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.


1789: The U.S. War Department establishes a regular army of several hundred men. 
1857: Cowboy and rustler, Nathan D. Champion is born in Williamson County, Texas. 
1859: Mexican guerilla leader Juan Cortina and his men seize control of Brownsville, Texas, demanding payment of a $100,000 ransom. Later reports have Cortina burning down the town of Corpus Christi and generally laying waste to Texas. Governor Runnels appoints Texas Ranger John S. Ford major in command of all state forces on the Rio Grande to track down Cortina. 
1864: The Civil War Battle of Chaffin's Farm begins, taking nearly 5,000 casualties in two days of fighting. 1865: William F. Cody's company H of the 7th Kansas Volunteers is disbanded. 
1866: Captain W. Fetterman reports one soldier killed during an Indian attack on Ft. Kearny, Wyoming Territory. 
1867: Indians wound two members of the 37th Infantry near Fort Garland, Colorado. 
1872: Colonel Mackenzie of the 4th Cavalry reports 23 Indians killed, 120 captured, and one soldier killed in a battle with Indians on the north fork of the Red River, Texas. 
1879: Known as the "Meeker Massacre," dissatisfied Ute Indians at the White River Ute Indian Reservation, Colorado, kill Agent Nathan Meeker and nine others. 
1883: Lawman turned outlaw, Lon Chambers, and two others, board a train at Coolidge, Kansas. One of the gunmen shoots and kills engineer John Hilton. The express messenger shoots in defense, driving the robbers from the train. Chambers is eventually arrested, but released due to lack of evidence. Chambers is famous for aiding Lincoln County, New Mexico Sheriff Pat Garrett track down Billy the Kid and his gang in 1881. 
1887: A silver spike is used marking the completion of the St. Paul and Manitoba Railroad near Fort Benton, Montana. 
1887: The Southern Pacific's tracks reach the Colorado River, near Yuma, Arizona. 
1900: The outlaw Wild Bunch gang, including Butch Cassidy, Harvey Logan, Bill Carver, Ben Kilpatrick, and O. C. Hanks is believed to be the robbers of Union Pacific's train No. 3 at Table Rock, near Tipton, Wyoming, although some historians say Cassidy was not there. The gang took away a little more than $5,000.

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