December 23, 2011

eBay photo IS NOT Soapy Smith

NNOTE: The seller contacted me and has removed the item from eBay. I applaud his honesty!N

The 3rd man from the right is marked as "Soapee Smith"

Close-up of "Soapee"

Today I received my eBay searches as usual. The above photograph is being offered as that of Soapy Smith. Taking a quick look at the close-up on the left and you will see that it is not him. The seller writes the following in the description.
These three original photographs were taken in and near Skagway, Alaska in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. The photographer was George Max Esterly. He came to the gold rush as a miner, did make it to Dawson, but then returned to Alaska and ran various transient businesses until leaving for Oregon where he continued mining. He was not a "photographer", but apparently just a miner who took several pictures. The Yale University Library has a photo album of his, and some other papers. These three photos survive outside his library holding. In trying to gather a bio on him, I think he was a member entrepreneur of the storied Soapy Smith's gang in 1898, before Soapy was killed on July 8, 1898.

The first picture
[the one at the top of this page] measures 5x7 inches, and shows 14 men on the street in Skagway. There is a written notation in the top right, "Soapee Smith", with an arrow pointing to the third man from the right. On the bottom, in the same hand, is written "at Skaguay, Klondyke stampeede 98".
According to Skagway records Esterly was a mining engineer. There is nothing linking him to Soapy Smith and the gang.

The man in the lite-colored hat is identified as "Soapee Smith"

The eBay seller writes the following about the above photograph showing a man, most likely a confidence man, playing a game, most likely the shell and pea game. He identifies the man as being Soapy but the close-up I posted clearly shows that the man is beardless. It is not Soapy Smith.

Beardless "Soapee"
The second picture measures 6 1/4 by 4 3/4 inches, and shows several men participating at a small table game in the snow. The same hand has a written notation above, with an arrow to the man on the right, "Soapee Smith working at his game". On the bottom of the photo is "Skaguay 98". This must have been early in Soapy Smith's adventure, because out in the snow on the trail was not where Soapy Smith usually worked after being established.
I have never seen these reprinted anywhere. The first picture has corner creasing. On the back of two is some black album paper, and the third still is on a black album page. There is a stamp on the back of each picture, "George M. Esterly / Lano De Oro Mines / Waldo, Oregon." They are nice and very interesting photographs.

It was another eBay sale of another copy of the very top photograph that was the direct cause of my meeting my publisher Art Petersen. That photograph did not have the "Soapee Smith" claim, but did claim that it was part of the Soap Gang. He was interested in purchasing the photograph but I warned him that none of the men are known members of the gang, let alone identified. Odd, that the photograph (see in link below) is a far better copy than the one marked with "Soapee." Naturally, I wrote to the seller. I have yet to hear back from him.

The ebay auction can be viewed HERE.

June 21, 2011

Jeff Smith


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