August 7, 2013

Soapy Smith's dagger?

n July 19, 2013 a dagger, said to have belonged to Soapy Smith, sold at auction for $1,600. The 10" dagger blade is nicely engraved with the words "KLONDIKE BEAR TOOTH," a very interesting, and possible nickname for the knife that a one-time owner gave it. The handle appears to be bone or antler, and is crudely inlay engraved with "Soapy." An accompanying placard indicates that the dagger came from the Antler's Bar Collection in Wasilla, Alaska. It reads,

“Soapy” Smith was a miner in Leadville, Colo. When the big gold rush to the Klondike started in 1896, Soapy moved to Skagway. There with a few armed thugs, he took over the entire town. He ran Skagway from his bar called “Clancys.” Soapy all the towns gambling, prostitution, and elicit activities. In a dispute over control, in 1898, he and Frank Reid shot each other. They both died as a result.

Could this have actually belonged to Soapy? Probably not. He did not put his name on any other artifact known thus far, plus it is unlikely he would have put "Soapy" on the dagger. Just like today, few smart criminals put their names on their weapons, in the accidental case in which the weapon is left behind at a crime scene. There's nothing worse than having your name where the police will easily find it. Another commonality is that he did not like to be called "Soapy." Most likely, if he would have put any name on the dagger, it would have been "Jeff," or "Jefferson Smith."

Click photo to enlarge

I searched and found nothing about the "Antler's Bar Collection" in Wasilla, Alaska, and in fact, could not find the history of a any bar that had been named "Antler's" in that town. If the lack of provenance isn't already enough, the dagger came out of one of the most notorious old west collections in recent times, that of the defunct city museum of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where former mayor, Stephen R. Reed, had grand plans to build an old west museum, using city funds. When the city went bankrupt, it was forced to auction off the collection and it quickly became apparent, as historians gazing upon the auction catalog, realized that very few of the "historical artifacts" had reliable provenance, and that many of the items, like the law badges, were obvious fakes. Apparently ex-Mayor Reed did not know what he was doing when he purchased the antiques, thus the city was separated from it's money for a bunch of faked items manufactured by crooks. The town of Harrisburg is bankrupt, but luckily for them, that although the collection quickly gained fame for it's faked artifacts, the auction still realized a great return as gullible buyers with deep pockets purchased such infamous, and likely not authentic, items as Teddy Roosevelt’s rifle, Wyatt Earp’s revolver, George Custer's bowie knife, Doc Holiday's dentist chair, and of course, lot 5213, Soapy Smith's dagger.

Harrisburg auction, Live

"Liars when they speak the truth are not believed."
— Aristotle


1782: George Washington creates the Order of the Purple Heart.
1789: The War Department is established by Congress.
1870: Ten settlers are killed during Indian raids in Arizona Territory.
1880: The Battle of Rattlesnake Springs, Texas begins. Black soldiers of the 10th Cavalry and the 24th Infantry fight Apache Indian leader, Victorio, and 125 to 150 followers. They had left the Mescalero Reservation of New Mexico, in order to return to their former reservation. The Indians were defeated, and fled into Mexico. On October 15 Mexican forces killed Victorio.
1880: Soapy Smith registers at the Hotel Granite in Central City, Colorado.
1881: The outlaw James Gang, including Jesse and Frank James, Charley Ford, Wood and Clarence Hite, and Dick Liddell, rob a train near Blue Cut, Missouri. This is Jesse James' last robbery before his death.
1885: Five Apache Indians are killed and fifteen captured by soldiers near Sonora, Mexico.
1888: Theophilus Kannel receives a patent for the revolving door.
1891: The outlaw, Harry “The Sundance Kid” Longabaugh is arrested in Canada on a charge of animal cruelty. The charge is dismissed.
1896: Soap Gang members, John Bowers and “Red” Gibson are arrested for vagrancy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The police confiscate their tools of the trade, which include false whiskers, saps, and revolvers.

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