Topics in this study will appear over time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

That Fiend in Hell: Alias Soapy Smith not good enough?

On page 8 of That Fiend In Hell, the author states that “only three professional historians have attempted to examine the Smith story within some context other than that of an adventure.”

These three works are as follows:

  1. Bearss, Edwin C. Proposed Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Historic Resource Study. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1970. Pages 181-97, 16 pages relate to Soapy Smith. Cathy Spude says that Bearss relies on Pierre Berton’s work, which she feels is not reliable.

  2. Hunt, William R. Distant Justice: Policing the Alaskan Frontier. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987. The section on Soapy, pages 52-67, is only 15 pages, and Cathy Spude states that Hunt's treatment lacks focus on Smith because it is narrowed to vigilantism in 1898 Skagway.

  3. Haigh, Jane G. "Political Power, Patronage, and Protection Rackets: Con Men and Political Corruption in Denver, 1889-1894." Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Arizona, 2009. With little discussion and no documentation, Cathy Spude claims this work shows that Soapy Smith had little influence on Denver politics.

In her Introduction, these are the only scholarly treatments of Soapy Smith that Cathy Spude found worthy of mention. Apparently she forgot the 628-page biography titled Alias Soapy Smith, which she reviewed two years before and about which in part she wrote, "the book is well-cited, with numerous footnotes and a detailed index" (Alaska History Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall 2010, p. 57). Shouldn't this comprehensive, carefully researched, fully documented, critical treatment of "the Smith Story" receive a mention with those others? It would seem so especially since the author finds fault with two of them for not questioning and for lacking focus on the Smith story. What seems to be the case is that Cathy Spude intentionally omitted mention of the comprehensive, critical biography because its author is not classified by Cathy Spude as a "professional historian," as if only one with such a title bestowed by her is capable of producing factual works.

In writing about the history of the Old West, author and historian Paul Cool observes that “… the grassroots historian probably has been responsible for much, if not most of the discoveries of the past 35 or more years concerning the details of the lives, acts of violence, and deaths of such men (and occasional women), and of the many men and women who were witness to or wrapped up in their stories” (, 6 Jun 2012, accessed 5 Dec 2012).

Surely the "professionals" are not the only ones to have developed sufficient historical background, skill, and discipline to find evidence, categorize it, measure it, question it, and present it in a published form that may be considered "scholarly" and be reasonably termed "history."