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 Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith

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Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith

Western Folk Figure, Crime Figure. A native of Georgia, he became known as the "King of the Frontier Con Men" for his many bunko swindles inflicted upon unwary victims all across the American west. He earned the sobriquet of "Soapy" by way of his most infamous swindle, "the Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle", in which, through slight-of-hand, he falsely wrapped money, ranging up to a $100 bill, inside the soap wrappers, and mixed them with pre-wrapped cakes of soap containing no money. He sold these for one dollar each. Associates, working for him, would buy a cake of soap and claim to have found money, in order to induce more sales. He built three major criminal empires, in Denver and Creede, Colorado (1879 to 1896), and then in Skagway, Alaska (1897 to 1898). He had one of the largest bunko gangs in the United States at the time, and was very well known throughout the west. He ran numerous saloons and cigar stores, all with rigged gambling games inside for the unwary to lose their ready cash. He helped rig elections and paid off politicians and police officers in order to maintain his growing power. Strangely, he was well known for his contributions to charity, and one of his good friends was Reverend Thomas Uzzel of Denver, who constantly sought his aid. In Skagway, during the Klondike gold rush of 1897, Jefferson Smith opened a fake telegraph office. For five dollars, miners could send a telegram home. While sending the telegram, the operator asked key questions about the victim's business and finances. The miner would soon find himself in a friendly poker game, in which he would lose any cash on his person (in realty, the telegraph did not reach Skagway until 1900). A vigilante organization arose for the purpose of ridding the city of him and his men. On July 8, 1898, at one of the vigilante meetings, one of the guards, Frank Reid, blocked Soapy Smith from entering and the two shot it out with each other. Smith died that night of his wounds and Reid lasted twelve days before expiring. There is credible information, from the town marshal, that another man actually fired the fatal shot that killed Soapy Smith that night. His legend has grown in the locale, and a ceremonial wake is held in Skagway, and in Hollywood each year on July 8th.

Bio by: Jeff Smith


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 958
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith (2 Nov 1860–8 Jul 1898), Find A Grave Memorial no. 958, citing Gold Rush Cemetery, Skagway, Skagway Borough, Alaska, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .