February 17, 2014

Soapy Smith action figure: Feeding Denver's poor

"Take this, go feed your family"
Soapy Smith's annual feeding of Denver's poor.
figure by Jeff Smith
(Click image to enlarge)

ction figures as a hobby started in 1964 with the creation of Hasbro's G. I. Joe. They did not want to call Joe a doll. It's an ongoing joke that "it's not a doll!" Today, Hasbro is but one of many companies who manufacture the 1:6 scale figures, to fit nearly every conceivable need and wish, including movie stars, sports stars, historical figures, non-fiction and fictional characters. The hobby is large enough to warrant their own collectors exhibitions and shows, as well as their own category on eBay.

The real Soapy hands out turkey's to the poor.
Denver Evening Post, July 31, 1898
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

It was on eBay that I encountered my first Soapy Smith action figure (see photo below). Naturally I was ecstatic at the idea, but somehow, looking at the doll, ah.. I mean, "figure," I could not see it being Soapy. I imagined holding the figure in my hands without knowing who it was supposed to be, and Soapy did not come to mind. I began to wonder if I could do a better job? I began the chore of researching if I could produce the figure. My first option was to have one made. The head alone was cost prohibitive and none of the manufacturers would reproduce the exact clothing I wanted. What I thought would be a couple of hours of online research turned into a couple of weeks. Finding the right head and the right clothing, hat, gear is a huge undertaking and not cheap. I say is, because I am still working on it!

Supposed to be Soapy Smith
The best the artist could do?
courtesy of eBay
(Click image to enlarge)

I completed a Soapy figure (see photos at top and below), but it is not the one I started with, which is Soapy as he looked at the time of his death in Skagway, Alaska, July 1898. The figure I completed is Soapy of the early to mid-1890s, when he resided in Denver, Colorado. It is winter time and Soapy is participating in his annual food giveaway to the poor. Some of Soapy's charitable works are recorded. The handing out of turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas time is one of those recorded in newspapers. The only item I could go by was a newspaper drawing done for the July 31, 1898 Denver Evening Post. I gathered the needed items, as close to being accurate as possible. I couldn't find small turkeys laid out like those in the drawing. All I could find was 1:6 scale cooked and plattered plate turkeys. It just would not look right to have Soapy handing out plates of food. Luck was with me when I found a sale for 1:6 scale rubber chickens. By rubber chickens I mean the standard joke rubber chicken you find in gag-gift shops. Wrapping it up with the legs sticking out, and I had instant turkey handouts. I bought six of the chickens and I'm still looking for a wooden barrel to put them in and place beside Soapy as shown in the newspaper drawing.  

Close up of Soapy
figure by Jeff Smith
(Click image to enlarge)

The detail in the figure is amazing, and some of it is covered by his coat, which includes a nice period vest with watch chain and pocket watch. His period pants even have suspenders, just as they did in the nineteenth century. To give the feeling of coldness I have his left hand holding his coat closed, with the special "gloved" hands I purchased for it. Then I sprayed fake snow on the figure from above. Trust me, that is not as easy as it sounds. I am pleased with the way it came together. Now, to finish the Skagway 1898 Soapy!

Some people follow wagon tracks while others break new trails.
— unknown


1801: The U.S. House of Representatives breaks an electoral tie between presidential candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Jefferson is elected president and Burr becomes vice president.
1817: Gaslights light up the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.
1851: Famed female gambler Alice “Poker Alice” Ivers is born in England. She most likely met Soapy Smith in 1892 in Creede, Colorado.
1865: Columbia, South Carolina is burned to the ground during the Civil War as Confederates troops evacuated and Union Forces moved in.
1876: Julius Wolff is credited with being the first to can sardines.
1878: The first city telephone exchange opens in San Francisco, California. It has only 18 phones.
1878: Roving bands of Cheyenne Indians attack cattle camps, killing civilians near Fort Dodge, Kansas.
1890: Soapy Smith hangs a sign reading, “Gone to church; to-day is Sunday,” on the door of his Tivoli Club Denver gaming house. All saloons were recently forced to close on Sundays.
1894: The governor of Texas pardons outlaw, John Wesley Hardin, after spending 16 years in prison.
1897: The National Congress of Mothers, the forerunner of the National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) is organized in Washington, DC.
1909: Apache Indian Chief Geronimo dies at age 80 of pneumonia, while in captivity at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

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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