November 30, 2015

Soapy Smith's model 1877 revolver?

Is this Soapy Smith's revolver?
Engraved "Soapy Smith" on the back-strap

Courtesy of Larry Zeug collection
(Click image to enlarge)

 new addition to the website
  The Zeug revolver.

A new edition has been added to the Alias Soapy Smith website, on the page Soapy's Weapons. This Colt model 1877 double-action .38 caliber revolver (serial #93432) was manufactured in 1893 and is owned by personal friend and gun collector Larry Zeug.

Engraving on the back-strap

Courtesy of Larry Zeug collection
(Click image to enlarge)

It is engraved "Soapy Smith Denver" on the back-strap. When Larry described the engraving to me on the phone I had some misgiving. The first natural assumption is that Soapy purchased the gun himself and had it engraved. My first reaction is that it couldn't have belonged to Soapy as his widow, my great-grandmother, always said that he hated the alias "Soapy." It represented the criminal side of his life, while "Jefferson R. Smith" represented the successful businessman and loving family man. Soapy did his best to not mix them together as it tainted the reputation he so desperately maintained. 

Larry's figured that perhaps a friend of Soapy's had it engraved and given to Soapy as a gift. While this is plausible, most who knew Soapy, knew never to call him that. Acquaintances and business clients called him "Mr. Smith." Friends called him "Jeff." His enemies, the newspapers and the police called him "Soapy." Most likely, no one who knew Soapy, gave him that pistol, at least not engraved with "Soapy Smith." So could the engraving have been done at a later time?

There is a single action revolver in Skagway, Alaska. It can be referenced on the Soapy's Weapons link I listed earlier. That revolver is also engraved "Soapy Smith." The pistol was in possession of Deputy U.S. Marshal Josias M. "Si" Tanner, engraved "J. M. Tanner" onto the pistol. The gun was later acquired by Harriet Pullen, who engraved her own name onto the pistol and showcased in the famed Harriet Pullen Collection. None of these engravings were on the revolver when (if) Soapy owned it. Perhaps the same can be said of Larry Zeug's revolver? Could someone have obtained one of Soapy's guns, perhaps as a gift from him, or perhaps a pawned or left behind item during a gambling binge in Denver? There are several newspaper accounts in which Soapy pawned his watch during a wild faro game, later to buy it back from the dealer. In one story the dealer asked Soapy to purchase his watch back and Soapy refused, ending in him slicing up the layout felt with a folding knife he carried. Could this revolver have come from one such gambling pawn, never to be bought back? Could this dealer have kept the memento of Denver's wild days, later to have it engraved?

Penciled name inside grip

Courtesy of Larry Zeug
(Click image to enlarge)

On the inside of the ivory grip is the faint pencil name "Jeff." Gunsmiths were known to write the name of their customers on the inside grips in order to make sure the right grips were placed on the right gun. It is improbable that Soapy himself would have written his name on the inside grip.

Is this Soapy Smith's revolver?

Courtesy of Larry Zeug

(Click image to enlarge)

The other side

Courtesy of Larry Zeug collection
(Click image to enlarge)

Other than the engraving and name inside there is no provenance that this revolver actually belonged to bad man Soapy Smith.

"Mrs. Smith, Dear Friend, yours to hand and glad to hear from you. I know they will say that Jeff had nothing when you went up but I think the Saloon must be a part his [—] only way it looks like he would have paid for something and the 2,100 that they claim that they found in his trunk must belong to him for they claimed that the man lost 3,200 so I think you can get that. Did you get Jeff’s personal effects? I suppose they stole everything. I will be here for a week, so write to me here as I will get it. Let me hear all the news. Yours as Ever Bascom Smith, Care of Tom Sanders Saloon "
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 554.


1782: The U.S. and Britain sign preliminary peace articles in Paris, France, ending the American Revolution.
1803: Spain completes the process of ceding Louisiana to France.
1804: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase goes on trial accused of political bias. He is later acquitted by the U.S. Senate.
1835: America’s most famous literary icon, Samuel Langhorne Clemens is born in Florida, Missouri. Best known for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876 and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885, both written under the moniker “Mark Twain.”
1875: A. J. Ehrichson patents the oat-crushing machine.
1878: The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe lay railroad tracks crossing Colorado's southern border into New Mexico Territory, the first tracks into New Mexico.
1879: Outlaw Billy the Kid meets with rancher John Chisum, at Bob Hargrove's saloon in New Mexico Territory, to talk about recent rustlings.
1881: Judge Wells Spicer of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, officially states that the Earp’s and Doc Holiday were justified in their actions, which led to, and include the gunfight behind the OK Corral. In another matter bad man “cow-boy” Johnny Ringo is arrested for having robbed a poker game in August 1881.
1884: At nineteen-years-old, Elfego Baca, arrests a cowboy in New Mexico Territory for disturbing the peace. When the cowboys friends attempt to “teach Baca a lesson,” he shoots and kills the foreman.
1887: Outlaws Robert Leroy “Butch Cassidy” Parker and the McCarty brothers, stop, but fail their attempt to rob the Denver and Rio Grande express near Grand Junction, Colorado. The stubborn express guard refuses to open the safe in the mail car and rather than kill him, the gang allows the train to continue on their way, leaving the bandits empty-handed.
1892: Bank robber Oliver “Ol” Yantis, a member of the infamous Doolin Dalton Gang, succumbs to his wounds after a gunfight with Deputy US Marshal Tom Hueston near Orlando, Oklahoma, the previous day. the lawmen trailed Yantis to his sister’s home outside of Orlando. The two lawmen demanded his surrender. Yantis walked out as if giving up but drew a revolver and fired. The lawmen returned fire, hitting Yantis in the leg and stomach. The lawmen took the wounded Yantis to a hotel in Orlando, where he died on this day. Yantis is the first of the Doolin Dalton gang members to fall. Hueston would later be killed during another shootout with the Doolin Dalton gang members in Ingalls, Oklahoma, during the Battle of Ingalls. It is believed that Soapy Smith’s wife Mary was a cousin of the outlaw Dalton’s.
1897: Thomas Edison's motion picture projector has its first commercial exhibition.
1897: The Rocky Mountain News reports that bad man Soapy Smith is “in New York organizing a Klondyke expedition to start from the East in February (1898).”

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