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Jeff Smith

I’d like to thank you for including my website, Alias Soapy Smith in your description of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, my great grandfather.

The men in Howard Blum’s book are real historical characters. I can’t speak for Siringo and Carmack, but I can for Soapy, which I would like to do with your permission. I am first and foremost a historian. I spent 25-years researching the life and death of Soapy before publishing his biography, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, mentioned as a source in Mr. Blum’s book.

I gather from your comments about Soapy that you did not read much of my website, and the website is pretty generic compared to the biography. The website is an online beginner’s look into an amazing bunco man and crime boss whom you compare to Deadwood’s Al Swearengen. In the historical sense Soapy was pretty far above Swearengen on the accomplishments ladder.

I would like to discuss a couple of the comments you made, if I may. You wrote,

“All three were intelligent, brave, and energetic, but Carmack and Smith were both emotional drifters; on the one hand they were ambitious, on the other they didn’t care. They weren’t so much driven as pulled forward by their dreams, and when you get right down to it, their dreams, although grand in scale, were fairly trite and dull.”

I don’t know how much or what you have read on Soapy but you are far off the mark. You fully underestimate his history. For example, you wrote,

“Smith had come to Alaska because the once Wild West of the lower forty-eight had finally become to civilized to tolerate his presence. He had run out of places to run to when too much law and order made it impossible for him to do business anymore.”

Soapy went to Alaska because he was running away from his name and past. What most don’t realize is that Soapy, in his era, was very well known across the nation. In fact, using the number of articles about his exploits compared to those of Wyatt Earp I can say that while both men were alive (1860 – 1898) Soapy was more well-known than Wyatt Earp.

You wrote,

“He wrote many letters to his wife whom he kept out of the way back in Kansas, but there was a lot about himself and his life out west and up north he couldn’t tell her, partly out of fear that a letter might go astray and wound up in the hands of the law, but partly out of a game of pretend he and his wife were playing with each other.”

Soapy thought of himself as a legitimate businessman and treated his life as such. A good businessman keeps records and his correspondences and that is exactly what Soapy did. In the research for the biography I had access to literally thousands of letters and documents, to and from Soapy, by his wife and all he associated with. None of these papers have ever been published until my book came out and they show details of an amazing life, the bad and the good. Yes, Soapy had a good side.

Soapy’s wife, Mary knew all about her husband’s criminal businesses. He moved her to St. Louis (not Kansas) to be out of the lime-light and for her safety (another story).

You wrote,

“The Jeff Smith who appears in many of the letters, then, is a fabrication and a rather banal and dull character to boot. But what’s really disappointing about this phony is that he doesn’t know any of the details of Soapy Smith’s crimes and depredations and he wasn’t intimately acquainted with members of Soapy’s gang, which is too bad because it would have been interesting to have a peek into the individual personalities of men with names like Slim-Jim Foster, Old Man Tripp, the Moonfaced Kid, Fatty Green, Kid Jimmy Fresh, Yank Fewclothes, and Yeah Mow Hopkins.”

How many of Soapy's letters have you actually read? I have one letter Soapy wrote to his wife in which he is describing the gunfight he had had the previous day in Pocatello, Idaho (September 1889). He gives details of a rival bunco gang trying to assassinate him as he sits in a train car. The details coincide with newspaper accounts of the fight. Does this sound like a dull fabricated story that he wrote to his wife? In regards to the names of the gang, Howard chose to rely on outdated material with no sources rather than the large, fully documented list of Soap Gang members in my book. For instance “Fatty Green” is actually John “Fatty Gray” Morris. Howard also chose to keep the names of gang members, such as Yeah Mow Hopkins, in which there is not one piece of evidence the man ever existed.

You wrote,

“Smith routinely made the papers, but the journalism of the times favored sensationalism over insight and facts were what reporters and editors needed them to be to fit their stories, if you can imagine that. A character named Soapy Smith would make headlines, but neither journalists nor their readers cared how closely that character resembled the real person it was based on. The things he did were thrilling in that they stoked readers’ fears or inflamed their imaginations. Why he did what he did was easy enough to explain. He was a villain and a scoundrel. What else did you need to know?”

Yes, Soapy made newspaper headlines all across the nation. I spent (and am still spending) years reading newspapers page-by-page to find what I have found. I have file cabinets filled with nothing but Xerox copies of articles about Soapy. What research have you done to back your statements?

I would like to invite you to visit my online sites and perhaps even read my book. I will be happy to entertain any questions and comments. Thank you for letting me have my say.

Jeff Smith
Author of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel
Website: http://www.soapysmith.net
Blog: http//www.soapysmiths.blogspot.com

Lance Mannion

Jeff Smith,

Thank you for stopping by and thanks for taking the time to leave your comment. It's very interesting and I hope my readers will visit your website and read your book.

But I was writing a review of Howard Blum's book. What's here is my impressions of the character as presented in the book. So if I got anything wrong it's Blum's portrayal of Soapy. I think he made him a fascinating character but of course he couldn't tell the whole story, just as he couldn't tell Siringo's or Carmack's whole stories. He had to pick and choose and I had to pick and choose among his pickings and choosings in order to give my readers a sense of what the book is like. I think it's a good book and I think anyone who reads it will want to know more about the three men at its center and do some further reading on their own.

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