When Soapy Smith first arrived in Creede, Colorado in February 1892, he obtained lot leases from V. W. Wason. He paid for enough lots in Creede’s business district for himself and some of his Denver friends. The problem was that some of these properties were on “school land.” The state contested these leases and cancelled V. B. Wason’s lease, intending itself to auction lots from the land to the highest bidder. The 102 “squatters” who had leased “school land” from Wason and who had already made improvements were ordered to vacate without reimbursement. They chose to stay and fight if necessary.
The boast is openly made that the state may sell at auction and give title which may be good at some time, but that nothing less than Winchesters carried by militiamen can give possession.
In the days prior to the sale, Creede was filled with investors wanting to capitalize on the misfortune of Creede’s early settlers.
Two days before the auction, eight or nine hundred men met on behalf of the Wason leasers in a large tent at the center of the school land. The plan was to discourage, verbally—or physically if need be—outside bidding so that current lot holders could buy their properties from the state. At one point during the meeting, heard were gun shots and cries of “lot jumping” and “he is jumped.” In meetings with state officials, representatives of the “squatters” argued that current leasers should be given a fair chance to purchase the land from the state, but state law prohibited such action. Trouble looked probable.
The public sale on Friday morning, February 26, 1892, took place in a 40-foot circus tent. A stand was erected in front of the state auctioneer, occupied by E. H. Watson, chairman of the citizens’ committee. He was ready to contest the sale of any squatters’ lots. With him were 25 men of the committee all wearing red badges. Jeff had leased some of these lots, but his involvement with the citizens’ committee, if any, is not known. However, the fact that men marched in wearing red badges fits Jeff’s mode of operation. Some of Jeff’s associates, however, were definitely involved. On March 2, the following Wednesday, while the auction proceedings were still ironing out differences, a committee was appointed consisting of S. T. Harvey, A. T. Jones, Clinton T. Brainard, John Kinneavy, E. C. Burton, John Lord, G. R. Miller, Louis Kerwin, and W. J. Allen. Kinneavy, of course, was one of Jeff’s allies, and G. Miller could be George Miller and W. J. Allen could be J. W. Allen, both of the Soap Gang.
The crowd was enormous. When a lot was called upon which was a squatter’s cabin, the improvements and the name of the claimant were read by the chairman of the committee of twenty-five and there were loud cries of “Let him have it!” “Throw out the man who bids over him!” The cries were hoarse with anger, but as one or two lots had been knocked down to squatters at the minimum price fixed by the state appraiser, good nature … reasserted itself. There were calls of “They will do the square thing!” and “The speculators are all right!” The sale ran along for some time without particular incident, the lots bringing a price from $200 to $300.
… Lot 14, in block 28, was claimed by a woman. When the minimum price was called, cries of “Give it to the woman,” went up.
“Let her have it.”
“Do not bid over her.”
The first bid was made in the woman’s behalf at $50. Martin Froody then raised the bid to $51, loud cries of “Put him out,” were heard, and there was a rush in the direction of the auctioneer’s stand where Martin stood. The confusion and noise was quieted with the utmost difficulty. Stretching his hand as high as possible, Martin with the gallantry which he averred every man from Denver should possess, announced that his bid was for the woman and Rev. Mr. Brodhead called lot 14, in block 28, for the “woman.” At $51. Martin was loudly cheered and Denver friends pressed forward to take his hand….
Women mounted the stand with babies in their arms and the kids took the real estate. For half an hour a woman in a fiery red dress held her position at the corner of the squatters’ stand and cast her most seductive glances at the auctioneer. When the golden opportunity came she plead to be permitted to buy lot 12 in block 12, to carry on a small mercantile business. She gave her name as Louise C. Grebor and amid wild cheers took in the perpendicular patch of ground 25 feet by 125 at $105.
…No sooner was it knocked down than she asked for the adjoining lot for her sister. Five hundred voices in the crowd asked as many questions.
“Where is your sister?” “What is the matter with one lot?” “You are overdoing it.”
“Well,” said Louise, “I have a business on one and she on the other and we straddle across.”
Hats were thrown high in the canvas, shrieks of laughter split the air, the auctioneer leaned back and took an observation through the bottom of a beer bottle … the crowd howled, “Let them straddle it.”
“They need it,” and accordingly Mrs. William Hoyt of New York straddled the second lot at the same figure. Louise went around back of the state auctioneer and from a black silk handkerchief, pulled a roll of bills, which was smilingly received by Register France and handed over to Bill Smith, who deposited them in his tin box….
Rocky Mountain News, February 28, 1892
The "straddle sisters:" pages 203-204.
At the height of his power in Denver, he boldly admitted to being a confidence man: “I beg to state that I am no gambler,” he told a newspaper reporter. “A gambler takes chances with his money, I don’t.” He seems earnestly to have believed that his successful life of crime should be considered more of a credit to his social standing than a blemish.
—Alias Soapy Smith, p. 16
1513: Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sights Florida from his ship. The following day he goes ashore.
1792: Congress passes the Coinage Act to regulate coins of the U.S.
1865: Confederate President Davis and most of his Cabinet flee the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia after losing the Civil War.
1867: The Kansas Pacific Railroad sells Delaware Indian land.
1868: The newspaper in Topeka, Kansas reports that detective W. F. Cody and Deputy U.S. Marshal James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, bring 11 prisoners and lodge them in the jail.
1870: Indians kill six settlers at the headwaters of the Sweetwater River, Wyoming.
1872: G. Brayton receives a patent for the gas-powered streetcar.
1876: Wichita, Kansas police officer, Wyatt Earp gets into a fistfight with William Smith, a candidate for city marshal, and is fined $30 and fired.
1877: The first egg roll was held on the grounds of the White House in Washington, D.C.
1880: Dave Rudabaugh and John “Little Allen” Allen attempt to break John Webb out of from the Las Vegas, New Mexico jail. Allen kills jailer Antonio Valdez. Webb doesn't leave his cell, and the jail breakers flee. A posse gives chase but is unsuccessful. Rudabaugh will later be tried and convicted of the jailer’s murder.
1882: Thomas James Hunt, an innocent look-a-like to outlaw Jesse James, is wrongfully identified and convicted of robbing a stagecoach in Missouri. The following day, Jesse James is shot dead by Robert Ford. In James’ belongings was the name-engraved watch of Judge R. H. Roundtree who lost it to the real stage robber, James. Hunt was released from his imprisonment.
1889: Charles Hall patents aluminum.
1889: Bat Masterson and John O. “Texas Jack” Vermillion are implicated in election fraud, with Soapy Smith and others in Denver, Colorado.
1901: William Carver, a member of the Wild Bunch, is killed by Sheriff Bryant in Sonora, Texas.
1902: The Electric Theatre, the first motion picture theatre opens in Los Angeles California.