April 7, 2011

Two Little Busted Shoes, a western poem.

Two Little Busted Shoes
(Click image to enlarge)

In my book I have several poems written by William DeVere, "Tramp Poet of the West",  onetime  manager and later owner of the Palace Theater in Denver. DeVere knew and liked Soapy in Denver and Creede. He captured the personal human sides of these tough old west gangsters. In the early days of the Creede silver camp it was known as Jimtown. One incident DeVere wrote about took place in Soapy's Orleans Club.  On September 12, 2010 I posted the entire poem here for your enjoyment. The following comes from my book, Alias Soapy Smith.

A Touch of Nature.

The Orleans Club at Jimtown,
    Colorado, ’92,
Was a joint where you could play all
    games from a split up to a blue.
And the gang that hung around the
    club I’ll say, ’twixt you and me,
Would hardly cut a figure at a Methodist Pink Tea.
There was “Big Ed Burns,” and “Crazy Horse,”
    “Jim Sanford,” “Windy Dick,”
“Tom Kady,” the shell juggler, “Joe Palmer,”
    pretty slick,
“Joe Simmons, who could deal the bank and never
    lose a check,
“Pete Burns,” “Jim Bolen,” and “Jeff Smith,”
    all high cards in the deck. [1-8]

In the poem, the speaker, presumably Devere himself, comes into the Orleans Club to retrieve something in the traveling trunk he had stored there.

I happened in one morning to investigate my trunk;
I’d left it in the barroom, for I slept up in a bunk,
For sleeping berths were limited, and I could name
    a few
Who have stood up in the corner in Jimtown in ’92. [25-28]

Some of Jeff’s men that morning are in a “kidding, chaffing, guying” … “good natured” mood (11), and they gather round Devere at his trunk to “josh and kid” (31). The levity ends when the trunk’s lid is lifted and seen is what the speaker’s wife had placed on top: “… two tiny little stockings and two little busted [open, empty] shoes” (38). These remembrances of the child and mother left behind at home go directly to the “great rough heart” (42) of the “gang that stood around” (41). From their silence, the speaker

knew their thoughts in retrospect, flew o’er the
western plain,
To their patient wives and little ones they might
not see again,
And I knew the violet splendor of the hills whereon
they roam,
Was mingling with the unshed tears for little ones
at home. [49-52]

The men are mesmerized and silent until the lid of the trunk is closed and locked again. Then one of them suggests they remove to the bar to “irrigate” (63) as if to regrow the carefree attitude that prevailed before the opening of the trunk.

And “Big Ed Burns” proposed that we should have
a toast or song,
But after each had filled his glass with
“Old Mcbrayer Booze,”
We drank to wives and children and those little
busted shoes.

Identified are some of the Denver Soap Gang members who followed Jeff to Creede and new men who joined him there: Crazy Horse, Jim Sanford, Windy Dick, Pete Burns, and Jim Bolen. The poem also tells a little about the way of things in Creede. For example, in terms of accommodation, because so many gang members are in the bar so early in the morning, apparently some of Jeff’s men slept in the Orleans Club. The poem also opens a window on the humanity of these men on the frontier, far from home and family. In their silent demeanor, the poet finds a common strain in “each great rough heart” (42) that leads him to write, “they were not bad men, and I mean just what I say” (57), at least not bad clear through. Devere had “tramped” with such men, worked with at least one member of the Soap Gang (James Thornton, the “Duke of Halstead”), and was apparently liked by them. They “kid and guy” with him. Perhaps one reason they liked him was because he empathized with their loneliness, wildness, loyalty to one another, and even the regret they sometimes knew. Further, Devere could give authentic voice to their experiences and feelings. If renderings of the poet were sentimental, even deep purple with sentimentality, that was no reason not to like the man or his work.

Some of the men's names I already have information and histories on but in September 2010 when I posted the entire poem I also published in on other history forums in hopes that others might know some some of the men's names (probable members of the Soap Gang) I had no information on, such as,

  • Crazy Horse
  • Jim Sanford
  • Windy Dick
  • Pete Burns
  • Jim Bolen

I seriously considered that some of the names might have been made up by DeVere for the luster of his poem but I did receive some nice responses.

Historian, Peter Brand writes,
Crazy Horse could be "Crazy Horse" Thompson who was around in the 1870s & 1880s. He was an associate of Big Ed Byrnes [Burns]. I think he was in Tombstone at the same time as Byrnes [Burns].

Kenny Vail writes,
Around this time frame there was newspaper reference to a Chicago confidence man named Jim Sanford. [Inter Ocean - 6/19/1892]

In 1895 operating in up-State New York there was a “gang of Western card sharps” working the trains. After being arrested they were identified as “Charles Elrid, alias Gilpin, one of the most notorious card sharps in the country….Chief Humprhrey states that Gilpin is the leader of a gang composed of Charles Baker, alias “Little Frenchy,” Charles Hagerman, John Paton, alias Payton; “Jim Sanford, “Doc” Jackson, “Judge” Thurston and several other noted operators, who have been working the railroads round about Chicago for several years, and are now trying to extend their operations toward New York…" [New York Herald - 8/17/1895]

Historian, Bob Cash writes,
From the September 5, 1879 issue of the Dodge City Globe article "A Day of Carnival": ...Upon the sidewalks ran streams of blood of brave men, and the dead and wounded wrestled with each other like butchered whales on harpooning day. The "finest work" and neatest polishes were said to have been executed by Mr. Wyatt Earp, who has been our efficient assistant marshal for the past year.

The finest specimen of a polished head and ornamented eyes was bestowed upon "Crazy Horse". It is said that his head presented the appearance of a clothes basket, and his eyes, like ripe apples could have been knocked off with stick. He was last seen walking up the railroad track, on his way to Las Vegas [New Mexico]...

Historian and professional genealogist, Gay Mathis writes,
There was a "Windy Dick" Richard Preston who was a pick pocket who operated on trains, etc..among other things.. 

1892: Soapy sells the Orleans Club.
1892: Lou Blonger’s gaming house at 1741 Larimer is shut down due to a “systematic bunco game was being carried on at this joint, and that the unwary were being roped in by the wholesale.”

Jeff Smith


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