February 2, 2012

Soapy Smith sculpture by Edward J. Hawkins, 1953.

Artist, E. J. Hawkins puts finishing touches on his
Soapy Smith sculpture intended for display in Creede, Co.
(photo: Courtesy of Denver Public Library - Western History/Genealogy Dept.)

In April 2010 on this blog, and recently on Facebook, I posted the story of a sculpture of Soapy Smith that has never surfaced all these years. I assumed that it might be sitting somewhere in some unknown art museum, a private collection, or even someone's home. 

On Facebook I placed the photograph (seen at top of page) and questioned the location of the artwork on the page for the Denver Library Western History/Genealogy Department. James Rogers, the Senior Librarian contacted me and after researching the piece, sent me the following newspaper clipping  

Rocky Mountain News
January 25, 1953

Mining Town Remembers Robin Hood Sort of Man
Soapy Smith to Get Pedestal in Creede.
By Wes French

Soapy Smith, the Colorado version of Robin Hood and Deadeye Dick rolled into one, will soon have his grizzled face peering down the main street of Creede, the mining he loved so well.

The likeness and spirit of this fabled Western character has been captured by a Denver sculptor, Edward J. Hawkins.


The ball is rolling in Creede now to gather funds to finance casting of the bust which Mr. Hawkins created, to transport the finished work to Creede and mount it on a pedestal in the Mineral County mining community.

Soapy was born in Georgia in 1860. He spent his early life in Texas as a cowpoke where he carried the proud name of Jefferson Randolph Smith.

Shortly after Soapy’s arrival in Denver, he earned the nickname which he carried until his death in Skagway, Alaska in 1898.

Picking 17th St., as his “beat,” Soapy set up a portable stand and sold soap to cowboys at $5 a bar. Before his audiences, he wrapped bills ranging from $5 to $100 in some bars of soap and began the sale.


He did a land-office business, but buyers who hit the jackpot were members of Soapy’s gang.

Soapy had an understanding with the police that he would fleece only out-of-towners.

When the silver mines opened in Creede, Soapy and his gang headed for the mining town. Within a few days Soapy was boss of the town and he and his boys “policed” affairs.


One of his famous Creede episodes was the “finding” of a prehistoric man in one of his diggings.

The stone man was placed on display in Creede and for five years Soapy collected admission charges.

At the end of that time Soapy sold the stone man to a Washington buyer for $2500. The buyer later discovered his prehistoric specimen was made of plaster and cement.

Soapy was kind-hearted as well as nimble-minded. Running across an illiterate preacher one day, Soapy decided the town needed a church. He raised funds for the building in an afternoon and later he and his men attended services, seeing that the congregation contributed enough to keep the church financed.


After the killing in Creede of Bob Ford, slayer of Jesse James, the town began to develop official law enforcement methods. Then, when silver prices took a tumble, Soapy decided to move on.

He returned to Denver for a time, then left for Skagway. He encountered the same situation there he had in Creede and repeated his Colorado operations.

Finally in 1898, law and order came to Skagway and Soapy was killed during a battle between opposing forces.


The monument to Soapy is being constructed with the idea of creating further tourist interest in Creede. Plans are in motion to establish a Soapy Smith Festival during the summer months.

Among Creede people who are working on the project are Mrs. Mary Thom, unofficially heading the committee; Gene McClure, John Dabney, Bill Jackson and Orie K. Hargraves.

There is no evidence that the sculpture ever made it to Creede. It was suggested from looking at the photograph that the bust was still in clay form and thus possibly never completed. My heart sank at the thought but I had to know for sure. Friends members, like Steve Stapp, believed that the photo showed a finished product while others did not think so. I contacted several foundries and received an even number of those who felt it had been bronzed and those who thought it was still in its clay composition.

I decided to contact friend and artist, Kym Younger, for her expertise. She stated that "if the project was cancelled, the probability of there ever having been a mold taken is slim. In this situation, the clay was probably recycled and used for another project. The only hope you have is that it did get molded, and, that the mold wasn't broken when the project was cancelled on the artist." Considering the odds that Creede never received it, my heart sank even lower, but I had to be sure. I sent Kym a good scan of the above photograph and she sent back her detailed and educated opinion.

Picture #2

Hi jeff - the tool, although staged, is a clay tool. I have three shots that intrigue me -

Picture 2 - I zoomed in on the lower left (as the eye sees in the picture) of the base - above "Jefferson" you will note dark spots on the base - this indicates water to me - and, clay must be kept damp at all times and covered when not being worked into. The neck above also reveals a hatching pattern - which is a "nearing-final" state in a sculpt before it is smoothed to a finish for the final mold to be lifted from - and, given that this period of time produced bronze busts that were usually smooth and not textured, I would lay good money on this still be in the raw form and not finalized.

As for the lettering - if you look at it closely in the enlarged picture # 2 - you will see it is not even in height or width or cut - this is not a machined finish, nor, would it have been on a bust being done in the time period associated with this piece of work. There are other flaws elsewhere in these that let me believe this is a less than final work and still in clay.

Picture #3

Picture # 3 - the collar and left shoulder - again, the cross hatching - now, that may be there to represent the fabric in the coat, and, if so, it has a purpose in the use in the sculpt. However, there is a wide variance in color range - which reads to be moist areas of clay that are wetter than others. And, the grey color of the overall piece is far different than a final bronze cast - with, or without, patina - would appear in a black and white picture. There is a definite tactile appearance that metal gives that is not resident in this picture.

Also in this, you will note that the coat collar has a definite undercut line to it. This is something that would tend to appear in a presentation piece in clay. The reason for this is that undercuts are horrid for a mold to be pulled from. The usual practice in a sculpt that has undercuts or pieces that do not present themselves for an easy one-piece mold to be taken is to have to cut the clay sculpt apart and then mold those pieces separately - and then mount the final wax pours together before investing for the casting. And, some pieces are so difficult that they are actually cast in bronze separately and then welded together and smoothed into the final piece...prior to the patina being applied.

That collar undercut would (I tend to believe) be made smooth and linear as a surface before going to molding for making the master to cast from due to the reasons given above. Another reason I believe this is clay.

Picture #1

I come to Picture #1 next - there are still a lot of undercuts on the face and around the eyelids. Especially notable on the left eye. This would be a smooth transition before casting. The inset eye itself is traditional to sculpts. The close up reveals also what seems to be a large amount of clay irregularities - the harder bits of soil that didn't get mashed enough when the clay mix was made - and those add a texture to the working medium that really take a good effort to smooth out for the final cast - having seen enough raw clays this is another sign to me that we are probably looking at an initial study piece in the raw sculpt form.
If you look at the top of the hat brim, you will find the most interesting item in the picture to me. It is a small stamped image. And, that brings us to Picture #4...

Picture #4

Picture # 4 - That is an artist's stamp. I would lay 99% factor on that. And, that comes from a die that the sculptor has made to mark their work with as a signature. Not all sculptors do that, mind you, but, the instructor's I knew in school all had their die on their presentation works (clay sculpts) when they presented them for bids.

The other thing that is really glaring wrong about this - the die stamp is dead center in the hat brim. If this were a finished piece, that is not where an artist would place their mark of creation. A signature or mark would be on the back of the base or somewhere else that would not distract from the overall picture on view to the public. This is like a flood-light that is glaring into your eyes and does not belong in that location on a finished and cast sculpt, period.

However - that may also give you a clue to work from. If you can track down the sculptor by records or pictures of who he is, or, by the recorded stamp used, you might be able to, at the least, know who this artist was.

Hope that helps you a bit more along the way.
All the best – Kym

Although nothing is certain, I feel that the search for this mysterious, wonderful sculpture is completed. Thank goodness a reporter at the Rocky Mountain News took a photograph of the sculpture. One of the foundries I contacted said that they could make a full size bronze based on the photograph and any others I might care to send them. Any ideas of what we could do with such a piece? There are actually online fund raisers that we could utilize if the idea was worthy enough...   

Jeff Smith



  1. Replies
    1. I agree "Sourdough," you did a great job! Thanks.

      Jeff Smith

  2. You "guys" have done a heckuva job perpetuating this yarn over the years. I've really enjoyed it.


    Lou Blonger

    1. Thanks Mr. Blonger,...I think.

      Jeff Smith

    2. And just so you know Mr. Blonger... Smith's rule!

      Jeff Smith


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