Sunday, November 24, 2019

The World of Politics and Westerns

I support the left, though I’m leaning, leaning to the right.
-Cream “Politician” 1968
Editor's Note: As a publication, WMD does not favor any political ideology. I realize this story may touch on issues relative to today's great political divide, but our work involves capturing the historical facts, not any current political correct take-aways. --Allan B. Colombo
Are westerns political? Movies unequivocally have an endless potential to reflect a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints, but particular political philosophies aren’t inherent in the genetic makeup of the western genre, at least not on the surface.

Movie stars, writers, directors and producers on all ends of the political spectrum have made western films and occasionally their agendas have creeeped into the finished product. Usually, however, it is autonomous and not indicative of a greater movement or trend.

MyMedic makes the finest first aid kits (image)The traditional western theme often concerns self-reliant individuals struggling against organized and funded oppressors willing to disregard law and order in pursuit of monetary gain and land or water rights. The baddies sought monopolies and used egregious tactics to achieve self-serving goals. Those are universal concepts for the most part until one factors in the revolution-themed European western sub-genres and the cynical Hollywood revisionist imitations of the 1970’s which channeled Watergate, Vietnam and contemporary angst and disillusionment into their storytelling.

Certainly, the lone homesteader on the frontier protecting his land and family with his home security system, a long-range rifle, an arm’s-length away taps into a vaguely ‘red state’ appeal. But perhaps that is merely art imitating life.

The 1950’s may have encapsulated the political divide more than other eras with its slowly shifting values and attitudes at the fore of the western’s commercial pinnacle. Communist Party sympathizers were not limited to clandestine gatherings, as Audie Murphy discovered when he arrived there to begin a career in movies, many of which would be westerns.

Having returned from service in World War II as one of the war’s most decorated soldiers and a recipient of the Medal of Honor, he was particularly turned off by the town’s left-wing associations. In turn, his disdain for their loyalties didn’t endear the war hero to the Tinseltown elite and he remained a loner throughout his years there.

Later, Murphy became involved in the trial of Jimmy Hoffa, working tirelessly to have the Teamsters boss released from federal prison. Ominously, within years, both men were gone. In 1971, Murphy was killed in a private plane crash while seeking investors for a new production. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors and no Hollywood acquaintances in attendance.

No one was more concerned with the threat of communism than John Wayne. A supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee and founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, Wayne was allegedly deemed formidable enough to be targeted by assassins on no more than three occasions. In the first such incident, two KGB agents sent to apprehend the Duke on a movie set were intercepted by some FBI agents with the assistance of Wayne’s friend and arguably the world’s greatest stuntman, Yakima Canutt and his team of Hollywood stuntmen.

The nefarious order had incidentally been given by Stalin himself, unbelievably, a die-hard fan of American westerns and John Wayne pictures(!) Two subsequent attempts on Wayne’s life occurred in Chihuahua, Mexico on the set of Hondo and while Wayne was visiting troops in Vietnam when snipers tried taking out the Duke under orders from Mao Tse Tung. Wayne claimed to have kept the incidents from the press for his family’s protection but it only served to reaffirm his anti-communist stance.

High Noon, directed by blacklisted Fred Zinnemann, has long been considered a parable of the communist hunts. As its main character, Will Kane, seeks cooperation from his community in the face of danger, the citizens cower on the principle that the fight is not theirs. John Wayne, however, would take this more literally. It was the final scene in High Noon, when Wayne’s friend and fellow conservative, Gary Cooper shed his tin star and kicked it into the dirt that infuriated Wayne and director Howard Hawks to respond with nothing less than their own filmic retort. Rio Bravo’s story-line was more of a response to High Noon’s “un-American” story-line with a town marshal pathetically pleading citizens to back him up than a reaction to any veiled commentary on McCarthyism.

Wayne’s high profile found enough favor with some political insiders that he was reportedly asked to run for office. His reason for declining? No one would ever vote for an actor. Somehow, the notion wasn’t so outrageous that he couldn’t endorse another actor. Poignantly, the Los Angeles hospital where the Duke took his last breath in 1979 bears the name Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

In closing, there is east and west; there are villains and heroes. But the heroes are not exclusively on the left or the right. Rather they are at the top, specifically above the movie title on the marquee outside the theatre. Political? Perhaps. But it’s really all about show business. Isn’t it?

Thanks for reading WMD!
Christopher Robinson

Chair Speaker Trial

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Some Shocking Facts Concerning Steve McQueen You Likely Never Heard Before

A few weeks ago while doing research for the Steve McQueen story, I ran across an interesting tidbit and thought I'd share it with you today. Evidently, Steve McQueen was on a "hit list" put together by the infamous murderer Charles Manson. And, oddly enough, he was slated to attend Sharon Tate's fateful party that resulted in the murder of all who attended.

In the article, Steve McQueen's Womanising Ways Stopped Him From Being Murdered By Charles Manson:
According to Esquire magazine, "In an interview with the National Post, McQueen's former wife Neile Adams revealed that the actor was due to attend the 1969 dinner that saw the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others brutally murdered by the serial killer and cult leader, but McQueen 'ran into a chickie and decided to go off with her instead,' says Adams."
There were other recognizable names on the Manson hit list as well, such as Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones.

There's more, but I'll let you read the article for yourself: click here.
--Al Colombo

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Life and Death of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, part 2

In part 1, we covered the early years when Butch Cassidy began to rob banks and trains. We left off with the “Wild Bunch” robbing the Union Pacific Overland Flier. If you recall, The Curry brothers, who were part of Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch,” had an altercation with Sheriff Joe Hazen after that particular train robbery. It was during that altercation (i.e. shootout) that the Curry’s ended Sheriff Hazen’s life.

This tragic event prompted a host of famous lawmen to go after the gang. It also prompted the Union Pacific Railroad to solicit the help of Charlie Siringo, a Pinkerton detective. Siringo’s mission was to apprehend Cassidy’s gang and bring them to justice.

As an aside, Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch” was patterned after another gang that went by the same name. The original one, which was also known as the Dooling-Dalton gang, was formed on July 16, 1892, in Ingalls--an outlaw sanctuary--within the Oklahoma Territory. The original Wild Bunch came to an end on April 3, 1895, when they held up a Rock Island train at Dover, Oklahoma. Unable to crack open a safe presumed to hold $50,000, the gang robbed the passengers instead. The robbing and killing came to an end when Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Madsen and his able pose caught up to the gang, killing several members.

Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid | #TBT Trailer | 20th Century FOX

“Of all the outlaw gangs produced by the American Old West (the gang was formed in the last decade of the 19th century), none met a more violent end than the Wild Bunch. Only two of its eleven members survived into the 20th century, and all eleven met violent deaths in gun battles with lawmen” (

The new Wild Bunch, which was formed after Cassidy’s release from prison in 1896, was made up of friends and associates. Included were George “Flat Nose” Curry, Ben Kilopatrick, William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay, Will “News” Carver, Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, Laura Bullion, and Harry Tracy. It was after the Montpelier, Idaho bank job that Cassidy brought Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, AKA: the Sundance Kid, into the picture. Incidentally, “News” Curry got his name because he enjoyed reading about himself in newspapers, or so it was said.

Cassidy’s Request for Amnesty

The criminal activities of the Wild Bunch did not stop with the Union Pacific’s Overland Flyer passenger train. On July 11, 1899, when they robbed a Colorado and Southern Railroad train near the town of Folsom, NM, Elzy Lay killed Sheriff Ed Farr and Henry Love. Unfortunately this led to his eventual conviction and a life sentence, which he served in the New Mexico State Penitentiary.

Things were heating up for the Wild Bunch.

It was in 1899, when Butch Cassidy approached Utah Governor Huber Wells concerning the negotiation of conditions surrounding the gang’s amnesty. Evidently an agreement ensued between Cassidy and E.H. Harriman, chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad. However, the Wild Bunch violated that agreement when they robbed another Union Pacific train in the Tipton, Wyoming area. This single act ended any hope for amnesty.

Five members of the gang met in Fort Worth, Texas, on December of 1900, where they had a group picture taken, which has since come to be known as the “Fort Worth Five” photograph. Unfortunately the Pinkerton Detective Agency discovered and used it to create wanted posters for Cassidy, Sundance, Kilpatrick, Logan, and Carver.

Things from that point appear to have gone downhill relatively fast.

  • April 17, 1900: George Curry was killed in a shootout in Grand County, Utah.
  • July 3, 1901: Kid Curry and others robbed a Great Northern train in Wagner, Montana, and a pose, led by Sheriff Elijah Briant, killed News Carver.
  • December 12, 1901: Kilpatrick and Laura Bullion were captured.
  • December 13, 1901: Curry killed two policemen in Knoxville during another shootout, although he was able to escape.
  • July 26, 1901: Kid Curry returned to Montana where he killed James Winters, a local rancher, in cold blood. Winters apparently killed his brother, John, some years earlier.
The Decline and Eventual Death of the “Wild Bunch”

As they say, “All good things must come to an end.” They also say, “It’s hard to change a leopard's spots,” and so once a hombre, always a hombre. All this will make sense in a few minutes.

It was in 1890 that Butch Cassidy acquired a ranch outside of Dubois, Wyoming, near the famous outlaw stronghold called the “Hole-in-the-Wall.” There were other get-away's that Cassidy and other gang members used.

“The Wild Bunch would typically separate following a robbery and flee in different directions, later reuniting at a predetermined location such as the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout, Robbers Roost, or Fannie Porter's brothel in San Antonio, Texas” (

The authorities were now closing in on both Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Soon there would be no place to run, nowhere to hide. The photographer of the Fort Worth Five had, in fact, posted a print of the group on his storefront window. It wasn’t long afterward that a Pinkerton detective happened to recognize one of them as he just happened to walk by. Imagine his surprise.

Thanks to fate or just plain stupidity, every one of these five Wild Bunch member’s face was now made public to the world on wanted poster that was sure to eventually yield results. And so, both men knew when the get’n was good, and they did just that on February 20, 1901. Actually, Cassidy had invited the others in the gang to accompany him out of the country, but only Sundance and his wife, Etta Place, agreed to go.

The trio left the United States for Argentina on February 20th, from there they made their way to Bolivia. It was there that the three purchased a 15,000-acre ranch near Cholia, which is situated on the east bank of the Rio Blanco.

Once a Bandito, Always a Bandito

You would think that anyone who gained such wealth, and having barely escaped capture, would resolve to live the remainder of their lives in a peaceful, lawful manner, but not so with Cassidy and Sundance.

It didn’t take long until the two banditos to come out of hiding in Bolivia. On February 14, 1905, two individuals, fitting the description of Cassidy and Sundance, robbed the Banco de Tarapaca y Argentino located in Rio Gallegos, which was approximately 700 miles south of Cholila. Shortly thereafter the pair sold their 15,000-acre ranch, heading north to San Carlos de Bariloche. Here they boarded the Condor, a steamer, which was headed to Chile.

By the end of 1905, Cassidy, Sundance and a third man appeared in Argentina where, on December 19, 1905, they robbed the Banco de la Nacion Argentina, which was located in a town called Villa Mercedes. The trio then headed to Chile through Buenos Aires, Pampas, then over the Andes.

Butch Cassidy: A Jerry Skinner Documentary

In June of 1906, Sundance Kid and his wife, Etta, returned to the United States. In San Francisco, Etta remained stateside while Sundance returned to Bolivia where Cassidy had taken a job guarding payroll at the Concordia Tin Mine located in the Andes. On the Sundance Kid’s return, he assumed a position with the same mining company, working with his partner, Butch Cassidy.

As the story goes, on November 3, 1908, Cassidy and Sundance made tracks to San Vicente after they stole the payroll belonging to the Aramayo Franke y Cia Silver Mine. According to official records, the two robbers, assumed to be Cassidy and Sundance, took a room in a boarding house owned by a man by the name of Bonifaacio Casasola.

It was Casasola who tipped off a nearby cavalry post, which promptly dispatched three soldiers to investigate. Evidently the men who were staying in the boarding house had arrived with a mule that bore the Aramayo Mine brand. The cavalry commander also notified local authorities which, on November 6, three days after the robbery took place, surrounded the boarding house.

According to the official record, the two men holed up in the house, again assumed to be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, provoked a gunfight by killing one of the soldiers and wounding a second. Then, early in the morning, during a moment of silence in between gun fire, a man began to scream, at which time a lone shot pierced the night. A few minutes later, there was a second shot, and the two men were presumed to be dead. According to the police report, both men were riddled with bullet holes, and it was surmised that one of the men had shot his partner in the forehead, then turning the gun on himself.

The conclusion of the local police investigation was that the two men in the boarding house were the same that robbed the mining company. The Bolivian officials, however, were unable to positively identify either man. Attempts were also made in recent years to locate the bodies and to conduct DNA testing, but either local authorities’ records were wrong, concerning the actual graves, or the men’s bodies in the graves exhumed did not match known DNA samples provided by the Parker and Longabaugh families.

And so we come to the end of another dusty, wagon-worn trail, or have we? The fact is, there’s a growing body of evidence that might indicate that both men survived their Bolivia excursion. Or perhaps they were not in San Vicente on that fateful day.

Be sure to ready part 1!

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Life and Death of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, part 1

By Allan B. Colombo

The ever popular western film, “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” received a good deal of interest at the time it was released on October 24, 1969. I recall with clarity seeing Paul Newman and Robert Redford in action on the big screen in my own hometown. I was on a date, so perhaps I didn’t get to see it all. :-)

One thing is for certain, this 1 hour, 50 minute movie on a $6 million dollar budget was highly profitable. It resulted in more than $100 million between rentals and the box office, thus earning it the distinction of being the top-grossing film of 1969.
The film itself won four Academy Awards:
  1. Best Original Score for a Motion Picture
  2. Best Cinematography
  3. Best Original Screenplay
  4. Best Music
The Writers Guild of America also awarded William Goldman for Best Original Screenplay. In the area of western movies, it also marked the beginning of a new breed of western film, as you will learn from Robert Redford during an interview, which you will hear in the videos below.

In a world where movie characters are often mere contrivances, engineered by skillful fiction writers, the question begs, “Were there ever an honest to goodness Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?” The short is “Yes.”

In part 1 of this two-part article, you will learn about the real life characters depicted in this widely acclaimed movie. You’ll learn about some of the capers that Cassidy and Sundance pulled off, including the criminal enterprise that was so aptly named “The Wild Bunch.” We’ll also discuss the reason why the pair finally felt it necessary to leave the country.

The Early Years

Butch Cassidy was actually Robert Leroy Parker, born April 13, 1866 in Beaver, Utah. He was the oldest of 13 siblings, a commonly big family belonging to Maximillian Parker and Ann Campbell Gillies. A mere decade earlier, his father had migrated from the United Kingdom (UK) when he, himself, was only 12 years of age. His mother migrated to the United States from the UK in 1859, when she was 14. Maximillian and Ann were joined in matrimony in 1865, a year before Robert was born.

Robert Parker and his family lived approximately 215 miles south of Salt Lake City near a small town called Circleville, Utah.

Okay, if Butch’s real name was Robert Parker, how did he acquire the name Butch Cassidy? That’s an excellent question, and here’s the answer, at least as near as anyone can tell:
“In the early 1880s, while working at a Utah ranch, Robert LeRoy Parker met Mike Cassidy, a cowhand and small-time cattle rustler and horse thief. Parker admired the older man, who taught him about training horses and shooting a gun. However, after getting into trouble with the law, Mike Cassidy fled the area, and Parker himself departed Utah in search of new opportunities after turning 18 in 1884,” says Elizabeth Nix, author of 6 Things You May Not Know About Butch Cassidy (
Highlights of Cassidy’s Criminal Career

MyMedic First Aide Kits (image)

The San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride was the location of his first bank robbery. The booty he escaped with was $21,000. In terms of today’s currency, this would amount to more than $580,000. Not bad for a single robbery. He wasn’t alone in this caper, however. He was accompanied by Matt Warner, a partner of his in the horse racing business, as well as two of the McCarty brothers.

In 1894, Cassidy was arrested in Lander, Wyoming, for stealing horses and running a protection racket with the local ranchers. He was imprisoned in the Wyoming State Prison, located in Laramie. After serving an 18-month sentence, he was pardoned by then Governor William Alford Richards.

After his release from Wyoming State Prison, Cassidy assembled several of his past friends into the criminal enterprise that we’ve all come to know as the “Wild Bunch.” Besides himself, there were seven others:
  1. George “Flat Nose” Curry
  2. Ben Kilopatrick
  3. William Ellsworth “Elzy” Lay
  4. Will “News” Carver
  5. Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan
  6. Laura Bullion
  7. Harry Tracy
For the next bank robbery that Cassidy and his Wild Bunch planned to rob, he brought in a man named Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, also known as “The Sundance Kid.” The bank in question was located in Montpelier, Idaho, and the booty was $7,000. It’s said that as Cassidy and his merry men rode out of town, he was spotted by townspeople, which meant that authorities now knew his identity , so there was no going back to his previous life.

The next robbery was on April 22, 1897, when the Wild Bunch intercepted the payroll of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, which was based in Castle Gate, Utah, a small mining town.

Enter: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

It was on June 2, 1899, when the Wild Bunch robbed a passenger train near Wilcox, Wyoming, called the Union Pacific Overland Flier, owned by Overland Limited. After the robbery, however, the two Curry brothers encountered and killed Sheriff Joe Hazen during an ensuing shootout.

This particular robbery put the Wild Bunch on the map, enough so that lawmen from across the area joined the hunt, but the Wild Bunch escaped again without being apprehended. However, Cassidy evidently didn’t know about the Curry shootout, not until he was told about it by Tom Horn, a killer-for-hire in the employ of Pinkerton.

To say that Cassidy and his “merry men” picked the wrong train to rob is saying it mildly. This caper was the catalyst that prompted Overland Limited to hire Pinkerton Detective Agency to go after the gang and bring them to justice. Charlie Siringo, a Pinkerton detective, was assigned the job of tracking down and capturing Cassidy and his group. His plan was to locate the outlaws through the significant other of Kid Curry’s brother.

Things are now heating up for Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the natorious Wild Bumch.

What’s Coming in Part 2

The 1969 movie, as well as the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid story in general, involves the eventual deaths of the duo in San Vicente, Bolivia, which is situated in the southern Bolivian Andes. The official story is that they were killed by the Bolivian authorities after a series of events that came to the attention of Bolivian law enforcement. Because of discrepancies in the official narrative, in addition to other counter allegations, the deaths of Cassidy and Sundance has received even more attention throughout the years since.

In part two, we’ll talk about a few more capers as well as the pair’s escape to Argentina and Bolivia where they were sought by local authorities, in conjunction with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. We’ll also discuss the assertions made by a variety of researchers, including Cassidy’s own sister, Lula Parker Betenson in her 1975 book entitled “Butch Cassidy, My Brother,” that the Bolivian rumors and assertions were fabricated, unsubstantiated, and all out wrong. We’ll also discuss several of the recent discoveries, one of them involving the exhuming of the body and the use of DNA testing.

Be sure to read part 2.

Al Colombo

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Soapy Smith: "Robin Hood of the Old West"

By Gary K. Miller

Call him thief, outlaw, bad guy, con-man, or just plain scoundrel, but one thing for sure, Jefferson Randolf Smith II was one slick operator. He was able to control his gang members and corrupt politicians in the manner of a Mafia crime boss. Was he a reflection of Robin Hood as some had called him? Or was he more like a rendering of the forthcoming mob boss, Al Capone?

Let's take a closer look, and maybe you can decide.

It's a long way from Coweta County, Georgia to Skagway, Alaska, but that vast distance also covers the life and the story of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II.

Smith was born into an affluent Coweta County family on November 2, 1860. His grandfather was a plantation owner and his father a lawyer. So, I'd say that J.R. did not lack for much in his youth... until the end of the Civil War, that is. Extremely hard times fell upon his folks, and they decided to move to Round Rock, Texas in an attempt to start over again. But the good times did not last long for them in Texas there either.

The death of Smith's mother laid heavy on his heart, and after witnessing so much violence in the territory, Smith himself also turned toward the outlaw life. He started as a rudimentary con man, but soon he had perfected his chicanery skills and went on to form a well-organized gang of thieves and front men. And it didn't take long for his reputation as a gang leader to earn him the title of “King of The Frontier Con Men.” Smith continued to build up his crime boss reputation and perfected many of his scams and swindles over the span of twenty two years.

Early on, he even got away with fooling his unsuspecting victims with the age-old shell game. He and his gang members also became experts at cheating in all the popular card games. Then there was the “soap” racket, where Smith would set up a folding showcase on a busy street corner and begin by wrapping money around selected cakes of soap. Then he would wrap plain paper around the cakes to hide the ones which had the money wrapped around them. Some had one dollar bills, while some of them even had a denomination as large as a $100 dollar bill.

Of course, his shills in the crowd had their own specially prepared cakes of soap which had money in them, and they would loudly proclaim their found treasure, which then enticed the suckers at the gathering to buy as many cakes of soap for a dollar as they had cash in their pockets in the hope that they too would be as lucky as the shills had pretended to be. Smith and his gang knew that they couldn't lose because by using slight of hand, Smith had already hidden away all the cakes of soap that he had wrapped with money. Thus, the nickname of “Soapy” caught on as he also became known by that tag all across the western states.

Smith made enough money from the soap scam to enable him to pay off most all of the corruptible lawmen, judges, and politicians in Texas. He now had enough power and resources to expand his operations into Denver and Creede, Colorado and on into Skagway, Alaska. And in 1888, Soapy opened up his own saloon and gambling hall in Denver. By then, he had so many judges and politicians in his pocket that he knew that he could get away with just about anything.

Also, Soapy's brother opened a cigar store that was nothing more than a front for crooked card games and other forms of gambling. Smith and his gang even operated fake lottery and stock exchange scams along with the sale of fake diamonds and expensive-looking counterfeit watches.
Living the life of a crime boss had its drawbacks however, as rival crime gangs made several attempts on Smith's life. But he managed to shoot some of his assailants and escape from the others. As to the “Robin Hood” title attributed to Smith, I suppose it was related to his known generous donations to many churches and charity groups, which in turn were able to help the poor in the area. But rather than having compassion for the poor, my guess would be that Smith had hoped that his donations would contribute to his popularity with the common folks and give him some clout in future political moves.

By 1892, anti-gambling laws in Denver and other towns forced Smith and his gang to move around from time to time. But with so many high-level officials on the take, he really had little to worry about in regards to the law. When the new governor, Davis Hansen Waite, was elected, he declared open warfare on all the corrupt politicians who had protected the Smith gang. When those officials refused to leave their offices, Waite called out the state militia to help oust them.

two cowboys talking (image)
Rather than being shunned by the officials, Smith was commissioned as deputy sheriff, and he wasted no time to swing into action. He and his gang were able to heavily arm themselves with rifles and dynamite, and took up a position on top of the city hall's central tower, whereby a massive standoff ensued. When cooler heads prevailed, the governor withdrew the militia and the conflict was handled in the courts where Soapy was a prime witness. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the governor had authority to remove the officials, but reprimanded him for calling out the state militia.

The court then ordered all of Smith's illegal enterprises to be shut down. But because of his status as a commissioned deputy sheriff, Soapy merely made a series of fake arrests and then later turned his “prisoners” loose.

Probably, the only one of Smith's scams that failed was the time he tried to convince the president of Mexico that his country needed the services a foreign legion (comprised mostly of American outlaws) to protect his interests. The Mexican president did not buy Smith's fabrication about needing protection to be provided by a foreign legion. But undaunted after that minor setback, Smith focused his sights on the 1897 Alaskan gold rush.

He immediately went to work setting up his empire in Skagway by putting the local deputy U.S. Marshall on his payroll and recruiting other allies for his takeover of the town. A fake telegraph office was set up where money sent by wire was diverted to Smith's own enterprises. He also opened a string of saloons and gambling halls, and even had his men occupying the postilions of clergymen and newspaper reporters who would steer unsuspecting new arrivals in town to his own gang-operated establishments.

Cowboy with gun (image)
Once, a mob of 101 vigilantes threatened to boot Soapy and his gang out of the Skagway area, but he managed to put together his own “Law and Order Society,” which numbered an overwhelming 317 members, which forced the vigilantes to immediately back off. But this would not be Smith's last run-in with the vigilantes.

Apparently, Smith had a goal of expanding his subversive skills to the extent of using the U.S. Government to further his gains. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Soapy formed his own volunteer army that he called the “Skagway Military Company,” which somehow got approved by the U.S. War Department. Soapy was given the rank of captain, and recognized as its leader. But Soapy and his “army” never fought in the war. He merely used the clout of his military company to further strengthen his control over the town. But he did get to lead his little army in a 4th of July parade, and then sit in the grandstand next to the territorial governor and other distinguished officials.

But as fate would have it, Jefferson Randolf Smith II, died on July 8, 1898 while confronting Frank Reid, one of the vigilante guards who was blocking Smith's access to the Juneau Company wharf. In the ensuing gunfight, Smith was shot dead at the scene and Reid died 12 days later. But there is some conjecture that it was a bullet fired from one of the other guards at the scene that actually killed Smith.

Whether such an outlaw deserves it or not, the notoriety of Jefferson Randolf Smith II is celebrated in wakes held every July 8th all around the country. And Smith's grave and saloon are still recognized as very popular tourist attractions in Skagway, Alaska all year long.

Thus we have the legend of Jefferson Randolf Smith II, (November 2, 1860 – July 8, 1898).

Happy Trails,

Gary Miller

Editor's Note: It appears that there are several accounts pertaining to Soapy Smith's birth and death. The following is a timeline provided by

Additional Reading:

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