Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II
(1860 - July 8, 1898)
"I consider bunco steering more honorable than the life led by the average politician."
~Jefferson R. Smith, Feb. 29, 1896.
A Georgia born bunco man, gambler and crime boss. Known as the king of the frontier con men, he was most famous for his Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle, in which he wrapped cakes of soap with money and sold them to the highest bidder. Victims paid high amounts only to discover that they had won nothing but a plain bar of soap. Soapy's power grew to include the influencing of political elections and graft until he controlled the criminal underworld of Denver, Colorado between the years 1884-1895 and Creede, Colorado in 1892. During the famed Klondike gold rush he ran Skagway, Alaska 1897-1898. Some claim that his gang of steerers of rogues numbered nearly one hundred men. Some of these being well-known in their own right, such as "Texas-Jack" Vermillion and "Big Ed" Burns. Soapy was a man of many moods. One of these included a generous dose for charity. Many in Denver reported that he was one of the most charitable men in the city giving vast amounts to the poor and to Parson Thomas Uzzell.
What made him infamous across the country was the news of his violent temper and utter lack of fear for his enemies and lawmen. Involved in numerous shootings, it was his boldness and ego that contributed to his violent death at the hands of a vigilante mob that gunned him down, but not before he could kill one of their own. He died in a controversial gunfight and is remembered annually on July 8th with three "wakes" held in Alaska and California.
Soapy is buried at Gold Rush Cemetery & Reid Falls. Located about 1.5 miles from the Historic District. Head north on State Street until you see the sign just before the bridge. Follow signs a half mile past the railroad shops to the graveyard. A large plaque maps the graves and tells the history of the cemetery and some of the characters buried therein, including desperado Soapy Smith and town "hero" Frank Reid. The spectacular falls, named for Reid, are a very short walk behind the cemetery.
Information compiled by Jeff Smith
Books About Soapy Smith
Soapy Smith, King of the Frontier Con Men by Frank Robertson & Beth Harris, 1961
The Reign of Soapy Smith, Monarch of Misrule by William Collier & Edwin Westrate, 1935
Soapy Smith, Uncrowned King of Skagway by Howard Clifford, 1997
Soapy Smith, Skagway's Scourge of the Klondike by Stan Sauerwein, 2005.