November 21, 2021

Is this William Allen the Soap Gang member of the same name?

Wanted handbill
Courtesy of eBay

(Click image to enlarge)

s this William Allen the Soap Gang member of the same name?

Keep in mind that the individuals that created the handbill in Denver, Colorado, including Sheriff Robert J. Jones, may not have known William Allen's history, and that some of the known information may be completely false, which was discovered in 1892 accounts when Soapy Smith hid Allen, even publishing a fake notice of death and obituary, to keep him from being extradited back to Creede, Colorado where he would be tried for his part in the murder of faro dealer Reddy McCann

I was not able to find a lot about William J. Allen. According to Robert K. DeArment in his Knights of the Green Cloth (1982), Billy Allen was a "gambler of a somewhat higher grade" in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876. He seemed to migrate between jobs as a policeman and bartender. For many historians Allen is best known for his altercation with famed gun-fighting dentist, John Henry "Doc" Holliday in Leadville, Colorado on August 19, 1884.

[John "Doc"] Holliday had borrowed $5 from an ex-Leadville policeman named Billy Allen, a bartender and special officer at the Monarch [saloon], a position that gave him the right to carry a gun and make arrests on the premises. Allen worked with Tyler and Duncan and was a member of their gang. Holliday was laggard in repaying what he owed Allen. In fact, he was nearly busted, his jewelry already in hock. Allen cornered him in the Monarch on Friday, August 15, 1884, and told him to pony up by noon on August 19 or else. The “or else” was a promise at the very least to thrash him—a promise Allen, a robust man fully 50 pounds heavier than 33-year-old Holliday, could easily have kept—or at the worst to kill him.
     Doc Holliday was acutely aware of the danger he was in as August 19 dawned, his creditor still unsatisfied. Keeping gambler’s hours, Holliday had gone to bed at 5 in the morning and did not awaken until 3 in the afternoon—well past the deadline set for repaying the $5. Knowing that Allen was thick with the thieves at the Monarch, Holliday believed the debt would serve as a convenient pretext for his enemies to put him out of the way once and for all. He would later call Allen a “tool of the gang.”
     Holliday left his room in the Star Block, a building located at 405 Harrison Ave., shortly after 3 p.m. He came upon a gambler named Pat Sweeney, who told him Allen had been to Hyman’s earlier that afternoon and was armed. Upon hearing this news, Holliday hiked back up the stairs to his second-floor room and may have concealed his revolver about his person, or he may have entrusted it to Sweeney or to a close friend and fellow boarder, Frank Lomeister, to carry to Hyman’s—testimony on this point is inconclusive. He then sent Lomeister to find Marshal Harvey Faucett or Captain Ed Bradbury of the Leadville Police Department and seek their aid.
     En route to Hyman’s, Holliday bumped into Faucett himself in front of Sands and Pelton’s clothing store at 312 Harrison. He explained his predicament to the marshal, asking if Allen really was a special policeman. Sensing Holliday’s apprehension that this appointment would permit Allen to walk the streets armed, Faucett answered that even though Allen was a special, he had no right to carry a gun outside of the Monarch. Holliday then made a strange statement: “I’ll get a shotgun and shoot him on sight.” Strange, because it showed intent—to the city marshal, no less—to commit a crime in Colorado, and it was Holliday’s lawful conduct in this sanctuary that guaranteed he would not be extradited to Arizona Territory. There, he would have to stand trial for the Tucson train yard murder of Frank Stilwell on March 20, 1882—if Holliday’s sworn enemies did not assassinate him first. Events strongly suggest this remark showed Holliday’s desperate state of mind, but if he was carrying a concealed weapon and therefore liable to a fine he could not afford to pay, it may also have been disingenuous and intended to forestall the marshal’s searching him. Whatever the full intent, it alerted Faucett to a prickly situation. He set off posthaste to find Billy Allen. He entered the Monarch shortly thereafter, but Allen had just left.
     Holliday shuffled through the double glass doors into Hyman’s an
      d made sure his revolver was placed behind the bar, close by the lighter on the cigar case next to it. Versions differ as to the caliber of the large single-action Colt revolver, some claiming it was .41, others .44.
Billy Allen had left his house uptown and strolled down the Avenue. He stopped at the Tabor Grand Opera House to pick up theater tickets and get his shoes shined, and then went into the Monarch. After spending a few moments in the saloon, he was putting on his coat to continue down to Hyman’s when one of the proprietors, Cy Allen (no relation to Billy), warned him against hunting up Holliday just then. Billy Allen answered there would be no trouble and, with a careless air, walked out into the fading sunlight, striding down the boardwalk toward Hyman’s, the hands on the moon-faced clock that overlooked the Avenue to his right nearing 5 o’clock.
     Holliday was lounging by the cigar case when he laid eyes on Billy Allen through the plate glass window at the front of Hyman’s. He reached behind the counter for his Colt and stared at the door. Allen pushed it open, hesitating when a voice outside hailed him. Then he stepped across the threshold, about 6 feet distant, and Holliday leveled the six-shooter that had been dangling in his hand and pulled the trigger.
The first shot sailed over Allen’s head, shattered a pane of glass in the double doors and lodged in the door frame. Startled, Allen spun on his heel, intending to flee, but tripped over the threshold and pitched forward, landing on his hands and knees. The ex-policeman scrambled to get to his feet. Holliday leaned over the cigar case and, almost on top of the man who’d been the hunter only seconds earlier, fired again. This shot hit its mark. The bullet tore into Allen’s right arm from the rear about halfway between the shoulder and the elbow and passed clear through, severing an artery in its flight. Jolted upright, Allen stumbled outside. He staggered against the wall of Dave May’s clothing store next door. By now he was in shock and bleeding freely, and he fainted into the arms of an onlooker.
     Holliday had only winged his bird and had been ready to fire again. But before he could squeeze the trigger for a third time, the bartender had rushed up to him from behind and clamped down on his gun hand. Captain Ed Bradbury, who’d given Allen a belated warning, then charged into the saloon and snatched the smoking Colt. Holliday immediately asked for protection, and Bradbury led him to the county jail. At the same instant, Cy Allen and other friends of Billy Allen loaded the wounded man into an express wagon and conveyed him to his house. Doctor F.F. D’Avignon was summoned. He could find no pulse in Billy Allen’s right arm, and concluded the artery was severed. As quickly as possible, he sewed it together...
The day after the Allen shooting, Captain Bradbury swore out a warrant for Holliday's arrest, charging him with assault with intent to kill. He was taken to court, and bail was set at $5,000. John G. Morgan, proprietor of the Board of Trade saloon, and Colonel Sam Houston, one of the managers, signed on as Holliday’s sureties, and he was released....

In my personal collection is a letter to Soapy Smith from John Morgan, asking Soapy to keep a lookout for a gaffed faro box in the Denver pawnshops, that had been stolen from the Board of Trade.    

At the trial, Allen testified that he was unarmed at the time Holliday shot him, that he had never threatened Holliday’s life, and that he did not even know Holliday was in Hyman’s Place when he entered it on the afternoon of August 19, 1884....
     Billy Allen’s career after Leadville was long and adventurous. Researcher Gary Roberts has traced him to Garfield County, Colo., in 1887, where he served as an Army scout during the Ute troubles. Afterward, he worked as a fireman in Pueblo and later as fire chief in Cripple Creek. By 1900 he was participating in the Klondike gold rush and was appointed a deputy U.S. marshal. The manager of the insurance underwriters of Colorado once described the popular Allen as “a strong, brave, determined man.” He died in the Old Soldiers’ Home in Orting, Wash., on March 21, 1941, at age 82.

(The above text comes from the article, Spitting Lead in Leadville, by Roger Jay and originally appeared in the December 2003 issue of Wild West magazine. [])

Five years later, Allen is working as a bartender during a special train trip picnic to an out of city park named Logan Park. Allen ingrained himself into the criminal affairs of the Soapy Smith gang when he joined in a melee known as the Logan Park riot.

      On Sunday, July 21, 1889, the destination of one such outing was Logan Park. The trip was heavily promoted, though by whom was not exactly clear. Advertised as "a dazzlingly beautiful spot for a day’s picnic adventure," in reality, Logan Park was far from beautiful, far from home, and far from the law. For Jeff and the Soap Gang, it was a dazzling opportunity with a captive audience...
     The bartender Billy Allen became interested, and joined in the row, ostensibly, to quiet matters, but his appearance was like waving a red flag at an infuriated bull. Grasping a couple of beer glasses, he began to strike right and left, believing in the Irish tactics of hitting every head he saw…. Rocky Mountain News, July 22, 1889.
Two and one-half years later Allen is in Creede, Colorado where he gets involved with Soapy's brother-in-law, William Sydney "Cap" Light, in a shooting scrape that ends in the death (probable murder) of faro dealer Reddy McCann.
     The official story goes something like this. At 4:15 a.m. on Thursday March 31, 1892, “Reddy” McCann, a faro dealer from the Gunnison Exchange, was drinking heavily in the Branch Saloon and causing a ruckus. Earlier somebody had been shooting out windows and lights near the section of Main and Wall streets. McCann was believed to have been doing the shooting. It was Deputy Marshal Light’s job to disarm the hip-pocket brigade, as the men who carried guns into Creede were called, so Light, under the influence of alcohol himself, entered The Branch Saloon accompanied by William Allen and approached McCann. The story appeared on page 1 of the April 1, 1892, edition of The Creede Candle:

Reddy McCann Shot and Instantly
Killed by Captain Light.

     It is said that Light went into the place and was told by McCann that no — — — could take his gun away from him; that one word led to another until finally the deputy slapped McCann in the face; that following the slap came the guns and that Light was forced to shoot in self-defense.
     Sheriff Delaney had previously taken two guns from McCann at different times, the latter time getting a sore hand as his part of the struggle.

     McCann was a faro dealer at the Gunnison Exchange. He came to Jimtown from Salt Lake and had been in the camp about six weeks. …
     At the inquest, Mr. Schwartz, a friend of McCann, testified as follows: “At 4:15 a. m. Mr. McCann, deceased, went into Mr. Murphy’s saloon and stepped up to the bar. In a few minutes Captain Light and William Allen entered the place and began to talk with Mr. McCann, and in my opinion both were under the influence of liquor at the time and they began joshing one another, and Captain Light slapped McCann in the face, knocking a cigar out of his mouth, and I saw them both reaching for their guns, and I dropped behind the counter and I do not know who fired the first shot. After the shooting was over I got up and found McCann laying [lying] on his back on the floor and the barkeeper and I walked up to him and he told us these two words, “I’m killed!” We sent for the doctor at once. We picked him up and laid him on the table, where he expired about fifteen minutes later. I was too excited to tell how many shots—about five or six I judge.”
     William Allen testified: “My residence is Jimtown, Colo., occupation, bartender. After I came off watch this morning at 4 a. m. Mr. Light and myself went over to Mr. Long’s saloon to take a drink, and there met Mr. McCann. He and Mr. Light began to talk. I walked over to the stove and I heard a few words of tussing [cussing?]. Saw Mr. Light slap the cigar out of McCann’s mouth and McCann drew a gun and commenced firing at Mr. Light. Then Mr. Light began firing at McCann. Then I saw McCann fall. Mr. Light turned and walked out.”
     To district attorney: “I did not go into the saloon alone. Mr. McCann was standing against the bar when we entered. Can not tell who spoke first, McCann or Light. They seemed like friends to me when they met. Did not think Light was angry when he slapped McCann. McCann drew … first and he fired first. Can not tell who were present when the firing began, only Dave Allen, myself and Captain Light. Myron Long was attending bar at the time.

Friends of McCann recognized that they would not be heard in Creede so they went to newspapers in other towns to publish their version of the affair. Their story was accepted. In Light's obituary some of that story tarnished his image as a lawman.

The painted fairies [showgirls] from all over the West flocked in and they made the place hum for a few months. A bartender named [William] Allen became enamored of one of these angels whose beauty had not been seriously marred by the excesses of the camp. He had as a rival Red McCann. The eventual quarrel followed and the girl agreed to take the man whose nerve showed up to the best advantage in a Creede shooting scrape. Captain Light was a friend of Allen’s, and to him he confided the story. That night they started out to do their daily kalsomining, and before entering a saloon they met McCann and a party of friends whose hilarity was such that they all began shooting off their guns in the air. The chambers were emptied and they all went into the saloon to liquor. McCann and Light exchanged words and the latter, always calm and composed, irritated McCann to such an extent that he pulled his empty gun on Captain Light. With that the deputy marshal nailed him, and before his gun quit smoking five cartridges had found a resting place in some vital part of McCann’s anatomy. An inquest was held, but before the verdict was announced Light had left the camp. —Rocky Mountain News, December 27, 1893

These two accounts indicate that the story told at the inquest was a cover-up for the murder of an unarmed man. Four months later on July 22, 1892, in Pueblo, Allen was arrested and transported back to Creede to face a murder charge. He was suspected of possibly firing his gun at McCann as well. He was standing at the roulette table with McCann between him and the bar. Light was near the door facing McCann. According to some reports the shot which killed took effect in the victim’s left side, the one toward the roulette table, could not have come from Light’s gun.
     The friends of McCann in Creede had apparently been pushing for justice but four days later Allen was released owing to a want of witnesses.

     This is the last Known information on William J. Allen's connection to Soapy Smith and the Soap Gang. It is known that Allen did go to the Klondike, but I have not located him in Skagway, or associated with Soapy Smith.

William J. "Billy" Allen
Circa 1895
Courtesy Regina Peck Andrus (g-granddaughter of W. J. Allen)

(Click image to enlarge)


William J. "Billy" Allen
April 23, 2017

William J. "Billy" Allen: pages 142, 214-216.

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