September 29, 2012

The Soap Gang in Midland, Colorado 1894.

The "winner" in a crooked game

idland, Colorado is approximately 100 miles south of Denver, near Cripple Creek. In 1887 the Colorado Midland Railway opened Midland up to travelers. By 1890 the railway was a transcontinental link bringing many people to and from Leadville, Aspen and Grand Junction, as well as the numerous smaller communities in-between. In 1894 the line reached Victor, which served Cripple Creek, dramatically increasing the traffic volume. Then gold veins were discovered in Leadville stirring another boom for the district, which made the Midland line and Midland itself, a very profitable destination for bunco men, such as Soapy Smith's infamous Soap Gang.
      Below is the contents of an article published in the Rocky Mountain News, July 7, 1894 involving the Soap Gang's attempted swindling, gone wrong.
How some of Jeff Smith’s Old Time Experts Descended on the Town,
the Games They Worked, and the Trouble That is Resulting.
      “Red” Gibson, a well-known local thief and bunco steerer, visited Midland May 29 last, in company with Frank Schomo. There they met one of Jeff Smith’s old time experts named smiley, who had been hanging around Midland for several days succeeding the paying off of a number of men employed by Cliff and Davidson on the Midland Terminal railway.
      Gibson, Schomo and smiley put up at the Midland Terminal hotel. The former had a “plant” which he wanted to work and he had called in these two delectable Denver gentlemen to assist him. That same night an Italian named Frank Cherrie dropped into the saloon and was introduced to Gibson and Schomo. They became very friendly, and after buying several rounds of drinks a game of faro was suggested. The son of sunny Italy was the “mark” they were after but they found the faro layout lacking in its alluring qualities. The game petered out and someone suggested throwing dice for small sums. Into this game they inveigled the Italian and he won a few throws—in fact, the loaded dice, cleaned the other outfit out of small change.
      “Change me $10 will you pardner?” said Gibson to the winner.
      The latter was accommodating and flashed a roll containing $125. The sight of the roll was more than Gibson could stand. The dice were still on the table. Gibson looked at them, shouted in the Italian’s ear, “You’ve lost,” grabbed the money and escaped.
      The others of the gang denounced the outrage, but Smiley was arrested and bound over in the sum of $300 on the charge of grand larceny. Gibson and Schomo escaped. Yesterday Sheriff Bowers came up from Colorado Springs and he has taken Gibson to El Paso County to stand trial for the offense detailed.
      Yesterday Schomo was fined $50 and costs by Justice Harper, for carrying a concealed weapon. A few nights ago he had clubbed a Frenchman in a livery stable on Market Street. On the charge of robbing the same individual he will be given a trial this morning. He will probably be arrested and taken to Colorado Springs to join the duet he made the pace with at the quiet little town of Midland.
"Red" Gibson: Not a whole lot is known about bunco man "Red" Gibson. A Google of his name shows "Red" to be a popular nickname for people (men and women) named Gibson.
     Although in the above newspaper account he is listed working with members of the Soap Gang, author Amy Reading claims in her book, The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con (p. 137), that Gibson worked for the Blonger Brothers previous to joining the Soap Gang. According to the Denver Post of April 12, 1895 Gibson was sentenced to 60 days for "film flam"-ing "Chas. Greenday." Eight months later, on August 7, 1896 he is arrested with Soap Gang member John L. Bowers for vagrancy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and joins Soapy in Skagway, Alaska late in 1897. One of the three photographs showing Soapy at the bar surrounded by members of the gang has one of the men listed as "Red," which may be Gibson.

Frank Schomo: A Google search found only two people with the last name of Schomo, but many examples for Frank Shomo. Nothing under either name could be found.

Smiley: I could not find any information on this person. It is most likely a last name but it could also be an alias.

Rocky Mountain News, July 7, 1894, page 3.
Denver Evening Post, August 7-8, 1896.
Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, by Jeff Smith.
The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con, by Amy Reading.
Colorado Midland Railway - A Short History


"Red" Gibson: page 417.

"“Soapy” Smith, a leading Republican politician of Denver and a practical gambler, has made up his party of six men with records as dead shots. He will take one of the finest gambling outfits in the country with him. Some of the hardest characters in the west are now in camp or on their way and much blood will flow before the camp celebrates its second birthday."
—The Salt Lake Herald, December 29, 1892.

September 26, 2012

Jeff Smith's Parlor restoration: Locked horn moose, part 16

"Forever Locked: The Battling Bull Moose of Fowlertown"
Two bull moose that fought to the death when their antlers became entangled
in a forest in New Hampshire. Now on display at the L. L. Bean store.

(Click image to enlarge)

The actual moose from Jeff Smith's Parlor
(photo by Bob Lyon)
(Click image to enlarge)

he two photographs above are not of the same display. The top photo is to give the reader an idea of what the locked horn moose display from Jeff Smith's Parlor sort of looked like. I found the top photograph by Googling "moose with locked horns" and was surprised at how many images there were of two moose who had died with their horns locked.
      Bob Lyon, the park service historian who has been keeping us posted on the progress of the restoration project on Jeff Smith's Parlor, took the lower photograph a number of months ago as it sat in storage, but a recent post from the internal NPS website indicates the two moose had to be moved to save them from damage. Mr. Lyon sent me the message.
Tuesday, September 25

Maintenance staff offers sanctuary to stuffed moose at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
      Klondike Gold Rush NHP’s maintenance staff greatly assisted a pair of dueling moose by shepherding them into a new temporary residence on September 14. Moving the enormous taxidermy mount required a ten-person crew and a flat-bed trailer. The new temporary residence for the moose is the Meyer’s Meat Market, a building that the park is restoring. The unusual taxidermy mount is part of the park’s museum collection and is scheduled to go back on display in Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum in 2016 after the museum’s restoration is complete.
      The moose had been temporarily placed in a storage unit outside of the park to allow space for restoration work in Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum. Museum staff recently found evidence of rodent activity and mild flooding around the taxidermy mount, and requested help from the Maintenance Division to find the moose a safer place to live while the mount’s permanent home is under construction. Storage in the Meyer’s Meat Market will provide the mount with rodent-proof, dry storage until its permanent home is ready. The Meyer’s Market space will also allow room for conservation work that needs to be performed on the taxidermy mount before exhibit. “The moose definitely fits in the category of large and unwieldy museum artifacts. We’re just so appreciative of the Maintenance crew and their willingness to help us with the moose’s care,” said Curator Samantha Richert.
      Skagway entrepreneur and showman Martin Itjen commissioned the moose mount after acquiring the skulls of two moose locked in combat. The mount was completed by local taxidermist Percy Colton in the 1930s, and became the centerpiece of a diorama in Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum. The diorama also includes taxidermy mounts of a deer, a wolf, a great horned owl, and a moose skull covered with barnacles. The park acquired both the Meyer’s Meat Market and Jeff. Smiths Parlor Museum as part of the Rapuzzi Collection, which was donated by the Rasmuson Foundation and received in partnership with the Municipality of Skagway in 2007

(Submitted by Cindy Von Halle, KLGO)

Bob Lyon
Jeff Smith's Parlor restoration

February 4, 2009 (Part 1)
February 19, 2009 (Part 2)  
March 31, 2010 (Part 3)  
August 7, 2010 (Part 4) 
February 11, 2011 (Part 5) 
April 5, 2011 (Part 6)
May 8, 2011 (Part 7)
May 17, 2011 (Part 8)
November 20, 2011 (Part 9)
March 21, 2012 (Part 10)
March 30, 2012 (Part 11)
June 20, 2012 (Part 12)
August 8, 2012 (Part 13)
August 29, 2012 (Part 14)
September 1, 2012 (Part 15)

"With regard to Mr. Soapy Smith’s business, to be sure he wraps up a $50-bill in a soap package, puts it down in his bag, and the person that buys it probably don’t get the $50; but if people don’t want to lose they shouldn’t buy a package of soap. If they don’t want to lose a jack-pot, they shouldn’t put up their ante. I have often backed three queens with a $50-bill and lost the pot, but I had no one to blame but myself. "
—Judge Belford (Soapy’s attorney)
Rocky Mountain News, August 6, 1889.

September 25, 2012

Soapy Smith: Shah of Skagway, Alaska

The Shah of Skaguay!
Colorized Soapy Smith

(Click image to enlarge)

he story of Soapy Smith as the "Shah of Skaguay" made it's way across the states ever since it was first coined in the San Francisco Examiner on February 25, 1898. Included in the story was Soapy's wish to become chief of police. Some mistakenly thought he was referring to just Skagway, but the truth of the matter is that he wanted to become the highest lawman of the entire district of Alaska. You may recall the story in which Governor Brady offered him a lower position lawman's job in Sitka but that Soapy turned it down. That off did not just materialize out of thin air. It is pretty obvious that the governor and Soapy talked over the possibility.   
      Below is the entire contents of the story in the Nebraska, Omaha Daily Bee for March 10, 1898.

“Soapy” Smith Blooms Out as the Shah of Skagway.

      “Soapy” Smith, one time known as Jeff, gambler, politician, “sure-thing” man, has added to his other titles that of “Shah of Skagway.” He also longs to be called “Chief.” In the boom town at the entrance of White Pass “Soapy” is a power and a prominent citizen. The sporting fraternity owe allegiance to his game and when the place is incorporated will further his ambition to be chief of police.
      The story of the career of the would-be policeman teems with tales of adventure. He is known all about the Pacific coast as a most desperate gambler. It was however, in Colorado that he first achieved prominence.
      It was in the good old times every man had money–unless he had met “Soapy.” In the midst of the throng of people there in Denver stood “Soapy” on a box. He had soap to sell. It was very remarkable soap. “Soapy” touched it and lo there was an inner wrapping of crisp bank notes around every bar. What was the use of hunting over the hills for deceptive silver mines? Here was a fortune close at hand. “Soapy” had just a few left for sale. Under his magic touch a bar was seen to be enfolded in money. With eager eye fixed upon the tempting treasure the spectator placed his hard-earned to the magician and grasped the potent bar. Upon opening the outer wrapper, breathing short and quick the while he found–just soap; but it was a very good soap.
      “Soapy” became very proficient in the shell game and in all the various schemes of the high-class bunko man. Year after year he flourished, bunkoed visitors, conducted a gambling house and made his name a byword and a synonym. He made fortune after fortune and spent it all in riotous living.
      He left Denver in 1896, driven out at last by the women empowered with the suffrage. He went to New Orleans, was imprisoned there for vagrancy and finally drifted to the Pacific coast.


Shah of Skaguay
February 14, 2009 
September 27, 2009 

The Shah of Skaguay: page 463-464.

"You couldn’t help liking Soapy. He was the most gentlemanly crook that ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat."
—George Dedman, Skagway pioneer merchant

September 23, 2012

"Soapy" Smith's End: The New York Herald, Aug 7, 1898

The New York Herald
August 7, 1898
page 2

(Click image to enlarge)

   great newspaper article that warrants the "BE CAREFUL" label. News of Soapy Smith's death took a month to make its way to New York City. His story made page 2 headlines along with two illustrations, which are amazingly correct. The story the New York Herald published is amazing as well, but not correct. It seems that the facts got a little hazy in the travel from Skagway to New York. In all it's glory, I offer the entire contents below for your amusement and joy.

Most Picturesque Is This Glimpse of Rough
And Ready Civilization in a Brand
New American City.

Those who imagine that Mark Twain and Bret Harte have exhausted the field of
rough and ready American frontier life should read this letter from Skaguay,
Alaska. The American adventurer of to-day is much the same as in the classic
days when California was new. The scene has shifted to Alaska. That is all.
And who will say that the late lamented “Soapy” Smith is a less vivid or less pic-
puresque character than those made famous in “Roughing It”?

SKAGUAY, Alaska, July 15.
      With the passing of “Soapy" Smith Skaguay's reign of terror seems drawing to a close. "Soapy" is dead, and his confederates stand a pretty good chance of going after him, if only the law-abiding citizens of the town can connect with a halter. But there is a man here named Sehlbrede, a Judge, who considers halters undignified. So the law abiding citizens will probably have to content themselves with the prosaic routine of a trial by jury.
      “Soapy'' would have gone down the dark trail long ago had it not been for the fact that he was never seen alone, and to pull a gun on him meant death to the puller. “Tom” Reed, the city engineer, found that out, but "Soapy" went with him, and there, is a heap of satisfaction in that.
      The killing of "Soapy" Smith by Reed was the result of a period of lawlessness which was picturesque, if uncomfortable and inconvenient. “Soapy" came to these regions shortly after gold was discovered, and immediately turned himself loose on the community as a bad man. He quickly gathered about him a gang of "sure thing" gamblers, thieves and cutthroats, who regarded him as their leader. He ran things with a high hand. His word was law, and there was for a time no other law known in Skaguay. It was a nice place for a tenderfoot:

Terror of Skaguay.

      To show how completely "Soapy" ran the town it is only necessary to state that on Memorial Day he delivered the address at the celebration gotten up by the citizens of Skaguay, and on the Fourth of July he acted as chief marshal of the parade. A versatile man was "Soapy."
      He came here from Colorado, the cradle of bad men. He first gained fame by saving the life of "Bloody Bridles" Waite, then Governor of Colorado. Single handed, and armed only with a shotgun, he kept at bay a squad of infantry who were on the trail of the populist leader. He knew no fear, and often predicted that he would die with his boots on.
      When Creede was experiencing a reign of lawlessness in 1891, Smith was United States Marshal, and so vigorous was he in the pursuit of his calling that in a short time he had turned the camp into a fairly respectable community. On coming to Alaska, however, a change came over the spirit of his dreams.
      Gathering some thirty of the most hardened and desperate men about him he proceeded to take affairs into his own hands. He opened a saloon on the main street of Skaguay. It was called "Jeff Smith's Parlors," and here the gang had its headquarters.
      There were ugly rumors about Smith and his "parlors," and the more reputable citizens gave the place a wide berth, hut in spite of this the personality of the man was for a time strong enough to stifle the ill feeling against him.
      "Soapy" Smith's was about as tough a place as you would and on the Western Hemisphere. In addition to dispensing bad liquor and occasionally chloral for "knockout" purposes, "Soapy" ran a very prosperous gambling business. No stranger ever left the place a winner. If the cards and the doctored roulette wheel did not do the business he was knocked over the head and robbed. That is the sort of a place "Soapy" Smith ran.
      He could always rely upon his satellites to do his bidding, for "Soapy" in their eyes was a hero. He was a consummate and fertile liar, his language was lurid and picturesque, and the stories of his prowess were undoubtedly manufactured by him from the whole cloth. But he told them well, with a liberal sprinkling of original profanity, and it is a tribute to his intellect that he often made them up as he went along. I would almost be willing to swear to that.
      And yet he was far from being a bluffer. Several months ago one of has bartenders shot two men, and an infuriated mob sought to lynch him. At the risk of his own neck "Soapy," armed to the teeth, kept back the crowd and held the upper hand until the United States Marshal from Sitka arrived.

Bad Place for Klondikers.

      Things finally came to such a pass in Skaguay, that the miner returning from the Klondike with his dust would steer clear of the town altogether. If he didn't he knew that he stood either a good chance of being skinned out of his pile or of being knocked on the head if, in a moment of thoughtlessness, he neglected to walk in the middle of the street. The sidewalks are seldom used in Skaguay after dark for obvious reasons. The middle of the street is more healthy.
      Well, the thing culminated the other day when a party of returning Klondikers struck town. They came from Dawson over the Dalton trail, arriving in Dyea on Thursday. Finding that they could get not steamer out immediately, they left there for Skaguay in the hope of getting one here, which, of course, they couldn't. But they didn't know that. One of them, a man named Stewart, wishes he had never seen Skaguay, but at the same time he knows that his coming was the direct cause of the passing of "Soapy" Smith.
      When "Soapy" and his gang heard that the Klondikers were in town they pricked up their ears. They sniffed gold dust in the air. A returning of Klondikers over the Skaguay trail Is a rare bird nowadays, and one well worth the plucking. The metropolis of the "dead horse" trail usually sees to it that such a one does not soon forget his visit.

The Looting of Stewart.

      Arriving In the evening, the party made a few purchases and retired for the night, resisting all the Inducements to go abroad offered by the cappers. The next morning Stewart was on his way to the bank to make arrangements for having his dust shipped to his home in British Columbia. A gang of confidence sharps had camped on his trail, ready to resort to any measure to fleece him.
      Four of them met him on the street. They were "Slim Jim," one of "Soapy" Smith's chief henchmen; “Reds" Bowers, "Bub" Tripp and "Jack" Wilder. They piled him with questions about prices and wages in Dawson, and finally "Slim Jim" requested Stewart to let him "heft" his little bag of dust.
      Stewart thought it best to comply, as he was unarmed, and not realizing that his money could be stolen at ten o'clock in the morning on the public thoroughfare. But it was, just the same. The "hefter" quickly disappeared, and when Stewart attempted to follow him the others closed in and prevented a pursuit. Then they, too, scattered in all directions.

The Citizens Aroused.

      The stolen bag contained $3,000 worth of gold Dust, Stewart's earnings for a year. He went to Dyea and reported the matter to Judge Sehlbrede, who issued a warrant and sent it to the marshal at Skaguay for execution. The Judge, who has the reputation of being a game man, followed to see that it was served. The robbery took place near "Soapy" Smith's place, and both the marshal and the Judge knew that they would not have far to look for their men.
      As soon as the particulars of the robbery became known, and before either the Judge or the warrant had arrived, a number of the citizens who believe in law and order, but more particularly in order, held a meeting, at which it was determined that something must be done at once. Of course it was surmised that "Soapy" Smith was at the bottom of it, and so a committee was appointed to wait on "Soapy."
      "Soapy" was told that his reign had lasted long enough and that he and his gang must quit.
      "We want the man who robbed Stewart and we want the dust he stole," said the committee.
      “What’ll you do with the man in case you get the money?" asked "Soapy." He didn't mind showing his hand.
      "That is none of your business," was the reply of the committee. It was an unfortunate reply for Stewart, for it lost him his dust forever. And "Soapy" got mad clean through. His language was something weird. He said he was tired of being pestered by committees of law abiding citizens. He had no use for law abiding citizens, and he wanted it stopped, and would see that it was stopped.

The Town Meeting.

      As law abiding citizens should, the committee went its way and made a report. Notices were posted all over town, calling for a meeting of the citizens at Sylvester's Hall at nine o'clock that night. At the appointed hour the place was filled to overflowing, and more were clamoring to get in. Then the meeting adjourned to the wharf, where there was room for everybody.
      Here the meeting was in progress when affairs took a serious turn. In the midst of a speech denouncing the lawless element of the town, "Soapy" Smith and several of his followers appeared on the scene, fully armed and prepared for anything that might turn up. They were looking for trouble.
      "Soapy" stood up on a barrel, where everybody could see him, and raised his hand in an imperative gesture for silence. The law abiding citizen who was speaking stopped.
      "Who in hell is runnin' this here town?" demanded "Soapy," in thunderous tones.
      There was a dead silence. You might have heard a pin drop.
      Tom Reed, the city engineer, was standing on the outskirts of the crowd. He walked over to where "Soapy" Smith was gazing defiantly at the upturned faced.

The Killing of Soapy.

      "Do you want to know real badly who is running this town?" he demanded.
      “I reckon you heard what I said," yelled "Soapy."
      "Well, then," said Reed, and the stillness seemed to grow more intense, "let me tell you that the good citizens of Skaguay are, and not "Soapy" Smith and his gang. Their reign is over!"
      "Soapy" ripped out an oath and everybody scattered. They knew trouble was coming. "Soapy" was armed with a Winchester rifle, and Reed was standing directly beneath him. He unstrung his weapon, and with its butt struck the engineer full in the face, knocking him to the ground. Then he jumped down from the barrel and fired twice. One bullet went through Reed's foot, and the other passed clean through his body.
      Reed knew that he was mortally wounded, but he pulled his revolver and took steady aim as "Soapy" was standing over him, ready to send another bullet into his prostrate body. There was a flash and a report, and the desperado sank back and fell to the ground with a bullet through his heart, stone dead.
      It was a good shot, but poor Reed paid the penalty. He was buried day before yesterday.
A Scene of Riot.

      The killing of "Soapy" was only the beginning. Those who had been clamoring for law and order were loudest in their demand for vengeance. The death of "Soapy" Smith had only whetted their appetites. They wanted the entire gang to share his fate. But the gang had taken to cover.
      “Soapy’s cohorts were well known, and the meeting broke up to look for them. The air was filled with the popping of pistols. The law and order meeting evolved itself into a vigilants’ [vigilantes'] committee, such as characterized the early days In California. Resolutions were adopted to the effect that the gamblers and "con" men must tot only leave Skaguay, but Alaska.
      It was determined they should go South, and no other way. To carry out this plan, committees were sent up the trail to guard that outlet, a detachment was told off to patrol Skaguay beach, and three boatloads were dispatch [dispatched] to Dyea to see that no Skaguay men took refuge there. The entire population of the town was up all night.

An Alaskan War Extra.

      In Dyea is published a newspaper called the Dyea Trail. The regular price is ten cents a copy. At seven o'clock in the morning the editor of that enterprising sheet had gotten out an extra, a sort of war extra, a single sheet printed on one side, describing the killing of "Soapy" Smith. It was a marvellous [marvelous] piece of journalistic enterprise. The papers went like hot cakes, some of them bringing fabulous prices. There was great excitement.
      In the meantime Judge Sehlbrede had arrived from Dyea, prepared to do what he could to preserve order. In the morning things were at fever heat. All sorts of rumors were afloat, and lynching’s were freely talked of. The entire town was up in arms, but "Soapy" Smith's gang lay low.
      At six o'clock fourteen of the suspected men had been captured and were under strict guard in the City Hall. About midnight another and very important capture was made in the taking of one of the men who was with "Soapy" on the dock. Later two or three other men were arrested in the house where he was found, and the arrests (not made without bloodshed) continued until the City Hall had become crowded with prisoners, and a number were confined in the upper rooms of the Burkhard Hotel, in all numbering about thirty.

Troops on the Scene.

      The most important capture consisted in the taking of the four men who had been directly Implicated in the Stewart robbery—"Slim Jim," Bowers, Tripp and Wilder. The neighborhood of the City Hall was filled with excited men, crazed with the lust for human blood. It looked as though the jail would be stormed, and all the prisoners taken out and promptly lynched, but the wise counsel of Judge Sehlbrede prevailed, and the prisoners were removed, without any further demonstration, to the Burkhard Hotel for safer protection and examination.
      Captain R. T. Yeatman, commanding the United States troops in Alaska, had repeatedly telephoned from Dyea to the United States Commissioner in Skaguay to know if he could control affairs, and at eleven o’clock Sunday night he received answer that twenty-five or thirty men might be necessary, As things were in bad shape, and he had arranged to send a boat for them.
      Captain Yeatman lost no time, and in fifteen minutes was on the way with seventeen men, which force he felt was ample. As the boat did not arrive he was obliged to seize one lying at the dock, and the troops arrived at Skaguay at two o’clock Monday morning. Oh his arrival he was met with the request that, though excitement was high, it was hoped he would not assume charge until after Investigation.
      Upon agreeing to this and leaving his men in the warehouse, he joined the Judge at the Brannlck Hotel, just back of where the prisoners were confined. He had no sooner reached the hotel than a shot was fired, immediately followed by others.

Escape of "Slim Jim."

      Both the Judge and the Captain ran into the street and soon found themselves in the midst of a howling mob, in the centre [center] of which was "Slim Jim," with a rope about his neck. He had attempted to escape by leaping from the third story window, and the attempt very nearly cost him his life prematurely. It took all the persuasive eloquence of the Judge, backed up by the commanding presence and the uniform of the Captain, to enable "Slim Jim" to get back to his quarters. And glad enough he was to get there.
      After that Captain Yeatman brought his men up and placed them on guard about the hotel. But the excitement has now subsided, at least for the present, and the troops have been withdrawn. Marshal Tanner, in an address to the people of Skaguay, said that Captain Yeatman at the first act of violence would return with his men and place the town under martial law; that he had gone back to Dyea, but had only done so upon the solemn assurance of the Marshal and the leading business men that order would be maintained and the men who had been arrested would be protected and have a fair trial.
      And that is the way matters stand in Skaguay to-day.


"That "Soapy” is engaged in robbery wherever he is may safely be taken for granted."
San Francisco Call, April 2, 1898.

September 22, 2012

First annual Soapy Smith Wake at the Wizard's Club of Chicago.

he year 2012 had four "wakes" held in Soapy Smith's honor. The newest wake, the first, and hopefully, annual, Soapy Smith wake was held in Chicago, Illinois at the Wizard's Club, in combination with the organizations 80th Anniversary Party. The Wake was hosted by professional magician, and big Soapy fan, Keith Cobb, who attended the annual event every year at the Magic Castle. Keith decided Chicago needed its own event, and considering Soapy had traveled to Chicago on several occasions it certainly warrants a party of its own.
      The above video was edited and placed on Youtube by Keith, who stated that it was late due to technical issues with the video. We are happy to see that Keith was able to fix the problems and show us how much fun everyone had in Chicago. Keith is such a big fan of Soapy's that he used to travel from Chicago to Hollywood just for the Soapy Smith Night event held annually at the Magic Castle. We here at the Soapy Smith Preservation Trust are very proud of Keith's accomplishments in his personal business ventures as well as his honoring Soapy in such a grand way. If you have not done so yet I think some encouragement and thanks are due him!
      I would like to personally thank Keith Cobb for his wonderful devotion. He had some magnificent plans and saw them through. I would also like to thank the Wizard's Club of Chicago for allowing the Soapy Smith wake to coincide with their own anniversary. I hope we can work together to make this event an annual one.   

Links and sources
The Grifter: Home
The Grifter: Soapy wake advertisement
The Grifters Gameroom: Home     
The Wizard's Club of Chicago: Home


Keith Cobb
June 2, 2012
December 31, 2011
June 15, 2011
June 29, 2010
July 16, 2008

"He is genial and generous, enjoys a fight, pays his debts, gives his last dollar to whoever wants it and steals the first dollar the next man is rash enough to expose to view."
—Henry James, San Francisco Call, February 27, 1898.

September 19, 2012

William Sidney Light, lawman, killer.

Except for the age of the lawman, this could be a reenactment
of the McCann shooting in Creede, Colorado


William Sidney Light, alias "Cap," member of the Denver and Creede Soap Gang, and Soapy Smith's brother-in-law, was a dangerous man to anger. With at least five deaths to his name, some suspicious in nature, it was speculated that he was a killer who used the law badge to hide behind. Not a lot has been written about him, but there is plenty of information out there for a historian is who willing to do the leg-work, to publish a fine biography on the man. I did research on Light for the period that he belonged to the family and to the Soap Gang, which is contain in my book, Alias Soapy Smith. There is a page on Wikipedia that I created on Light here.
      Light died accidentally by his own hand on Christmas eve when his revolver fell out of his hands and fired a round into his groin. The Rocky Mountain News posted an unflattering obituary, if one can call it that, on December 27, 1893, which read as follows.



      “Cap” Light of Belton, Texas, Shot Himself by Accident the Other Day, Thus Ending a Wild and Woolly Career―Five Men Killed in the Last Fifteen Years―The Record of a Bad Man from Texas―His Last Killing Was at Creede, Which Compelled Him to Leave That Camp Because He Shot When the other Man’s Revolver Was Empty.
     The death of Captain Light at Belton, Texas, on Sunday last, removes one who has done more than his share in earning for the West the appellation of “wild and woolly.” His record extends over the period covered by the last fifteen years, and he has averaged a “killing” for every three years. He was a brother-in-law of Jeff Smith and for some years was an efficient “steerer” for that distinguished relative. His last victim was Red McCann, a Creede gambler, and although the jury decided it a case of justifiable homicide, the people declared it a case of Light “getting” his man.
      Captain Light came to Colorado from the South. He brought with him a reputation for “killing” and when irrigated he managed to make himself out a very bad man from Texas. His stories were highly colored and thay all had the fringes peculiar to the border tales of ten years ago. For some years before coming north he was assistant city marshal of Belton, Texas, and about eleven years ago he shot and killed Sam Halsey, who was resisting arrest. By using his gun on the slightest provocation he soon made for himself the reputation of being a “holy terror.” From Belton he went to Temple and became deputy city marshal at that point. There he killed his second man, who like the first was resisting arrest. By this time Light’s name had become a household word, and for years he was alluded to as a good sort of a fellow―to get away from. He was mixed up in many fights and after a time the “respect” he had commanded with the aid of a six-shooter began to fade away. It was recalled that all his killings and shooting scrapes occurred when the other man’s gun was elsewhere, or in other words, when the victim was powerless to return blow for blow and shot for shot. Then the story was told that Light knew more than he cared to tell of a cold blooded murder where, on a lonely road on a dark night, a Winchester rifle played an important part in removing one whose antagonism was not relished.

      From Temple, Light went to Brownwood, Texas, and there he killed another man, who had committed the indiscretion of trifling with the law’s officer. From there he came to Denver and remained with Jeff Smith during the latter’s palmy days. He did not make many friends in Denver and was regarded by the best sporting men as considerable of a bluff. From here he went to Wason and from there to Creede, When it was “day all day” and “no night” in that record making camp. He put another notch on his cane there by killing Red McCann, a gambler, well-known all over the western country. At Creede Light became deputy city marshal under Meadows, and with the protection he cut a wide swath. His hand was always on his gun and the history-makers of the town say that he was bravest whenever he had the best of it. His shooting of Red McCann really drove him out of the camp, as it was pretty generally believed that Light knew that McCann’s gun was empty when he loaded him up with five volleys of lead.
      The shooting created considerable excitement, even in that abiding place of the unexpected, and the ubiquitous and versatile variety actress played an important part in it. In the town at that time the “variety” afforded the gamblers and miners all the recreation they wanted outside of the saloon. The painted fairies [showgirls] from all over the West flocked in and they made the place hum for a few months. A bartender named [William] Allen became enamored of one of these angels whose beauty had not been seriously marred by the excesses of the camp. He had as a rival Red McCann. The eventual quarrel followed and the girl agreed to take the man whose nerve showed up to the best advantage in a Creede shooting scrape. Captain Light was a friend of Allen’s, and to him he confided the story. That night they started out to do their daily kalsomining, and before entering a saloon they met McCann and a party of friends whose hilarity was such that they all began shooting off their guns in the air. The chambers were emptied and they all went into the saloon to liquor. McCann and Light exchanged words and the latter, always calm and composed, irritated McCann to such an extent that he pulled his empty gun on Captain Light. With that the deputy marshal nailed him, and before his gun quit smoking five cartridges had found a resting place in some vital part of McCann’s anatomy. An inquest was held, but before the verdict was announced Light had left the camp.
      For the last year and a half he has been running a barber shop at Temple, Texas. He has had one or two “experiences” since, but he died with his Creede killing as his last.
      When he met his death he was on a Missouri, Kansas and Texas train bound north from Belton. At Little River those on the car were expecting that an attempt would be made to hold up the train, and Light was examining his pistol, when it fell to the floor and went off, the ball entering the lower part of the groin and severing the femoral artery. He bled to death in a few minutes.

William S. Light: pages 9, 82-83, 184, 193-94, 207, 214-18.

"I'm in the middle of Soapy's tenure in Creede, and the book gets more and more fascinating. You must be very proud of having mastered so much primary source material. I'm especially intrigued by your explanations of the various scams used by 19th-century con men--a fascinating subject!"
—Charles F. Price

September 17, 2012

Charles Spurgeon Moody, Skagway, Alaska banker.

First Bank of Skaguay
later to become Jeff Smith's Parlor

(Click image to enlarge)

harles Spurgeon Moody: Skaguay banker.

On page 572 of Alias Soapy Smith I make the mistake of trusting an issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (08/05/1898, page 6.)  for the correct initial of Mr. Moody's middle name. They (and I) list it as "F" when in fact it is "S" for Spurgeon. This correction comes from my good friend, Skagway historian and website host of Skagway Stories, Marlene McCluskey, in a post on Mr. Moody from last year, September 13, 2011. At the time of publishing my book I had little luck finding much on Moody. I knew that he was the president of the First Bank of Skaguay, that his first bank building had been sold to Soapy Smith and the Clancy brother's, John and Frank, and that he had been accused of being in league with Soapy.
      Marlene found and posted the following on Moody.
    C. S. Moody was born in 1867 in Kirkwood Illinois. He came to Seattle in 1889 to work in banking. He then came to Skagway around 1897 and worked with Hawkins to purchase land for the railroad. He and some investors started the First Bank of Skagway which later went broke in 1899. He was involved in some lawsuits after that. He moved to Washington and started another bank and worked as a special deputy state bank examiner for other banks that went under in 1917.
      In his book Alias Soapy Smith, Jeff Smith says that some people believed Moody to be one of Soapy's "silent partners." In Seattle, where Moody went in August of 1898, he strongly and emphatically denied the story that he was run out of Skagway by the citizens who thought he was involved with Soapy. He said "All talk detrimental to my reputation was started by my enemies..." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer 08/05/1898, p. 6)
      Still, there was no money or gold from Soapy's estate when his wife Mary came to Skagway to claim his effects. Certainly there was a conspiracy to clean out his estate by some. Perhaps Moody was an innocent that was thrown in with the other clan members. In any event, he returned to Skagway for a short time until the bank went under.
      Charles Moody stayed in Washington, married and had a family and died on April 28, 1956.
      Source: Klondike Centenial Scrapbook, p.94 ad; Minter; Victoria Daily Colonist 6.6.99; Rootsweb posting; Washington death record.
     Accused and questioned C. S. Moody, president of the First Bank of Skaguay. was believed to be one of Jeff’s “silent partners.” In Seattle Moody had plenty to say about the accusation. The full text of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from my book is as follows.
     C. F. [sic] Moody, president of the First Bank of Skaguay, arrived in Seattle Wednesday on the steamer Oregon. Shortly after his arrival he took occasion to make a strong and emphatic denial of the widely circulated story that he was run out of Skaguay by the citizens for the reason that he was accused of concealing in the vault of the bank the dust and nuggets stolen from a Yukoner by one of “Soapy” Smith’s gang.
      Mr. Moody avers that he is the victim of a conspiracy and that an attempt is being made by his enemies to ruin his reputation and drive him out of business. He declares, however, that he will continue to be a resident of Skaguay and run his bank just as long as there is such a town. To a Post-Intelligencer reporter, at the Hotel Seattle, yesterday, Mr. Moody said:
      “All talk detrimental to my reputation was started by my enemies. The report that I was ordered to leave town by the committee of citizens was a lie…. It was believed that “Soapy” Smith deposited the stolen sack of gold in our bank, owing to the fact that he called at the office on the night the robbery occurred. I appeared before the committee of citizens, told my story and the gold, it will be remembered, was afterward found back of Smith’s saloon.
     At the time of his death Soapy has historically been classified as "all but broke." I agree that there were times in his life when he was low on funds but I cannot believe that his reign in Skagway saw a period that he was even close to being low on funds. Skagway was Soapy's private gold mine. When Marlene posted her information on Moody, I responded with the following.
     The family of Soapy Smith generally believes that he kept a nice amount of his plunder in Skagway and that the bulk of it was kept with wealthy friends in Seattle and San Francisco. Nothing is known (yet) to have been written down so those "friends" just kept the money. Soapy's wife was sent money on a regular basis and the Smith's bought land in Colorado and Missouri so Mary lived comfortably for most of her days. She swore Soapy was worth about $40,000,000 at the time of his death and that enemies in Skagway robbed the accounts and denied Soapy ever owned any land there (which he did), and the business friends in Seattle and Frisco kept what they had been given to hold. Even if Mary was exaggerating the amount it is probable that Soapy kept large amounts of money in safes outside of Skagway. I doubt there were enough safes in Skagway to hold the cash and gold he was taking in.
      Doesn't anyone find it sort of odd that one of the greatest con men in history was involved in the greatest gold rush in history, and yet died supposedly broke?


First Bank of Skaguay
November 30, 2008
October 26, 2009
November 2, 2009

Charles Spurgeon Moody: page 572.

"There was never a better manipulator of the shell game, and Smith could draw a gun as handily as he could deal four aces from the bottom of the deck."
―Detective Sam Howe,
Denver police department, Denver Post 11/15/1914, p. 10.