November 7, 2016

The latest on Soapy Smith in Spokane, Washington

Henry G. "Doc" Brown
The Spokesman Review
April 23, 1911
(Click image to enlarge)


oapy Smith and Spokane

     History shows that Soapy Smith visited Spokane several times between 1889-1897. He had several friends there, including Charlie Pratt and Henry G. "Doc" Brown.
Other than that, much of the history is not easily found. I am confident that one day the mysteries will mostly be resolved, but thus far my research has only created more mystery. I swear, it seems the saloon and gambling history of Spokane has been largely lost to time. Even the Grand Hotel, of which Soapy resided when in town, is seemingly a mystery to Spokane's history, almost as if they intentionally swept it under a rug. I can find very little in contemporary and modern history books of the 1889-1898 period. I find this odd as Spokane was in direct competition with Seattle as an outlet for the Klondike gold rush. Photographs and stories should be abound.
I wrote that above paragraph years ago. At the time I published Alias Smith Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, I had not found a whole lot of information regarding Soapy's time in the Spokane, Washington area. Over the years the reason's why he went there seemed to only become more of a mystery. Recently, I reopened my research and came up with a few tasty morsels.
     I have had a number of recent, important, interesting finds and revelations, one coming from Karen Byrne of the Facebook group Spokane History Buffs, who had this to say,
The interesting thing about Spokane history is that folks worked to launder it very early. I once asked John Fahey, who worked for WWP and then for EWU as a professor, when someone would write an equivalent history for Spokane on the level of the great rollicking Sons of The Profits, a tell-all Seattle classic. He looked at me and said "never". I was working with local history during the Bicentennial (1975-76), and there was a lot of interest in the real stories, but little digging around.
Even before talking to Karen, I suspected that Spokane's criminal history had been either lost to time or whitewashed, a common occurrence with cities competing for success of their city against others within the state. In fact, this is what the town of Skagway did with the murder of Soapy.
     Back on January 15, 2015 I published a story on the latest I knew (at the time) about Soapy's time in Spokane, Washington. I posted the story on Spokane History Buffs and member Larry Cebula and I started analyzing the information. He found the city directory page listing Soapy, which led me to Lupita Lopez and Amber Raney. Amber is doing a story for the Historical society newsletter. I love the fact that Soapy is listed as being in "mines and mining." That says two things to me.

  1. That he figured he might be staying awhile, otherwise he would not have bothered talking to the city directory person.
  2. Clearly tells me that he was swindling in Spokane, as the Soap Gang often pretended to be men of business, professors, priests, etc. One Denver newspaper talks about a room several members of the gang used as an office, complete with letters painted on the glass, as "mineral experts."

     My latest research binge of Spokane history started with the finding of an old photograph on eBay of the corner of Washington and Second Streets (see photograph below). I had originally believed the Owl Club saloon, cafe and gaming rooms resided on this corner. I received this apparently mistaken information from the book, Totem Tales of Old Seattle (1956), by Gordon Newelln. I have since learned that the Owl resided on the southeast corner of Main and Howard from the very beginning. In giving Mr. Newelln the benefit of a doubt, I wondered if the Owl was originally located at Washington and Second, and that "Doc" Brown took advantage of the 1889 fire and subsequent lot auctions, to relocate closer to the main business district. The 1888-1889 city directory would be ideal in answering this question, but naturally, that portion of the directory is missing from online access.

Washington and Second Streets
Spokane, Washington
circa 1900
courtesy eBay Auctions


On March 27, 1890, The Spokane Spokesman was officially incorporated. It was this year that Spokane Falls changed its name to "Spokane" and boasted a population of 30,000 residents. The city rebuilt quickly and Spokane was the hub of the region. It catered to the mining districts to the East; when someone needed supplies, Spokane was the central area for such things. From as far away as the Rockies to the East, The Cascades to the West, the Blue Mountains to the South and the Canadian Selkirks to the North, Spokane was where early pioneers would travel for all of their major supplies.
      Spokane had a wild side. It was by no means a quiet little city nestled in the Pacific Northwest. Spokane was a city that boasted a saloon for every twenty inhabitants at one time and a saloon could be found on every block in the business area. It was a playground for miners from British Columbia and Idaho as well as for timber workers whose jobs ran out during the dead of winter. It was also a playground for steamboat and railroad workers.
      During these early years, saloons and gambling establishments were open 24 hours a day featuring Faro, roulette, dice, and poker and there were no limits on bets made. Brawls and gunfights were frequent, so much so that many times corpses filled pine boxes and were placed on the main avenue awaiting the coroner to officially inspect them.
So what happened to all the sources and information about that "wild history?" No Spokane newspapers for 1889 are available online so I searched the Tacoma, Seattle, and other surrounding city newspapers for hints of any Spokane criminal, saloon, gambling activity. I centered my search for Soapy in Washington between August 1, 1889 (time he left Denver) and October 15, 1889 (time he returned to Denver). I could not find any hints of his operations in Washington during this time frame.
     I also noted that there seemed to not be much reason why Soapy wanted to go to Spokane. Normally, he'd follow and work large expositions and gold/silver camps. Idaho is where the mining camps where. The only thing I can come up with is that the fire presented an opportunity for a ground floor criminal empire in the north country.


1896 Spokane City Directory
"Smith Jefferson R, mines and mining, rms Grand Hotel."
courtesy of Washington State Archives
(Click image to enlarge)

It is known that Soapy.
  • It is known that Soapy was headed for Spokane in September 1889, but we do not know why.  One possibility stems from opportunities arising from a huge fire in Spokane. Could "Doc" Brown, his partners, and old associate Charlie Pratt, considered bringing Soapy into the business as a partner?
  • Soapy got side-tracked with a shoot-out at the train depot in Pocatello, Idaho on August 30, 1889.
  • Soapy returned to Spokane in October 1895 where he had McGinty, the petrified man sent to Hillyard, a suburb of Spokane. 
  • In June 1896, papers in the family collection show he tried to swindle a company out of some mining property.
  • In August 1896 Soapy's wife Mary wrote to him, care of the Grand Hotel, conveniently located on the same corner at the Owl Club.


     Gay Mathas led me to Brown's obituary (Spokesman Review, April 23, 1911), a very interesting telling of Brown's business and personal life in Spokane. It has a lot of information, including the Main and Howard location for the Owl Club. The only online 1889 city directory for Spokane Falls is incomplete. Because the directory is incomplete, it is possible that Gordon Newelln either made a mistake in listing the Owl Club at Washington and Second, or it was there in 1889 at the time of the fire, and Brown purchased a lot closer to the center of town (Main and Howard).

Polly Kaczmarek writes,
"OK, here’s at least some of your requested info: 1889 (as far back as the directories go at the city library; I don’t think earlier directories exist but to be sure you might call the Ferris Archives at 509-363-5342, ; perhaps they can check your specific question out if there was anything published earlier): No Owl Saloon at all. (Also no Louvre Saloon.) There is one Henry Brown listed, working as a laborer, but without a middle initial. There are three Henry Browns the next year (including your Henry G.), all with middle initials, all with a different residence from the 1889 Henry Brown, so the 1889 Henry might have been one of those three, or none of them. My best guess is this directory was published before the fire. 1890: No Owl, No Louvre. There is a Henry G. Brown, boarding on E. Riverside Ave., no occupation. 1892: The Owl, Henry G. Brown, prop., at Main and Howard. Also, The Louvre Saloon and Theater, Charles Pratt, prop., at Howard SE corner Front."

The Spokesman-Review
"Doc Brown, old-time gambler, poor man's friend."
April 23, 1911
 (Click image to enlarge)

Sadly, "Doc" Brown ended his own life, Tuesday April 18, 1911, being one of the very few of Soapy's associates and friends to do so. Following are quotes from old friends. 

One of the most picturesque figures of the 'Old Spokane'...
The fairest, squarest, most honorable gambling man I ever knew.

Doc Brown was a law-abiding citizen, ran a square place inside the law of those times, and when the new order of things mad gambling a felony he went out of business. Gambling was all the business he had and he went to the wall. ... There wasn't a Christmas that he didn't make hundreds of people happy. ... and his gifts were always sent 'from a friend.' Nobody ever heard of Doc Browns Christmas presents.

Impoverished, discouraged, "Doc" Brown's death closed a life full to the brim of deeds which stand out in sharp contrast by the standards of today, and yet which show in a hundred different lights a native full of native nobility and a heart full of charity for the erring, love for the poor, and an unfailing generosity to all.

Advertisement for the Owl Club
Courtesy of eBay

It is known that "Doc" Brown,
  • He was married.
  • Educated in Iowa.
  • played billiards and pool as an associate with Jacob Schaefer in the 1870s.
  • Held an interest in a gambling house in New York.
  • Became a partner of Charles Pratt (more on Pratt below).
  • Brown arrived in Spokane in 1887-1888.
  • Opened the Old Arlington on the northwest corner of Main and Howard Streets.
  • Lost everything in the 1889 fire.
  • 1890-1891 Brown, Charles Pratt, James Dewey and Ed Duffy opened the Frankfort saloon, which became the Owl Club at Main and Howard Streets. In his book History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, Washington, Volume 1, Nelson Durham claims the Owl partners were Charles White and C. D. Bibbins, but this doesn't agree with the obituaries of Brown or Pratt.
  • Had two pet sea lions in the river that he fed daily.
  • Financed, uniformed and organized the Junior Owls, kids (little league) baseball.
  • Financed the adult Spokane baseball team.
  • After the enactment of the law making gambling a felony in Washington, Brown moved to Portland, Oregon.
  • Brown went to San Francisco, California grew despondent over his long continued losses, and ended his checkered career with a revolver in Oakland, California.

An Owl Club token
(Click image to enlarge)

Spokane City Directory
The Owl Club ad
(Click image to enlarge)

Spokane City Directory
The Owl Club
(Click image to enlarge)

Owl Club ad


Charles Pratt Dies
In Panama
November 9, 1904
(Click image to enlarge)

It is known that Pratt,
  • A partner or associate of Soapy's in Fort Worth between 1878-1882.
  • Had been a hotel man in St. Louis.
  • Went into business with "Doc" Brown in 1889 for about three years.
  • Partnered with Peter Dueber in opening The Louvre music hall and beer garden theater and gaming house at front Avenue and Howard Street.
  • He went down to Panama where he had a monopoly on the gambling concessions.
  • In 1897 Soapy wrote to him about business there.
  • Died November 8, 1904 in Panama, at age 66-67.

Charles E. Pratt
Spokane City Directory
(Click image to enlarge)

The Louvre
Spokane City Directory
(Click image to enlarge)

Charles E. Pratt - The Louvre
Spokane City Directory
(Click image to enlarge)

Charles E. Pratt letter to Soapy Smith
May 20, 1895
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

The contents of the letter are as follows.

May 20, 1895
Friend Jeff-

I rec'd a paper from you a few days ago until then I thought you were still in Mexico. I wrote you a letter there. When you get this I want you yo write and tell me what you done and saw there. I am out of "Biz" now and may take a trip south as things look blue for me in this country. I closed my house the 22nd of last month "Broke" and the outlook for a broken man here is not very bright as nearly everybody is in the same boat; if the Kansas City is there tell him to write me. With best wishes for yourself and family also Bascom I remain

Your Friend and well wisher
C. E. Pratt
     Soapy was down in Mexico attempting to create a private military company, based on the French foreign legion, with him as colonel. It it the first of three attempts for Soapy to create a private army.
     The "biz" Mr. Pratt speaks of is his Louvre Theater.
     "Kansas City" sounds like Pratt is speaking of a friend or associate known as such.


Grand Hotel
map 1890
The yellow circle also
contains the Owl Club
(Click image to enlarge)

The Grand Hotel
(Click image to enlarge)

Grand Hotel Stationary

The Grand Hotel
(right side of photo)
  (Click image to enlarge)

The Grand Hotel
(right side of photo)
(Click image to enlarge)

The Grand Hotel
Center of postcard
Courtesy of Larry Cebula
(Click image to enlarge)

The Grand Hotel
Center, under "Museum"
Courtesy of Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture
(Click image to enlarge)

Thank you:
Special thanks to Linda Gay Mathis, Larry Cebula Amber Raney, Polly Kaczmarek, John Etcheverry, Karen Byrne, Leif Forrest, the Spokane History Buffs page. the Historical Records of the Washington State Archives. Washington State Archives Research Services.

Soapy in Spokane, Washington 
(posts are not in order of important. remember to scroll).

Spokane: pages 113, 165-66, 170, 172, 197, 416, 418-19.

"Jefferson Randolph Smith II was to become infamously known by the moniker of “Soapy.” Jeff’s future exploits brought so much shame and disgrace to his kin in Coweta County that his name was erased from birth records in the family bible. The eraser marks can be faintly seen to this day."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 22


1637: Anne Hutchinson, the first female religious leader in the American colonies, is banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for heresy.
1811: The Shawnee Indians under Chief Tecumseh are defeated by William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, near the Wabash River in Indiana Territory.
1837: Elijah P. Lovejoy, an abolitionist printer, is shot to death by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, Illinois, while trying to protect his printing shop.
1859: The Jefferson Territory (Colorado) General Assembly meets in Denver to set the government in operation.
1874: The Republican Party is first symbolized as an elephant in a cartoon by Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly.
1876: The cigarette manufacturing machine is patented by Albert H. Hook.
1876: John Ringo and George Glidden are arrested, ending the “Hoodoo War” in Texas. The feud began over cattle rustling, and last over a year. The Hoodoo’s were vigilantes who disguised themselves with hoods and boot-black.
1879: Frank H. Reid shoots and kills James Simons, a neighbor during an argument near Sweet Home, Oregon. Reid flees the scene but later returns for trial and although Reid was armed with a shotgun and Simons had but a stick in his hand, it was ruled as self-defense. On July 8, 1898 Reid shoots and wounds Soapy Smith in the Shootout on Juneau Wharf, Skagway, Alaska. Reid dies of his wounds 12 days later.
1881: Wyatt Earp and John “Doc” Holliday are jailed in Tombstone, Arizona Territory to await their hearing in the wake of the gunfight behind the O.K. Corral.
1885: Apache Indians under Chief Ulzana, attack two ranches south of the Mimbres Mountains in New Mexico Territory. Killed were Andrew Yeater and his wife. Their neighbor, John Shy barely escapes his burning house and saved his family.
1890: Soap Gang member Joe Simmons hits a Denver, Colorado Tivoli Club patron over the head with his pistol. The gun discharges and the bullet hits the wall.
1892: Denver crime boss makes a blatant admission about election corruption to a Rocky Mountain News reporter saying “__ __ if any law could keep me from casting as many crooked votes as I __ __ pleased, and I don’t give a __ who knows that is my position. I will cast as many fraudulent votes as I want to, and there is no __ __ law can prevent me.”
1893: Colorado grants women the right to vote. It is the second state to do so.

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