May 7, 2011

These men are not Soapy Smith.

Not Soapy Smith

There are a few photographs that appear when Googling Soapy Smith that are not Soapy. The problem with this is that others tend to use the photographs thinking it is Soapy and before long the photographs become ingrained and undoing the damage is next to impossible. Take a close look at some of the more well known characters of the old west, such as Wyatt Earp, and you will find numerous photographs people use to identify him, that are not him.

The Bertillon photo at the top of the page is not Soapy Smith. It has been used by a person known only as "Spill Guy." Several years ago, and again in April 2010 he posted the photo in a list of the ten most famous confidence men in history. While I am thrilled that he included Soapy in the list at number 6, the photo is not of Soapy. I have written to him at least twice and he refuses to respond. As I have never seen the photo listed anywhere else I can only guess that he knows the person who owns the photo or he owns it himself and does not want to hear from me for obvious reasons.

Altered Soapy

The above photo is perhaps the most used photograph of Soapy. It is Soapy but it has been altered. Believed to have been done in the 1960s the artist wanted to depict Soapy in a bad man's black hat and took a known photo of him and gave him one.

Because of the low-end artwork involved in giving Soapy a black hat, the often used photo also gave rise to the myth that Soapy had black hair over his true dark brown.

Too old to be Soapy Smith

The next one above is another Bertillon photograph of a David Smith, Alias "Rub Dub" located at the Bancroft Library. University of California, Berkeley. The following is what is listed in the file with the photo.

David Smith, alias Rub-a-Dub Smith, alias Soapy Smith of Denver, Colorado, and old time bunco man. Served time in San Quentin Prison for grand larceny. His line was crooked faro games and the old soap trick of rolling a piece of soap up with bills from $5.00 to $50.00 and dropping them in to a grip and charging $5.00 to put your hand in the grip and take out a package. No one was ever known to get anything out but a piece of soap. I have seen hundreds of people in Denver trying there [sic] luck at his game in the year 1879. (J.B.C. [Jesse B. Cook])


Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, Volume 21

It is not known when the Soapy Smith reference was placed in with the photo, or by whom. I contacted the curator several years ago about the mistake and they won't make any changes, not even my suggestion of placing another note in with the photograph stating the mistake. It didn't matter that Soapy died in 1898 at the age of 37 (does this man in the photo look 37 to you?) 

This one above shows an apparently beardless man (or woman) named "Sophi Smith," on a horse that clearly is not Soapy's gray. This comes from a poker table manufacturing firm which states this photo,

is of a hotel and saloon in Skagway, Alaska in the 1890s. The saloon featured a bar, a poker room, and a pool room, and the proprietor was none other than John Knecht’s Great Great Grandfather, John David Harbst. Look a little more closely at this photo and you’ll see the infamous outlaw, card player, and grifter Soapy Smith on horseback.

As they requested, I tried to look closely but the photo is just too small. I contacted them in hopes of getting a larger copy to look at but was refused.

William Saportas

The last non-Soapy photograph I'll show you today is another one that has been commonly mistaken as being Soapy for many years. Although it does resemble the famous con man it is actually one of his gang members, William Saportas, the man who warned Soapy with a note, to do something quick when the vigilantes were down on the wharf deciding his fate.

The Soap Gang about to be deported

The mistake comes from this photo of the Soap Gang awaiting to be deported out of Skagway AFTER Soapy had been killed. "X" marks Saportas often misidentified as Soapy standing with his gang.

Author Jean Haigh nearly placed Saportas' photo on the cover of her book, had it not been for me informing her who it really was. Unable to shake the resemblance she wrote in her book that Saportas was "pretending to be Soapy Smith." As an example of how stupid this sounds, try to imagine a German solider dressing up and pretending to be Hitler as the Russian army made it's way into Berlin.  

A little research on Jane Haigh's part would have revealed that Saportas looked the same in most of his photographs.

April 14, 2009

Jeff Smith


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Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith