April 27, 2011

Whit Haydn on Soapy Smith

The three-card monte man

Pop, alias friend, Whit Haydn came up with one of the simplest explanations of Soapy's ways and means that I have ever heard. I repeat it here for your enjoyment, thought, and comment.

Note: Whit is speaking in first person, as if he is actually talking to Soapy. (This is done with Whit's character "Pop" and my character, "Jefferson Randolph Smith II" profiles on Facebook)  

Well, I think you represented in many ways the man of your times. People had a get rich quick mentality. Get while the gettin' is good. Do unto others before they do unto you. Everybody is responsible for himself. If you bought a bad horse,... you shoulda' knowed better. If you lost money in a card game to a professional gambler and cheat, "you went and got yourself skinned." If someone was goaded into a fight with a professional gunman, "He went and got hisself killed." The attitude was that you had to be smart, know what is going on, and be able to take care of yourself. This is a world for survivors and rugged individualists. Soapy was in many ways, an expression of everything around him. I think in many ways, his was the spirit of the times.

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  1. Very well stated Friend Whit! Those years [1890's].... obviously were special 'times'. Times that called for 'resourceful survival'...after the 'Panic'.

    Whit...may I ask you a question? You certainly are recognized as an authority on the 'Fast and Loose' game or 'Endless Chain' as it is sometimes called. Whit.....do you have any knowledge of this 'game' being used in any of the Klondike Gold Rush towns?
    Being an aficianado of Fast & Loose myself...I just can't believe that this wonderful 'game':) was not at least 'partially' as popular as the 'Shell Game' during the era. Thank-you in advance for any info.
    All the best.

  2. It was certainly a game done during that era. I would be surprised if it was not done in Skaguay, as it was done on the wharfs in San Francisco in the late 1890's, but I have not heard of anyone doing it in the Gold Rush. Most of these guys knew lots of different scams and games. Pete Biro told me once of a millionaire friend of his from Hong Kong who had grown up on the streets. He was showing a group the three card monte at a table in a restaurant. When the waiter told him he would have to put the cards away, he took off his belt and began demonstrating the strap--an older version of Fast and Loose. I think the con men who worked for Soapy were like that--experienced and knowledgeable of all the major scams. The Strap and On the Barrelhead were probably both used in the Gold Rush, but I wouldn't know how to prove it. No one could call you on it.


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