September 14, 2023

Soapy Smith's stereo-view photograph in Leadville, Colorado, July 21, 1880

Soapy Smith in Leadville, Colorado
July 21, 1880
Soapy and partner, rear, between carriages
Courtesy Kyle Rosene collection

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Soapy Smith's stereo-view photograph
Leadville, Colorado, July 21, 1880

Where was it taken?


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     Those who have read Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel may recall seeing the photograph (#6A) above, in the first photograph section of the book.
     Soapy sent the above stereo-view card to his sister in Texas, writing on the back
This is a crew of freighters we met in Leadville on the 21st of July 1880 in the morning on the day that Gen Grant arrived. You can see my photo by looking between the two wagons next to the man with the apron and his sleeves rolled up. JRS. [Soapy is between the two men, or in the rear, 3rd from the left]
     In other writing Soapy tells his sister Eva that the former president (1869-1877) is on horseback in the background. If you look closely you can see Grant on a very blurry horse.
     It is Leadville, Colorado, July 21, 1880, the day ex-president U. S. Grant arrived in the city. There is a parade in his honor and photographers Luke and Wheeler set up a stereo-view camera to take some photographic mementos of the day's celebration. The camera faces north on Harrison Avenue when Soapy and an unnamed bunko partner step into the street to have their picture taken.
     The exact location of where Soapy and the photographers were located has been a long-standing question. The older biographies (The Reign of Soapy Smith and Soapy Smith" King of the Frontier Con Men) mention Soapy operating his soap sell racket on the corners of Harrison Ave., and 3rd street, but did not list a source. This photograph was taken on Harrison about a block away from 3rd street, but that means little as far as provenance goes.
     Two Facebook friends and historians in my Soapy Smith's Old West group, Mr. Don Hendershot and Mr. Gary Demoney, took up the task of trying to pinpoint the location. Photographs, maps and knowledge were shared on Leadville's streets. Mr. Hendershot examined the photograph and determined that Soapy was likely standing at 2nd street and Harrison Avenue. Mr. Demoney sent me an 1882 bird's eye view of Leadville, and by comparing the buildings in the photo with those in the bird's eye view, I was able to pinpoint where Soapy was standing when the photographer took the picture. Soapy was on Harrison Avenue, between 2nd and Chestnut streets.

Bird's eye view Leadville, Co., 1882
Full map
Denver Public Library Special Collections
Call Number CG4314.L51882.S8

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Bird's eye view Leadville, Co., 1882
Denver Public Library Special Collections
Call Number CG4314.L51882.S8

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Sanborn map 1883
Harrison Ave., between 2nd and Chestnut streets
Where Soapy was standing for the photograph
Library of Congress

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Leadville, Colorado today
Approximate spot where Soapy stood
Google Maps

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Harrison Avenue looking north
From the corner of Chestnut Street
Denver Public Library Special Collections
Call Number CHS.X4611

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The striped (red, white, blue bunting) telephone pole with at least ten pin cross arms, on the right side of the photograph above is the same striped pole seen to the right of the stereo-view photograph showing Soapy, at the top of this post. Examining and comparing the building fronts, roofs, facades and false fronts to the building fronts in the bird's eye view close-up shown above, clearly indicates that this photograph shows the approximate location of where Soapy had his picture taken.
     I want to thank Gary Demoney for locating this photograph and others.

Leadville, Colorado: pages 10, 36-37, 75, 77-78, 116, 123, 134-35, 144, 152, 176, 189, 192, 219, 225, 292, 297, 347, 349, 420, 509, 594.  

"Until lions have their historians,
tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters."

~African Proverb

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