August 5, 2016

"To my old friend Soapy Smith"

Close-up of the note
courtesy of Wayne Selmer
(Click image to enlarge)

o my old friend Soapy Smith"

Friend, Wayne Selmer sent me the following photograph regarding a note and some flowers placed on Soapy Smith's grave. The photo is part of a scrapbook in his possession which dates back to 1940. The note reads,

"To my old friend Soapy Smith
From Muligan Gulch Bill
Butte Mont [Montana]"

      Soapy indeed had a very loyal set of friends and admirers, at least one refusing to say anything bad about him in an interview 16 years after Soapy's demise (1914). Could this be an old friend, or one time partner, associate, gang member of Soapy's? It is not an impossibility. If "Bill" was between 20-30 years old in 1898, he would be between 62-72 in 1940.
      Over the decades after Soapy's death numerous people sent money for the upkeep of the grave. It is very possible that a "Muligan Gulch Bill" did send money to grave caretaker Martin Itjen to place flowers on the grave, and Itjen made the wooden "note" capitalizing on the kind act.
      Martin Itjen, the owner and operator of the Jeff Smith's Parlor Museum and primary caretaker of Soapy's grave, is known for such theatrics and the 1940 date aligns with the height of Itjen's business. Still, the sincere sending of flowers may very well be real.
     One question remains... Who is "Muligan Gulch Bill?"

The photograph
courtesy of Wayne Selmer
(Click image to enlarge)

"The most infamous of his unique schemes was the prize package soap sell in which he put large-denomination bills inside the wrappers of some cakes of soap and auctioned off the packages for $1 each, then for more as the number of cakes diminished. Only Jeff’s men, who seeded every crowd, ever won the larger bills. From this swindle came the sobriquet “Soapy” by which he came to be known throughout the American West."
Alias Soapy Smith, Introduction.


1833: The city of Chicago, Illinois is incorporated.
1859: The 6th Infantry leads two officers and 50 enlisted against 200 Mojave Indians near Fort Mojave, New Mexico Territory. Three soldiers are wounded and about 23 Indians killed, with many wounded and captured.
1861: The federal government levies its first income tax. The tax is 3% of all incomes over $800. The wartime measure is rescinded in 1872.
1863: Sioux Indians kill 59 Pawnee Indians in Massacre Canyon, Nebraska Territory.
1864: Union forces led by Admiral David Farragut, move into Mobile Bay, Alabama during the Civil War, 1884: The cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty is laid on Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor.
1889: “The most notoriously corrupt and decrepit municipal organization in the West is that in Denver.” (Rocky Mountain News, August 5, 1889). Bad man Soapy Smith controls the criminal underworld there.