Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, the Biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith II | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library http://coloradowest.staging.auraria.edu/book-review/alias-soapy-smith-life-and-death-scoundrel-biography-jefferson-randolph-smith-ii[12/8/2015 12:36:43 PM] Home Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, the Biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith IIAlias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, the Biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith IISubmitted by jainlayconley on 11-2-2010 04:05 PMAuthor: Jeff Smith Publishing: Foreword by Art Peterson. Juneau, AK: Klondike Research, 2009. Black and white photos, index, footnotes. 600 pages. 6 x 9. $43.00 paperback. Reviewer: Dick Kreck There may be more biographies of Soapy Smith to come but none will flash the resources, research, or passion of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel The biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith II, widely known as Soapy, who was one of Denvers and the Wests most notorious con men, consumes a staggering 592 pages. It is the work of Jeff Smith, Soapys great-grandson, who spent twenty-five years gathering information about his ancestor. Young Smith had the advantage of trolling collections of letters, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia held by a wide-ranging cast of family members, some of whom kept their treasures stashed out of sight for years. This volume is the first time many of the letters, notes, and photographs have seen the light of publication. The author says in a preface that he undertook such a gargantuan chore, in part, to set the record straight. Scores of stories about him, Smith writes, are either faulty or based on faulty information(v). Smith does his best to unravel the myths and outright lies about the man many consider nineteenthcentury Americas premier con man, card shark, and sure thing practitioner in the West. But even he admits that after plowing through ninety thousand pages of documentation, he was sometimes forced to speculate on what actually took place. Soapy was a complex character, at once loyalone of his henchman said of him, He never threw down a pal(592)and, at the same time, eager to take advantage of any sucker who came his way. Soapys nickname came from his early street con game, a sleight-of-hand bit of trickery that involved appearing to hide a fiveor ten-dollar bill inside a wrapped bar of soap, then charging would-be suckers a fee to pick out the winning bar. Very few won. Smith first appeared in Denver about 1879 and plied his trade off and on with his band of rogues, picking off unsuspecting victims as they exited trains at Denver Union Station at the foot of Seventeenth Street until he finally departed for the Klondike in 1897. Though he was best known for his soap swindle, he was also behind crooked card games, stock frauds, and even outright robbery. His lower downtown hangouts on Larimer and Market streets included saloons and gambling dens with colorful names like The Arcade, Chicken Coop, White House Club, and, the most murderous of them all, Murphys Exchange. It was Smith who, after things got hot for him in Denver, fled to the boom town of Creede, Colorado, EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWhile on the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776, Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco drew the first map of Colorado.
Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, the Biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith II | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library http://coloradowest.staging.auraria.edu/book-review/alias-soapy-smith-life-and-death-scoundrel-biography-jefferson-randolph-smith-ii[12/8/2015 12:36:43 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us where he is alleged to have penned a famous ode to the wide-open town: Its day all day in the daytime/And there is no night in Creede (200). The author tries to put the best light on Soapy, citing his frequent charitable donations (a trait found among many gamblers and con men) and his numerous lifelong friendships; but, at the same time, he admits, I do not pretend to believe Soapy was a good guy or someone to be admired (6, preface). He criticizes the Rocky Mountain News for its long-running campaign to chase Smith and his minions and their rackets out of Denver. He portrays Soapy as a devoted family man who loved his wife and kids, but writes that after he parked the family in St. Louis, the affable con man spent his time roaming the country and working his scams in various cities. He even concludes that Soapy had at least one mistress in his final days. Author Smith doesnt buy into the generally accepted account of his great-grandfathers messy death in Skagway in 1898. The popular version tells of a confrontation between a drunken Soapy and vigilante Frank Reid on the Juneau Company Wharf that led into Skagway. The two men wrestled for possession of Smiths rifle, a struggle that ended with both men firing their guns simultaneously. Reids bullet found Soapys heart and he died instantly. He was thirty-eight years old. Smith devotes two chapters to various alternative endings to his ancestors demise, including dark theories about powerful behind-the-scenes politicians and businessmen who conspired to have him murdered to save the future prosperity of Skagway. Smith could have benefited from a cold-eyed editor with less at stake in the telling of the story than he had. Alias Soapy Smith is far lengthier than it needs to be. For example its thirty-one-page chapter on Soapys role in Denvers City Hall War veers far off the thrust of the story. And Smith never met a footnote he didnt love, sometimes a dozen or more per page, many of them unnecessary (as when he explains backgrounds of some characters who have no central role in the narrative). Those, however, are small matters. Jeff Smith has pulled together as complete an account of Soapys complicated, checkered life and career as is possible. Reviewer Info: Dick Kreck, a former columnist for The Denver Post, is the author of five books on Colorado history, including Murder at the Brown Palace and Smaldone Add new comment