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Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)

Peter Stanley (Bojangles) 28 Aug 98 - 04:24 AM
Bojangles 29 Aug 98 - 12:01 AM
Joe Offer 29 Aug 98 - 01:02 AM
Bojangles 29 Aug 98 - 01:22 AM
Joe Offer 29 Aug 98 - 01:30 AM
Robalot 01 Sep 98 - 10:35 PM
Bojangles 02 Sep 98 - 08:25 AM
Jim Dixon 26 Feb 05 - 09:43 AM
Alaska Mike 26 Feb 05 - 10:32 AM
dick greenhaus 26 Feb 05 - 05:43 PM
GUEST,Les B. 26 Feb 05 - 07:08 PM
GUEST 27 Sep 07 - 03:04 PM
GUEST,TJ in San Diego 27 Sep 07 - 05:48 PM
GUEST,Jeff Smith 28 Oct 08 - 09:26 PM
GUEST,999 04 Sep 12 - 10:50 PM
Joe Offer 20 Aug 15 - 04:30 PM
cnd 20 Aug 15 - 10:11 PM
Joe Offer 21 Aug 15 - 03:56 AM
Rapparee 21 Aug 15 - 08:51 AM
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Subject: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Peter Stanley (Bojangles)
Date: 28 Aug 98 - 04:24 AM

Does anyone know the origin or history of this ballad. I kow most of the words and have been told that Soaby was a nofictional scumbag who fleeced prospectors and miners of their gold and supplies leaving them to die in the frozen wilderness. I was taught much of the song by an Athbascan indian, and it went:

He came up to Alaska from the western USA,
Found himself in Scagway one cold December day
A deck of cards was 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,
That he planned to run this town and call it all his own.


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Subject: RE: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Bojangles
Date: 29 Aug 98 - 12:01 AM

I fear that noone is going to respond to this question before it goes off the board...yet it is impossible for me to believe that in this illustrous crowd no one knows anthing they can add to what I know. Is it simply that nobody cares?


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Subject: RE: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Aug 98 - 01:02 AM

Well, Bojangles, I found this historical note:
Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith
- Soapy Smith was best-known as king of the Denver underworld before heading to the Klondike in 1898. His plan was to seize control of Skagway, key gateway to the gold fields. He did it. His personal army of three hundred gangsters, prostitutes, pimps, card cheaters and outright thugs...ran the town of Skagway.
Soapy Smith's Parlor - built in 1897, this was the saloon of Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, the most infamous man in Skagway's history. He was killed by Frank Reid in a shootout on July 8, 1898.
Frank Reid -- Reid attended the University of Michigan, fought Indians in Oregon, then settled there as a school teacher. During the Klondike gold rush, he helped found Skagway, then became immortalized when he shot the gangster Soapy Smith. He died of injuries from the same gun fight

-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Bojangles
Date: 29 Aug 98 - 01:22 AM

Thank you,Joe,for answering impeccably essentially all of my questions on soapy. Your source is impressive,but what, by the way, is it? Peter Stanley (Bojangles)


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Subject: RE: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Joe Offer
Date: 29 Aug 98 - 01:30 AM

Hi, Peter - my favorite trick is using the "exact phrase" search at HotBot, http://www.hotbot.com/. You just have to make sure you pick a phrase that's unusual enough that you won't get too much unwanted information. Same technique works for searching the Digital Tradition database here.
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: RE: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Robalot
Date: 01 Sep 98 - 10:35 PM

Soapy Smith was also involved in the unhappy end of Bob Ford, 'the dirty little coward, who shot Mr. Howard' in Creede, Colorado. Reference: "The Assassination of Jessed James by the Coward Robert Ford" by Ron Hansen an excellent read.


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Subject: RE: The ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Bojangles
Date: 02 Sep 98 - 08:25 AM

I never dreamed of a tie-in with Robert Ford. I'll check that out!


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 26 Feb 05 - 09:43 AM

"The Ballad of Soapy Smith" is also the name of a play by Michael Weller that premiered in Seattle in 1983. (Click here for a review from The Boston Globe.) The review mentions a character in the play, "Paul Anthony MacAleer, a minor poet given to doggerel." The review doesn't exactly say so, but I suspect MacAleer was a real person who wrote the poem which became the song and which inspired the play.


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: Alaska Mike
Date: 26 Feb 05 - 10:32 AM

We've all heard of "Soapy" Smith up here. But the gold rush days are mostly shaken out for the tourists. There are quite a few characters in Alaska's history, both heroes and villains. We recently found another huge gold field near Illiamna. Its reportedly the biggest gold find of all time. I expect we will have more characters slipping into Alaskan history fairly soon.

Mike


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 26 Feb 05 - 05:43 PM

Soapy Smith also appears in an O. Henry short story," The Cop and the Anthem" in which a bum is trying to get arrested for vagrancy to find a warm place to spend Christmas Eve.


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 26 Feb 05 - 07:08 PM

There was a book written about "Soapy" Smith some years ago, with that name in the title, I believe.

He apparently got the name "soapy" from a street-corner scam he would run. As the crowd watched he would fold dollar bills, and larger denominations of paper money, into the paper wrappings of a pile of bar soap. He would then sell the soap for a small sum and people would buy, hoping to get a bar with a big bill attahced. Of course he did some sort of sleight of hand and none of the soap had any money attached.


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Sep 07 - 03:04 PM

Hello, I would like to hear The Ballad of Soapy Smith, do you know were may I get it?

Thanks.
Armando


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: GUEST,TJ in San Diego
Date: 27 Sep 07 - 05:48 PM

I was in Skagway, Alaska, last August and had the opportunity to visit the graves of both Jefferson "Soapy" Smith and Frank Reid. Reid was lionized by many for ridding Skagway (and the rest of the planet)of a scourge, while some revisionists say he was not the high-minded savior of popular thought. Smith WAS the consummate con-artist of his day. Silky smooth with the ladies and cultivating a businesslike mien, all the while bilking everyone in sight and, with the help of his well-armed henchmen, holding sway as undisputed ruler of Skagway during the 1898 Klondike gold rush. What a role model!


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith
From: GUEST,Jeff Smith
Date: 28 Oct 08 - 09:26 PM

The Ballad of Soapy Smith was written by Al Oster in 1962 and recorded on a collection of music entitled, Northland Ballads under the company name of Frontier Record Company. Mr. Oster is still selling tapes. Google his name and you should be able to find him.

I am the great-grandson of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith and our family has a website devoted to Soapy at Alias Soapy Smith

Jeff Smith
email Jeff


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
From: GUEST,999
Date: 04 Sep 12 - 10:50 PM

Available at Smithsonian Folkways


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 Aug 15 - 04:30 PM

OK, I see the song is available at Folkways, and somebody else included this on the "unanswered requests" PermaThread.
But I don't see any lyrics. It's a wonderful thing to answer a request, but please follow through to the end and post the lyrics in the thread where the lyrics were requested - and tell us clearly where you got the lyrics.
Thanks.
-Joe-


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Subject: ADD: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
From: cnd
Date: 20 Aug 15 - 10:11 PM

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.


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Aug 15 - 03:56 AM

Hi, CND -

Whether they're asking for chords, songwriter name, history, or whatever - we always get the lyrics. Our roots are as a lyrics Website.

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: Origins: The Ballad of Soapy Smith (Al Oster)
From: Rapparee
Date: 21 Aug 15 - 08:51 AM

Soapy was traveling by train from Denver to Spokane (where his wife lived) and passed through Pocatello. During a stop there, he was shot at by three men and part of his mustache was shot away. He had to go to the cop shop in Blackfoot, but was cleared and was on his way the next day.

See more info on this and other incidents here.


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