May 3, 2011

More selections from Tara Kane

One of the most amazing things I found from reading the novel, Tara Kane was authors, George Markstein and Jacqui Lyons remarkable ability to figure Soapy Smith out. To be able to predict how he would act, what he might say, and do in certain situations. You have to remember that these two authors had no preconceived knowledge of Soapy and the only book they had was sparse in details. Yet time and again they correctly imagined what the real Soapy was like. They knew very little to nothing of Soapy's family life, his parents nor that he was married with children. They did not know Soapy kept somewhat of a scrapbook with all his letters, correspondences and business documents, but they imagined that he would...

One of the enjoyable parts of the book for me was when Tara comes across Soapy's scrapbook in his office.

… Tara sat sipping her coffee, unsure of what she should do until Smith came back. She got up and wandered about the room. On Smith’s desk lay a big leather album, bound in red morocco, with his initials embossed in gold on it. Idly, she began reading it.

Before her unfolded the making of Jefferson Smith. Or, at least clues to his life. There were photographs, newspaper clippings, even leaflets. Page after page of mementos, articles, stories, even small paragraphs, clipped out of dozens of papers and periodicals. Only a man with an enormous ego could have so painstakingly kept such a collection. She could visualize him, cigar clamped between his teeth, cutting out each item, and carefully pasting it into the album, beaming.

There were faded photographs of an elderly couple. His parents, Tara guessed: the father, white-haired with a goatee, proud, very much the gentleman; and the woman, dignified, handsome. Hard to believe that the offspring of the genteel, even aristocratic-looking couple was the notorious Soapy Smith.

There was another photograph of the old man, even more yellowed, in the uniform of an officer of the Confederate Army.

On a page by itself was a very old postcard-sized picture of a magnificent colonial mansion. It was not hard to imagine the carriages pulling up in front of it, the guests mingling on the lawn. Was this where Smith grew up?

There were photos of Smith himself: one as a little boy, in lace, looking so angelic that Tara had to giggle; another of him, a grown man, in a flamboyant uniform, presumably playing his role as an officer in the Mexican Army. A crumbled and half-torn photograph showed young Jefferson Smith, sporting a deputy’s badge no less. He was smiling broadly.

Many of the clippings appeared to date from 1892. One of the earlier ones was a curious article suggesting that Smith had avenged the killing of Jesse James by setting up Bob Ford, the man who had shot James in the back ten years previously.

In Denver, Smith had apparently lectured to a learned body of academics about the evils of gambling. According to the newspaper report of the gathering, “Mr. Jefferson Smith, a well-known social worker, described an establishment he ran as ‘an educational institution affording its patients release from the curse of gambling.’ No one, Mr. Smith explained, had a chance of winning, and this taught them the folly of indulging in gambling.” Tara arched her eyebrows. It sounded familiar to her. The amazing thing was that, according to the clippings, a body as respectable as the Keeley Institute had actually consulted Smith about his “scientific findings.”

There were clippings from the silver-mining town of Creede on other pages. Smith had become a leading member of the community, apparently dabbling in politics. But he left the town without being given the benefit of a big write-up. Or at least, that clipping was missing.

The album left Tara with a mixed impression of Jefferson Smith. A man, apparently from a well-to-do family, who had roamed all over the place, involving himself in all kinds of activities, sailing near the wind more than a few times. A man who loved play-acting, dressing up in uniforms, having his picture taken.

A man who now had made the Yukon his kingdom.

Behind that smooth, debonair exterior was a fine brain. Smith, despite the rackets he operated, the gang he ran, had ability, vision, nerve. If only he could apply his wit, his intelligence, to a good purpose.

Artwork from the Readers
Digest condensed version

April 29, 2011
April 28, 2011

Jeff Smith


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