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Leadville & Twin Lakes, Colorado History
The Story of Jefferson Randolph (Soapy) Smith


A Tale of How One Man Tried to "Clean Up the Town"

During the mid 1800's, Leadville's streets were becoming jammed with individuals looking for ways to make a fast buck during the Lake County boom era. Women of pleasure openly advertised their wares, saloons were doing a bustling business, and a host of street merchants and entertainers could be found almost everywhere hawking their products. Even the famous Doc Holiday had arrived in Leadville, only to find himself arrested twice in three days for attempted murder. It truly was a wild time in Leadville's history. Con-men were also common on the streets, exersizing some pretty creative ideas on how to seperate a few dollars here and there from the local citizenry.

One such con-man was Jefferson Randolph Smith who arrived in Leadville in the mid 1800's. It wasn't long before residents found Smith and his partner operating a shell game on the corner of Harrison Ave and Third Street. Smith seemed to be a natural at the con game, learning quickly from his already experienced partner. The shell game became quite successful, but Smith and his partner knew it could only last so long, so they expanded their operation to an exersize that ultimately gave Smith his nickname: "Soapy".

What better product to try and sell in the wild and crazy boom town of Leadville than soap? He started this new project by wrapping a $100 bill around a bar of soap, re-wrapping it with his own label, and placing it in a box with numerous other bars of soap, all bearing the name of his new product "Sapolion". He then walked inside one of the local saloons, where his silent partner "bought" one of the bars of soap from Smith, and upon opening it (in front of the other patrons) was "surprised" to find a crisp one hundred dollar bill under the wrapping! Needless to say soap sales escalated at a phenominal rate for "Soapy".

Justice always seems to eventually prevail however, and Smith eventually found himself looking for a "healthier evironment". He moved to Creede, Colorado and later to Alaska where he was killed in a gunfight on July 8, 1898. But Leadville will always remember "Soapy" as the con-man with the soap.

Courtesy Universal Systems Inc producers, Colorado History video series - www.leadville.org