December 22, 2011

The Sins of Soapy Smith: A review

A fantasy card I made for Soapy's Orleans Club in Creede, Colorado

In the fall of 1997 Old West magazine published an article by Jon Kirchoff entitled, The Sins of Soapy Smith. My friend Bob "Buckshot" Bradley sent me the article in pdf format so that I might share it with you today. Below the article I review the article's facts.

The Sins of Soapy Smith

The article is about Soapy Smith but the author, Mr. Kirchoff, spends the first 7 paragraphs writing about Bob Ford. Purely in regards to the facts Mr. Kirchoff, makes a mistake in his first sentence. He spells the name of Bob Ford's killer as Edward O. Kelly. Ever since Judith Ries, a descendant of O'Kelley's, wrote the biography in 1992 the debate ended as to the correct name. We know now that his real name was Edward Capehart O'Kelley. This oversight can be forgiven as Ries' book was not mass produced, however, a search on the internet might have turned up something on her book.

Mr. Kirchoff does mention the two possible reasons O'Kelley murdered Ford. The first being that "Kelly [sic] killed Ford to avenge James' (Jesse James) death ten years prior." Although many Jesse James fans like to believe this there is simply no evidence to support the claim. O'Kelley did not know or have any connection to the James gang except for the fact that he was born in Missouri. The known facts are that Ford and O'Kelley knew one another and had a serious falling out. Mr. Kirchoff does imply that Soapy Smith hired O'Kelley to kill Ford in a power struggle for control of Creede. Although this theory is plausible there is no evidence. There are no records showing that Ford was any sort of political or underworld power in Creede, let alone any competition to the Smith regime.

The author does a nice job of describing Creede's beginnings but gives no sources for stating that the camp "averaged three killings a day." In reality, the Creede newspapers reported the first and second killing in the camp as major news, not occurring everyday. Kirchoff describes Ford's Exchange, a "combination gambling hall and brothel located in the Bachelor Camp." This is the first time I have ever read of a location mentioned outside of the Creede business district for Ford's place. Although the author does not list any sources for his statements it may be correct, the reason being that in all my research I have yet to come across a single mention of Ford's business in Creede before the fire of June 5, 1892 in any contemporary newspapers or writings. It is known that he opened a tent saloon directly after the fire. Other authors have written that Ford ran a dance hall rather than a brothel.

Kirchoff finally gets to describing Soapy and publishes the following quote from the Rocky Mountain News of 1878.

Lured by Smith's pleasing baritone, the gullible buy the cakes in hopes of winning the twenty dollar bills Soapy minutes before seemingly slips inside the wrappings of the cakes.

The problem I have with this is that according to records and Soapy's own word, he did not appear in Denver until 1879. I read the Rocky Mountain News page by page for 1878 and did not find anything relating to Soapy. I am left wishing that Mr. Kirchoff would have listed his sources and exact dates.

Kirchoff explains the story of the infamous bandit barbers which is detailed in The Reign of Soapy Smith (1935). Unfortunately I have yet to uncover any facts about the barbers and whether Soapy had any connection.

Next the story of how Soapy fooled a judge is fictionalized. Soapy did indeed go before a judge, but he did not show the court his soap sell racket. What he actually did was show the judge some of his knives he gave away as prizes in another swindle, naturally showing the judge good quality products over that of what he actually gave away to his victims.

Kirchoff messes up the chronological order of events and uses that mix-up as the reason Soapy left Denver to go to Creede. First, Soapy and the gang went to Creede in 1892, not 1891. The move was indeed due to city anti-gambling reforms but not because of Soapy's "caning" of the Rocky Mountain News general manager (not owner) John Arkins, mainly because that attack took place in 1889 not 1891 as implied by the author.

The author's story about Soapy undercutting Ford and the latter's rumblings about it, are all fiction from the author's imagination. So is the part about the Creede Chronicle writing about Ford's Exchange. I researched all the Creede newspapers and a Ford's Exchange, let alone any other business he may have owned is never mentioned. Kirchoff's quote from Ford about "killing off the entire Chronicle force" did not actually come from Ford, but rather from a female distraught over his killing.

Kirchoff does correctly talk about Ford's banishment from Creede for shooting up the town in April of 1892 but it was only for ten days not "several weeks" and Ford's partner in the rampage was Joe Palmer not "Jim" Palmer. By the way, Joe Palmer was a member of the Soap Gang and manager of the Orleans Club for a time.

Kirchoff gets into Ed O'Kelley again, stating wrongly that O'Kelley claimed to be related to Cole Younger, a crime partner of Jesse James, and that he considered himself kin to Jesse James. In reality O'Kelley never mentioned Jesse James or Cole Younger, at least not in public. Another mistake made by Kirchoff is not entirely his fault. He writes that both Soapy and O'Kelley lived in the Zang's Hotel which still stands in Creede and boasts that the two men stayed there. The problem with this is that Zang's was built after the June 5, 1892 fire. Soapy left Creede in April, at least two months before the hotel was constructed. O'Kelley killed Ford on June 8, 1892, three days after the big fire so it is highly unlikely he stayed there unless they were able to build the place in two days.

There is no evidence that O'Kelley ever played poker with Soapy, let alone ever entered the Orleans Club. Bat Masterson was not a marshal of Creede. Ford's new tent saloon erected after the fire was not called The Leadville, which was next door to Ford's tent. There is no evidence that Frenchy Duval was a member of Soapy's gang in Denver. The remaining article pertaining to Ford and O'Kelley is filled with fiction and I strongly advise not using it as historically accurate material.

July 26, 2022, Feb. 7, 2010, Sept. 20, 2009,

Dec. 29, 2009, Oct. 14, 2008,

Ford: pages 216, 218-21, 246, 273.
O'Kelley: pages 246.

December 22

1887: ”Big Ed” Burns is the defendant in the first recorded court case of the shell game in Los Angeles, California.

Jeff Smith


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