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Soapy Smith of the Wild West: Crime Boss, Con Man and Colonel of Colorado

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A bit of history for you this week. There are famous outlaws, lawmen and ranchers in the history of the Wild West, men who made their names with a gun and a quick draw. Jefferson Smith is probably the only one who made his name with a packet of soap and a clever line. Originally from Georgia, Smith moved to Denver, Colorado in the 1870’s and made money with the ‘prize soap racket’, a con that earned him his nickname ‘Soapy Smith’. Smith would set up a display case in the street, show his rapt audience several bars of soap, wrapped together with a hundred-dollar bills. He would then mix the bars in with several ordinary bars of soap and offer people the chance to buy one for several dollars. A friend of Soapy’s, planted in the crowd, would step forward, buy a marked bar, and win big, inspiring other’s to try their luck and invariably fail. Soapy wasn’t any ordinary con man though. He could take over entire towns as he did with Creede, Colorado. After a series of restrictions forced Soapy (and many other gambling men) out of Denver, he took himself and his ever-growing group of follows to the mining town of Creede. He quickly moved in, leased most of the buildings in the center of town, got his brother-in-law into the position of deputy marshal and ran the underworld and criminal life of Creede. To Soapy’s credit, during the time he was the self-proclaimed "camp boss” of Creede, the violent crime rate was significantly lower compared to other similar boom towns. Denver was suffering though from its loss of saloons and gambling and was forced to drop the restrictions that had previously driven them out. Smith came back to Denver but it wasn’t long before talk of reform was bandied about again. The governor fired several corrupt officials from city hall. Other officials, who were paid by men like Soapy, saw the way the wind was blowing and started being scared for their positions. They pushed back against the governor, and when he ordered them out of city hall, they point-blank refused to go. When the governor threatened to use force, they called on Smith to help. Soapy knew that if the governor had his way, he’d be out of business again and so gathering some of his men, he hunkered down in city hall with dynamite and guns. He dubbed himself Colonel Smith, received a sheriff’s deputy badge and readied to face the state militia. Huge crowds surrounded the city hall, thousands of citizens watching and waiting to see what would happen. The militia arrived in Denver with Gatling guns and cannons and were ordered to fire on City Hall, only to have the order rescinded. The fear of harming the innocent was all that stopped the bloodshed and eventually a compromise was reached. But change was coming to Denver and the wild west was slowly becoming tame as the 19th century neared its end. Soapy would finally leave Colorado for Alaska in 1896, where he pulled one con too many and ended up shot in the heart. best of BMR Week 14 053 If you want to experience more of Colorado's exciting history check out our dude ranch vacations!

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Colorado Dude Ranch Vacations - Black Mountain Ranch
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