March 31, 2022

New information on Soap Gang member Joe Simmons (Josiah Boren Simmons)

Samuel Silas Simmons
1858 - 1924
Brother of Joe Simmons
Courtesy of
Anne Simmons Wise
(Click image to enlarge)

he birth-name of Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons was Josiah Boren Simmons.

     In researching Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons for my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, I utilized Beth Simmons Jackson, the granddaughter of Joe Simmons, who helped round out Simmons' early history.
     On August 12, 2019, I received a welcomed email from Linda Jackson Rankin, the daughter of Beth Simmons Jackson, and great-granddaughter of Joe Simmons. She writes,

     My name is Linda Jackson Rankin and my mother Beth Simmons Jackson contacted you a while ago regarding my great-Grandfather Joe Simmons. As you know, we have been trying for years to figure out where he came from. Thanks to, I now believe I know! I searched for Joe Simmons and stumbled upon a person named “Josiah Boren Simmons” who was born in Smith, Texas, in 1860 and died in Creede, Colorado, in 1893. He was the youngest son of Caleb Woodson Simmons who was originally from Wilkes, GA. The Simmons family tree shows that they were early settlers in Surrey, VA, and Currituck County, NC. (1600s).
     Of course I was suspicious because this new information did not align with what we were told originally (German, father was a brewmaster from Wisconsin). The final confirmation was when I found out that I have DNA matches to people who are related to the Simmons family tree! So, now we know for certain where Joe Simmons came from. ...

If the information is correct, and it likely is, then Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons was born Josiah Boren Simmons in 1860 or December 17, 1862, in Smith, Texas according to one Simmons family tree on Ancestry. Interesting to note that Joe was born in the same year as Soapy, when previously it was believed that Joe was older than Soapy. Smith, Texas, is about 250 miles from Round Rock, Texas, where the Smiths took up residence in 1876. In 1880 20-year-old Joe moved with his parents to Williams County, Texas, where in Round Rock, 20-year-old Jeff Smith may have still lived with his father and siblings, making it possible that the two young boys may have known one-another in Texas. Joe's father, Caleb Woodson Simmons II, died in Round Rock on November 26, 1881, so it is possible that they had lived there since 1880. The problem is that Soapy may have already moved on. He is believed to have operated in Ft. Worth by 1878-79 and to have visited Denver in 1879.

Linda continues,
     I would really like to know how Joe (and Soapy) ended up in Denver. After all, that appears to be where my Grandfather (William Edward Simmons) was born.
     If you have information on how Soapy (and possibly) Joe ended up in Denver, I would love to hear it.

All the best,
Linda (Jackson) Rankin
 I responded twelve days later.
August 24, 2019

Hi, Linda.
     First, allow me to apologize for my lateness in responding. It is certainly not because it isn't important to me.
     I remember your mother [Beth Simmons Jackson] very well. Mistakes in family research happen all the time. I have made numerous ones myself, and continue to do so.
     From what I am gathering from your email, Joe Simmons' birth name is Josiah Boren Simmons?
     Up until now, Josiah ("Joe") Simmons is not mentioned until he was manager of the Tivoli Club (Soapy's saloon) in Denver. I don't think Soapy and "Joe" came to Denver together, as his son, William Edward Simmons, was born in Denver in 1876 and Soapy was still living in Round Rock, Texas at the time. The earliest recording of "Joe" being with Jeff is November 1890, though they no doubt knew each other before then. Soapy arrived in Denver in 1879, but was still a nomad, moving around the West until making Denver his permanent home in about 1885.

     I also just received an email from "Anne Simmons Wise"
who states that "Joe" was born December 17, 1862, and being that son William was born February 1, 1876, that means "Joe" was only 13 years old at the time. One of the dates must be incorrect. The photo I attached is of "Joe's" brother Samuel Silas Simmons. She also states that the Simmons family lived in Round Rock, Texas, around the time the Smith family lived there. I also attached the old photo supposedly of Joe Palmer and Joe Simmons (on right, standing). If the other photo is Joe's brother, then I do see a resemblance.


Josiah Boren "Joe" and Samuel Silas Simmons
A comparison

(Click image to enlarge)

Anne Simmons Wise responded, agreeing with the family resemblance between Josiah "Joe" Simmons and his brother Samuel.

Aug 22, 2019
     I'm sure you can see the family resemblance as I did.
     DNA evidence has linked a descendant of Joe Simmons to my Simmons family from Round Rock and Tyler, Texas. I'm descended from Samuel Silas Simmons, a stonecutter. Josiah Boren "Joe" Simmons was born 17 December 1862 in Smith County, Texas, and family story said that he died in a gunfight in Creede, Colorado, 18 Mar 1893. We didn't have any more information on Joe until the DNA link showed up to "Gambler Joe." The year is wrong, but everything else seems to match up.
     I saw that someone else did a genealogy match up with a different Joe Simmons from Wisconsin. I would think that the DNA match would trump that claim. Also, when I read your blog, I saw that Soapy Smith moved to Round Rock, Texas, in the 1870s with his family. My Simmons family (including Joe) was living in Round Rock in the 1870s and 1880s.
     I'd love to learn more about "Gambler Joe" and his best friend.

Anne Simmons Wise
Four days later I responded.

Aug 26, 2019
     Hello, Annie.
     I apologize for the delay. "Joe" Simmons is very important to the history of Jeff "Soapy" Smith.
     I certainly do see the resemblance in the photographs.
     I have spoken numerous times to that Wisconsin family (Beth Simmons Jackson and her daughter Linda Jackson Rankin). Linda has gone through the DNA information and found Josiah Boren "Joe" Simmons to be accurate. This is pretty exciting news!
     There are still a few questions and issues, which is common (as you know) in history and genealogy.
• You mention that "Joe" was born December 17, 1862. His son William was born in Denver on February 1, 1876. That would put "Joe" at 13 years old when his son was born.
• "Joe" died of pneumonia in Creede, Colorado, on March 18, 1892. There are great newspaper articles, drawings, and a poem written about "Jeff and Joe." Great stuff!
• Very interesting that the father was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, two hours from Coweta County where "Soapy" was born. Then the Simmons family ended up in Round Rock, Texas. Do you have my book? It has all the information on "Joe" as a member of the Soap Gang in Denver and Creede.

That same day, Anne wrote back.
Aug 26, 2019
     That is awesome. I believe that it was Linda Rankin that I spoke to about the DNA results linking her family to Josiah Boren Simmons.
     Until this DNA breakthrough I knew nothing about Josiah "Joe" other than that he died in Creede, Colorado. I've been in contact with one of the other Simmons researchers who originally found that information. Hopefully, we'll turn up some sources for that. As far as I know it was family legend.
      You are correct about the birth date possibly being incorrect. Although I believe he must be younger than his brother Samuel Silas Simmons, who was born in 1858.
     I've been enjoying your website and blog.
     I just ordered your book, and am excited to read it.
Anne Simmons Wise
There are some minor issues with dates but overall it seems pretty clear that Josiah Boren Simmons is Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons, or more correctly,  
Josiah Boren "Gambler Joe" Simmons

Joe Simmons (Josiah Boren Simmons is Joe "Gambler Joe" Simmons): pages 33, 89, 131, 210, 214, 225-29, 273, 594. 

"The story of Soapy's death is at best Murky,
Be it known the killer was really Jesse Murphy."
—Jeff Smith