January 2, 2012

Did Soapy Smith visit the mining camp of Randsburg, California

Testing the water hoses
Butte Avenue, Randsburg
courtesy of Rand Desert Museum

Did Soapy Smith visit and possibly operate in the gold mining camp of Randsburg, California? As of this writing I still do not know for certain. The only clue comes from a letter written to Soapy by Bat Masterson. Below is the contents of that letter as quoted from my book.

In early 1897 Jeff wrote to Masterson in Denver from Los Angeles. The content of Jeff’s letter is unknown, but Masterson’s reply survived.

Friend Jeff:

Your letter from Los Angeles received. Glad to hear from you.

I suppose you were in the new camp of Randsburg. I believe you are a little like myself—“let the new camps run for other people.” I do not intend to ever again go to a new camp: at least until it has demonstrated that there is something in it besides wind.

Everything is running open here, but the play is spotted. It has got to be a piking game all over town. A decent change … will attract a crowd of sufficient size to obstruct a view of the table.

“Plunk” has got the police department “buffaloed.” … The mayor will not permit his being railroaded in the police court, and the newspapers have tendered him all the space he wants in which to air his grievances. I enclose you the chief’s left lead and “Plunk’s right hand cross counter. “Plunk” invites more of the game and threatens to bawl the police department out in the papers. .... I hope the war goes on. I have promised to do the press work for “Plunk” and incidentally furnish a few facts.

I am against the department for the reason that it is in with the gambling trust headed by Ed Chase and they would get me killed if they could. You might furnish me a little ammunition for a future use if it should be needed. Your name will never appear directly or indirectly under any circumstances. … Hope you are well and prospering.

Yours W. B. Masterson.

Newspapers in Los Angeles where Soapy was staying, boasted of Randsburg.
“CALIFORNIAS NEW CAMP — Los Angeles Lays Claim to the Promising District – As mentioned before in these columns Randsburg on the edge of Death Valley in California 40 or 50 miles from Vanderbilt is making rapid strides to the front as a progressive and growing camp and it is stated that Los Angeles now has what it has long craved for, big gold camp, from which to derive revenue and trade, A California exchange in speaking of Randsburg says the stampede to the desert mining camp Randsburg in California continues. It is said there are fully 5000 people there now and by April there will be 7000 or 8000. Up to date some 4300 mining claims have been located. There are only four rough wooden buildings there now called hotels and about 700 tents. There are five restaurants and 24 saloons and dance halls. One keno and three faro games are running. Rough lumber sells in Randsburg for$35 to $40 a thousand, hay from $20 to $22 a ton, wood from $8 to $10 a cord, coal from Gallup N. M. at $15 per ton and water at $2 per barrel of 40 gallons for human drinking purposes or $1.50 per barrel for stock. Town lots are held from $50 to $1,000 the higher figure being asked for Casey’s lot near the new post office site. In three months Randsburg has changed from one of the most dreary remorseless desert wastes to as lively a mining town as there is in the world and has grown faster than ever Tombstone in 1879 or the Comstock in 1S69 for in those days there was no railroad communication to aid in the rapid growth of mining towns Whether Randsburg will ever grow to the importance of either Cripple Creek or Leadville depends upon the continued of the newly found success prospects there and the finding of water in sufficient quantity to operate the nines economically.”
The Salt Lake Herald, January 21, 1897.

Randsburg 1896
Looking east to west
courtesy of Rand Desert Museum

Gold was discovered in Randsburg in April 1895.... "It was after the summer heat of 1896 had waned that the real boom occurred and Randsburg started to take on the look of a real town.  By September of 1896 the boom was so intense, that according to a visitor in the camp from Los Angeles,  there were stages arriving on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. A correspondent from Garlock Stated  that there were three stages a day from Mojave to the camps of Garlock and Randsburg."

"Water, lack of capital, and lawlessness were problems in the early days of the camp. In the early years of the camp, water was hauled from Garlock at a cost of $2.00 per barrel. This led to the early mills and many of the business houses being established in Garlock. However the gold and the work were in Randsburg so development of the town continued despite the shortage of water. There was, however, no shortage of liquid refreshment in the early camp. In 1896 approximately twenty-one different saloonkeepers were in business at one time or another. These thirst emporiums and gambling halls attracted a rowdy crowd. Amongst this crowd was a group called the “Dirty Dozen” who were involved in some lot “jumping” incidents and shooting scrapes.19 the first shooting in Randsburg that resulted in a murder was the shooting of Charley Richards who, in partnership with Ed Starkey, was a saloonkeeper. This shooting occurred in September of 1896. In the latter part of October of that year another shooting occurred as a result of a fight over a card game. The shooting, which occurred in the Thompson’s Saloon;, ended the life of an innocent bystander several blocks away when a bullet passed through the wall of the building and struck the man as he was walking up the street. A third and fourth shootings occurred within a day of each other in December. The third shooting occurred in the Elite Theater when Frank Stevens a member of the “Dirty Dozen” shot and killed J. F. Davis, a gambler, who became the first man buried in the local cemetery. The fourth shooting was the result of a tragic accident, which resulted in the death of A. J. Klein. Mr. Klein was sitting in front of the Capital Saloon when Constable Bohannon accidentally knocked his 44 Winchester off the back of the bar, causing it to discharge when it hit the floor, with the bullet passing through the wall and hitting the victim."

"These shootings led to newspaper headlines such as 'A man for supper' and 'Another man for dinner.'"

Randsburg today
Photo by gamersincepong

The Rand Desert Museum

Randsburg: page 423.

Jeff Smith


1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. From reading the Masterson letter and the news article, I don't think Soapy made it there, but of course I wasn't around and it is just supposition. The Masterson letter is a supposition to me, not a fact. But again that is just my thought. Thank you so much for sharing. I love this and of course Randsburg could never pass Cripple Creek. (That is bragging, I live in the Pikes Peak Region and did a paper on CC. < I am grinning now>


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