and others lying west and south of the D and R. G. [Denver and Rio Grande] depot in South Creede shall be protected from lot jumpers to the best endeavors of the said second parties, then and in that event the party of the first part agrees to pay the said second parties one half of all proceeds arising from the sale of any or all of the aforesaid lots immediately upon the conclusion of such sale.

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The said first party further agrees to bear all expense of preparing said lots for sale and the proper holding of the same such as lumber for foundations and expenses of laying same.

The said second parties agree to use due diligence in protecting the aforesaid lots from trespassers.

Witnessed our hands and seals this 27th day of February A. D. 1892

Geo J. Patterson [Seal]
Will Henry [Seal]
Jeff. R. Smith [Seal]
C. H. Davis [Seal]

Will Henry is unknown at this time but C. H. Davis is a member of the Soap Gang.

Artifact #31: page 222.

Jeff Smith


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