The last of the figures in the murals is Soapy Smith. His path took a different direction of the others pictured on the Kettle Arcade Ceiling. Jefferson Randolph Smith’s last words were: “My God, don’t shoot.” I don’t think Soapy played heavenly tunes on his accordion, in fact I didn’t find any refence of him playing any musical instrument. He did play on the emotions of those who came West to seek a quick fortune. Smith found his maker in Skagway, Alaska in 1898. Drunk, and convinced he could talk his way out of plans the city vigilantes had for him, he was gunned down just days after riding in a Fourth of July parade next Alaska’s territorial governor.
Before Skagway, it was Creed, Colorado where he would pocket local law enforcement officials and greenhorn’s money. A businessman when it came to con games, he imported his gang and soiled doves from Denver to power his shenanigans. He managed his way back to Denver just before the main street in Creed caught fire, destroying the Orlean’s Club, his gambling house.
Already forced out of Denver once for his famous con games, he was back in town with bigger plans. This time selling elections was on his list. So deep was his graft, the newspapers referred to him, the mayor and the police chief as the firm of “Londoner, Farley & Smith. Since his first time in Denver he did not change his ways, but increased them in size and scope. Now, besides fleecing citizens for cash, he established himself as a middleman for graft in the city. When I write about the old City Hall I will cover his part in the City Hall war of 1894. He didn’t leave Denver for Skagway until 1897.
Soapy Smith’s repertoire included his famous soap scam. He bought soap for a 5¢, wrapped money in the wrapper and sold it for $5 to unsuspecting pigeons hoping to find $50 in the wrapper. The only people to find the money were his plants in the audience. He ran crooked card games like Faro and Three Card Monte. He also used the old shell game to fool out of towners. He ran fake stock markets. My favorite gag was charging gold seekers for telegrams when they arrived in Skagway in 1898 to let their loved ones know they arrived, when the telegram wires didn’t even reach the town until 1900!
A few notes about Soapy: I really looked forward to doing research on Soapy Smith, as I had done some on him in the past. There is a lot of great information about him. He is one of those Western Characters that you just can’t get enough of. There is a website and blog hosted by Soapy’s grandson, Jeff Smith. He wrote a book: Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. I also found: American Old West Gangs, Outlaws & Gunfights, by J.P. Walker Walker. And a third book was; Old West Swindlers, by Laurence Yadon & Robert Barr Smith.
It is always a mystery how good men go bad. According to Soapy’s grandson he wanted to be known as good guy, contributing to the communities he lived in. But he had a bad streak, and he was an even worse drunk. He even got into with the Rocky Mountain News, hitting Colonel John Arkins who ran the printing company when they carried out a campaign to rid the town of Smith. When he was finally run out of town, the next town wasn’t much happier to have him.
Last week in my travels about town I was disturbed to see two sad sights. First was the demise of one of the cutest houses in Washington Park at South Williams and Arizona.
The second thing that scared me is that the apartments at Speer and Emerson has a “For Sale” sign on them. These are across from the Hungarian Freedom Park.
Judy Stalnaker corrected my location of the lake at Arlington Park, it is where the flower beds are now, north of Cherry Creek. Thanks, Judy!
Any additions, comments or corrections are welcomed.
Thanks, JOE S