April 19, 2020

Soapy Smith Has Cashed In: Died With His Boots On And A Cigar In His Mouth

Rocky Mountain News
July 17, 1898
(article is transcribed below)

(Click image to enlarge)

"Smith died with his boots on and a cigar in his mouth."

Below is the entire transcribed article from the Rocky Mountain News, July 17, 1898.


Survived His Big Fourth of July Celebration by Four Days.

Tried to Break Up An Indignation Meeting With a Gun and Got Killed.

Victoria Dispatch Confirms the story of the Passing of One of the Most Notorious and Picturesque Characters of the Western States.


Special to The News.
SEATTLE, Wash., July 16.— “Smith died with his boots on and a cigar in his mouth,” is the way Mr. Laney of San Francisco, who came in on the City of Seattle, describes the taking off of “Soap” Smith at Skaguay in the forenoon of Friday, July 8. Mr. Million of Mt. Vernon, Wash., who came in on the Cottage City, told the story leading up to the killing as follows:
     “J. D. Stewart, a young man just out from Dawson City, had offered a sack of gold dust weighing from twelve to fifteen pounds for sale at one of the banks, when he was told by a party by the name of Bowers that he could get more for the gold than the bank offered him. Thereupon he followed Bower into a little building back of “Soapy’s” place, where two others were in waiting. The buyers then began to discuss the weight of the sack, and while one of them was ‘hefting’ it the other two caught Stewart and held him while the third man ran away with the gold. It was soon noised about that Soapy’s gang had again got in his work, and a committee of the leading citizens called on Smith and informed him that the dust must be returned. Concerning this interview there are some different stories on it being that “Soapy” agreed to have it returned by 4 o’clock in the afternoon if no “roar” was made in the papers.

     “Immediately afterwards Smith began to fill up and get troublesome, arming himself with a Winchester and declaring himself to be looking for trouble. He paraded the streets, declaring that he would not have to return the dust, and anyone who did assist was no friend of his.
     “During the evening a meeting of the citizens’ committee was called in Sylvester hall, but as it was not large enough an adjournment was taken to the Juneau wharf, which is a long, narrow wharf running nearly a mile out into the water.
     “The committee met about two-thirds down the wharf from the shore and four guards, one of whom was City Engineer Frank Reid, were stationed at the shore to see that no one went on the wharf to disturb the meeting. Smith heard of it and started for the wharf with his rifle. On finding himself followed by a number of citizens and some of his own friends, he faced about and drove the entire crowd off the street. He then marched straight up to Reid and attempted to force his way past him when a scuffle ensued, during which Smith struck Reid over the head with his rifle and shot him in the right leg.
     “At the same instant Reid shot Smith in the leg and then fired a second shot, striking him in the heart, killing him instantly.
     “There are two stories concerning the manner in which the dust was obtained, one being that the Klondyker lost it on the threadbare Monte game, but the weight of the evidence seems to be in favor of the hold-up. The people could scarcely believe the report of his death at first, but it is said that when it became a certainty the universal expression was one of gratification that Skaguay had at last been rid of the leader of as desperate a gang of toughs as ever infested a frontier city.

     “The United States Marshal and the mayor of the city were believed to belong to the gang, and as a result the former was arrested and thrown in jail and the latter run out of town. In all twenty-seven of Smith’s gang were arrested and a hanging bee would have resulted had not the United States soldiers interfered, the commanding officer only preventing it by threatening to declare martial law if mob violence was resorted to.”



Quick With a Gun, but Not as Quick as He Used to Be.


Friends of “Soapy” Smith, the notorious bunco man, gambler and gun-fighter, are loath to believe that at last he has passed in his checks and gone the route eventually taken by all gun-fighters.
     The first report was to the effect that Smith was killed June 10, and gave no particulars concerning his death. It is now positively stated, however, that “Soapy” is no more and while the friends of Smith are anxious to learn the full particulars of the last bloody affray of the gambler’s life, they are inclined to believe that there is a good deal of truth in the reports.
     “Soapy” was known throughout the West and his sudden passing away will not be a great surprise to his friends and acquaintances. While he lived in this city he figured in innumerable fights and was ever ready with a revolver. In his palmy days he was surrounded by a gang of as clever bunco men as was ever organized in the West. Visitors by the score were fleeced of their money in Smith’s big gambling house, known as the Tivoli, at Seventeenth and Market streets.

Of Local Notoriety.

During his stay in Denver Smith was almost continually in trouble. Although he was not strong physically, or of large stature, he managed in almost every case where trouble started to play his part of the game without flinching. The Smith gang of bunco men were partial to strangers and they seldom attempted to fleece anyone who was well known in this city. They kept constant watch at the Union depot and roped in hundreds of visitors. Few escaped the clutches of the crowd, for no swindling game in the country was run on smoother lines than Smith’s.
     The leader often claimed to be a public benefactor, saying that he and his gang often were the means of causing men to renounce gambling. “A man will be lured into a gambling g hell,” said Smith, “and fascinated so that he will go again and again. After a man comes once to my place he is cured of gambling absolutely. He doesn’t want any more of it.”
     The full name of the character was Jefferson Randolph Smith and he was dubbed “Soapy” by one of his fellow-craftsmen many years ago. He first appeared in Denver shortly after the Leadville excitement, and old-timers will remember him as the fakir who stood a couple of hours each day upon the street corners in the lower part of the city, selling soap to all who would buy. There were many buyers, as each was thoroughly convinced that by investing a few dollars for a bar of soap he would have a chance of drawing out a cake wrapped in a $50 or a $100 bill.
     Of course the game was a “sure thing” for Smith. He made an immense amount of money at it. Two or three hours’ talk a day would net him hundreds of dollars.
     By means of the soap game Smith first introduced himself to the Denver public. Other “sure thing” men saw a genius had come into their midst, for it is an acknowledged fact that the soap man “skinned” them all.

Particular About His Family.

His earnings ran up into the thousands the first year of his residence in this city. He traveled alone at that time and had little to do with gamblers and bunco men. While he was peddling prize soap upon the streets his wife and children lived respectably in a pretty house on Seventeenth Avenue. Their neighbors did not know that the head of the little family was a swindler. Smith always had the highest regard for his wife and children and he kept them away from the tough people among whom he spent much of his time.
     His soap business made him many enemies. Occasionally a swindled customer would attempt to get his money back, but “Soapy” seldom returned a cent to a “sucker.”
     For some years he lived quietly and though he became involved frequently in fights at his soap stand he managed to keep out of jail. In those days the police did not interfere with street fakirs of Smith’s stamp, and in fact they sometimes assisted “Soapy” in getting rid of an obstreperous victim who insisted upon the return of his cash. In 1889 he became weary of the monetary incident to the selling of soap, and left the city with a gang of shell game men for the West. At Pocatello, Idaho they found another … [last sentence is cut off] … presence. A fight aboard a train near the town resulted and Smith shot and seriously wounded John Belcher, a member of the opposing gang. The dispatches regarding this fight stated that three men from Pocatello drew their arms on the Denverites and put them all to flight except Smith, who stood his ground and blazed away with a six-shooter.

Gun Plays in Denver.

Smith was arrested but was quickly discharged. Later “Soapy” returned to this city and next came into prominence in connection with a shooting scrape at the Turf Saloon on Larimer street. In a fight at the bar Smith jerked out his revolver and shot Jack Devine in the shoulder. The occasion for the shooting arose from the fact that Smith, who was an important political figure at that time, had thrown his support to John Hagley who was running for alderman against Jack Noonan. The latter, it was reported, induced Devine to beat Smith, and as Devine was at that time under indictment for murder Noonan thought he had engaged the right man for the job.
     Three weeks later “Soapy” took several shots at one William Flynn, who had been trying to get some money which the “sure thing” gambler had secured from him. In the fall of 1891 “Soapy” dragged a detective out of bed at the Good block and beat him over the head with a revolver. The detective, “Mitch” Roberts, was connected with Gleason’s agency and had in some way hurt the feelings of Smith. The latter claimed that the agency had attempted to “shake him down” for $200 for the privilege of running the Tivoli gambling house at Seventeenth and Market. At any rate Roberts was terribly beaten and Smith, too, was in bad shape when taken to the police station. He handed over to Chief of Detectives Howe a revolver covered with blood.

Removal and Decline.

About this time the Tivoli began losing a thriving business. Joe Bowers and W. H. Jackson, both shrewd bunco men, were engaged by Smith and many a stranger was taken to the house under one pretext or another and bilked of every cent in his possession. Most of these unfortunates were shipped out of town very soon after their money fell into the hands of the Seventeenth street sharks. Some of them complained to the police. The gang was ordered to “let up” for awhile and they moved their headquarters to the White Front saloon at Edgewater and there carried on their nefarious work for several months without interruption. They were protected by officials and though hundreds of complaints were lodged against the White Front, nothing was done to close the place.
     In the summer of 1893 Jeff Smith was present at the killing of “Shotgun” Smith. A tin horn gambler, which occurred in front of the Tivoli saloon. Jeff was credited with the slaying by some of his acquittances. Bascom Smith, his half brother, was arrested for the crime and was sentenced to serve one year in the county jail. Shortly before the killing of “Shotgun” Smith Soapy had a fight with a “sucker” at the Tivoli, and stabbed him in the back with a knife. In the fall of 1893 the railroad companies complained of the Smith gang, and demanded that it be broken up. Some of their patrons lost hundreds of dollars before reaching up town. Being taken into custody by the gang eye they had proceeded a block from the Union depot.
     During the city hall war Soapy showed his readiness to fight for his party. He offered his services to the Republicans, and on the day of the memorable bloodless battle he was stationed in the tower of the city hall with a desperate gang of heelers. They had sticks of dynamite, which they proposed to throw among the attacking force.
     When the Populists came into power Soapy began losing his grip. A closer watch was kept upon his Seventeenth shop. One afternoon Policeman Griffith placed George Wilder, one of Smith’s men, under arrest for swindling and this made Smith angry. Later in the day Soapy caught Griffith in the Tivoli and beat him over the head with a revolver. The officer took his medicine and made no complaint against his assailant. Two weeks later Wilder was again taken into custody for working a bunco game, and Smith called at the police station to sign a bond for his release. Clerk Hickey pulled a revolver and made the bad man throw up his hands.
     At that time Smith had quite a reputation as a gun fighter, and many of the police officers were afraid to tackle him. One day, however, Chief Armstrong sent officer Boykin to Smith with a message to the effect that if he (Smith) didn’t behave himself he would run him out of town.

Ultimatum From Armstrong.

The message was delivered in border style. “You may be a quick man with a gun,” said the policeman, “but I’m twice as quick. Now if you don’t behave yourself down here I’ll run you and your gang out of town.”
     The bunco man was taken by surprise, and as he didn’t know the officer he concluded that he was like many others and would weaken under a “bluff.” So he began abusing Boykin. “You say you’re quick with a gun,” retorted the officer. “Just let me see how quick you are.” Smith didn’t follow up his “bluff,” else there would have been a tragedy.
     Denver became too hot for Smith, and so he took his departure. He went to Creede and became town marshal. He was a strict officer and he preserved the peace after his own fashion. The town was filled with tough characters from all parts of the country, and they soon learned to respect the determined bunco man. The sporting fraternity paid tribute to the marshal, and he in turn gave them full protection. The new officer a general favorite among his friends and a terror to his enemies. Bob Ford, the slayer of Jesse James, was one of Smith’s understrappers, and between them they managed to run things in good style.
     One afternoon a one-armed minister of the gospel was enticed into a saloon by a fictitious call, and met a crowd of half-drunken miners and cowboys. They jeered at him, and one of them, a tall, husky miner, ordered him a drink of whisky. The gentleman of the cloth pleaded to be excused from swallowing the “mountain dew” which was set before him, saying that he cared for nothing stronger than soda water. There upon the miner who had ordered the drink became very abusive.
     At this stage of the game Marshal Smith appeared. It required but a moment’s time for him to take in the situation. He pushed his way to the crowd, pulling out his revolver in the meantime, and stepped up to the side of the crippled minister. He raised the weapon and brought it down with terrible force upon the head of a big miner, who sank upon the floor, blood spurting from a long wound in his head.

Started a Nomadic Career.

While he was marshal of Creede Smith wrote columns of matter for the New York Sun. He was an easy, graceful write, and being possessed of a good education he was able to put his many experiences together in good shape. But finally life at Creede seemed dull to Smith and he departed for the Sunny South. He started for Galveston, but went brke at Dallas, and was arrested for vagrancy. The accused made a splendid talk before the magistrate and was discharged from custody. In the spring of 1895 “Soapy” and Bascom Smith started out on a rampage and marched up Larimer street, their revolvers in their hands, intending to wipe out a few old scores. They attacked John Hughes, proprietor of the Arcade, and several other men. Then they met Chief of Police Goulding and “Soapy” attempted to use a revolver over his head.
     Chief Goulding decided that the Smiths were unsafe citizens and ordered his officers to keep a special watch on them. Smith went to Old Mexico and in the City of Mexico he obtained an introduction to President Diaz. It is reported that as long as he remain in the republic Smith was shown much courtesy by the officials. He proposed some new and startling reforms and schemes. One of his schemes would have netted him a large grant of land had he remained to carry it out. But the traveler was not a man with a single purpose, and instead of turning over a new leaf and remaining in Mexico he came back to Denver and mingled with the gang of cheap bunco men.

Autocrat of Skaguay.

So he came back to his old stamping grounds and on May 7, 1898 he departed for Alaska. He spent some time in Smith’s Inlet and at Juneau and finally reached Skaguay. At Skaguay, it is reported, Smith ruled with a high hand. He was elected president of the chamber of commerace and several other organizations of Skaguay, and he promoted various schemes for the advancement of the place. He ran things to suit himself and no one dared oppose him. His gang was the toughest that ever gathered together in the chilly North and many of the people who came to the place were bilked of their capital by the swindlers. Several months ago a negro woman was murdered at Skaguay. The editor of a paper published at the place stated in the columns of the sheet that Smith or his men probably knew something about the murder. “Soapy” instituted suit against the proprietor of the publication, demanding a large sum for libel.
     Tom Keady, a Denver gambler, was with Smith at Skaguay, and he recently returned. He reported that “Soapy” was not earning his salt. Smith was as handy as ever with his revolver, said Keady, and on one occasion the two men came near shooting at each other, trouble arising at a bar where both were drinking.
     Little is known concerning Smith’s early life. He came to Denver from Joplin, No., and for some years lived in Texas. He has a wife and three children living in St. Louis.
     Smith was loyal to his new love in the Northwest, and was instrumental in organizing a Fourth of July celebration, the first ever in the ragged town of Skaguay. Styling himself captain of the First regiment of the Alaska National Guard he had printed a hundred badges which were distributed broadcast. These were printed in red and blue ink on white paper in lieu of ribbon and bore the following inscription:
     “Alaska Militia, July 4, 1898, Skaguay. Compliments Skaguay Company, First Regiment, A. N. G., Jeff. R. Smith, Captain.”
     Mr. L. M. Burnirager of that city received one of the badges yesterday from his brother and will preserve it as a souvenir of one of the worst men known to the West. 

"One should always play fairly
when one has the winning cards."
— Oscar Wilde


1764: English Parliament bans the colonies from printing money.
1775: The American Revolution begins when shooting starts at Lexington, Massachusetts.
1782: The Netherlands recognize the United States.
1802: The Spanish reopen the New Orleans port to American merchants.
1852: The California Historical Society is founded.
1860: Texas Rangers, U.S. 2nd Cavalry troopers and citizen volunteers attack a small Comanche Indian camp near the confluence of Mule Creek and the Pease River in Texas. Twelve Indians are killed and three are captured, including white female Cynthia Ann Parker who had been abducted in 1836. Also captured were her two-year-old daughter and a ten-year-old Indian boy.
1861: Thaddeus S. C. Lowe sails 900 miles in nine hours in a hot air balloon from Cincinnati, Ohio to Unionville, South Carolina.
1861: The Baltimore riot results in four Union soldiers and nine civilians killed.
1861: President Lincoln orders a blockade of Confederate ports.
1881: Outlaw Dave Rudabaugh is tried and convicted for the April 2, 1880 murder of Las Vegas, New Mexico jailer Antonio Valdez, even though all the evidence shows John “Little Allen” Allen is the man who shot and killed Valdez. Rudabaugh will escape prison eight months later, on December 3, 1881.
1884: The Rocky Mountain News publishes a warning to Denver, Colorado citizens that there are two “bunko gangs working Denver under the protection of the police.” One of these gangs is believed to be the Soapy Smith Soap Gang.
1888: The Kansas Western Farmer notes the arrival of John O. “Texas Jack” Vermillion, still on the run from Arizona lawmen for his part in the Wyatt Earp vendetta ride killings. Vermillion shortly hereafter joined bad man Soapy Smith’s gang in Denver, Colorado.
1889: Bad man Malachi Allen is hung for July 15, 1888 murders of Shadrach Peters and Cy Love over ownership of a saddle in the Chickasaw Nation (Oklahoma). Allen escaped but was captured after a gun battle with a posse led by a Deputy Marshal named McAlester. Allen was wounded badly and brought to Fort Smith, Arkansas where his right arm is amputated.
1892: The Duryea gasoline buggy is introduced in the U.S. by Charles and Frank Duryea.
1892: Nate Champion and Nick Ray are shot and killed during the “Horse Thief War” in Wyoming.

April 18, 2020

Artifact #66: Soapy Smith, Horseshoe Saloon, Wells Dyea Saloon, Dyea, Alaska, 1897.

Envelope (front)
"Horseshoe Saloon"
Jeff Smith collection

(Click image to enlarge)

rtifact #66

      A Washington Post envelope postmarked in Washington D.C., January 17, 1898, addressed to Jeff R. Smith Jr., care of the Horseshoe Saloon, Seattle, Washington. The postmark on the rear reveals that it was received in Seattle on January 23, 1898. This was likely sent by Soapy's cousin, Edwin Bobo Smith, a reporter for the Washington Post. Another key hint is that it is addressed to "Jr," and few knew his father was Jefferson Randolph Smith, Sr.
      Between 1896-1898 Soapy was seeking to prosper in Alaska, already having predicted a major gold rush there. Soapy was based in Seattle, Washington waiting for signs that a major gold rush was on. Seattle was already becoming the primary port for sailing to Alaska, and it is very probable that Soapy was on the Seattle docks, July 17, 1897 when the S. S. Portland arrived there with about 4,000 pounds of gold in her cargo hold.
      In August 1897 Soapy made his way to Skaguay (later changed to Skagway), made some $30,000 in nineteen days, and returned to Seattle, where on October 1, 1897 he had a "rough and tumble" fight inside the Horseshoe Saloon, the same saloon addressed on the envelope. In November Soapy went to Washington D. C. for a visit with cousin Edwin. While there, Soapy obtained cousin Edwin's help in obtaining permissions and permits to open a "hotel" at Fort St. Michael, one of the early hot spots for gold rushes in Alaska. The letter that went with this envelope probably contained some final formalities about the permits, as 11-days later the Adjutant General of the War Department signed a letter giving Soapy his permits he sought. But by this time, Soapy had probably already decided on making Skaguay his new base of operations.

Envelope (rear)
"Wells Dyea Saloon"
Jeff Smith collection

(Click image to enlarge)

      The rear of the envelope reveals some hand-written notes scribbled by Soapy, two sets of notes, separated by a line. The top note is very hard to read. I see "13 Whiskey," "ship to Minnesota," and "Out for cow against Smith." An old friend of mine, Erik Anderson, sees "3 whiskey," "ship to Minnesota" (could it be "ship FROM Minnesota?"), and "cut for cash against Smith." The latter may refer to a bank draft.
     Alaskan historian Art Petersen, believes that "Out for cow" may be "cut for law." He believes the upper portion may a shortened form something like, "13 cases of whiskey ordered from a shipper in Minnesota. There will be a cut for the law paid for by ("against") Smith."

What do you see?

      The lower notes are easier to read: "Well's Dyea Saloon OK." A saloon owned by a man named Wells? I contacted the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and they provided me with a list of known Dyea saloons. Though there is no "Dyea Saloon," there is a "Dyea Beer Hall," located at the corner of 4th and Broadway in Dyea. Today, there are no remains of Dyea, but the Dyea Beer Hall is one of the few structures that the KGRNHP can locate on the ground, where it once stood. The name of Well's remains a mystery. Soapy probably wrote "OK" to remember that the saloon was fine with bunco men using the establishment for use, no doubt for a cut of the take. In letting my imagination run wild, I wonder if this Soapy's attempt to help, or swindle, a saloon in Dyea or Skaguay, in supplying a whiskey stock that is running low.

Wells Dyea Saloon: page 450.

"Poker is a game of chance, but not the way I play it."
— W. C. Fields


1676: Sudbury, Massachusetts is attacked by Indians.
1775: American revolutionaries Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, ride though the towns of Massachusetts giving the warning that "the British are coming."
1818: A regiment of Indians and blacks are defeated at the Battle of Suwann, in Florida, ending the first Seminole War.
1846: The telegraph ticker is patented by R. E. House.
1847: U.S. troops defeat almost 17,000 Mexican soldiers commanded by Santa Anna at Cerro Gordo, during the Mexican-American War.
1861: Colonel Robert E. Lee turns down an offer to command the Union armies during the Civil War, instead, joining the Confederacy.
1877: Charles Cros writes a paper that described the process of recording and reproducing sound. In France, Cros is regarded as the inventor of the phonograph. In the U.S., Thomas Edison gets the credit.
1895: New York State establishes free public baths.
1892: McGinty, the petrified man belonging to bunco artists Soapy Smith, goes on display in Murphy’s Exchange, Denver, Colorado.
1899: Bat Masterson opens the Olympic Athletic Club in Denver, Colorado at the corner of Sixteenth and Market Streets. One of his regular boxers is “Reddy” Gallagher, one of bad man Soapy Smith’s toughs, who had followed Soapy to Alaska in 1898.

April 16, 2020

"Attempted Robbery" of Soapy Smith, 1887

of Soapy Smith
Rocky Mountain News
June 7, 1887
(article transcribed below)

(Click image to enlarge)

asting no time in preliminaries, one of the men walked up to Jeff and struck him between the eyes, knocking him down."

      On the morning of June 6, 1887 three thugs tried to rob Soapy Smith as we walked along on Seventeenth Street, Denver, Colorado. The following was published in the Rocky Mountain News, June 7, 1887.
Three Imported Thugs Fail in Their Attempt to “Lift a Roll.”

Yesterday morning as Jeff Smith was on Seventeenth Street, three tough citizens, said to have just arrived here from Buffalo, N.Y. notice that he had a roll of money. Wasting no time in preliminaries, one of the men walked up to Jeff and struck him between the eyes, knocking him down. As he fell he grabbed his assailant and pulled him down. While the men were struggling on the ground the other two hold-ups attempted to secure Mr. Smith’s roll, but officer Sullivan put in an appearance about that time and they ran away. As the officer knew nothing about the origin of the fuss he arrested both men and took them to the police station, where as soon as the facts were learned Mr. Smith was discharged.

The charge of disturbance was placed against the man who will be tried in the police court this morning. Afterwards, it is understood he will have to answer before justice of the peace for assault to rob, as Jeff will swear out a warrant for his arrest on that charge.

The captured thug who gave his name as John Doe is said to be the leader of as tough a mob as ever came to Denver. Their attempt at robbery in broad daylight is a proof of this assertion. The two who escaped were searched for yesterday and last night, but managed to keep themselves secreted. The city is much safer with them behind the bars.

The final outcome of the incident is unknown at this time, but the three men should consider themselves fortunate if they got out of Denver in one piece.

"Win if you can, lose is you must, but ALWAYS cheat!"
—Jesse Ventura


1818: The Senate ratifies the Rush-Bagot bill for an unarmed U.S.-Canadian border.
1862: Confederate President Jefferson Davis approves a conscription act for white males between 18 and 35.
1862: Slavery is abolished in the District of Columbia.
1876: The Red Canyon Massacre (Metz Massacre) occurs in Wyoming on the Cheyenne-Black Hills Road, where Charles Metz, his wife, their cook Rachel Briggs, and a teamster named Simpson were brutally murdered. Arrows were shot into the bodies to make it appear that Indians had kill the group. It was believed that the murder was actually the work of William F. “Persimmon Bill” Chambers, known as the “Scourge of the Black Hills Trail.”
1877: Emile Berliner invents the microphone.
1881: The “Battle of the Plaza” takes place in Dodge City, Kansas when Bat Masterson arrives after receiving word that his brother Jim is being threatened by his saloon partner, Al Updegraff, and bartender, A. J. Peacock. As Bat exits the train he confronts both men and a gun battle erupts. Al Updegraff is wounded and Masterson is arrested. As numerous others had joined in the shooting, it could not be determined who had shot Updegraff. By nightfall, Jim sold his interests in the saloon and the Masterson brothers left Dodge for Colorado. It is probably in Denver at this time that Bat meets and becomes a life-long friend of bad man “Soapy” Smith.
1882: John Allen shoots and kills Cockeyed Frank Loving in Trinidad, Colorado. The fight starts at the Imperial saloon and ends outside of Hammond’s Hardware Store.
1884: Trick-shooter, Annie Oakley is billed as a “markswoman” in Columbus, Ohio while touring with the Sells Brothers Circus.
1884: New York resident James Merrick is swindled in a poker game by the Charles “Doc” Baggs confidence gang in Denver, Colorado. Baggs is the predecessor of Soapy Smith’s reign in Denver.
1900: The first book of postage two-cent stamps is issued.

April 14, 2020

"Compelled the bunko men to return $22,000 to their victims." Rocky Mountain News July 18, 1884

Rocky Mountain News
July 18, 1884
(article transcribed below)

(Click image to enlarge)

ompelled the bunko men to return $22,000 to their victims.

      Following is the transcribed newspaper article from the Rocky Mountain News, July 18, 1884.
Mayor Routt is singularly silent regarding the bunko thieves. We would like to know why he does not order his police to either run the thieves into jail or out of town? Sheriff Graham has been quoted as authority for the statement that within eight or nine weeks he has compelled the bunko men to return $22,000 to their victims. No record has been made public regarding the losses of visitors who have either appealed to the police or remained silent because they were ashamed to admit they were foolish enough to get robbed in that way. Mayor Routt must know that tourists will avoid Denver if they believe that the bunko thieves are protected by the police. 
As no bunko men are mentioned by name, it has been questioned whether Soapy Smith was among those bunko men "compelled" to return their stolen loot, let alone residing in Denver at the time. The following comes from my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.
     The Rocky Mountain News exposed all manner of fraud in its pages throughout July 1884 but with little response from the law, even after printing the letter of a traveler’s experiences with the con men and the police. On July 13th the RMN posted a letter from a victim of the bunko gangs.
I am on my way from London, England to Los Angeles, California. I arrived in Denver this morning by the 8 o’clock train. I had to wait until 1:25. Going down the street, a well-dressed young man came up to me and tried to make my acquaintance. He then led me to an office, 507 ½ Larimer Street, first floor. On the door is written “LAND AND MINERAL ASSOCIATION.” He presented a lottery ticket: His accomplice in the office said he had won and paid out to him in my presence $200. He then made him take another ticket, played cards and the man won and received again $50. He took another ticket and I drew for him No. 39. The accomplice said I had won a condition purse of $1000, and we both must lay down $50 cash and would then receive the 1000 cash. I did not lay down any money because I mistrusted them. I applied to two policemen and concluded from their answers that they are in league with these swindlers and confidence bank men, and I would ask you, have you not any means of putting down in publication in your paper this rouguery? [sic]

I remain, sir, yours faithfully
J. Weisendaryer
 Mr. Weisendaryer seems to have been cautious enough not to take out his wallet and perceptive enough to see that the policemen were in league with the bunco men. The letter to the Rocky Mountain News, perhaps written by Weisendaryer before catching his 1:25 train, added momentum to a growing wave of reform.
     After this letter, the Rocky Mountain News declared war on the bunco men, which included all gamblers and saloon proprietors. The editors made it clear that they were not afraid of the gangs or the corrupt city officials and their police minions. The paper bombarded city hall and the police chief with demands to rid the city of confidence gangs. This would mean that Soapy's unofficial permit to operate freely was likely revoked. No one at city hall wished to risk his position to protect Soapy and his associates.

     The methods of the bunko gangs did not vary much, but I must say that the tactics used are identical to those utilized by the Soap Gang for 20 years, but this is not proof that it was indeed Soapy's handiwork. Five days later the article in which Sheriff Graham compels the bunko men to return $22,000 was published.
     Whether Soapy was in Denver in July 1884 when the "crack-down" on the bunko men took place is not 100% certain. The July 29, 1884 issue of the RMN states that a "Jeff R. Smith" was registered at the American Hotel. It is not known if this is Soapy. We do know, from artifacts in the family collection, that he purchased a vendors license in Del Norte, Colorado on September 13, 1884, almost two months after the July crack-down. Three months later the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, Louisiana opens to the public. The following comes from, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.
Jeff's name was absent from the Denver newspapers for much of 1884 and for the first five months of 1885. He seems to have kept an extremely low profile as he established himself in the city. During this period, he might still have been traveling, and one trip might have led to a stay of many months. Eight years later, in 1893, the Rocky Mountain News published an uncharacteristically humorous story about Jeff, said to have been told by Jeff himself. The setting is among men aboard a train returning to Denver. Called upon for a story, Jeff told one that occurred on his return from the New Orleans World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, which ran from December 16, 1884, to June 2, 1885.
     The Cotton Exposition was an event Soapy and bunco men in general yearned for. We know that Soapy purchased "fair lists" while nomading around the west swindling the unwary. Fairs were one thing but an exposition of this size was the golden goose, not to be passed up. Although it is most probable that Soapy did attend and operate at the event, there is no provenance other than his own word. The newspapers of New Orleans only mention a bunco gang problem a full two months before opening day.

"Vagrant tramps and bunko men."
The Louisiana Democrat
October 14, 1884
(Click image to enlarge)

     Was Soapy Smith in Denver during the July 1884 "reform?" The answer is probably. Were any of the bunko men forced to hand back their stolen loot ($22,000)? The answer is probably not. As not one single confidence man seems to have been arrested, it is pretty obvious that there was plenty of corruption in the offices of the mayor and the city sheriff. That the bunko men, including Soapy, were asked to temporary vacate Denver, at least until the "reform" lost it's wind.
     It is guessed that for about ten months Soapy traveled the western states operating as a nomad. The absence of his name from Denver newspapers ended on May 13, 1885 when it was published that  J. Brockman, a Denver resident, had Soapy arrested for swindling him. But that's a story for another day.

World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, 1884-85

Reform of July 1884: page 70.
World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition: pages 93-94.

"If he knows the exact position of only one of the 52 cards, he will eventually win all the money in sight."
—John Scarne


1775: The first abolitionist society in the U.S. is organized in Philadelphia with Ben Franklin as president.
1828: The first edition of Noah Webster's dictionary is published under the name American Dictionary of the English Language.
1860: The first Pony Express rider arrives in San Francisco with mail originating in St. Joseph, MO.
1865: President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln dies the following day.
1873: The “Easter Blizzard,” a three-day storm kills many settlers in Kansas, Nebraska and southern Dakota Territory.
1874: Alferd Packer, the lone survivor of the Packer party, makes it to the Los Pinos Indian Agency, near Sagauche, Colorado Territory. Packer told a story of men quarreling and killing each other and of eating human flesh to survive.
1884: Bob Cahill kills outlaw Buck Linn in El Paso, Texas, over a misunderstanding that Cahill had killed Bill Raynard, a partner of Linn’s. Linn came crashing into the gambling hall firing four poorly aimed shots. Cahill's first shot went through Linn’s stomach and shattered his spinal column and the second lodged in Linn's heart.
1894: First public showing of Thomas Edison's kinetoscope.
1902: James Cash Penney opens his first retail store in Kemmerer, Wyoming. It is called the Golden Rule Store. Later stores would be named J. C. Penney.

April 13, 2020

Letter to Soapy Smith from John Morgan, 1886, regarding a crooked faro dealing box

John G. Morgan letter to Soapy Smith
November 9, 1886
Jeff Smith Collection

(Click image to enlarge)

o not say anything to any one about it, as a square sport has no business with such things."

On November 9, 1886 John G. Morgan writes a letter to "Jeff Smith, Esq." (Soapy Smith), care of John W. Murphy of Murphy's Exchange, saloon and gambling house. The letter is addressed to #403 Larimer Street, Denver, Colorado, which is not the address of Murphy's Exchange, so the address is probably Murphy's residence or a private mailing box, which was common, in order to keep prying eyes away from private correspondence. Morgan ("and company") is the proprietor of the Board of Trade, saloon and gaming house located at 315 Harrison Avenue, Leadville, Colorado (see Sanborn map).

John G. Morgan
Rocky Mountain News
October 21, 1889

(Click image to enlarge)

Morgan has a gaffed faro dealing box stolen from his establishment. Believing the thief took the dealing box to Denver to sell, Morgan contacts his friend in Denver, "Soapy" Smith. It is likely that John Morgan and Soapy Smith met around 1880 when Soapy operated in Leadville. Soapy's replay is not know to exist.

Following is the deciphered contents of Morgan's letter.


Leadville, Colorado
November 9, 1886

Friend Jeff.

I wish you would look around in some of the pawn shops for a sand tell faro box 2L may have a deck of blue water back cards in it. It has been soaked since last Friday and the chances are that the fellow soaked it soaked it for a square box as he knows nothing about gambling, and the chances are the pawn broker took in for a square box as the deck in the box was so fine that it would take a good sport to discover it. The box was made by Annie Ball and has her name on it. Now just go to the pawn broker and tell them to show you what boxes they have taken in since Friday and if you find my box just pay what was loaned on it and interest and no questions asked unless they tell you voluntarily. A young fellow that used to work for us I think stole it, and he left for Denver Thursday or Friday. Do not say anything to any one about it, as a square sport has no business with such things.

With best wishes I remain
Yours truly
Jno G. Morgan

The envelope
(Click image to enlarge)

The envelope is addressed to Jeff Smith, Esq., c/o Jno W. Murphy, [Murphy’s Exchange] 403 Larimer St., Denver.

Board of Trade saloon
315 Harrison Avenue
Leadville, Colorado
Sanborn map

(Click image to enlarge)

      John Morgan' Board of Trade saloon on Leadville's White Way. Harrison Ave., was a showplace eulogized by the local press. It sat across the street from Doc Holliday's hangout in the 1880s, Manny Hyman's. Morgan and his manager Colonel Sam Houston were indeed the sureties for Holliday's $5,000 bond after he shot and wounded Billy Allen.
      "Occupying a prestigious location on Harrison Avenue, the Silver Dollar Saloon remains one of the popular landmarks of modern-day Leadville. Despite the modern changes that have touched the facade with its rustic, wood-covered exterior, the bar’s threshold is a time machine that transports the visitor back to a time when Leadville had money – lots of it." (Vail Daily, Remembering the Board of Trade) (A)

“It is to this princely palace that strangers are invariably first taken,” the reporter wrote, “the object being to astound and bewilder them at the very outset with the magnificence of our representative club room, and to impress them with the high standard which genteel sporting has reached in the city among the clouds.” —The Herald Democrat, 1887
An 1887 description of the Board of Trade went as follows.

      The building’s front was made of nearly solid plate glass, through which many pedestrians paused to look at the palatial interior. Once inside, the polished mahogany counter and magnificent hand-carved bar, punctuated by a “wilderness of cut glass,” added elegant touches to the establishment. A $10,000 cabinet along one wall contained the finest mineral specimens from 600 mines, and a mirror ran the length of the room. A unique display of “lunch paraphernalia” and another long row of showcases filled with articles from around the world decorated the ante-room over a floor of English tile.
      Through an archway to the rear was the gaming room, filled with tables for faro, roulette, pool and billiards. Free lunch was served to all customers, and nearly every brand of liquid refreshment was available.
      “Man’s most potent enemy is there represented in all shapes and hues,” The Herald Democrat reported.

A complete line of cigarettes and cigars satisfied customers’ tobacco needs.

      On two floors of the Board of Trade, gambling was king. A carpeted stairway led to the upper clubrooms, and players were led there by what the press described as a “companionable attendant.” There, several ample apartments with electric lights, painting and drapery-clad walls and windows and carpeted floors added comfort. All kinds of gaming devices and musical instruments were available for entertainment.
Ironically, proprietor John Morgan claimed to tolerated no “tricks of the trade” or dishonesty from those who dealt the cards or those who played. John Morgan was a liar; at least in regards to his dishonest dealers.

Board of Trade
as it looks today as the
Silver Dollar Saloon

(Click image to enlarge)

      In 2015 I had a couple of drinks in this saloon, but at the time did not realize it was the old Board of Trade saloon. Sounds like a good enough reason to return to Leadville.

(A) Vail Daily, "Remembering the Board of Trade," April 29, 2003

John G. Morgan: pages 116-17, 123.

"The surest of all “sure things” is a game operated with three little shells. It is one of the oldest bunko games in existence. The newspapers have published columns about it, and the names if its victims are as the sands of the sea."
Aspen Daily Chronicle, July 30, 1889.


1775: Lord North extends the New England Restraining Act to South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. The act prohibits trade with any country other than Britain and Ireland.
1782: Washington, North Carolina is incorporated as the first town to be named after George Washington.
1796: The first known elephant arrives in the U.S. from Bengal, India.
1808: William "Juda" Henry Lane perfects the tap dance.
1829: The English Parliament grants freedom of religion to Catholics.
1860: The first mail is delivered via Pony Express when a westbound rider arrives in Sacramento, California from St. Joseph, Missouri.
1861: The Union-held Fort Sumter surrenders to Confederate forces, starting the Civil War.
1866: Leader of the famed Wild Bunch outlaw gang, Robert LeRoy “Butch Cassidy” Parker is born in Beaver, Utah.
1870: The Metropolitan Museum of Art is founded in New York City.
1877: Governor Pennington of Dakota Territory issues a $500 reward for the capture of the men who shot and killed stagecoach driver, John Slaughter during a robbery on March 25. The shooter is Robert McKimie of the Sam Bass Gang. Bad man Soapy Smith will later witness the killing of Sam Bass.
1895: Crawford “Cherokee Bill” Goldsby is sentenced to death in Judge Parker's Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas.