January 20, 2014

Is this Soapy Smith's roulette wheel?

Soapy Smith's roulette wheel?
As it currently appears on display
Courtesy of MOHAI
(Click image to enlarge)

s one of Soapy Smith's roulette wheels on display in the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle, Washington?

"We do have Soapy Smith's roulette wheel on display in our permanent exhibit, True Northwest: The Seattle Journey."

      A friend on Facebook contacted me with the news that she had seen a Soapy Smith wheel. After a little digging I was able find the wheel and receive the museums information and photographs of the artifact.

  • SLU exhibit label: Jefferson “Soapy” Smith rigged his roulette wheel, marked his cards and ran a Skagway gang, making his reputation as “king of the frontier con men”—until a fatal shootout in 1898. The wheel is said to have come from his saloon in Skagway, Alaska.
  • Artifact item # 1955.970.236
  • Donated by: Horace W. McCurdy.
  • Measurements: 6" Hight x 16.25" Diameter.

      According to the museum record, Mr. McCurdy donated the wheel to the museum in 1955. How McCurdy, a local businessman and maritime enthusiast, obtained the wheel is not known. The wheel was on display in 1983 as part of a "timeline" exhibit. It was removed from public display in February 1992 and placed in storage. In 2012 the wheel was cleaned and placed on public view once again, and currently resides on permanent exhibit, True Northwest: The Seattle Journey.

Another view
Courtesy of MOHAI

      Take note that most of the numbers are missing. This appears to be a standard American wheel (Only American roulette had "00" [double zero] as a bet). At one point in time this wheel was altered, with only a few of the numbers remaining.


      The problem is that there is no provenance for this wheel. There is another wheel and table that is said to be Soapy's. It was sold to my father in 1973 at the Harriet Pullen auction. There is circumstantial evidence for that particular wheel, but the provenance on the wheel pictured above is based solely on the word of the man who donated it.
      It is known that Soapy had interest in at least 3 saloons and gaming houses in Skagway, Alaska so there is no reason to believe that Soapy only had one wheel. Interesting to note that the wheel and table my father purchased, cost Soapy $1,000 to ship to Skagway! They knew he would make back that money within a couple of days. That shipping was just for the wheel, the layout, and the equipment, NOT the table, which was made in Skagway. He purchased it from George Mason and Company in Denver, which makes sense as their office was within one block of Soapy's saloon in Denver.


"History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon."
— Napoleon Bonaparte


1801: John Marshall is appointed chief justice of the U.S.
1884: the Wickenburg stage is robbed near Prescott, Arizona Territory.
1885: L. A. Thompson receives the patent for the roller coaster.
1887: The U.S. Senate approves the agreement to lease Pearl Harbor in Hawaii territory as a naval base.
1890: Train robbers, believed to be John Sontag and Chris Evans, hold up passenger train No. 19 on the Southern Pacific line in Goshen, California, about 40 miles south of Fresno. The bandits take about $20,000.
1891: James Hogg, the first native-born governor of Texas, takes office.
1892: The first official basketball game is played by students at the Springfield, Massachusetts Y.M.C.A. Training School. 

January 17, 2014

KLONDIKE, with Soapy Smith, Discovery Channel miniseries.

Discovery Channel miniseries
(Click image to enlarge)

londike, the 3-part, 3-night epic miniseries on Discovery Channel begins January 20, 2014, 9/8c. DON'T MISS IT, IT'S GOOD! How do I know? Because I've already seen part 1. When the series was "in the can," they sent out a press-kit, complete with a nice book about the miniseries, as well as two DVDs containing the entire 3 episodes. Someone put one of them up for sale on eBay and I was the lucky winning bidder!

      Based on Charlotte Gray's novel Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike, the miniseries stars, Sam Shephard, Richard Madden, Augustus Prew, Abbie Cornish, Ian Hart, Johnny Simmons, Conor Leslie, Tim Roth and Tim Blake Nelson. It was written by Paul Scheuring, Josh Goldin and Rachel Abramowitz, and directed by Simon Cellan Jones. It tells the story of six strangers fighting for survival (and riches) during the 1890s gold rush. One of those characters is Soapy Smith, played by actor Ian Hart. Although based on true events and historical characters, this is historical fiction. Fro example, the bulk of the story takes place in Dawson, Canada (the Klondike) and Soapy is there in the story, however, historical research indicates Soapy never went to Dawson. Artifact #44 in my personal collection is a letter Soapy wrote to his wife. In it he writes about possibly going to Dawson, if he doesn't go off to war with his all-voluntary militia, the Skaguay Military Company, during the Spanish-American war. You can see the letter and read the story on the Soapy Smith soap box blog.

Artifact #44
April 4, 1898
Jeff Smith collection

Although the story is historical fiction, it beautifully tells the history of the Klondike gold rush through the sets and costuming. Yes, there are a few gaffs in costuming, and except for the obvious country-western "cowboy" boots worn by one character, most of the mistakes are hard to notice unless you go looking for them. Normally, programs of historical fiction are historically correct on the background people, and then go overboard with the costumes worn by the stars. This does not seem to be the case with Klondike, which is such a pleasant difference.

Ian Hart as Soapy Smith

The City of Dawson set

The official website for Klondike is filled with photos and information on the miniseries, as well as the history of the actual event.


Dawson: page 432, 441, 449, 451, 456, 466, 472-73, 479, 483, 493, 495, 498, 508, 512-13, 524, 552, 583-84, 586-87, 590-91.

"The greater the hero needs to be, the worse the villain becomes."
— unknown


1806: James Madison Randolph, grandson of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, is the first child born in the White House.
1836: Sam Houston, commander of the revolutionary troops, sends Colonel Jim Bowie and 25 men to San Antonio, Texas with orders to destroy the Alamo fortifications and retire eastward with the artillery. Bowie believes that it would be impossible to remove the 24 cannons without oxen, mules or horses, and deems it foolhardy to abandon that much firepower concentrated at one location during the Texas Revolution. Instead, Bowie sets about reinforcing the Alamo.
1867: The Northwestern Railroad is the first to reach Council Bluffs, Iowa.
1871: Andrew S. Hallidie receives a patent for a cable car system.
1872: Russian Grand Duke Alexis arrives in Denver, Colorado Territory.
1873: Fifty Modoc Indians under Captain Jack repel more than 300 soldiers in the Lost River Oregon area. President Ulysses S. Grant orders a truce and a peace settlement.
1874: Armed Democrats seize the Texas government ending Reconstruction.
1877: Nez Perce Indians battle the 1st Cavalry at White Bird Canyon, Idaho Territory. Lieutenant Theller and 33 enlisted men are killed.
1882: Thomas Edison's exhibit opens the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London.
1885: William F. Cody's business partner, Dr. W. F. Carver, begins a six-day exhibition in New Haven, Connecticut where he will shoot 60,016 out of 64,881 wooden blocks tossed into the air.
1887: Eighteen-year-old outlaw Seaborn Kalijah murders 3 deputy marshals, Henry Smith, Mark Kuykendall, and William Kelly, with a camp axe, after being arrested for selling whiskey to Creek Indians in defiance of the law. He put the bodies of Smith and Kuykendall in the campfire to burn. Kelly had been shot in the back. Marshals tracked down and captured Kalijah and he was convicted and hung on October 7, 1887.
1893: Hawaii's monarchy is overthrown when a group of businessmen and sugar planters force Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate.
1900: The U.S. takes Wake Island as a possession due to there being important cable links between Hawaii and Manila.
1900: Yaqui Indians in Texas proclaimed their independence from Mexico.
1900: Mormon Brigham Roberts is denied a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for his practice of polygamy.
1905: Gambling punchboards are patented by a manufacturing firm in Chicago, Illinois.

January 14, 2014

Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club match safe

Match safe (front)

(Click image to enlarge)

atch safes are the equivalent of today's standard Bic lighter you can purchase in most stores and gas stations, at least here in California. The old nineteenth century match safes were little pocket cases that held matches. Prices and quality varied. Some were tin and very cheap, while a few were made from gold and very costly. Like today's lighters, there were many variations. So many in fact, that you can search match safes on eBay all day long and you will have found only a few identical examples. Enterprising manufacturing firms sent their salesmen traveling around the country with samples for cigar stores and saloons to purchase, to hand out to their favorite customers as tokens of their appreciation. Often times the safes were printed or engraved with advertisements of the business. The safe shown above is one such advertising item, for Soapy Smith's Tivoli Club in Denver, Colorado, which dates it between 1888-1894.
     In my collection I possess Soapy's personal match safe that he carried on his person. It is not similar to the above advertising safe shown above.

How I Found It.

     As a reenactor I portray Soapy at old west events, and for a number of months I have been searching eBay for another copy of the one Soapy personally carried around. For obvious reason I don't carry the original around. Everyday I receive an email from eBay regarding that days auction listings for match safes, and so far I have not come across another one like Soapy's personal safe. Until now, I have not told anyone that I was searching for a duplicate safe. One morning while I was looking through the email, I came across the auction for the safe advertising the Tivoli Club. Apparently the seller (thankfully) made no attempt to Google "Tivoli Club," as there was no mention of Soapy Smith or the history of the saloon/gambling house. Had the seller found anything of historical significance he surely would have added it to the auction description. Had he put forth the least amount of effort he surely would have found my website page that describes the history of the Tivoli. I still ended up paying a hefty price for the safe, as I believe at least one bidder made the effort to look it up. It could have gone for considerably more had it been discovered that the Tivoli Club belonged to one of the greatest confidence men of the nineteenth century. It didn't go beyond my wallet range and I won it, though I will be eating piss-poorly for the next month or two.

Match safe (rear)

(Click image to enlarge)

     The rear of the safe has an embossed picture of lady liberty, which leads me to believe Soapy had a choice of styles to choose from. Soapy, being a huge fan of patriotism, certainly picked it out himself.



I don’t mind a man cheatin' at poker as long as he ain't cheatin' me.
— Unknown

JANUARY 14, 2014

1639: Connecticut's first constitution, the "Fundamental Orders," is adopted.
1784: The U.S. ratifies a peace treaty with England ending the Revolutionary War.
1873: John Hyatt's 1869 invention of ‘Celluloid’ is registered as a trademark.
1864: Vigilantes lynch five outlaw members of the “Innocents” in Virginia City, Montana Territory. One of those hung was Jack Gallagher, whose last words were “I hope forked lightening will strike every strangling…of you.”
1872: Russian Grand Duke Alexis celebrates his 21st birthday and the killing of his first buffalo in Nebraska. The duke missed with his first six shots before Buffalo Bill hands him his .50 caliber rifle. The Duke gets within 10 feet of his prey and shoots, killing the buffalo.
1878: Slabtown changes its name to Leadville, Colorado Territory.
1878: Alexander Graham Bell demonstrates the telephone for Britain's Queen Victoria.
1881: Gambler Johnny O'Rourke, alias “Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce,” shoots and kills a mining engineer following an argument in Charleston, Arizona Territory. He rides to Tombstone where he is protected from a lynch mob by Virgil Earp, Marshal Ben Sippy, and Sheriff John Behan.
1882: The Myopia Hunt Club, in Winchester, Massachusetts is the first country club in the U.S.
1886: Indians appear on doorsteps of many homes in Wichita, Kansas begging to be let in from the cold.
1887: Bad men James Lamb and Albert O'Dell are hung in Fort Smith, Arkansas for the 1886 murder of a farmer who had hired them to do some work.
1891: General Nelson Miles reports that the Sioux Indians are returning to their Dakota reservations.