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Soapy Smith: When A Slippery Con Man Got His Comeuppance

 

Jefferson Randolph Smith II, also known as Soapy Smith, and his "Soap Gang" make a living with devious plans, rigged card games, and shrewd opposition on the western frontier. They were very successful for a while, but on July 8, 1898, Sopy Smith burst her bubble.

Slippery Soap Smith

Soapy Smith earned a reputation as the "King of Frontier Con Men" for his boldness, his ability to befriend and pay off law officers, and his loyal band of followers, including the likes of Texas Jack Vermillion and Big Ed Burns, who Helped him get out of rigged card games and other sports betting. His most appealing con, and what gave him his nickname, was his soap plan. He set up a stand on the side of a busy road selling packaged bars of soap, worked the crowd until everyone felt comfortable, then took some cash (usually a few one-dollar bills and a few bucks). Hundred dollar bill), took out the packaging. With a few bars of soap, wrapped the bills around the bars, and repackaged them. He did a great deal of mixing around soap bars, but Smith knew which bars contained money, which had always been "won" by a member of his gang. Smith was eventually arrested for running this thief, and when the officer wrote his report, he forgot Smith's name and wrote "Soap" instead.


Skagway, Alaska

Smith opened a saloon and gambling house in Denver in the early 1880s, with money collected from his soap racket and other cons. In addition to defrauding gamblers, he sold counterfeit lottery tickets, counterfeit stocks in non-existent companies, fake watches, and counterfeit diamonds and gold. When a new governor vowed to clean up corruption in Denver, Smith and his gang headed to the boomtowns of Creed, Colorado, then to Skagway, Alaska, where the Klondike Gold Rush attracted gullible newcomers. In one of his boldest opposition, Smith set up a fake telegraph office and accused customers of sending messages to their loved ones years before the telegraph lines reached Skagway.


End Of Soap Smith

Smith was eventually brought down by the Committee of 101, a vigilante group of mostly miners who banded together to keep order on the Alaska border. On July 7, 1898, Smith's gang stole a bag of gold from a Klondike miner named John Douglas Stewart, which is worth over $82,000 in today's money, so Stewart turned to the committee for help. The next evening, he called a meeting with Smith at Juno Wharf. A fight broke out, shots were fired, and both Smith and committee member Frank H. Reed fell to the ground. Smith died instantly, while Reid took 12 days to succumb to his injury. More than 100 years later, Skagway still celebrates the soap Smith Wake on July 8 each year.

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