May 11, 2021

St. Louis Dispatch, 1897: Soapy Smith goes to St. Louis to check on his wife after leaving Skagway.

St. Louis Dispatch
September 23, 1897

(Click image to enlarge)

e reported himself in good health and money."   
New information showing that Soapy Smith did go to St. Louis to check up on his ailing wife, Mary, after leaving Skagway.

Below is the transcription of the article from the St. Louis Dispatch, September 23, 1897.


The Smooth Man Is Headed This Way, So Be Careful.

      ”Soapy" Smith is headed this way, and Chief Desmond and his men are ready on the anxious seat.
     "Soapy" is one of the slickest swindlers in the West. For the last two or three months he has been operating a shell game in Alaska. When he first struck Skagua [sic] he was referred to as "Mr. Smith, the genial and popular three-shell man."
     But the inhabitants got onto his curves. Now Mr. smith has come down to Seattle, Wash., with $20,000 winnings.

     Denver is the base of "Soapy's" operations. Years ago when he was a tyro in the confidence business he sold a brand of soap and as an inducement would put a 50 cent piece in one of the boxes. Then he would sell his soap at 25 cents a box, the lucky purchaser getting the 50 cent piece. Next he ran a shell game and from a small beginning he became one of the leading gamblers of Denver in its wide open days. He led one of the factions that marched on the State House in 1894.
     His one attempt to operate in St. Louis was futile. He came here accompanied by his wife and two children in the fall of 1894 and rented a house on Locust Street. He openly boasted of his ability to run a gambling house in St. Louis. Every time he appeared on the street one of Desmond's sleuths arrested him for vagrancy.
     One night in an Olive street saloon he ridiculed the St. Louis police and was overheard by Detective Tom Tracey. Tracey knocked Smith down and then arrested him. "Soapy" was given one hour to leave town, and hasn't been here since. It is said that his wife and children are still in St. Louis, but Chief Desmond says he does not know of their presence here.
     Jim Cronin is in receipt of a letter from "Soapy," dated Sept. 15. "Soapy" was then at skagua[sic], but was about to start over the White Pass for Dawson. He reported himself in good health and money.

     There are numerous accounts of Soapy Smith's first visit to Skagway, Alaska and his return to Seattle less than a month later. Some newspapers published accounts that he had been forced from Skagway by vigilantes, while other accounts said he left for personal reasons. The following comes from Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.

     Jeff hated the Alaska winter and would have preferred to spend it down in the states. With business so good, though, he would endure the wind, rain, snow, and cold. Something else, though, made Jeff leave Skaguay while his operations were so successful, Mary. Receiving word that she was ill, on September 14, 1897, Jeff boarded the S.S. Queen and docked in Seattle eight days later. The Seattle Daily Times interviewed passengers returning from the Klondike, and Jeff was one of them. In his interview he claimed to have earned $18,000 to $20,000 during his short stay in Skaguay, amounts equivalent today to between about $562,320 and $624,800.
     US Attorney Bennett and US Marshal James McCain Shoup were also on board the Queen. They claimed that the residents of Skaguay had forced Jeff out of Alaska. In November 1897 “Bat” Masterson returned from Washington state and spoke to the Denver Evening Post about Jeff’s departure from Alaska.

I saw very few people from Denver. I heard of but did not see Soapy Smith. The report that he was driven out of Skaguay was erroneous. I met his partner Jerry Daily, at Spokane. He said they were in Skaguay twenty-three days and ‘worked’ nineteen days while there. During the nineteen days they captured $30,000, which was divided into four parts, over $7,000 each, but Soapy got the most of it ultimately. He received a telegram that his wife was sick in St. Louis and went to that city to be with her. They did not have time to bother with him at Skaguay, for everybody was too busy looking out for themselves.

      Jeff must have discovered that Mary was better, probably by telegraph, because nine days later he was still in Seattle, lodging in the business district called Pioneer Place, known today as Pioneer Square.

     The last hi-lighted section is incorrect, and today's newspaper clipping post proves this. At the time of publication (2009) it was believed that Soapy did not make his way immediately to St. Louis to check up on Mary, perhaps having heard from her that she was feeling better, postponing his trip there, staying in Seattle for a time. However, this newspaper article posted today shows that he indeed went immediately to Mary's side, staying there for up to a week, before returning to Seattle, where on October 12, 1897 he got into a violent brawl in the Horse Shoe Saloon.

Soapy in Seattle 1897
Jim (James) Cronin
Soapy's trouble with Detective Tracy


"On this evening my friend 'Soapy' seemed very depressed. He gave me a very interesting account of his life. He had never intended to be regarded as a bad man. He killed his first man in self defense. He just could not help it. It had to be done. He was terribly sorry and the next man also made it necessary for him to Snuff out his candle."
—Saunders Norvell, Forty Years of Hardware, 1924

May 4, 2021

Artifact #84: Letter informing Soapy Smith's son of the death of his aunt, Emma Lu Smith, 1915

"Your Aunt Emmie Lu died"
Artifact #84-Letter
Jeff Smith Collection

 mma Lu "Emmie" Smith
(Abt. 1867 - May 3, 1915)

My great-grandaunt, Emma Lu Smith, the oldest sister of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith, was born in Coweta County, Georgia around 1867. She was ten years old when her mother passed away in Round Rock, Texas in 1877.

(l to r) Emma Lu, Maurice Gregory Moriarty, Eva Katherine
Previous to May 1915.
Temple, Texas
Michael Moriarty Collection

In 1880 her residence, along with her father and siblings, minus "Soapy," was Belton, Texas, and she was still residing there when she met and married
Robert Gardner on July 2, 1890. Gardner played a noted role in helping Soapy's grandchildren in researching their grandfather. The fact that Emma's sister, Eva Katherine Smith, author of the letter (artifact #84), married Soap Gang member William Sydney Light, and so it is believed that Emma Lu Smith's husband, Robert, may have also been a member of the gang as well. By 1900 she had made Temple, Texas her home. The death date of her husband, Robert Gardner, is unknown at this time, but it is believed that he passed away before Emma, as Eva Katherine makes no mention of Robert. At some point, Emma Lu moved to Waco, Texas before Eva's son brought her to live with her sister in Temple, Texas. Emma passed away on May 3, 1915.

Emma Lu Smith
Michael Moriarty Collection

Below is the transcribed contents of the letter.

Temple Texas.
Dear Nephew,
Your Aunt Emmie Lu died the 3rd of May, she spoke of not hearing from you, and certainly loved you all, my son Jefferson went to Waco and brought her home with him, hoping the change would help her, and indeed she did get better for a short time, then she relapsed into the same old state of [undecipherable]. It is indeed hard for us to bear. I have not been able to let you know before now. I hope you are all well. With much love, your Aunt.
Eva K. Light. 

Artifact #84-Envelope-front
Jeff Smith Collection

The envelope is addressed to Jeff Smith, "Times" [St. Louis Times], St. Louis, MO. It is postmarked in Temple, Texas on May 13, 1915, at 2pm.

Artifact #84-Envelope-rear
Jeff Smith Collection

The rear of the envelope and some figures, probably written by Soapy's son, Jefferson Randolph Smith III. It appears to be in dollar amounts. For what is unknown.

In most betting shops you will see three windows marked "Bet Here," but only one window with the legend "Pay Out."
— Jeffrey Bernard