September 23, 2017

Artifact #51: Envelope to Capt Jeff Smith - "Deceased."

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apt. Jeff Smith - DECEASED

     An iconic Soapy Smith artifact symbolizing the end of his life and the end of Skagway's (spelled Skaguay) reign of the bunco lawlessness.
     The front side of the envelope, minus the letter and knowledge of the sender, was sent to "Capt. Jeff Smith" in June 1898 (postmark) at Skaguay, Alaska Ter. (territory). Alaska was actually not a territory, but the district of Alaska. Note that there is a stamp missing, which contained the missing date in June as well as the city of origin, however, a postmark on the rear indicates that the orgin country was Mexico. My father, John Randolph Smith (Randy) admitted that when he was a young boy he collected stamps and did remove some of the stamps from the envelops in the family collection in Mary's possession (Soapy's wife). Note that the postmaster in Skagway wrote "Deceased" at the top. At the bottom the sender wrote what appears to be "E.U.S.A."  I believe I am incorrect about the "E" as it makes no sense.
     The rear side of the envelope contains the very important postmarks indicating dates and locations. The letter was sent from Mexico on late June, arriving at another post office in Mexico on July 1, 1898, which means it was likely sent by someone who knew Soapy personally, perhaps a good friend. Soapy and several of the members of the Soap Gang were traveling back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. in 1895 but it is not known if any of Soapy's men were down there in 1898. The letter arrive in Seattle where it was postmarked at 7:30 a.m. on July 9, 1898, just ten hours after Soapy's violent death in the shootout on Juneau Wharf. The letter arrived and was postmarked in Skagway, Alaska six days later on July 15, 1898.

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"There is not a man on the Denver police force who did not breath a sigh of relief when he read that “Soapy” was dead. It was bound to come, and all realized that, but the question bothering the police officials was how long “Soapy” was to go about killing other men."
Rocky Mountain News
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 584.


1642: The first commencement at Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts is held.
1779: John Paul Jones, commander of the American warship Bon Homme, is quoted as saying "I have not yet begun to fight!"
1780: John Andre, a British spy, is captured with papers revealing that Benedict Arnold is planning on surrendering West Point, New York, to the British.
1806: The Corps of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark expedition, arrives back to St. Louis, Missouri, ending the trip to the Pacific Northwest.
1838: Victoria Chaflin Woodhull is born. As an adult she will be the first female candidate for the U.S. Presidency.
1845: The Knickerbocker Base Ball Club of New York is formed by Alexander Joy Cartwright. It is the first baseball team in America.
1846: Astronomer Johann Gottfried Galle discovers the planet Neptune.
1862: Little Crow Indians attack Colonel Sibley's advance party at Wood Lake, Minnesota.
1869: The 8th Cavalry kill 18 Indians in a battle at Red Creek, Arizona Territory.
1872: From Fort McPherson, Nebraska, William F. Cody leads General Phil Sheridan and his party to Fort Hayes, Kansas.
1875: Outlaw, Billy the Kid is arrested for the first known time in Silver City, Arizona for stealing clothes. After two days, Billy took advantage of his small frame to squeeze his way up a chimney and escape.
1877: Nez Perce Indians raid an army depot at the Cow Island Landing, Montana Territory, killing one soldier and two civilians.
1881: Dave Rudabaugh escapes from the Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory jail and heads for Mexico.
1898: Jesse Edwards James, son of the deceased late outlaw Jesse James, is accused of leading a train robbery near Leeds, Missouri. He was tried and acquitted of charges February 28, 1899.

September 22, 2017

Artifact #50: Offer to buy Soapy Smith's property in 1896.

Add caption
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rtifact #50
An offer to buy the Smith home in Denver.


     It's been five years (September 4, 2012) since I posted the last letter artifact (#49) from my private collection. "Life" got in the way of posting the remaining 1/3 of these rare, previously unpublished heirloom and historical relics, but now I am free to begin again, starting with number 50 of approximately 160 ephemera total documents.
     Following is the contents of the letter.

Seattle, Wash., June 23rd, 1896
Mr. Jeff R. Smith,
       Spokane Falls, Wash.
Dear Sir:
     Being here on my way to Alaska on an excursion, I heard you were in Spokane, and would like to know the lowest cash price you will take for your residence, No. 1421 So. 15th St., Denver, Colo. I can get $6500. cash, and think you had better sell at that figure. If not, state your lowest cash price.
     Answer care George Fisher, 17th and Wazee Sts., Denver, Colo.
          (signed) A. R. Hamner
     I had no luck finding anything on "A. R. Hammner (or Hammer)." There was nothing in my files, in Google, or in Denver newspapers. 
     According to the 1897 directory (p. 1000) Soapy still listed his residence as 1421 S. 15th Street in Denver, Colorado, though he had not physically lived there since late 1895. It is certain he believed he would be able to return to Denver one day. I do not have a record of when he and/or Mary sold the property.
     George Fisher owned the saloon complex at 1535 to 1539 17th Street at the corner of Wazee Street in Denver, being at that location since 1879. Fisher was a friend of Soapy's, several letters from him exist in the Jeff Smith collection. Soapy opened a cigar store (front for big mitt [rigged poker games] swindles in a back room) at 1531 17th Street, just one or two doors from Fisher's saloon. It is likely that Fisher's saloon was used in lubricating intended victims of the Soap Gang.

Following are the last three links to the artifacts postings. If you wish to see the remaining 46 letters and documents then you will need to scroll back previous to April 2, 2012.
September 4, 2012: Artifact #49
May 4. 2012: Artifact #48
April 2, 2012: Artifact #47
June 11, 2010: Artifact #12 (George Fisher letter)

George B. Fisher: pages 122, 285, 421.

"he was one of the most kind-hearted men that ever lived. I will venture that there is scarcely a big city in the country where you couldn’t find some man that could tell you of a good act that Jeff Smith had done him."
—R. M. Eddy
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 590.


1789: U.S. Congress authorizes the office of Postmaster General.
1862: U.S. President Lincoln issues the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. It states that all slaves held within rebel states would be free as of January 1, 1863.
1886: Famed lawman Bat Masterson has an altercation with a man named Bagsby inside The Exchange saloon in Denver, Colorado. Masterson strikes Bagsby, who draws a pistol and shoots Masterson in the leg. Neither men wish to make a complaint and no one is arrested. Masterson is a friend of bad man “Soapy” Smith’s.
1891: Sak, Fox, and Potawatomi lands are open for settlement in Oklahoma Territory.
1898: Gold discovered in Nome, on Anvil Creek near Cape Nome. The claim was filed by the "Three Lucky Swedes": Jafet Lindeberg, Erik Lindblom and John Brynteson. News of the discovery reached the outside world later that winter. The discovering occurs seventy-six days after the shooting of Alaska bad man Soapy Smith. Had he survived, it is likely Soapy would have made Nome another empire, perhaps meeting up with Wyatt Earp once again (they met in Tombstone).

September 21, 2017

The fame of Soapy Smith continues into the mid-20th century

Dr. W. C. Carr as "Soapy Smith"
25th Anniversary parade
Landing of the Portland in Seattle
Seattle Daily Times
July 18, 1922

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oapy Smith's fame
continued to grow and prosper in the decades after his death.

The following newspaper article clippings are just a quick glimpse of his fame in the 60 years since 1898. His fame reached the summit in the mid-1960s and seemed to disappear. It started a comeback in the late 1970s and zenithed in 2009 with the publication of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. With Skagway, being one of the top Alaskan destinations and the public reopening of Soapy's saloon Jeff Smith's Parlor, there seems to be a constant interest in his story. Now, if a descent motion picture is produced is will ensure another 60 years of infamy.   

"Soapy Smith" the reindeer
Seattle Daily Times
November 16, 1930

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Bill Armstrong as "Soapy Smith"
Seattle Daily Times
February 24, 1918

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"Soapy" in the Potlatch parade
Seattle Daily Times
July 24, 1934
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"With the sports with whom he associated Smith was easily chief. He was clear-headed and willing to fight if necessary to maintain his supremacy. In a big mass-meeting held in Skaguay early this year he was chosen Captain of a military company to fight the Spaniards, and the company offered its services to President McKinley. If they had been accepted, not a man would have welched on going to the front. "
—R. M. Eddy
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 590.


1784: The first daily newspaper in the U.S., the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser is published in Philadelphia.
1873: George A. Custer's command arrives at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory.
1876: Jim, Robert, and Cole Younger are arrested for the bank robbery at Northfield, Minnesota. Frank and Jesse James manage to escape capture.
1891: Deputy U.S. Marshal Joseph Wilson is shot dead by Sam Hickory, a liquor runner the deputy had just arrested at his home on Fourteen Mile Creek near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The body of the dead marshal was taken to a ravine about a mile away and left there. Three days later Wilson's body was recovered. His throat had been slit and there was a bullet wound in his knee. Hickory was arrested. Tried and found guilty of the murder.
1893: Frank Duryea took what is believed to be the first gasoline- powered automobile for a test drive.
1897: The New York Sun ran the famous, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" editorial, in response to a letter from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon.
1904: Nez Perce Indian Chief Joseph dies on the Colville reservation in northern Washington at the age of 64. In 1877 he surrendered the surviving Nez Perce forces after the Battle of Bear’s Paw in northern Montana. It was there that he wrote "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

September 8, 2017

Another photo of the Soapy Smith gang?

A few of the Soapy Smith Gang
Waiting for a boat to arrive
authors collection

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of the Soap Gang.

The clothing suggests 1910-1930. Soapy Smith died in 1898. No provenance that these are/were members of the Soap Gang.

"He is the most gracious, kindhearted man I’ve met. To know him is to like him."
—William Saportas


1565: A Spanish expedition establishes the first permanent European settlement in North America at present-day St. Augustine, Florida.
1664: The Dutch surrender New Amsterdam to the British, who then rename it New York.
1866: The first recorded birth of sextuplets is born to James and Jennie Bushnell of Chicago, Illinois.
1868: A battle between seven Sioux Indian warriors and members of the Gros Ventre, Ree, and Mandan Indian tribes occurs near Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory. The Sioux fire shots across a river and members of the Three Affiliated Tribes give chase. One Sioux Indian is caught, killed, and scalped.
1868: Indians kill 17 settlers in a raid near Cimarron Crossing, Kansas.
1879: Arista Webb settles an argument with Barney Martin by delivering a deadly blow to Martin's head with the butt of a Winchester rifle, in Dodge City, Kansas. Webb was immediately arrested, eventually facing convicted and execution.
1879: Female gambler Eleanore “Madame Mustache” Dumont commits suicide with a bottle of poison in Bodie, California.
1881: The Bisbee to Tombstone stage in Arizona Territory is robbed. Interviews of the passengers reveal that one of the masked robbers had said, "Have we got all the sugar?" This is said to have been a favorite phrase of Sheriff John Behan's deputy sheriff, Frank Stilwell. Boot marks at the scene match Stilwell's boots. Stilwell and Pete Spence are arrested in Bisbee and returned to stand trial in Tombstone.
1893: Gambler Luke Short dies of natural causes in Geuda Springs, Kansas.
1892: An early version of "The Pledge of Allegiance" appears in The Youth's Companion.

September 2, 2017

Another Soapy Smith Derringer?

Photo courtesy of Amoskeag Auction Co.

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     Called the "Soapy Smith" Southerner Deringer, lot 197 was set to sell in the August 29, 2015 auction run by Amoskeag Auction Company of Manchester, New Hampshire, with a starting bid of $3,000 - $4,000. The pistol failed to meet the minimum required bid.
     These days all one has to do is Google "Soapy Smith" and a plethora of sites are available to all who take the time to read. Because of this fact, I had to chuckle when I saw the following statement in the auction description.
"Except for the killing of vigilante Frank Reid on the same day of his demise none of the documentation provided indicates any gunfights by 'Soapy' that would support the four notches in this pistol but considering his background anything is possible."
Had the auction house gone to the "Violent Clashes" page of our main website they would have seen a listing of the known gunfights Soapy had taken a part in. The "four notches in this pistol," reminds me that there is no evidence of anyone in the old west actually carving notches into the grips of their pistols, keeping tabs of the men they had killed. This was an invention of fiction writers. 

four notches
Photo courtesy of Amoskeag Auction Co.

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     A letter written by J. Cornell purports that he took this pistol off the body of "Soapy" Smith after the shooting, along with two $20.00 eagle coins. He passed it on to John Jack McPhee on April 8, 1930. In his letter to McPhee he explains how his cabin was flooded by overflow from a river and badly rusted the gun. A small binder with letters purportedly from Mr. Cornell and other owners is included. The binder also has some "Soapy" Smith background, a chronological list of all owners before Mr. Riggs and period photos of the Skagway area and Smith. This Southerner would pass through seven hands before being purchased by Mr. Riggs [Elliott Riggs Collection].
     I could not find a Cornell listed in the known Skagway population. This is not proof that he was not there, but rather that his name is know listed in my records or in the name files from the Skagway Museum.
     The story of a Derringer found in Soapy's pocket closely resembles the gun and story told by Reverend Sinclair that appears in Mission: Klondike, the story of Reverend John A. Sinclair's adventures in Alaska and the Klondike during the gold rush, written by the Reverend's son in 1978. The Sinclair Derringer, a Colt's Model 3, .41 rim-fire is said to have been the derringer carried by Soapy. Historical logic and gun history suggests that both rim-fire weapons were outdated "antiques" by 1898, that neither would have been logical choices for a man who had already survived numerous gunfights, to carry around for personal safety. All of the newspapers prior to Soapy's time in Alaska, spoke of "large frame" revolvers being carried and used by Soapy. No "small pistols" are ever mentioned.  


     Brown Manufacturing Company Southerner Deringer, serial #6812, 41 rim fire, 2 1/2" octagon barrel with a lightly oxidized and frosted bore. This very good condition brass frame Southerner is purported to belong to 19th century conman Jefferson Randolf [sic] "Soapy" Smith who met his demise in Alaska plying his trade. The barrel is a brown patina with scattered pitting. The frame has tarnished to a dark bronze color with scattered light handling marks and fine casting defects. The hammer and trigger have worn to brown with oxidation blemishes and pinprick pitting. The smooth rosewood grips rate very good with light handling marks and four "notches" cut into the right panel. The barrel and grips are numbered to the gun but the extractor is not. The loading notch no longer functions and the full cock notch, while operational, requires an unusually heavy pull to release. The barrel to frame fit is loose with varying degrees of slot damage present on the screws. Mr. Smith got his nickname from a favorite scam of his, where he would buy boxes of 5 cent bar soap, set up a small table and announce to all in earshot that they had the chance of winning $20.00, $50.00 or even more for a few dollars investment. As he spoke he would wrap several of the bars with twenty dollar or larger bills in front of his hapless victims add them to the pile of soap bars and start selling them for $5.00 or more each. He would remove these seeded bars from the pile with sleight of hand or mark them for his "shills" to buy. His "suckers" would eagerly buy or bid for them hoping for a quick profit especially, when the shills in the audience would proclaim how they "found" money in the bar they "bought". After selling the last bar he would quickly pack up and leave with only him and his gang having profited. "Soapy" was a true crime boss of his time and he and his gang caused so much trouble that members of the Skagway "Committee of 101" (vigilantes) took action. One report indicates he was killed on July 8, 1898 by members of the "Committee of 101" in the shootout in Skagway, where he used a Winchester rifle to kill vigilante Frank Reid before another Committee member gunned him down; but others claim it was at the hand of a U.S Marshall. Except for the killing of vigilante Frank Reid on the same day of his demise none of the documentation provided indicates any gunfights by "Soapy" that would support the four notches in this pistol but considering his background anything is possible.

The Guns of Soapy Smith: February 4, 2010

* Another source is the main Soapy Smith website which has a page on Soapy's Weapons.

"The author’s father and his siblings resided with Mary, known to them as “Mammy.” She often spoke of their grandfather’s behavior. Mammy loved her beer and whiskey mix, which she said was for her rheumatism. On Saturdays after a few of these concoctions, she would enlighten the author with fascinating stories of Soapy. Then for the gift of her stories, she “let him: clean her wooden floors. "
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 7


1775: The first American war vessel, Hannah is commissioned by General George Washington.
1789: The Treasury Department is established.
1862: Sioux Indian Chief Little Crow and his warriors attack an Army encampment in Minnesota. Gunfire is heard at the Lower Agency in Birch Coulie and troops stationed there race to the spot, but not before 24 soldiers are killed and 67 wounded.
1864: Union forces led by General William T. Sherman occupy Atlanta, Georgia during the Civil War.
1868: Indians attack a mail escort at Little Coon Creek, Kansas. Three Indians are killed, and three soldiers are wounded.
1868: Famed Texas and Dodge City, Kansas gambler Benjamin F. Thompson shoots and wounds his brother-in-law and spends two of a four-year sentence in the Texas State Penitentiary.
1868: William “Billy” Thompson and U.S. Army Sergeant William Burke go to a house of prostitution in Austin, Texas, where upon seeing three drunken soldiers sleeping outside, Thompson suggests that they strip the trio and hide their clothes. Burke refuses, and later that night he burst in on a sleeping Thompson and threatens to drive him outside naked. Thompson shoots Burke, who dies the following day. Thompson is able to flee the state and arrest.
1884: Fire destroys 22 buildings, including the Missoula National Bank in Missoula, Montana.
1885: Twenty-Eight Chinese coal miners and general laborers are killed in Rock Springs, Wyoming by other striking coal miners who were upset about the refusal of the Chinese to join the strike against the Union Pacific Coal Department. In 1887 the U.S. government paid $147,748.74 in restitution to China as a result of the clash.
1887: Andy “Andy Cooper” Blevins, a hired killer, leads some of his brothers and other cattlemen on a night ambush of the Tewksbury sheep camp in Pleasant Valley, Arizona Territory, shooting and killing John Tewksbury and Bill Jacobs. This occurs during a range war called the Graham-Tewksbury Feud.
1889: Soapy Smith writes a five-page letter to his wife Mary giving details of the shootout at the Pocatello train depot that occurred two days previous on August 30th.
1897: Previously known as Queens Magazine and Queen of Fashion, the first issue of McCall’s magazine is published.
1901: Vice President Theodore Roosevelt utters his famous "Speak softly and carry a big stick" phrase during a speech at the Minnesota State Fair.