October 23, 2011

Soapy Smith's Greatest Hoax: A review

Ashley Smith, a great-great-granddaughter of Soapy Smith
with Sylvester, alias McGinty 1998

I always felt that one of the more interesting stories to come out of my decades of research on Soapy Smith is the information on McGinty the petrified man of Creede, Colorado in 1892. Of that story, perhaps the most important part is that McGinty is still on display in the state where it was last sold in 1895.

Although the old Creede newspapers were pretty detailed about McGinty apparently few of the early biographers were able to find copies of the articles. As so usual, many authors simply made up their own information. A good example of the latter was published in November 1960 in Real West magazine by George Malcom Majors under the title, Soapy Smith's Greatest Hoax.

Soapy Smith's Greatest Hoax

Following is a list of mistakes in chronological order by page.

Page 14
  • [The photograph on this page is reversed]
  • Mr. Majors writes that McGinty the petrified man was found on May 14, 1892 but where he sourced this date from is unknown. The Creede Candle clearly reports the discovery on April 9, 1892.
  • Majors states that Soapy placed Joe Simmons in control of the New Orleans Club and that Soapy claimed he was getting out of the business. Actually, Soapy never made the claim. He also did not (could not) place Joe Simmons in control of the Club because Simmons had passed away on March 18, 1892, a month prior to the discovery of McGinty. Joe Simmons had been manager of the Orleans Club up until the time of his death, after which, Joe Palmer was made manager of the saloon and gaming house.
  • Majors makes the claim that Soapy had found McGinty on his own silver claim. Indeed, Soapy had several claims around Creede in his name but McGinty was not "found" by Soapy. It was "discovered by J. J. Dore and George W. Lewis and was "purchased" by Soapy for $3,000. This purchase was on paper only as few would have believed McGinty real had Soapy found it himself. Later it is revealed that George Lewis is one of the gang members.

    The story of McGinty is a fascinating one and is covered in detail in my book, Alias Soapy Smith. My book includes the theory of the identification of the corpse that became McGinty.
Page 15
  • The photograph and story indicate that Soapy displayed McGinty inside Bob Ford's tent saloon. There is no accounting for this story. The Creede Herald stated that McGinty was placed into a box and placed on display at the Tortoni tent hotel. The following day, April 15, Soapy left Creede with McGinty and returned to Denver, only retuning to Creede after the June 8, 1892 fire which destroyed the business district.
  • Majors mentions a couple members of the Soap Gang. He includes "'Reverend' Bowers," which is John L. Bowers, "'Fatty' Gray," which is actually John H. Morris but many early writers mistakenly thought that his alias of "Fatty Gray" meant that Gray was his last name. Majors mention of "Tom Crippen" is probably a mistake. The only connection I could find between Crippen and Soapy was that Crippen was the 'lookout" (faro table guard) during a faro game at the Denver Exchange which Bat Masterson managed in Creede. "Slim Cady" is Thomas P. Cady known as "Sure-shot" and "Troublesome Tom." "Daddy Pete" is fiction
  • Majors uses the old biographies to record the history of how Soapy was initiated into the world of crime. Records show Soapy was never a cowboy who lost his pay to a shell man. Old biographies list Jeff's first mentor as a man named Taylor. Majors fictitiously gives him the first name of "Bill." Soapy did start out as a cheap John, one who sells cheap goods for high prices, much like today's jam auctions. His mentor in the business was never named, although one of Soapy's early friends who was retiring from his long career was named John Taylor and it is possible he was Soapy's mentor. How the early biographies could have determined this is unknown.
Page 16
  • Majors describes how McGinty was manufactured, however, like the early biographies he believed that McGinty was man-made. What no one figured out, including myself until a few years ago, is that McGinty was manufactured from a human corpse into a "petrified man." My book goes into great detail about McGinty, including my theory about the original identity of the corpse. Very fascinating stuff.
  • Majors said that McGinty was found on May 14 on page 14. On page 16 he writes that it was found and reported on July 2. Again, the real date reported on the front page of the newspaper was April 9, 1892.
    Page 17
    • Bob Ford was not involved with the petrified man in any way.
    • Ford was kicked out of Creede once, not twice. It happened on April 22, 1892. Ford and Joe Palmer, the manager of the Orleans Club, shot up the town and made a quick exit to escape jail-time. Within a few days they were allowed to return with the promise to behave.
    Page 47
    • Majors uses the old biographies name of "Colonel Stone" for the petrified man. No where in contemporary sources is the name "Colonel Stone" mentioned, except in the old biographies.
    • Majors describes the exhibition of McGinty but it is based on imagination only. He theorizes how Soapy and the gang made money from the exhibition by way of seeing the insides of wallets. Considering that viewing the petrified man in Creede was 25-cents and later, 10-cents in Denver it seems unlikely men would be needing to open their wallets. Change fit into pockets and the hand as it does today. In my book I theorize that Soapy's shell-and-pea men and three-card monte tossers were plying their trade while the customers waited to enter the exhibition. In this way, the victims came to Soapy's men rather than having to go out and steer them in to where the games are being operated.

    Page 59 (Trivia): An "In our next issue" ad by the magazine informs readers to watch for a story on the famous Gillette, Colorado bull fight of 1895. It is believed that Soapy had the saloon and gambling concession just outside the bull ring.

    October 23

    1892: Soapy and five others enter a polling place and forcefully eject the pollsters, placing one of their own in charge, then proceed to allow repeat voters in to cast votes.

    Jeff Smith

    My gratitude goes out to Bob "Buckshot" Bradley for taking the time 
    and effort to place these collectible stories from old magazine in his 
    collection onto PDF format so that my viewers here can read them 
    exactly as they were published. 


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