August 31, 2011

Welcome to Friends of Bad Man Soapy Smith

We've been waiting for you. Have a drink on me! Looking for Mr. Smith? Oh he stepped out for a moment but he'll be right back, why don't you have a seat and play a few rounds of friendly poker. We're just play'n penny-ante. That sure is a nice diamond stick-pin you have there, how many carats?   

Jeff Smith


Dance halls in Dawson.

(Click image to enlarge)

1889: Soapy and “Pals” involved in a gun-battle at the Pocatello, Idaho train depot.

Jeff Smith


August 29, 2011

Columbus Darwin Smith: prisoner of war 1941

(Ship photo courtesy of NavSource)

There are lots of soldiers in our family tree who fought in every war in U.S. history. I know of none who were killed in action and two who were captured and held as prisoners of war. One of the latter was Columbus Darwin Smith, a first cousin once removed of Soapy Smith. He was captured as the commander of the USS Wake on December 8, 1941 and made a heroic and successful escape in 1944. During the time of his detainment he was officially listed by the U.S. government as dead.

Not a whole lot is currently known (by me) about his personal life. I know he was born about February 1890 in Georgia according to the 1900 and 1910 census. Both his parents along with a couple of his siblings and little is known of them.

Here is what I learned about Columbus' capture, from the website For clarity I am changing a few sentences here and there but all the credit goes to the HMSFalcon link above.

Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor there were a number of American and English warships present at Shanghia, China. Just before the attack both nations removed their ships leaving a small force presence. The English H.M.S. Peterel and the American U.S.S. Wake were the last remaining warships on December 8, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack (time differences make it December 7, 1941 in Hawaii). Smith had received a telephone call the night before from a Japanese officer he knew. The officer asked where Smith would be the next morning as he wanted to deliver some turkeys for Smith and his crew. The Japanese did the same to other American officers and officials so as to determine where they would be on December 8th. That next morning the Wake was tied up at a pier, it's crew consisted of fourteen (eight of whom were radio operators) and she had been rigged with demolition charges. At 4:00 am she was approached by a large body of Japanese marines. Unaware of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that had occurred two hours earlier, the crew of both ships were not prepared for the sudden onslaught and were caught entirely by surprise, the Japanese forces taking control within minutes.

The Wake
(Photo courtesy of Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships)

The commanding officer of the Wake, Columbus Darwin Smith, the nominal Captain, was at his private apartment onshore in Shanghia. He had been given command of the ship in March 1941. On the morning of the attack he learned from his quatermaster of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Commander Smith rushed to the ship but it was too late. The Japanese had already captured the vessel. Ironically, the Japanese captured one of the radio operators just after he had received news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. The author of the website  believes that, "had the Japanese boarded Wake just a few minutes later, she would have been at battle stations. Not a shot was fired and Wake suffered the ignominious distinction of being the only US Naval vessel captured during World War II without presenting any resistance."

The Tatara (formerly Wake)
(Photo courtesy of NavSource

When Commander Smith arrived at the dock the Japanese would not let him onboard. At that moment the Japanese opened fire on HMS Peterel and Commander Smith witnessed her sinking. Part of what he saw included the Japanese machine-gunning Royal Navy sailors in the water as HMS Peterel sank. The story of the Peterel can be viewed on the same link above.

Commander Smith and his crew were confined to a prison camp near Shanghai and the Wake was renamed HIJMS Tatara and entered Japanese naval service.

Most of the aforementioned work describes Commander Smith's internment. Smith was a truly courageous individual and almost immediately made an escape from the Woosung POW camp. Unfortunately, he was captured and spent a month in the infamous Bridge House, a facility used by the Japanese for interrogation and torture. The Japanese proceeded to try him for the escape and at one point his Japanese "defense attorney" requested that Smith be given the maximum sentence, death. The judge had already been given the sentence by his superiors, ten years in Ward Road Jail (Shanghai) with all of Smith's military and civilian rights revoked. Ward Road Jail was a high security prison from which no one had ever escaped and an escape attempt at this point would inevitably lead to beheading. While awaiting his fate Columbus thought often of family. He did his best to remember every conversation he had ever had with family members. It was during one of these rememberances that he recalled being told he was related to a famous old west outlaw called Soapy Smith. Undaunted by his initial failure to escape, Smith methodically began planning his next escape and went over the wall in September of 1944. Amazingly, by foot (and occasionally sampan) he made his way through 700 miles of Japanese infested territory to Nationalist Chinese troops. Thereafter he was repatriated to US forces. (It should be noted Commander Smith managed his escape to freedom with two fellow comrades, Commander John B. Woolley of the Royal Navy and US Marine Jerold B. Storey)

In 1945 The Wake was captured by American forces. In 1946 she was presented to China and renamed Tai Yuan. In 1949 Chinese Communist forces captured the ship and utilized the ship for unknown purposes. The history of its fate has not yet been learned. As of 2010, no other ship of the U.S. Navy has been named Wake.

A history of the Wake can be found on Wikipedia, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, NavSource Outline.

An excellent work, Officially Dead - The Story of Commander C.D. Smith, by Quentin Reynolds briefly recounts the taking of USS Wake. The book was reprinted in 1971 under the title, He Came Back by the same author, Quentin Reynolds. I have yet to read the book but have it on order.

Jeff Smith


August 26, 2011

Soapy Smith's Alaska Outlaw Whiskey

IT'S HERE. Produced by Alaska Distillery, Alaska's first whiskey is now on the shelves. The first whiskey to be aged in alder & birch, this is one uniquely Alaskan whiskey that would make Soapy proud. They'd make great gifts. I'll let you all know how to order it as soon as I found out.

(Note: This product is not produced or sold by us, or any Soapy Smith descendants) 

1889: Soapy slashes the faro layout at a Denver gambling house and then holds the 5” dirk to the dealers throat before walking out with his winnings.
1893: Soapy’s “March On” article is published, which is believed to have given Coxy’s Army the idea of its famous march to Washington.

Jeff Smith


August 25, 2011

Alias Soapy Smith at Wasilla High School, Alaska

(An exaggeration)

Some times I get emails that humble me.

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for writing the Soapy Smith book. We will use it in our classes at Wasilla High School [Wasilla, Alaska] and we also have it bar-coded and placed in the library for students to read at their leisure.

Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

Donna Hickle

Jeff Smith


August 24, 2011

Luther Martin Smith (1826-1879): Soapy Smith's successful uncle.

(Photo courtesy of Emory University)

In reading any biography on Soapy Smith you are sure to come across the statement that he was born into a family of influence and education. It is most likely true that had he asked any number of relatives to help him achieve an education he could have excelled in any field. His uncle, Luther Martin Smith, an attorney like Soapy's father, was a prime example.

Luther was born September 10, 1826 in Petersburg, Virginia. He attended Mount Pleasant in the Sixth district of Coweta County in 1845 through part of 1847. From there he attended Emory where he was one of the first two students in Coweta County, Georgia (where Soapy was born) to graduate college in 1848 with the highest honor of his class. He returned to Coweta and taught school there for a time.

Luther married Mary Elizabeth Greenwood on January 29, 1849 and they had five children.

He began teaching at Emory in 1852 and in 1867 he became the first Emory University (Georgia), graduate to preside over the college as President (1867-1871). and afterwards Chancellor of the Mississippi University.

In 1859, after ten years of marriage, his wife Mary died. Six years later, on May 16 1865, Luther, age 40, married Caroline "Callie" Lane, age 22. They had four children.

When Soapy's mother passed away in Round Rock, Texas Martin contacted the father (his brother), Jefferson Randolph Smith Sr. and begged him to send the children to him in Georgia. Soapy's father was an alcoholic and not successful as an attorney in Texas. A scan and the contents of the original letter can be viewed in the links at the bottom of this post.

Martin's new wife, Caroline died July 13, 1877 and Luther followed her in death two years later.

Emory University has a page devoted to Luther Martin Smith. Below is the text of that page.

First Emory Alumnus President
Luther M. Smith, Class of 1848
President 1867-71

Luther Smith was the first Emory graduate to preside over the college, and his presidency thus marked a kind of coming of age for the college. A native of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, he received the highest honor of his class when he graduated in 1848. After studying the law and practicing for a time, he accepted President Pierce's invitation to join the faculty in 1852 as tutor in languages. When he assumed the presidency in 1867, he followed the custom of his predecessors in the presidency by teaching literature, philosophy, and religion.

During his brief administration, Smith fostered a vigorous religious life on campus and strongly emphasized the "character-building" qualities of the college community. In general the college prospered under his care, with an average enrollment of more than two hundred. His concern for the financial condition of the college prompted a fund-raising drive, though it resulted in nothing like the $500,000 endowment he thought necessary. He was not averse to taking the trustees to task for what he thought of as too-small imagination and insufficient attention to the need for money. Proposing to begin building a large endowment, Smith curtly admonished the trustees, "The guardians of the institution should become familiar with the idea and promptly take the matter in hand." Perhaps because of such differences over finances, perhaps because of differences over the curriculum, which he wanted to expand and liberalize, in November 1871 the board voted him out of office and replaced him with Osborn L. Smith, the professor of Latin who was no family relation to Luther M.

Curiously, it was during Luther Smith's administration that the Board of Trustees first considered moving Emory College to Atlanta. At a meeting of the board in November 1867, the Rev. G. J. Pearce, a newly elected trustee, made the suggestion, which was quickly referred to committee and, a few days later, voted down, with the "deliberate judgment that the further consideration of the measure proposed is unadvisable."

Source: A Legacy of Heart and Mind: Emory Since 1836. Gary S. Hauk, PhD

Luther Martin died July 4, 1879 in Fulton County, Georgia. It is unlikely that Luther learned much, if anything, about the criminal side of his nephew Jefferson Randolph Smith II, alias "Soapy."

Trivia: Emory University rents rooms to graduate students. One style of Apartment is named after Luther. Don't believe me? See HERE

April 3, 2010


August 24
1895: Three days of bullfighting opens in Gillette, Colorado in which Soapy obtains the rights to operate the gambling concession.

Jeff Smith


August 23, 2011

The Smith family founded the Trekkie conventions.

Katie Rowe, a great-great-granddaughter of Soapy Smith has added some new information regarding the post on August 20, 2011 about the Star Trek Starship named the U.S.S. Jefferson Randolph Smith.

Katie's uncle, John Jefferson Moriarty Jr was in fact instrumental in the founding of trekkie conventions having had the concept and done the promotions for the very first ones with just a pilot a cast and Gene Roddenberry himself.

Katie, who has been involved in them since high school, says it runs in her blood. She's curious if the author of the book, How Much for Just The Planet might have known about the relation?

Very interesting!

Jeff Smith


August 22, 2011

Artifact #39: Soapy Smith helps his friends, no matter where they are.

(Click image to enlarge)

Here is artifact #39, another item and story that did not make the pages of my book.  This is an original carbon paper copy that was signed and sent to Soapy Smith. The date of the letter is August 15, 1896 and Soapy is in Spokane, Washington, "bunco heaven," according to the Spokeman Review. This would be a little over 2 months since Soapy returned from his first trip to Alaska. This is the day before the major discovery of gold is discovered in the Klondike starting the gold rush.

(Click image to enlarge)

Attorney, R. W. Patterson of Portland, Oregon is writing a response letter to Soapy for help in locating another attorney in Spokane that can help two suspected thieves, Betz and Moore, escape the charge of buncoing $80 from the Oliphant and Company and $200 from some other unknown victims of Portland. Betz and Moore are most likely members of the Soap Gang that were arrested in Spokane and brought back to Portland by two detectives. Betz and Moore hired an attorney named Hume, who is probably W. T. "Billy" Hume who later defended the Soap Gang after Soapy's death. The strong point of defense is that Betz and Moore were not charged with a "crime" in Spokane, but merely detained and ordered to leave the city. Patterson believes that if Soapy can get Soapy to find the Spokane district attorney who agreed with and allowed the "order to leave the city" and have him sign an avidative then Hume and Patterson will most likely get the two men freed. Very interesting letter showing just how attornies helped Soapy and the boys manipulate the courts.

(Click image to enlarge)

W. T. "Billy" Hume: page 578.

1897: Soapy arrives for the first time in Skagway, Alaska.

Jeff Smith


August 21, 2011

There were some games...

(Click images to enlarge)

Just a few pictures I wanted to share with you on this silent Sunday.

Jeff Smith


August 20, 2011

U.S.S. Jefferson Randolph Smith: Soapy Smith and Star Trek.

(Click image to enlarge)

You might be surprised to hear me say that Soapy Smith will he remembered well into the 23rd century. The year 2268 to be exact, but you'd have to be a big Trekie fan to know that.

I won't admit being a Trekie, although I did watch all the TV Star Trek episodes and films. In 1987 Star Trek author, John M. Ford, published the book, How Much For Just the Planet? Contained in the book is a Federation Starship, christened the U.S.S. Jefferson Randolph Smith (NCC-29402) searching for dilithium, the imaginary mineral that powers the warp drives on Starships. I found excerpts from the book on-line but could not find any artwork for the Starship, so took it upon himself to make a conceptual rendition of the vessel (see above). It's my first attempt at space art. Using what information I had found from the book I scouted around for another ship to work with. I found a nice one (Norway Class) at Star Trek Using Paint Shop Pro I invented what I imagine a mineral explorer vessel might look like in the year 2268. I had fun making it, but it was hard fitting the long name of the ship somewhere.

How do we know it is named after our Jefferson Randolph Smith? From other ship names in the book, like the U.S.S. Dawson City it would appear that John Ford did a little mining history research. Obviously the author had a since of humor.

Following are excerpts from, How Much For Just the Planets?

U.S.S. Jefferson Randolph Smith NCC-29402)
Sulek-class Federation Starship
Captain, Tatyana Troftmov

Year 2268

Not far away, silent in silent deep space, Federation resource exploratory vessel Jefferson Randolph Smith cruised at Warp Factor Four, her sensor net spread wide in search of Dilithium, that rare and refractory mineral that powers the warp drive, indeed the Federation itself...but more about dilithium a little later. Just now, aboard Smith, the captain was also having one of those days.

But then, thought Captain Tatyana Troflmov, as she sipped her blue orange juice, it always seemed to be one of those days.

The rest of Smith's officers were at the restroom table with Captain Trotimov. The first officer, a Withiki named Tellihu, had his broad, red-feathered wings draped over the back of his chair, he read a freshly printed newsfax with his left hand and ate a mushroom omelet with his right. Tellihu had had eggs for breakfast every morning of Smith's mission, four hundred and sixty-six days so far, and it still seemed to Captain Trofimov vaguely like cannibalism.

Science Officer T'Vau had finished her soya salad and was looking at a chess set. Not playing with it, not touching the pieces, just looking. T'Vau's hair was dangling over one pointed ear, and there were vinegar-and-oil spots on her uniform blouse. For a Vulcan, the Captain thought, T'Vau was really a slob.

The three of them were all the officers aboard Jefferson Randolph Smith, and also all the crew, just as this compartment was not only the mushroom but the common room and the recreation room. Smith NCC-29402, Sulek-class) was a ship of the Resources Division, Exploration Command, designed to seek out -- no, not what you're thinking -- seek out minerals, especially dilithillm, at the lowest possible cost.

It was actually not such a small ship, really quite roomy given its crew of three. And Starfleet Psychological Division had been very aware that a crew of only three for a mission of twenty to twenty-eight months must be carefully chosen for compatibility.
PsyComm recommended that a special battery of crew-relations tests be designed.

The test designers were hard at work and expected to deliver a preliminary report no later than six months from now. Until then -- well, somebody had to bring in the dilithium.

Captain Trofimov came from Reynaud II, a thinly populated planet on the Cygnus-Carina Fringe, without much space trade. Trofimov had decided very young that she was not only going to enlist in Starfleet and get off Reynaud II, she was going to get every millimeter as far off Reynaud II as Starfleet went. Exploration Command seemed like just the thing. The recruiter showed her trishots of the big mining ships, like Dawson City, and the planetformers, like Robert Moses, vessels bigger than starships, bigger than stargazes, and Trofimov knew that her destiny was sealed.

Only too right, she thought.

Tellihu finished his omelet, stood up, and said something to the wall in the whistling Withiki language. Pleep, the wall said, then Fling. Tellihu took out what looked to Trofimov like an ice cream cone filled with birdseed and went out of the room nibbling it, dipping his wings to clear the doorway.

He does it deliberately, the captain thought. He'd eat worms if he thought he could get away with it.

She looked at T'Vau. The science officer picked a kelp strand out of her salad bowl and chewed on it idly, still watching the chess set. Finally she reached out, picked up a pawn, turned it over in her fingers, then put it back on its original square.

Trofimov finished her juice without looking at it, and left T'Vau to her, uh, game. As she went into the corridor she thought, I'll bet it's never like this for starship captains....

1889: Soap gang member, “Mysterious Dan” Leery is arrested but released the following day when the police officer “forgot” why he had arrested Leery.

Jeff Smith


August 18, 2011

Georgia reunion, Family graves, research and a presentation, part 2

The Smith mansion
At the original location
circa 1970s
(Click image to enlarge)

The Smith mansion owned by Soapy's grandparents, Dr. Ira Ellis Smith and Ellen Stimpson Peniston always seemed so distant and mysterious to me as a youngster. I lived in California and it was located in Georgia, so far away. The following excerpts come from my book.

On March 25, 1828, the state of Georgia held a land grant lottery for the sale of land ceded to the state in a treaty with the Creek Indians.

Ira Ellis won the right to purchase land in the Sixth district of Coweta County, named for the large Coweta Indian population in the region. The land Ira purchased was thirty-nine miles southwest of the future city of Atlanta and seven miles beyond the settlement of Newnan. The Smith’s were one of the first families to reside there. Newnan would become a prosperous town for professionals due to its thriving cotton industry. Ira was well-liked and succeeded as a physician and planter. His popularity gained him a seat in the House of Representatives for the Sixth District in the Georgia Legislature; he served from 1832 to 1837 and again in 1851. He was elected a state senator in 1839, 1841-42, 1849, and 1853. According to Edwin Smith, a grandson of Ira, the Smith “family was equal in standing to any in Georgia, … claiming descent from long lines of well-known people.”


Between 1830 and 1835, Ira engaged brothers named Cole to build a plantation mansion that he christened Shoal Creek. It stood seven miles east of Newnan, close to Thomas’ crossroads on the Old Wynn’s Pond Road. From the outside, the house is imposing, appearing larger than it is on the inside. A large center hall is flanked by two spacious rooms, a small kitchen, and a sitting room. Upstairs are two large bedrooms, each with fireplace. Some of the original furnishings and family heirlooms are on permanent display in Newnan at the Male Academy Museum.


Edwin Bobo Smith, another cousin of Jeff’s (Soapy’s), who also came to live with Jeff and his parents for a time, stated that “Their wealth consisted largely of slaves.” The 1860 census shows that Ira accounted for fifty-seven slaves living in sixteen houses on his land. During a fact-finding visit to the house in the 1960s, Joseph Jefferson Smith, a grandson of Jeff’s (Soapy’s), found a black family living in the house. The head of this family, Joseph Jefferson reports, was a man calling himself Ira Ellis Smith. The connection this family may have had with the Smith family is yet to be determined.

The home as it looks today

Jefferson Randolph and Emily moved in with Ira at Shoal Creek to help care for Ira’s ailing wife, Ellen. Another Ellen, the daughter of Columbus Darwin Smith and the granddaughter of Ira, named Ellen Smith Faver, also moved to Shoal Creek. She came after her mother, Nancy Edmundson, died on October 21, 1860. Two days later Ira’s wife Ellen also died. In a letter, Ellen Faver Smith writes that ten days later, on November 2, 1860, Jefferson Randolph Smith II was born.

Dan Dietz gave me this print of the house
taken in the late 1960s showing the house
on it's original land and in need of repair.
Squatters had taken possession of the empty old house.

In the late 1980s I recall hearing rumors that the old Smith plantation was in eminent danger of being torn down for new development. The rumor was that it was for a parking lot. As I stated in part 1 of this story I could near get any response from Georgia. Information was coming in second-hand. Then I heard that the old house had been torn down. That piece of news turned out to be false but it was just the kick-start I needed. Upon learning that the house remained standing I decided I had to take the trip to visit it. One thing led to another and I was invited to speak at the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society. It was at that time that I learned that the old house was saved when the new owner, Rev. Jan Davis and his wife dismantled and moved the house to one of his properties. What a great relief that was.

The move

In 1994 deveolpers were preparing to tear down the house. A deal was reached and in 1996 Rev. Davis and his wife began the process and completion of moving the house to the new location. On Saturday, March 24, 2007 myself, and family members, Geri Murphy, Jeanie Schaffner, and Ellen Rafeedie had a 2 pm appointment for a tour of the Shoal Creek home where Soapy Smith was born. When Rev. Davis learned of our interest in the home he graciously opened his home for a private tour. I had seen photographs of the outside of the mansion but never of the inside.

The inside tour

Not knowing much about early homes I was surprised to see the exposed wooden wall planks and floors. After our tour Dan took us to another exact copy of the house built in the same decade by the same builder. of Shoal Creek. This second house was completely restored by the owner. It is a good representation of how the Smith home looked in the early days, however, I learn from the book, History of Coweta County Georgia, by the historical society, that the homes built in the 1820-1845 were not painted.

Rev. Jan Davis and his wife
The front door of Shoal Creek

Restored version of the exact same model

The 1-1/2 day trip was a blur of activity. I accomplished what I had set out to see and do but at a price. Information was thrown at me so fast and often that I barely had time to record enough of it. For instance, In the last two years I have been trying to locate a contact address for Rev. Davis and his wife, as well as a physical address of the homes new location. Thus far no one in Georgia has been able to help me and I have not heard from the historical society since 2007 although I have emailed them many times.

August 16, 2011, September 10, 2009

Shoal Creek mansion: pp 20-22.

1889: Texas Jack Vermillion of Wyatt Earp fame is arrested as a steerer in one of Soapy Smith’s auction houses along with Soapy, his brother Bascomb, J. Allen, and “Fatty Gray” Morris.

Jeff Smith