January 20, 2014

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. 

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Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith