June 6, 2021

Did Soapy Smith and John Morris work in Denver, June 21, 1882?

James W. Moore, soap racket operator
Denver Republican
June 21, 1882

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OAPY SMITH AND JOHN MORRIS IN DENVER?
June 21, 1882



James W. Moore, an elderly confidence man, was arrested on June 20, 1882. What caught my eye was the sharp's use of soap sales. It included a spin on a "wheel of fortune" for every soap cake purchased. According to the newspaper the man "drew a large crowd every night," but that the prizes won the wheel were not valuable. So why the selling of soap? The same swindle could have easily worked with just the wheel of fortune. This got me thinking. Was the newspaper missing something, thus believing it was "the plainest of swindles?" Was this a prize package soap sell racket, with a wheel of fortune geared towards obtaining more money from the victims, while giving away low value prizes, in order to appease the victims of not obtaining a cash prize in the soap package?
     Those who are familiar with Soapy Smith's history may recall that he started out as a "cheap John" operator, which involves the sale of cheap trinkets as being valuable. Could James Moore be running a combination prize package soap racket and a cheap John racket together? If so, could James W. Moore be one of Soapy's gang?


"J. R. Smith" and "John Morris"
Denver Republican
June 21, 1882
 
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In the same newspaper issue, a "J. R. Smith" from Silver Cliff, Colorado and "John Morris" from Ek [Elk] Creek, arrive in Denver, Smith signing the hotel register at the Windsor Hotel and Morris staying at the American Hotel.
     Is "J. R. Smith" Jefferson Randolph Smith, and is Morris "Fatty Gray?" Or is this just a coincidence?

James W. Moore in court
Denver Republican
June 22, 1882

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     The following day the swindler, James W. Moore was sent before a judge, "assessed costs and warned not to fake any more." Denver Mayor Morris takes credit for cleaning up the city of the con men, and that seems to be the end of James W. Morris ... for now.
     So, was this the Soap Gang? Soapy Smith's first known visit to Denver is recorded as being in 1879. It is known that he did not make Denver his home at that time, choosing to continue traveling and operating around the western states. There is no hard evidence that this was a visit to Denver by Soapy and John Morris, but it sure seems possible. The questionable visit is good enough to be included in my files, with open questions.

 


"Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember it didn't work for the rabbit."
—R. E. Shay










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