November 26, 2012

The Passing of Soapy Smith by Cy Warman, 1898.

ewspaper man Cy Warman had a long history of correspondence with Soapy Smith. I have some of Mr. Warman's letters to Soapy in my private collection. He wrote the article below after Soapy was killed. It was published in the San Francisco Call September 4, 1898.

Cy Warman might be guilty, as many newspaper reporters were, of a little sensationalism for the sake of sales. However, I recognize much of what is written so we should not be too quick to dismiss what is printed here. There are some very interesting questions raised from the content as well.


Reminiscences of the Notorious Klondike Gambler, Confidence Man and Politician Who Met His Death While Trying to Clean Out a Vigilance Committee That Proved Too Strong for Him.
By Cy Warman.

A thousand burdened burros filled
The narrow, winding, wriggling trail;
A hundred settlers came to build.
Each day, new houses in the vale;
A hundred gamblers came to feed
On the same settlers— that was Creede.

Slanting Annie, Gambling Joe
And “Bad” Bob Ford, "Sapolio.
Or “Soapy” Smith, as he was known,
Ran games peculiarly their own;
For everything was open wide.
And men drank absinthe on the side.

This was the running record of Creed Camp as set down at the time, A. D. 1892. With a press franchise, a force of printers, a lead pencil and a power press, the writer had gone to the booming camp to establish a morning paper, with a telegraph service, in a town that had been in existence but three short moons and was not yet definitely located on the maps.

In a little bushless spot by the roadside was a board shanty upon the door of which was tacked a tin beer sign. Inside half a dozen workingmen—laborers or miners they might be—were sitting on wooden benches about the stove. They had been in animated conversation, but hushed it as they noted the entrance of a newcomer. One small man with pale, lusterless hair and cold gray eyes, was recognizable as Tom, the shell man—"Troublesome Tom," they called him, I had seen a carpenter pause at Tom's three-legged stool that day watch the game for a moment, then slowly slide his tool-bag from his shoulder to the ground, put five dollars on the table and pounce upon one of the shells. He lost this five and two more, called the shell man a thief and demanded his money back.

"Yes." said the man with his cold eyes fixed upon the top of the mountain: "I presume that's what you wanted with my money—to give it back."

Now the carpenter was pushed aside by a man who could guess. This man was able to win three times out of five.

Seeing that the game could be beaten a merchant from Denver put down ten, tried again and lost. Crumpling a fifty dollar bill in his left hand the merchant watched the two half shells for a moment and then made a grab. "Turn it over, turn it over," he demanded excitedly, dropping the crumpled bill. Tom turned it over, but there was nothing in it—nothing for the merchant.

"Why didn't you turn it yo'sef?" said a man with a southern accent and a full black beard; 'that fellow's a shark."

Now this same man was the Georgia pronunciation came from behind the pine bar and spoke to me. He had no whiskers, but I could swear that this was the man that had helped the merchant play off the hundred.

"Yo' th' a'tist that's goin' to staht the daily papah, eh?"
"Yes," I answered.
'Goin' to make wah on the gamblahs?" asked the dark man.
"Not for gambling."
"What fo' then?"
"Sandbags, six-shooters and masks," was the reply.
"Well she, if that's yo' gait we can gallop in the same heat," said he, enthusiastically, offering me his hand. "My name is Smith—Soapy Smith—an' when yo' in trouble say so an" I'll hep yo'."

That is the way we became acquainted.

Gambler Joe Simmens [sic], one of Soapy's "workingmen," died suddenly two days before the first issue of the Chronicle, and Soapy gave him a big funeral. Standing at the open grave he opened champagne, pouring some Into the grave and drank some, saying as he did .so, "Here's to Joe's soul over there, if there is any over "there," and passed the bottle to his next friend.

The description of that funeral which Hartigan wrote for the first issue gave the Chronicle a start and made it welcome at the exchange table before it was two days old. It's a mistake to assume that gamblers do no good. Joe Simmens [sic] helped make the Chronicle.

One day a man came over from Chalk Creek to burn a lot of money that he had just received for a group of claims. At dusk when he entered the Chronicle office his trousers were stuffed like the trousers of a football player—stuffed with money. His face was flushed and his eyes dancing. He was a miner by profession, a gambler by instinct and a deep drinker. He told Taber frankly that he had expected a reporter would find him out at the hotel, but seeing the paper was shy on enterprise he had come in to give up the news of the Chalk Creek district. He hinted that seeing his name repeated in the paper would help him over at the new camp where he was Mayor, Magistrate, Postmaster and Notary Public. "If that likeness could go on the first page," he said sliding a photograph over to the reporter, "I'd be willing to pay for the cut." He offered to "open wine" for the gang, printers and all, If they would join him at the Albany for a midnight feed.

In the twilight of the following day he called again. He was not nearly so frisky. The stuffing was gone from his trousers and the twinkle from his eye. Pulling a chair up to the reporter's desk he began to pour out the story of his undoing. Hartigan, seeing a smile beginning to play about the smooth face of the reporter, went over to give Taber an assignment, and Vaughn, the master mechanic (and general manager in the editor's absence), came in from the back room.

Half an hour later the man went out. "Say," he called back from the door. "You don't need to mention names, but I'll stand by the paper if you give the outfit a good roast."

Taber had written the heading for the expose in the presence of the Chalk Creeker, and he had cheered and applauded it. When he picked up the paper on the following morning he was delighted to see that it had not been changed or softened:

Business Men to Form a Union to Protect Themselves Against the Sharks."

And there was the miner's "likeness" on the front page, top of the column and right up against pure reading matter.

The miner had admitted, in the Interview, that he had been in the habit of bucking the tiger at the Orleans Club, kept by one Sapolio Smythe, and that he had dropped several small wads there. Finally, one of his men up at the mines, who used to deal faro at El Paso, said he could beat Soapy's game, but it would take time and money. For five hundred dollars to him in hand paid this Texas man would go down to Creede, get a job dealing at the club, and allow his friend to break the bank.

It was so simple and easy that the miner, finding himself heeled, gave the Texas man the money, the man got the job (he could deal brace) and down came the tinhorn to tap the till.

The Texas man was "honest," but Soapy, looking in the mirror, saw the new man fooling with the box and when the game opened had another switched in.

At first the Chalk Creek man lost heavily, but he cared no more for his money than the Texas man did for his life, and laughed as he unloaded. His roll was half gone before he won a bet. Now he left off joking and began to watch the dealer. In a little while his money was flowing into the till again, and he began to double up. There was "no improvement. The miner hitched a six-shooter around so that the Texas man could see it, and the Texas man's mouth began to twitch. Reaching into a drawer the dealer lifted a revolver and laid it near his right hand.

"I call you," said he, in a voice soft and low, and without more ado the Chalk Creek man reached for his gun. Instantly Soapy was between them:

"O gentlemen, gentlemen!" said he. The two men put away their guns, a new dealer took the chair and the game went on.

Soapy signed to the Texas man to approach the bar: "Here's a hundred for your week's work. Get a drink and a cigar and take the trail to Texas."

"Why, what's up, Soapy?"

"Oh, nothing much, only if you're here when that sucker goes broke he'll kill you. He thinks you been robbln’ 'im an' if you haven't you've been crooked with me, an' in that case the rules o' the house make It my duty to put your light out m'self, see?"

A few minutes later a cigar went burning along the trail that lay by the banks of the Rio Grande. That, in substance, was the story told by the miner, verified by "Sapolio," and printed in the Morning Chronicle.

Later Soapy went traveling, and favored the writer with some odd and interesting letters. The first came from South America, nearly two years ago, another from Havana and still another from Juneau. I answered that one and asked for the truth about the Klondike, for I could rely upon what Soapy said, and he answered from New Orleans.

A few weeks later he walked Into the office of a New York magazine in which he had read many of my stories, introduced himself and asked for me. The next news I had of him was from Skaguay, enclosing the following:

Gents—A meeting was called for the 22d, but has been postponed till Tuesday, 
the 29th of March, 1898. All members will be notified where to report. Respectfully,
JEFF R. SMITH. Captain,
JOHN FOLEY, First Lieutenant.

It seemed to me that this thoughtfulness on the part of a man who had once stood for me at a killing, and offered to do it again, deserved a reply. So I wrote him briefly, concluding:

"Write me when there is anything that will make a story, and be sure to wire me when they hang you, which will doubtless occur during the coming summer."

This letter probably never reached him, as no wire came back.

On the 7th of June a miner lost a bag of gold in "Jeff Smith's Parlors," at Skaguay. The man made a noise about it, the citizens got together. Soapy got drunk and went out to fight them all. Arriving at the place where an indignation meeting was being held, Soapy found five men guarding the entrance. He rapped Frank Reid, the City Engineer, over the head with a rifle. Reid snapped his pistol at Soapy and Soapy shot him in the groin. Standing on one foot Reid put three bullets Into Soapy killing him instantly.

Soapy must have lived altogether about forty years. He had made many friends and about as many enemies. He got his name, Soapy, because of a quiet little business he used to drive in Denver. He would take a number of square bits of soap, wrap them in soft paper, enclosing in some, (but not in all) five, ten, twenty and fifty dollar bills, then for a sum of money, fixed by himself, he would allow an y man in the audience to guess which of the little packages had money.

In the poem at the top of the article it is known that Gambling Joe is "Gambler" Joe Simmons, manager of the Orleans Club, Soapy's gambling den and saloon in Creede, Colorado in 1892. Slanting Annie was a Creede prostitute whose only known fame is being buried next to Joe Simmons. "Bad" Bob Ford, the killer of outlaw Jesse James was himself killed in Creede. In the second paragraph of the article there is "Troublesome Tom," a shell and pea operator and member of the Soap Gang, by the name of Tom Cady.

Thus far the information contained in the story is legitimate and has not been exaggerated. The next section deals with Cy's introduction to Soapy. It is likely that the quoted speech and Soapy's southern slang might be prone to some artistic license, but I bet the main point of Soapy interviewing Cy about his newspapers intentions regarding the gamblers is correct. One of the reasons so many of the Denver gambling fraternity went to Creede in the first place is because Denver was in the throes of a reform movement directed at the saloons and gambling hall.

With so much of Cy's article being factual we might guess that the story about the Chalk Creek man and the Texas dealer who attempted to cheat Soapy while in his employment, might be partially, if not wholly true. The problem that remains with this story is that Cy claims that it was published in his newspaper, the Creede Chronicle, which he calls, the Morning Chronicle, and as of this date no sample of this issue is known to exist. However, there are numerous issues of Creede newspapers missing in the nations archives. This can easily be understood as the newspaper office burned up with the rest of the business district in the big fire of June 5, 1892. Most of the newspaper copies in the 3 months the paper existed were no doubt destroyed.

Cy skips ahead a few years and talks about some of the letters he received from Soapy. If Cy's math is correct he received a letter in 1896 when Soapy was apparently down in South America. I believe this may be the only indication, if accurate, that he ever went that far south. Cy then says he received a letter from Soapy in Havana, Cuba. While it is true that twice in the late 1890s Soapy indicated he wished to become militarily involved in Cuban affairs there is no provenance he actually went there. Cy mentions a letter from Juneau, Alaska and it is known that in 1896 Soapy was indeed in Juneau. Soapy sent a reply letter a little later from New Orleans and then had a personal visit from Soapy while in New York, and we know these to be true as well. In Skagway, Soapy received three known letters from Cy (02/16/1897; 09/22/1897; 11/16/1897, Alias Soapy Smith, p. 231), and we know Soapy wrote to Cy in January 1897 from Spokane (Alias Soapy Smith, p. 424).   

Cy Warman
June 3, 2010
April 13, 2011
March 27, 2012

Cy Warman: pages 200, 207, 218-19, 226, 229, 231, 234, 394, 424.

"I regard “Soapy” Smith and his crowd as the most interesting set of men with whom the police if Denver have ever dealt. Smith was bright, intelligent, fearless, desperate, and there was nothing he could not do in the way of shell games, dice, cards or sure thing propositions. And, say, he could play havoc with a gun, too! "
—Sam Howe, Denver Police Captain. Denver Post, 11/15/1914


1716: The first lion to be exhibited in America goes on display in Boston, Massachusetts.
1789: U.S. President Washington sets aside this day to observe the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.
1825: The first college social fraternity, Kappa Alpha, is formed at Union College in Schenectady, New York.
1832: Public streetcar service begins in New York City.
1853: William Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson, a good friend of Soapy Smith’s, is born in County Rouville, Quebec, Canada.
1856: Capt William R. Bradfute of Company G, 2nd Cavalry, from Ft Mason, Texas attack a party of Comanche Indians along the Concho River. One soldier is wounded, four Indians are killed, two wounded, and six horses captured.
1867: J. B. Sutherland patents the refrigerated railroad car.
1869: The last stagecoach between Denver and Cheyenne is run as the Denver Pacific Railway to Denver, Colorado Territory is completed.
1884: Montana's Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation is created from the Crow reservation by executive order of President Chester A. Arthur.
1886: One thousand men are employed as laborers by the Rock Island Railroad in Hutchinson, Kansas.
1891: First building in Bachelor, Colorado is constructed.
1891: Denver and Rio Grande Railroad extends narrow gauge track to Creede.
1898: In a series of editorials titled “Unpunished Denver Murders,” The Denver Evening Post places Bascomb Smith’s shooting of Harry Smith on the list at number 10.

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