May 29, 2011

Soap Gangster, Henry Edwards, alias "Yank V. Fewclothes."

(Click image to enlarge)

One of my favorite members of the Soap Gang is Henry Edwards, alias "Yank V. Fewclothes," also known as the "Poet Laureate of Seventeenth Street."

(The following is from Alias Soapy Smith)

Henry Edwards, born 1848, was a dealer in honey and beeswax when Jeff brought him into the Soap Gang as a steerer (booster, capper, shill). Edwards’ business card lists the names of Yank V. Fewclothes and Guy Rich, “Dealers in pure honey and beeswax.” The address is the Windsor hotel and gives a telephone number as “Main 182.” On the back of the card in pencil is what appears to be a reference from Jeff: “Yank is a great fellow. Jeff.” This is believed to have been written by Jeff when he left Denver for the last time in 1895. No account of “Guy Rich” has been found. With the pun-like names on the business card, “Fewclothes and Rich,” possibly “Rich” was a fictitious partner. Edwards signed all of his correspondence to Jeff “Yank Fewclothes.”

According to a 1931 newspaper article, Edwards’ alias aptly described his dress.

He never wore a coat; A homespun vest, nondescript pants, a dark heavy cotton shirt with a cravat tied under the collar, made up his wearing apparel, but he was always genial, soft spoken, and easy to meet.… He could be as coy and secretive as a school girl, when it suited his purpose; but he insisted that he was a straight shooter under all circumstances.

Edward's job was to give "insider tips" to an intended victim on how to win at the particular game the victim was trying to buck. He and his wife Hi-Ki became close friends with Soapy and his wife Mary. When the Smith's were not in Denver the Edward's lived in the Smith home.

In my collection are several original letters, as well as copies of others from Edwards, like the following, published here for the very first time.

Ingersol Club
1653 Larimer Street
Denver, Colo.
Nov. 3rd, 1895
Friend Jeff:

Yours of Oct. 30th at hand, and was pleased to hear from you. Have just returned from a visit to Ba’s [Bascomb]. His case came up at west side court yesterday, but was postponed until next Saturday, the 9th inst. He does not wish to be tried for this case till his present term has been served. Has employed Messrs. Hilton & Walker as counsel, and they think they will be able to have it put off, if they are not successful in having this case quashed altogether. He is looking well, and weighs 159 lbs., but is very anxious to regain his liberty. Received a letter from Bowers, who promised to send him fifty dollars, but the money had not come. He must have money in order to have the lawyers work for him. I hope you will use good horse sense and judgment, and not get into the same box he is in. Things are in a worse shape than when you were here. It is no use trying to live here, unless you have money as people are talking about what is due them, and say they must have it. Hard times is the cry. There does not seem to be any money in this election. Plenty of double crossing going on. Baker says that some people will not be able to square their accounts, and will stay closed. He told me that he had written you. Watrous said he would write you, and hopes you will make some money before you come back. With kind regards and best wishes, as ever


In honor of his boss Edwards supposedly wrote the following poem.

How Are You Fixed for Soap?

A handsome gent steps out to talk,
His voice can be heard away a block;
These words we hear as he hollers his wares
At the crossing of the thoroughfares:

"How are you fixed for soap? boys,
How are you fixed for soap?
Move on up to the box, boys,
How are you fixed for soap?

"Take your choice among the lot,
Invest a five for a hundred spot;
Fat’s a-fryin’, come on the lope
And pick out your cube of lucky soap!

"Be a sport there! Show the bunch
You ain’t a-scairt to play a hunch!
Any poor rube with an eye that’s quick,
Can grab a winner and turn the trick.

"Don’t shy away from soap, boys,
Don’t shy away from soap;
Use your brains and snatch the gains;
Don’t shy away from soap!

When Jeff had police officers under his pay, he could be notified in advance that trouble was on the way. Sometimes no advance warning system was available, so Jeff would send a member of the gang into police headquarters to file a fake report in order to spy any complaints being made against Jeff. As reported in the Denver Evening Post, one day this practice backfired on Jeff when gang member Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards went to police headquarters “to inquire about his pet dog,” which really had been lost. The cause of what happened next was that Yank “was known as a friend of Smith’s….”

The lieutenant in charge of the office at the time immediately concluded that “Yank” was there for the purpose of finding out if someone who had just been buncoed had complained, and that he had not lost the dog at all. So the lieutenant sent for “Soapy,” had him arrested on the charge of “suspicion,” and held him for two hours, waiting for someone to come in and complain about him. No one came and “Soapy” was released.

I have in my personal collection one of his business cards (artifact #47) in which Soapy wrote on the back, as a business reference, "Yank is a great fellow."

His loyalty to Soapy remained strong long after Soapy had cashed in his chips. Fifteen years after his boss was dead Edward's still spoke kindly of him to newspaper reporters. In a 1914 interview, he spoke candidly about his friendship with Jeff.

I never talk much about Jeff Smith. He was the warmest hearted man I ever knew and writers … always get things mixed and paint up the bad side of his career. He never threw down a pal. I never talk about him except to warn young persons from gambling. Never gamble, if you would respect yourself. It makes you treacherous and spoils friendships. If you will let vice alone and put your energies in other directions you cannot fail.

He died with many good deeds to his credit, as well as the other kind, but it is always the bad things he did which people remember. He loved his wife Mollie … and his family. He was never cruel and used to give back money lots of times when he had worked on somebody who really needed it badly. There wasn’t a stingy bone in his body….

Smith’s personal bravery was never questioned. He feared neither police departments nor things of the mining frontier. For twenty years he was the prize bunco steerer of the West and his bunco games were masterpieces of their kind….

Smith had a bright sense of humor. Although a desperado, his deeds of kindness would have done credit to any man. A man in want was never turned down by Jeff…. He often risked being thrown in jail to help a pal out of trouble.

Smith was not strong physically or of commanding appearance but he was always a leading personality in a mining camp and many a man breathed easier when the word came that ‘Soapy’ Smith died here with his boots on and a cigar in his mouth.

April 11, 2010

Henry Edwards: pages 50, 52-53, 80, 92, 111-12, 172, 232, 243, 258, 386, 388-89, 395-96, 422, 582, 589, 592, 595.

1892: Bob Ford opens a dance hall in Creede, Colorado. The hall is destroyed by fire 7 days later and Ford is murdered 10 days later. Not a good month for Bob.
1898: Mattie Silks claims she hears Soapy, Bill Tener and the U.S. deputy marshal dividing up money taken from Ella Wilson, the murdered prostitute, and discussing doing the same to Silks.

Jeff Smith


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