March 4, 2016

Did Soapy Smith make a political speech in Montana?

"Soapy Smith" gives a speech in Montana
Helena Independent
September 13, 1889

September 13, 1889

I received a very interesting email from author Jane Haigh.

Hello Friend Jeff,

An academic contact doing research on Scandinavian Republican politics discovered this Helena newspaper article from 1889, and forwarded it to me. I see from your book that Soapy was in Montana around that time, but I never heard of him making public political speeches before, and he mentions he was active in Minnesota Republican politics, also new to me. Just thought you would be interested, and perhaps you have some more information or thoughts?

Congratulations on the opening of Jeff Smith's Parlor in Skagway!
Jane Haigh, Phd
Alaskan Author

Following is my response.

Hello, friend Jane.

Thank you very much for thinking of me, and sending this very interesting newspaper article!

It very well could be him. The dating is right. The first few days of September 1889 the Soap Gang is fleeing in several directions after the gunfight at the Pocatello train depot. Bascomb flees into Dillon, Montana, which is good enough reason for Soapy to venture into the state. He is still on trial for the attack on John Arkins and Denver is at the beginning of one of its numerous reforms. Soapy could very well have been looking for a new home, or at least making plans for one if the empire in Denver collapsed.

The pros for this being our Soapy is good, however, there is one snag. That is the use of the name of "Soapy." As you know he did not like that alias. Only his enemies called him "Soapy." He used the alias when making threats. There is one good possibility; perhaps the editor of the Helena Independent was on to Jeff Smith's real identity and used the article to expose him? This is just over a month after the Arkins assault, which made newspaper headlines all-across the U.S. Surely the Independent could have recognized the name but forgot the details to give its readers a biography of "Soapy." Perhaps they refrained from outright accusing "Jeff Smith" of any involvement in crime, just to protect themselves from a libel case.

A day later I received some information from my favorite genealogist researcher, Linda Gay Mathis. Linda writes,

This "Soapy Smith" mentioned in your article, previously, may have been Cyrus Little Smith (C. L. Smith). See these 2 newspaper clips from Friday, September 13, 1889 Paper: Helena Daily Herald (Helena, Montana) Page: 8. Also, will post a bio of Cyrus Little Smith.

Helena Daily Herald
September 13, 1889


Helena Daily Herald
September 13, 1889
"C. L. Smith"

A biography of Cyrus Little Smith

C. L. Smith was born at Dover, Wayne County, Ohio, January 22, 1845. John R. Smith, his father, was a farmer, and while Cyrus was still a small child his parents removed to Southern Michigan, settling in an unbroken wilderness. There were no schools on the Michigan frontier in those early days, and Cyrus was taught to read by his mother. As the country settled up, schools of a poor quality began to be established, and at the age of eleven the boy secured his first four months' schooling. This was in a little log school house, where presided a Baptist preacher. The seats were oak slabs with stout wooden pins for legs. He attended this school for two winter, learning the rudiments of reading, spelling and arithmetic. During these two terms he had but one book of his own, the arithmetic. In 1858 he went to Southern Indiana and worked in a nursery for the next years. When the war broke out in 1861, Mr. Smith enlisted, though only sixteen years of age. He became a member of Company E, Eleventh Michigan Infantry, and served three years and two months, principally in Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia. Among the noted battles in which the participated were those of Stone River, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Mission Ridge and the battles before Atlanta. Soon after being mustered out of the service he came to Minnesota, in October, 1845, and engaged in selling trees and shrubbery for an Eastern nursery company. At the same time he began planting and experimenting on his own account, and in this way proved his inborn taste for horticultural affairs. Mr. Smith frankly admits a financial failure at the nursery business, the principal cause being poor health. He suffered from diseases contracted in the army, which prevented him from working out doors a large part of each year, but he acquired considerable practical experience in nursery and gardening matters which he turned to account in newspaper and literary work. For all this time he has been largely engaged with horticultural and agricultural papers, and addressing farmers at institutes and other gatherings throughout the state. At the same time he has not abandoned farming and gardening, but has cultivated a tract of forty acres, where he raises various trees and a variety of crops, largely for experimental purposes. As a Republican Mr. Smith has been especially active since 1885. During these later years he has done much aggressive work for the Republican party. His observation of the condition of the farming classes and the common people for many years have convinced him that, notwithstanding all the mistakes made by the party of his choice, its principles and policies have been for the best interests of the people. During the Fish-Donnelly regime of the Populist party, Mr. Smith was state organizer of Republican League Clubs, and made an aggressive campaign against the Populistic influences. He frequently met the enemy on the stump and was active and successful in joint debates. Mr. Smith was one of the organizers of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society in 1866. He served as secretary of the State Forestry Association for four years and a member of the executive committee for six years. He has been a member of the State Dairymen's Association since its organization, and on January 25, 1895, was appointed assistant dairy commissioner of the State Dairy and Food Commission of Minnesota. Mr. Smith rendered valued service in preparing the Minnesota forestry exhibit for the World's Fair in 1893. He took an active part in the first farmers' institute held in the state, and aided in securing their establishment as a permanent state institution. Since 1891 he has been agricultural editor of the Farmers' Tribune.

Source: Progressive men of Minnesota. Published by The Minneapolis Journal, 1897.

Talk about a mystery for the ages! There is no denying that Linda may be right. The Helena Independent may have politically opposed C. L. Smith, thus calling him "Soapy Smith" in derision may have been the latest trendy insult in Montana as it was in Colorado. All this information will be included in the file with the original newspaper article for future use, and to keep from making the same automatic assumption. 

Thank you very much Jane Haigh and Linda Mathis for sharing your fine detective work with us! I've known both Jane and Linda for a number of years, and am happy to call them "friends."

"A bunch of con men opposed to Smith were trying to horn in and get the pull with the big bugs. Stopping to exchange a few words with a vigilance committee, contrary to his usual custom of ‘firing first and talking afterwards,’ caused his death."
— Henry “Yank Fewclothes” Edwards
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 589.

March 4

1634: Samuel Cole opens the first tavern in Boston, Massachusetts.
1681: England's King Charles II grants a charter to William Penn for an area that later becomes the state of Pennsylvania.
1766: The British Parliament repeals the Stamp Act, which had caused bitter and violent opposition in the American colonies.
1778: The Continental Congress votes to ratify the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance. The two treaties are the first entered into by the new government.
1789: The first Congress of the United States meets in New York and declares that the Constitution is in effect.
1791: Vermont is admitted as the 14th state. It is the first addition to the original 13 American colonies turned states.
1794: The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is passed by Congress. The Amendment limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts to automatically hear cases brought against a state by citizens of another state. Later interpretations expanded this to include citizens of the state being sued, as well.
1826: The first railroad in the U.S., the Granite Railway in Quincy, Massachusetts, is chartered.
1837: Chicago, Illinois is granted a city charter.
1861: The Confederate States of America adopts the "Stars and Bars" flag.
1868: John Chisholm, trailblazer of the Chisholm Trail dies in Oklahoma before the trail is named in his honor.
1877: Emile Berliner invents the microphone.
1880: Halftone engraving is used for the first time in the Daily Graphic, published in New York City.
1881: Eliza Ballou Garfield becomes the first mother of a U.S. President to live in the executive mansion.
1881: Outlaw Billy the Kid writes and sends a letter to Governor Lew Wallace, asking for a meeting to discuss the situation in regards to the Lincoln County War, as well as a pardon for himself.
1886: The University of Wyoming in Laramie is chartered.
1902: The American Automobile Association is founded in Chicago, Illinois.
1908: The New York board of education bans the act of whipping students in 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