December 19, 2014

Is This Soapy Smith's revolver?

Single action army .45 caliber
Courtesy of Scott Bradley
(Click image to enlarge)

ould this be Soapy Smith's revolver?

I received an interesting email from Scott Bradley, who claims his great-great-uncle came into possession of Soapy Smith's revolver moments after the shootout on Juneau Wharf! I'll let him explain everything in his own words.

My name is Scott Bradley and I have in my possession a Colt 45 caliber single action revolver. This revolver was manufactured in the mid to late 1800’s. Typical of firearms of this age, there is a story that goes with it.

In the late 1800’s my great-great uncle Henry [Grau] went to Alaska to seek his fortune in the gold fields. Eventually, Henry returned to Wisconsin with stories of the far north including a story about this revolver.

Henry told our family that he acquired the Colt when he was in Skagway on that fateful July evening when your great grandfather, Soapy, was killed. According to Henry, who was on the street during the mob scene, Soapy threw his revolver into the crowd after he was struck by gunfire. My great-great uncle caught the revolver and returned to the hotel where he was staying, waiting for the “dust to settle.”

A few years later Henry relocated to the state of Washington where he was later murdered (another story). My great Uncle Bill went to Washington to claim Henry’s belongings, including the Colt revolver.

The revolver has remained in the family ever since and to this day the story of the handgun and how it relates to Soapy Smith continues to be told.

Of course, a lot of time has passed since Henry Grau brought the tale from Alaska and it seems unlikely that the story has not been embellished upon. If guns could talk………

A relative recently found your website and suggested that I pass this story along to you.

Soapy's pistol?
Courtesy of Scott Bradley
(Click image to enlarge)

My great-great uncle's last name was "Grau." My maternal grandmother, Hattie, was a Grau.

The serial number of the gun is: 83480

My great-great Henry was murdered in the early 1900's in Washington. His body was found after the spring thaw and the revolver was exposed to the elements for several months. Needless to say, the revolver was in pretty bad shape. At some point in time the revolver was restored. The serial number/s (cylinder and frame) are quite easy to see but the majority of other identifiers are gone. A local gunsmith confirmed that the revolver is a Colt but the letters can no longer be made out.

serial number 83480
Courtesy of Scott Bradley
(Click image to enlarge)

Scott, what a great story and artifact to have passed down through your family! As I wrote in my email to you, there are a few problems with the story Henry told, in relation to the known story of the Shootout on Juneau Wharf. One of the main problems is that Soapy had a Winchester rifle. Henry stated that the pistol was thrown. I wonder if the weapon could have been from another person other than Soapy, perhaps even from one of the Soap Gang members on the scene? Honestly, I don't think this was Soapy's pistol. One of the gang could have tossed it, for fear of being captured with a weapon on his person, or, as strange as it might sound, it could have been from one of the four vigilantes on the wharf that night, as none except for Reid were said to be armed, which has always sounded odd to me, considering the long day was filled with violence and threats. I am not implying that Henry lied. He very well could have obtained the revolver at the gunfight site, but embellished on the story as the years rolled by, not realizing that getting a weapon from one of the Soap Gang members, or one of the vigilantes, would have been an equally fascinating story to relate today. It would not be the first time something like that happened. Unfortunately, there is no provenance, and that's a very common problem with such artifacts. It's a great family heirloom with an interesting story! I thank you very much for sharing it with the world!

Do any of you readers have additional information on this revolver, or on Henry Grau? We need to hear from you!

On my main website is a page devoted to Soapy's Weapons. Most have no provenance and some are simply fraudulent attempts to make a quick buck.

Everything is orderly now, but there is a character there now by the sobriquet ‘Soapy Smith’ and he seems to have the gambling element completely under his control.
— Alaska Governor John G. Brady
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 523.


1732: Benjamin Franklin publishes his first Poor Richard's Almanac.
1776: Thomas Paine publishes his first American Crisis essay.
1777: General George Washington leads his army of 11,000 to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, to camp for the winter.
1842: Hawaii's independence is recognized by the U.S.
1863: George Ives is hung in Bannack, Montana Territory for the murder of Nicholas Thiebalt.
1864: Nicholas Earp and family, including son Wyatt Stapp Earp, and six other children arrive by wagon-train in San Bernardino, California from Iowa.
1871: Albert L. Jones wins a patent for corrugated paper.
1880: Outlaws Billy the Kid, David Anderson alias Billy Wilson, Dave Rudabaugh, Charlie Bowdre, Tom O'Folliard, and Tom Pickett are ambushed in New Mexico Territory by Lincoln county Sheriff Pat Garrett and several deputies who fire on the outlaws. Pickett and O'Folliard are shot dead from their saddles. Rudabaugh's horse is shot and collapses, but Rudabaugh manages to mount Anderson’s horse and escapes with the Kid and Bowdre.
1887: Jake Kilrain and Jim Smith fight a bare knuckle boxing match fight which lasts a seemingly impossible 106 rounds. The fight is halted due to darkness and Kilrain is given the win.
1893: Soapy Smith files a $5,000 damage suit in Denver against Charles G. Chever and William B. Palmer at whose property at 1705 Larimer had a coal-delivery hole which was left open and he fell in. Outcome of the suit is unknown.
1903: The Williamsburg Bridge opens in New York City. It is the largest suspension bridge in the world 1924. It is the first major suspension bridge to use steel towers to support the main cables.
1905: Outlaws Robert Leroy “Butch Cassidy” Parker and Harry A. “The Sundance Kid” Longabaugh are positively identified by witnesses as having robbed the Banco de la Nacion in Villa Mercedes, Argentina of 12,000 to 14,000 pesos. Although not identified, two others were seen at the bank, which may have been Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan and the fourth person, some claimed was a woman, which may have been Etta Place.
1907: A coalmine explosion in Jacobs Creek, Pennsylvania kills 239 workers.


  1. Rev. J.A. Sinclair mentions in his writing being promised Soapy's revolver. " On Saturday I went in for a while to the inquest held over the body of “Soapy.” ] I had my camera along, but soon found that orders had been issued that no photos were to be taken of Soapy’s corpse as he had often expressed his desire that his dead body should not be caricatured. His lawyer came to me tho’ and asked me to conduct his funeral service on Monday – i.e. today. I at once consented. He promised to pay me, but I said I did not accept pay for funerals. But when he insisted I told him that I would much prefer some relic such as his small Derringer revolver. This he promised at once that he would secure for me."

    from John Alexander Sinclair Papers, British Columbia Archives as found

    1. Although you give the website at Montanadawn credit, I wish to express that the Sinclair information was previously published in ALIAS SOAPY SMITH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL.

      The Sinclair derringer is not believed to have been Soapy's as it was a much older model that used outdated rim-fire ammunition. All of Soapy Smith's guns were modern weapons, not antiques. For those that do not know guns, it might be best explained as being sent to Iraq to fight terrorists, with only an antique Civil War rifle. In the book ALIAS SOAPY SMITH I talk about how Soapy's estate was completely accounted for, and that Reverend Sinclair was no doubt handed someone's useless antique as payment for his services. I use the word "useless" for a reason. It is very highly doubted that rim-fire bullets could be found for sale in Skagway, Alaska in 1898.


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