May 4, 2012

Artifact #48: Bascomb writes Mary, August 8, 1898

(Click image to enlarge)

pon hearing the news that her husband was deceased, Mary started making travel arrangements to Skagway to see for herself that Jeff was indeed gone. He had told her not to believe he was dead until she saw his body. The statement was one of logic as newspapers often print erroneous facts and Soapy Smith had been reported dead several times throughout his life when he was in fact, still living. Mary was pretty sure this time the story was true and she would need to care for his estate and proper burial. She decided to take their oldest son, 9-year-old Jefferson Randolph Smith III. For protection Mary asked her brother-in-law (Soapy's younger brother) Bascomb to accompany them. He went as far as Port Townsend, Washington choosing not to go to Skagway, probably for fear of being jailed or killed. 

While in Skagway Mary and Bascomb kept in touch. Today I introduce to you artifact #48, a fascinating letter from Bascomb to Mary. The following comes from my book, which includes the deciphered letter above.

Jeff’s brother Bascomb learned of the events surrounding his brother’s death and openly questioned the handling of his estate to the widow. While Mary was still in Skaguay trying to collect the estate, Bascomb wrote to her from Port Townsend, Washington, about what monies he felt she might be entitled to,

Mrs. Smith,

Dear Friend, yours to hand and glad to hear from you. I know they will say that Jeff had nothing when you went up but I think the Saloon must be a part his [—] only way it looks like he would have paid for something and the 2,100 that they claim that they found in his trunk must belong to him for they claimed that the man lost 3,200 so I think you can get that. Did you get Jeff’s personal effects? I suppose they stole everything. I will be here for a week, so write to me here as I will get it. Let me hear all the news.

Yours as Ever Bascom Smith,
Care of Tom Sanders Saloon

In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News a year after his brother’s death, Bascomb told some of what he learned from Mary and friends of Jeff.

Soapy Smith Shot in the Back and Robbed

Thieves fall out and we may find out some time what became of Jeff’s property. There are men in Skaguay now who claim to have killed my brother. I have been told that Reid did not kill him, but that another man in the crowd fired a bullet into his back while he was struggling with Reid.

This is part of the statement of Bascomb Smith, the only brother of the late Jefferson R. Smith, who arrived in the city yesterday, after an absence of three years.

Bascomb resembles the famous gun fighting “Soapy” as closely as though he were a twin brother. The eyes, features and general bearing are the same and the voice has the same ring. It is the intention of Bascomb to make Denver his home for the future, providing he can find paying employment. He came from Vancouver, B. C., where he has lived most of the time during the past two years.

“Soapy” was killed and his followers scattered to the four winds on July 8, last. He has been the King of Skaguay and partner of John Clancy, keeper of the principal saloon in town. When war broke out, he organized the Skaguay Guards and offered to take them to Cuba. The Secretary of War, Russell Alger wrote him a letter stating that the guards could not be put into service, but thanked him for his efforts in behalf of his country.

“There are very few honest people up in that country,” Said Bascomb last night. “I was told that my brother had $80 in cash in his clothes when he died, also that he owned several lots in Skaguay, a half-interest in Clancy’s saloon which was taking in probably $200 a day and an interest in the White Pass Trail.

The widow never got anything out of the estate. The money was gone and there was no trace of the lots, as they had never been recorded. Even a letter of thanks from the secretary of war could not be found and nearly everything in Jeff’s room had been stolen.”

Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, pp. 554-55.

Artifact #48: page 554.

1776: Rhode Island declares its freedom from England two months before the Declaration of Independence is adopted. 
1863: The Battle of Chancellorsville ends with the retreat of the Union Army. 
1870: The Kansas Pacific begins laying track westward from Kit Carson, Colorado Territory. 
1875: Wyatt Earp makes his first arrest bringing in W. W. Compton, a horse-thief in Wichita, Kansas. Ironically, four years prior Earp had fled Missouri for stealing two horses. 
1880: Six settlers are slain by Apache Indians near Las Lentes, New Mexico Territory. 
1885: fire destroys a major city block of Miles City, Montana. 
1886: Chichester Bell and Charles S. Tainter patent the gramophone. It is the first practical phonograph.

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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