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Soapy Smith

The Life and Legacy of the Wild West's Most Infamous Con Artist
Narrated by: Bill Hare
Length: 1 hr and 20 mins
Categories: Bios & Memoirs, Criminals
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

Before there was Charles Ponzi, there was Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II. The famed Old West con artist and gangster's criminal career ranged from Texas to Alaska, from Denver to the Klondike. But Smith was not predestined to become a criminal; if genetics and environment typically determine one’s destiny, he could have become a farmer, a lawyer, or a politician. He was born in Coweta County, Georgia, on November 2, 1860, to Jefferson Randolph Smith, Jr., and Emily Dawson Smith, right as the Southern society his family was a part of was on the verge of suffering the cataclysm of the Civil War.

Like many men in the years after the Civil War, Soapy would make his way west, where frontier towns often popped up immediately and were established long before the law could reach them. At the same time, the Civil War had come less than 15 years after the California Gold Rush brought an estimated 300,000 people to the Pacific Coast, with men dangerously trekking thousands of miles in hopes of making a fortune.

This was a pattern that would repeat itself across the West anytime a mineral discovery was made, from the Southwest and Tombstone to the Dakotas and Deadwood. Of course, it was all made possible by the collective memory of the original gold rush, and when gold was discovered in the Yukon and Alaska almost 50 years after the rush in California, it drew tens of thousands of prospectors despite the unforgiving climate.

Mineral resources had gone a long way in the United States acquiring Alaska a generation earlier, but the lack of transportation kept all but the most dedicated from venturing into the Yukon and Alaska until the announcement of the gold rush. For a few years, the attention turned to the Northwest, and thanks to vivid descriptions by writers like Jack London, the nation became intrigued with the idea of miners toughing out the winter conditions to find hidden gold. Of course, despite the mythology and the romantic portrayals that helped make the Klondike Gold Rush, most of the individuals who came to make a fortune struck out instead. The gold rush was a boon to business interests, which ensured important infrastructure developments like the railroad and the construction of westward paths, but ultimately, it also meant that big business reaped most of the profits associated with mining the gold. While the miners are often remembered for panning gold out of mountain streams, it required advanced mining technology for most to make a fortune.

In most places where miners showed up, the real money lay in "mining" the miners, something Soapy Smith would quickly come to understand and use to his advantage. Utilizing a famous con involving soap "prizes", Soapy would earn his nickname while also possessing outsized influence in various forms of swindling, from shady political dealings to outright fraud. His reputation as a criminal began to spread, yet he still plied his trade across the frontier, and ultimately to the Northwest at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, where he would meet his fate and cement his legend.

Soapy Smith: The Life and Legacy of the Wild West’s Most Infamous Con Artist looks at the controversial times and crimes of the Western huckster, and the career that led to a notorious end. You will learn about Soapy Smith like never before.

©2019 Charles River Editors (P)2019 Charles River Editors

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