August 23, 2012

Was Soapy Smith better known that Wyatt Earp? Cathy Spude's concern.

The "good-old-days"

athy Spude's endeavor to prove Soapy Smith was nothing more than a small time crook continues. A few days ago she created a new page on her website with the focus of disproving an old post of mine. Her page is entitled, Soapy graphs: Soapy Smith and Wyatt Earp: Who was Better Known? and revolves around a discovery I made back on October 3, 2010 under the title, Was Soapy Smith more well known than Wyatt Earp?

I acquired the idea of using the Google newspaper archives as a simple comparison tool from a friend who used it on a Tombstone forum to show all the newspaper articles pertaining to Wyatt Earp between the years 1880-1970. I have always heard that Wyatt Earp was not real well known when he was alive, and that his fame came much later. Because of that I invariably wondered if Soapy might have been more well known than Wyatt, while the two men were alive (1860-1898). When I saw the comparison graph on the Tombstone forum I thought it would be interesting to show a comparison between the two men using the articles in the same Google newspaper archives. This was never meant to be a precision study as no online data base contains every newspaper ever published, let alone all the issues of the titles they do have, plus, these online data bases consistently add to their collections, so for this reason I did not bother to show the X and Y axis comparisons. This comparison was just a simple case study. Because of this I did not bother to publish every newspaper title, of which there were many, all across the United States, which included Arizona, where Wyatt Earp was most famous, and Colorado, where Soapy Smith was famous, along with most of the other states, but did not include Alaska, where the figures for Soapy would have dramatically increased. Per a request I performed separate comparisons for New York and Los Angeles.

This does not sit well with Cathy, who writes,
If you take a look at his bar graphs, prepared by Google News Archives, you will see that there are no scales, and no idea of what database of newspapers the articles come from. In other words, we don't know if the Wyatt Earp scale is the same as the Soapy Smith scale, and we don't know if Google News's 1880's newspapers were mostly large cities only (including Denver) and didn't include the smaller towns such as Tombstone, Dodge City and the cow towns where the Earp name would have been more familiar.

Checking up with Google News today, almost two years after this posting was made, it is impossible to determine how Smith came up with his data. The graphing feature he cites doesn't exist and Google News does not talk about its database of newspapers.
Again, it was just a comparison of what Google had available, which was quite a lot. At the time I did not wish to write down every single newspaper title as there were just too many. It never dawned on me that anyone would question the graphs because they were easy to do and figured anyone could do their own study in short order, plus the fact that I knew that new titles would be added as time went on.

Cathy did decide to perform her own comparison and writes,
What I CAN do is provide the kind of data that I found missing on Smith's graphs. is a database of over 6,100 historic newspapers that can be searched on-line for a very reasonable yearly subscription fee. They have made an effort to cover every state for all time periods for both large and small population towns.
Cathy is mistaken when she writes, "they have made an effort to cover every state for all time periods for both large and small population towns." I enjoy reading old newspapers looking for clues to fill in the gaps as to where Soapy traveled. I have thoroughly checked out's list of newspaper titles and I can vouch that some key cities and newspaper titles are missing from their data base. There are enough missing to warrant my not using their service. Even so, if you take a look at her graph, you can see that in the 1880s and 90s Wyatt and Soapy are close together, not a "landslide" as Cathy reports.

On January 23, 2012 I performed another comparison, this time using Gale Primary Source Media and Archival Solutions, the largest data base of digital newspapers in the United States. I used the same method as I did in 2010, between the dates 01/01/1860 - 12/31/1899. Once again Soapy beat out Wyatt, by 210% Wyatt's score is 164 while Soapy won with 345.Although the largest data base it is far from complete so again this is just a simple comparison. Apparently Cathy did not see this comparison study as she does not allude to it on her website. She does, however, try to disprove my graphs with another comparison graph of her own, between Soapy and J. M. Tanner. Cathy writes,
Now, to show you why its all a function of what newspaper base you're looking at and how you ask the question, the graph below shows you the number of newspaper articles about Soapy Smith and J. M. Tanner in Alaskan newspapers in the three decades that Si Tanner lived in Alaska. If Jeff Smith's reasoning is correct, the number of newspaper articles written about a man shows how well known he was known in the place he lived. As you can see, Si Tanner was much better known than Soapy Smith.
The main flaw in her reasoning is that she starts her graph in 1900, AFTER Soapy was deceased and at the RISE of Tanner's career as a lawman and politician in Skagway. Naturally, Tanner would have been mentioned in the newspaper a lot more than Soapy, because Soapy was dead. What would have been interesting is for her to include the years 1897-1898 in her comparison, when Tanner was a complete unknown.

"Saluting the memory of Soapy Smith, forever inseparable and significant to the Old West history of the Mile-High City."
―Robert Bandhauer


1838: The first class graduates from Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley, Massachusetts, one of the first colleges for women.
1842: Explorer John C. Fremont carves his name in Independence Rock, Wyoming.
1858: "Ten Nights in a Barroom," a melodrama about the evils of drinking, opens in New York City at the National Theater.
1868: Three members of the 31st Infantry are killed by Indians near Fort Totten, Dakota Territory.
1868: Eight settlers are killed by Indians between Pond Creek, Kansas and Lake Station, Colorado Territory.
1873: Outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez is involved in the “Tres Pinos Massacre.” He is believed to have killed 42 men. On March 19th 1875 Vasquez is hanged for the murders committed during the “Tres Pinos Massacre” at San Jose. California
1877: John Wesley Hardin is arrested by Texas Ranger John B. Armstrong on a train for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Charles Webb in 1874. Armstrong killed Jim Mann and pistol-whipped Hardin until he was unconscious.
1882: Two murders are lynched from a tree in Globe, Arizona Territory.
1892: The printed streetcar transfer is patented by John H. Stedman.
1945: Lawman Elfego Baca dies at age 80 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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