Mudcat Café message #3731949 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #6252   Message #3731949
Posted By: cnd
20-Aug-15 - 10:11 PM
Thread Name: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
Subject: ADD: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
Thanks Joe, but they were requesting origins/history. I suppose lyrics would be useful, but their request was for the origins. I guess I can also try and fill in both, if you'd like.

Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II (b. November 2nd, 1860 in Cowetta Co., GA, d. July 7th, 1898 in Juneau, AK) was the son of Jefferson Randolph Smith and Emily Dawson Smith. He had a brother named Bascomb Smith and a sister named Eva Katherine Light. He got the nickname "Soapy" in the late '70s or early '80s after a scheme where he sold soap on the street wrapped in paper. A mole in the crowd would "buy" a bar with money hidden in the wrapper, and loudly shout that he'd bought soap from Soapy with money in it, causing many people around to rush over and start buying his soap. Using sleight-of-hand, he would hide the bars with money in them, and after some time, he would claim that "the bar with the $100 bill still remained." At that point, he would often auction off the few remaining bars to the highest paying bidders. He did this stunt for around 20 years in Denver and Creede, CO.

Then, in 1897, he moved to the small mining town of Skagway as part of the Klondike Gold Rush. However, he didn't mine; he did the more profitable thing: selling to the miners. He ran parlor where miners could play confidence games and gamble (illegally). A loser of one of Soapy's Three Card Monte games got so upset, he raised a small group of disgruntled men, who killed him. You can hear about the killing of Soapy in another song, titled "Soapy Smith's Wretched and Violent Demise."

This is just a brief overview of him, of course. This page was my source, and you can read more about him here

THE BALLAD OF SOAPY SMITH
(Al Oster)

(Uncle Sam was in need of fighting men, and that was the only kind of men Skagway had. In fact, it was a dull night indeed when there was not at least one fight on every street-corner of that town. Fighting men were, in other words, available in droves. All they lacked were guns and organization! Well, organization was soon forthcoming, for had no heeding breast in Skagway did patriotism seethe, bubble, ferment and boil more intensely than in that of Jefferson Randall Smith, more commonly known as Soapy.

Skagway, February 15th. Landed here last night. A man named Soapy Smith took me to his office to show me a map of the Klondike. While there, I was introduced to a game played with three little shells. It cost me eighty-five dollars.
)*

He came up to Alaska from the western USA,
Found himself in Skagway one cold December day
A deck of cards in his hand; gambling was his game
Gambling made him famous, Soapy Smith was his name

He walked into and old saloon in the northern part of town
Said he had a speech to make and the people gathered 'round
He climbed upon an old soapbox and loudly made it known
He's gonna run the town and call it all his own

Soapy Smith was his name, and gamblin' was his game
He had a dream of riches big and bold
Soapy had a plan; this worthless gamblin' man
He's gonna have the Klondike and its gold

Well I recall a miner, John Stewart was his name
With a fortune from the Klondike, into Skagway came
He took an invitation from Soapy Smith's saloon
Went down to do some gambling in Soapy's private room

He woke up in the morning just past the break of dawn
He searched to find his fortune, but all his gold was gone
He joined the vigilantes on the other side of town
To put an end to Soapy and drive the bastard down

Soapy Smith was his name, and gamblin' was his game
He had a dream of riches big and bold
Soapy had a plan; this worthless gamblin' man
He's gonna have the Klondike and its gold

Well that night there was a meeting; Frank Reid was standing guard
Soapy came to see him and play his high card
He wondered how he'd come back: alive or dead
He knew they were awaiting to fill him full of lead

There echoed through the darkness; two shots rang out as one
And the town-folk came a-running, to find both men were down
Soapy died a gambler, Frank Reid a hero brave
Side-by-side in Skagway, in a narrow grave

Soapy Smith was his name, his dream to run Alaska now is gone
A rifle in his hand, he made his final stand
The history of his name will linger on

(Early the next morning a rumor spread around Skagway that men who had already reached the Klondike were finding six bits of gold dust in the pan on every creek, and before noon, a thousand men were on the march. Not toward Cuba in the Spanish-American War, but toward the summit, on their way to Dawson.)*

This was hand-transcribed from the version available at Folkways. It also had spoken-word before and after it, which is in italics and parenthesis, and marked with a star (*), which was not part of the original version, but included anyway.

(Performed by Walter Krauss and Roger Johnson)

THE BLOODY BALLAD OF NOTORIOUS BAD MAN SOAPY SMITH'S WRETCHED AND VIOLENT DEMISE
(Ed Parrish)

Alaska in the Gold Rush days, where life was cheap and thin
Such desperate times were perfect times for brutal, desperate men
In Skagway, Soapy's drifter mob left many miners broke
And if you weren't a gambler, they'd just rob you of your poke

With a pistol in his pocket and a rifle in his hands
Soapy went alone to fight the vigilante band
To shoot a few and chase the rest into the icy bay
They'd wish they'd never messed with Soapy Smith of old Skagway

Where your life ain't worth a sawbuck, and your end is just ahead
And the only law comes from your guns in a lightning hail of lead
Soapy was the boss man. He ran old Skagway's crime
'Til the outlaws got together and said Soapy's out of time

With bad men cheating bad men, they're going to spill bad blood
They're outlaws taking trips to hell down through Alaska's mud
The Skagway vigilantes couldn't make him run away
Soapy came straight at them to chase them into the bay

With a pistol in his pocket and a rifle in his hands
Soapy went alone to fight the vigilante band
To shoot a few and chase the rest into the icy bay
They'd wish they'd never messed with Soapy Smith of old Skagway

The bullets started flying a'twixt Soapy Smith and Reid
Until they both lay on the wharf, and there they both did bleed
Then Jesse Murphy turned ol' Soapy's lever gun around
And blew out Soapy's heart as he lay helpless on the ground

When the shooting stopped and cordite clouds thinned out enough to see
Soapy went to boot hill, with the grifters' guard, Frank Reid
Nobody mourned old Soapy when they sent him off to hell
Skagway wouldn't miss him, not so's anyone could tell

Bold as brass and full of fire, there in the midnight sun
Soapy went straight at the mob, though he was only one
He's waiting in the pits of hell now with his guns in hand
He'll hunt them through eternity that vigilante band

I got the lyrics for this song here, and you can listen to it here.