September 2, 2017

Another Soapy Smith Derringer?


Photo courtesy of Amoskeag Auction Co.
(Click image to enlarge)


     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.
(Click image to enlarge)


     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.

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