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.

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