Rocky Mountain News
October 7, 1894
Authentic badge from author's collection
even months following the Denver City Hall War of 1894 the county sheriff employed Denver's criminal element as commission carrying, badge wearing county deputy Sheriffs, "armed to the teeth," in order to maintain a presence of strength against fears of another attempt by Populist state governor Waite to forcefully take over control of the Denver city government at city hall, via state troops. Soapy Smith and members of the Soapy Gang, such as Joe Palmer, were made deputy sheriffs, using their badges and power to their advantage in swindling visitors to the city. Soapy kept his commission paperwork which resides in the authors collection.
For months the newspapers of Denver published every problem that transpired due to having criminals running about the city armed as deputy sheriffs. Something had to give, and it did on Friday October 5, 1894, when bunco man Milt Smith, carrying a deputy sheriff's commission, is shot and killed by Police officer Robert J. Boykin. Here are some of the stories and troubles the city had in dealing with these legally armed "walking arsenals," as published in the Rocky Mountain News two days later:
PLUG UGLIES__________Read the Record and Learn if They Are to be Trusted by Decent Citizens.__________Walking Arsenals and a Source of Terror to Decent Men.__________Sheriff Burchinell’s Deputies Recruited from the Pariahs of the Slums of Denver.__________Here are the Noxious Things Taxpayers are Asked to Support in Office.__________Milt Smith, the Colored Desperado, Was a Fair Sample of His Class.__________Gamblers and Bullies from the Lowest Dives Enrolled in the Disreputable Herd.__________Chief Armstrong’s Men Hampered in Enforcing the Laws by the Court House Machinery.__________It is a matter of record at police headquarters that the arrests on the charge of disturbance are made up largely of deputy sheriffs. The books show this, and in every case the record has been made only when the written commission from the sheriff was exhibited. Here are some of the names of deputy sheriffs who have occupied cells at city headquarters:WERLEY, ALBI, GREGGERS OR HENDRICKS, HESTER JOHNSON, HORY, RILEY, CLINE, SENEY, CLARK, GUGER, JEFF SMITH, JOE PALMER, JACK WILHELM, DUNCAN, CRAIG, LEWIS, ROSSA, BUCK, REED AND DOZENS OF OTHERS.In many cases these men have had a pull and in this way have escaped serving their terms of imprisonment. Henry Hester was arrested four times and was fined $200 twice and $100 twice. The mayor pardoned him after every conviction. In one outfit of thirteen gamblers arrested recently seven of them carried guns and had deputy sheriff commissions. In another crowd three out of five were armed in like manner by authority of the prince of redeemers, Sheriff Burchinell.Smith’s Criminal Record.Milt Smith, the deputy sheriff who was killed by officer Boykin Friday night has been in trouble dozens of times. In the last three years he has been in the city jail thirty times on the charge of vagrancy and disturbances. His parents are very respectable colored people and they have generally succeeded in clearing him from the more serious charges against him. He is well known to all the patrolmen who have had Market street on their beat. A couple of years ago he came near killing Sergeant Norkett and about a year ago Officer Tom Clifford had his finger punctured by a bullet from Smith’s gun. Detective Elajes knew him as a desperado three years ago in Colorado City when Smith was a porter at the Hoffman house.“I want to do my duty by the people of this city,” said Chief Armstrong yesterday, “but I want them to understand that every move I make towards doing that duty is handicapped by the sheriff’s deputies and his alleged county detective department. Hundreds of the worst characters in the city are walking arsenals. On Market street almost every loafer who lives off the earnings of the dissolute women is armed with a deputy sheriff’s badge. To all intents and purposes he is the sheriff’s duly accredited representative.”Outrageous A. P. A. Move.The killing of the worthless character Smith, who wore a deputy sheriff’s badge promises to furnish a pretext through which the police are to be annoyed by the A. P. A. influence. Yesterday Ellie Smith, the destitute colored mistress of Milt Smith, swore out a warrant in Howse’s court, charging Robert J. Boykin and Felix O’Neil with murder. The claim is made that murder is not a bailable offense.Yesterday morning Officer Boykin was released on $5,000 bonds by justice Cater on the same charge as preferred later in Howse’s court. Alderman Ed Fox and Thomas McNulty became his sureties. The A. P. A’s thought the bond insufficient or the bondsmen unsatisfactory and they induced the abandoned creature who was the indirect cause of the killing to swear out additional warrants in Howse’s court, charging not only Boykin but Officer Felix O’Neil with murder.All Armed to the Teeth.The killing of Smith by Boykin appears to have been justified beyond all possible doubt. Smith, who was a big burly negro, had repeatedly boasted that he would kill the first Populist policeman who dared to lay hands on him. It appears that he had a certain control over the toughs of the colored element on the row, and as he became bolder in his threats, they too assumed an air of indifference when commanded to do anything by the police.There is hardly a tough on the row who does not wear a deputy sheriff badge and carry a deputy sheriff commission. This entitled them to carry as many guns and knives as is consistent with their being regulation Republican heelers. Gun plays have been so frequent of late that it began to look as if there was to be a return to the old frontier days of lawlessness and crime. If an officer made an arrest and found concealed weapons on his prisoner, he would have flashed in his face the star and commission of Sheriff Burchinell. The toughs armed to the teeth, went about with their hands on big 45-caliber guns, ready on the slightest provocation to pump lead into any policeman or enemy who should happen to incur their drunken displeasure.Killing of Smith.On Friday night Chief Armstrong decided to clean the row of this degraded class and it was with that object in view that he visited the street. He had been talking to his men, Boykin and O’Neil, on the subject when Smith and his mistress began the disturbance on the other side of the street. The Chief, on talking of the killing, said to a News reporter:“Boykin and O’Neil crossed over and the former told the negro to move on. The latter, instead of doing so, pulled his gun. Boykin told him to drop it. He did not do so, and Boykin, who had only his ‘billy’ in his hand, struck at him, I think, striking him on the arm. The negro then walked back a few steps and raised his gun, pointing it at O’Neil and Boykin. Not until then did Boykin pull his revolver. He fired before Smith had pulled the trigger of his gun and Smith fell to the sidewalk with his gun clasped tightly in his hand and with his finger on the trigger. Boykin was about five feet away when he fired. I saw the whole affair and I am convinced that if he had not fired when he did, either himself or O’Neil would now be in the morgue instead of Smith.”The inquest to inquire into the cause of Smith’s death will be held tomorrow. Smith, as a deputy sheriff, three weeks ago had a prisoner in Harper’s court on the charge of vagrancy. Smith was at Cripple Creek during the recent unpleasantness.
Last night Detective Gardiner served the Howse warrants on Boykin and O’Neil and on Chief Armstrong, guaranteeing to turn over the men when wanted. They were not taken to jail.
[Soapy had]“accounts at the merchants’ stores for provisions and fuel for the needy people here” and that they “amount to several hundreds dollars a week.” Additionally, the visitor learned that Soapy paid “for the funerals of friendless persons, and I can assure you that that is no small item. What are you going to make out of a character like that?
—Joseph T. Cornforth
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 591.
1614: American Indian Pocahontas marries English colonist John Rolfe in Virginia.
1621: The Mayflower sails from Plymouth, Massachusetts, on a return trip to England.
1792: President George Washington casts the first presidential veto, against a measure for apportioning representatives among the states.
1806: Isaac Quintard patents the cider mill.
1827: James H. Hackett becomes the first American actor to appear abroad as he performs at Covent Garden in London, England.
1843: Queen Victoria proclaims Hong Kong to be a British colony.
1859: The unofficial state of Jefferson is formed by residents in the western part of Kansas Territory (present day Colorado).
1863: 140 cavalrymen route 200 Indians during the Battle of Spanish Fork in Utah.
1869: Outlaw Benjamin Bickerstaff and his men ride into Alvarado, Johnson County, Texas, firing weapons into the air and some store windows. Irate armed citizens shoot and kill Bickerstaff and several other members of the gang.
1869: Daniel Bakeman, the last surviving soldier of the U.S. Revolutionary War, dies at the age of 109.
1872: The first Cypress Hills Massacre occurs as American wolfers and Assiniboine Indians fight in the Sweet Grass Hills, Montana Territory, near the Canadian border.
1879: Frank “Cock-eyed” Loving shoots and kills Levi Richardson in the Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, Kansas. Richardson was berating Loving, who was seated at a Hazard table. Levi pulled his revolver and fires five shots, only nicking Loving’s hand. Loving fires three times hitting and killing Richardson with all three shots. It is ruled as self-defense. Loving is shot and killed about a year later in Trinidad, Colorado.
1881: “The agent of the Adams Express Co., at this place, Mr. Rudy, was taken out to the railroad water tank last Wednesday, and drenched with water by Mayor Kelley and his policemen, for writing an article to an Iowa newspaper and reflecting discreditably upon said officials.” Dodge City Times.
1887: Anne Sullivan teaches a blind and deaf Helen Keller the meaning of the word "water" as spelled out in the manual alphabet.
1892: Walter H. Coe patents gold leaf in rolls.