April 6, 2012

Ferdinand Walters: Soap Gang member?

Reproduction of Jeff Smith's Parlor
Sees screen time in recently filmed western.

he exact count of Soap Gang members at any one period is impossible at this time to give. Even estimates are very difficult as so many were silent members used infrequently. Only those arrested and reported in the newspapers are positively known. Letters and documents in family hands expose many names of friends and probable gang members but beyond the mention, no history is known. Sometimes death exposes members in newspaper obituaries but even these are subject to mistakes and false accusations. One possible old time member of the Soap Gang only became known after murdering of 3 men before committing suicide. His name is Ferdinand Walters, alias "Catalina Kid." Various newspapers said this 28-year-old was well known in Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Klondike, but it was his death in 1905 at the Palace Saloon in Nogales, Arizona that put him in the headlines. Following are three versions from of what took place.

Arizona Gambler Adds Three Notches to His Score by Killing That Number of Men―Performance Wound up With Suicide.

NOGALES, Ariz. Jan. 27 ―Ferdinand Walters a gambler early today shot and killed in the Palace saloon and gambling house M. M. Conn, proprietor of the place. J. J. Johnson a gambler, Modesto Olivas, a Mexican card dealer, and then turned his revolver upon himself, sending a bullet through his brain.

Walters, who was known in the southwest as the “Catalina Kid,” had been engaged by Conn to conduct a poker game in his house. A few days ago complaint was made by the patrons of the resort that Walters had been using marked cards to win their money. George Howard, one of the managers of the Palace saloon informed Walters that unfair methods were prohibited in his place and requested Walters to turn over the game to another man. Walters did so on Wednesday night making no particular protest at the time, but remarking to the man who took his place that there would probably be some dead men around there before long.

Fired Without Warning.

Shortly before 4 o’clock this morning Walters strolled casually into the Palace and ordered something to eat. Having finished his meal he walked leisurely up to the bar, where Johnson, known as “Cowboy Johnson,” was taking a drink. Without a word of warning Walters drew a 45-calibre Colts revolver and fired at Johnson from a distance of four feet. The bullet struck Johnson squarely between the eyes killing him instantly. So close was the range that the victims face was badly powder burned. The report of the revolver drew Proprietor Conn to the scene. Stepping to the middle of the room Walters fired at Conn as he entered the door, the bullet striking him just back of the left ear. Conn fell dead. The murderer then turned about and fired at George Spindle, who sat next to Olivas, the monte dealer. The bullet passed through the rim of Spindle’s hat and struck Olivas in the left side producing a wound from which the latter succumbed a few moments later.

Killed Himself.

Stepping over the prostrate forms of Conn and Johnson, Walters made his way to the middle of the street. In the meantime there was a panic among the occupants of the place. Dave Black, as soon as the shooting began ran out of the side door and secured a revolver. He returned just as Walters was emerging into the street. Black raised his revolver to fire at the murderer but before he could shoot shoot Walters placed his weapon to his own head and sent a bullet through his brain.

Only four shots were fired and so quickly was the tragedy enacted that hardly a minute elapsed between the first shot and the last one.

Walters was 28 years old and had traveled extensively. In 1897 he was In Skagway, Alaska and it is said was a member of the Soapy Smith gang.

The Salt Lake Herald
January 28, 1905

An unknown Tucson newspaper reported the murder/suicide with some added mystery and unanswered questions. I could not find this issue anywhere else online so I cannot be certain it was copied word for word.

Tucson--One of the worse tragedies in the history of southern Arizona occurred in the border town of Nogales at 3:30 o'clock this morning. The Catalina Kid, (Ferdinand Walters), a gambler, entered the Palace Saloon owned by M.M. Conn, walked to a poker table and without a word of warning drew a revolver and opened fire on the dealer, named Cowboy Johnson, firing two shots through his head.

Walter then turned on Conn, the proprietor who was making his way towards the door, shooting him through the head and heart. The murderer then turned his weapon toward a monte dealer, shooting him in the back of the head. He fired a shot at George Bendle, a cattleman and grazed the latter's face and then turning the revolver upon himself, sent a bullet crashing through his own brain.

All of the victims died before being able to make statements. Walters had been in the employ of Conn but had been discharged a few days before. It is said he was intoxicated at the time he entered the saloon. Conn was one of the best known sporting men in the southwest and a man of family.

The dead monte dealer was named Modesto Olivar and was a Mexican. Walters who was known in the southwest as the "Catalina Kid" had traveled extensively. He was at Skagway Alaska in 1897 and there it is said he was identified with the "Soapy Smith" gang.

Word of the tragedy was received at Phoenix early yesterday. B. J. Whitesides of the legislature had a telegram informing him of the killing which it was said took place about four o'clock in the morning. One dispatch said that Walters had been playing cards and that he arose from the table and started to the door saying that he had been robbed. He turned before reaching the door and shot Cowboy Johnson. In the next shot a Mexican and killed Conn last. Then he went out on the sidewalk and killed himself. There is still some doubt as to the identity of the man who did the shooting. Persons from Nogales do not know anybody of that name and from what they have learned they are of the opinion that the shooting was done by a stranger. A man by the name of Walters, a desperate character, suspected of holding up a saloon at Bisbee has been operating in the southern part of the territory. This Walters was a short man and came to the territory from Colorado. It was not known that he was at Nogales.
(Found on internet as is, Tucson paper)
January 28, 1905

In her book, Nogales: Life and Times on the Frontier Jane Eppinga tells the story of the shooting using Nogales newspapers which I do not have access to. A few more details of the story are to be had but I cannot state for certain that Jane copied the newspaper word for word. The basics of her story is the same as the newspapers above, with  some additional information. 

... George Howards, a Palace employee, told Walters there would be no crookedness and asked him to turn the game over to William Abel. Walters casually remarked there would be a few dead men before sunrise and left. A while later, he returned to the Palace in his red satin-lined cape and ordered dinner. After his meal, he went to the bar were J. J. “Cowboy” Johnson was talking to Charles Casteel. Walters drew a .45 Colt and fired at Johnson from about 4 feet. He then fired at Conn and at George Spindle, who was sitting next to Modesto Olivas in the head. Walters stepped over Conn, walked out into the street and fired a fourth shot into his own head. Jess Marleau went for Sheriff Fowler and said, “They just had a little shooting scrape down at Conn’s saloon. “Anybody hurt?” asked Fowler. “Only four” was the reply. Rumors circulated that Dave Black, a hired gunman, had followed Walters outside and shot him, but Dave would never say. 

Nogales: Life and Times on the Frontier by Jane Eppinga, 
Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC. 2002. Pages 98-100.

Some may recognize the name of Dave Black. I have to wonder if this gunman is the same Dave Black Bat Masterson wrote to Soapy about in 1887? If it is then Jane Eppinga has some new information about him that I previously did not have.

In 1908, the court took him [Dave Black] to the territorial insane asylum in Phoenix. The Vidette wrote, “A more generous, warm hearted man never lived than Dave Black. Black was an admirer of President (Theodore) Roosevelt, and imagined his friend the president was going to send him $1,000.” 

Dave Black: page 224.


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