Topics in this study will appear over time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

That Fiend in Hell: Clancys as partners of Soapy Smith.

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A business card (see above) found among Soapy Smith's belongings after his death reads, “Clancy & Company, Music Hall and Club Rooms, First-Class Restaurant in Connection.” The eatery opened sometime in January 1898. (Skaguay News 12/31/1897, p. 12. Clancy advertisement reads in part, “Will have after January 1st a first-class Short Order Cafe in connection. Open Night and Day.” Clancy and Company business card, circa 1898, artifact #32, author’s col. See more here.)

On pages 38 and 39 of That Fiend in Hell, author Cathy Spude states that I published in Alias Soapy Smith how Soapy partnered up with Skagway saloon proprietor Frank Clancy as a silent partner “during November and December of 1897....” This is not true, although a formed partnership before November is possible and after December is definite. The author states that I offer “no proof, not even notes or letters with hints as to the connections.” This statement is also untrue as well as misleading as she never explains the source of Clancy and Smith's partnership after November and December 1897, instead leaving her readers to believe that Smith and the Clancys had never formed a partnership at all. Allow me to explain in full.

Clancy's Saloon 1897
It was here that Soapy first partnered with Frank and John Clancy

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In my post published 1/8/2013 ("That Fiend in Hell: Soapy Smith thrown out of Skagway?"), I discussed how Soapy first arrived in Skagway on August 22, 1897, and left again 23 days later on September 14, 1897. He returned after a four-month absence. This absence of course means that Soapy was not in Skagway in November and December. Although during this period a precise chronology of his whereabouts among the lower 45 states is not known, Soapy is placed by several sources in New York City during latter November and early December (Alias Soapy Smith, p. 448). With travel back to Skagway assumed to require at least two weeks, it seems sure he had not returned until January 1898. A business agreement in August/September 1897 between Soapy and the Clancys is possible, and even probable, but no hard evidence has yet revealed such an association. The reasons for this likelihood are many, and all of them are taken up throughout my comprehensive biography of Soapy Smith. Here are a few of these reasons.

Jeff arrived in Skagway just a little less than a month after the rush to the port began, going to work among the stampeders immediately. Soapy would have met the Clancys at their saloon, both as a patron and as one looking for an association. Their saloon at first might have been a tent somewhere in town, perhaps on the site of their permanent location at what is now 7th and State Avenues. To meet and work out behind-the-scenes arrangements with proprietors of saloons, music halls, and gambling houses was part of Soapy's long-practiced business model, notably in Denver and Creede, Colorado. Jeff had learned from experience that he needed to keep a low profile in his formal business dealings and would have insisted that his name be kept off the signage and the formal records of any business in which he participated. More of that in a moment.

Next is the matter of Soapy's roulette table.

Soapy Smith's roulette table
Purchased from the Pullen Collection
by John Randolph Smith

After Soapy's death, it was obtained by Harriet Pullen for her Skagway hotel museum. She indicated in writing that Soapy Smith purchased the wheel and table for $1000 from George Mason and Company of Denver, Colorado (Alias Soapy Smith, p. 451). When the Pullen collection was auctioned in 1973, the Smith family purchased the table and wheel.

This roulette setup was never in Jeff Smith's Parlor. A standard George Mason roulette wheel runs 31 inches, and with table, the width would be about 36 inches, or 3 feet. The Parlor at that time was about 18 feet wide by 40 feet long. It had a large bar running the distance of the left wall in the main room, and no more than 4 men (photographs show) could stand side by side from the bar to the other wall. None of the three photographs of the Parlor interior show a three-foot wide roulette table or any other kind of gambling equipment.

So if Soapy's roulette wheel did not go into the parlor, where did it go? Given the Clancy/Soapy Smith partnership in the Parlor; that Soapy most likely helped Frank win a seat on the city council (Skaguay News 06/17/1898) along with two-thirds of the others on the council who were closely associated with him (Alias Soapy Smith, p. 563); that John Clancy was later named executor of Soapy's estate; and that John Clancy was photographed with Soapy in the Parlor twice—given all these points of close connection, together they add up to this: that wheel spun in none other than the Clancy & Company, Music Hall and Club Rooms. Additionally, Soapy had no known partnership, public or private, with any business owners in Skagway except for the Clancys. The Clancys did not have any such partnerships either except for the public, recorded partnership with Soapy Smith. These matters point to there having been an early, strong association between the Clancys and Soapy. And so does this: The Clancy "brothers … syndicate included saloons, gambling houses, and dance halls all along the West Coast and Alaska" (That Fiend in Hell, p. 38). This status made the Clancys people Soapy would want to associate with. From his Denver days on, Soapy worked closely with only the biggest gamblers and houses. Naturally he would aim to partner up with operators of the same stature in Skagway. It would not be in just some saloon that he would invest his new, thousand-dollar roulette wheel and table. It would be in one of size and class, and the only candidate for that in the late winter or early spring of 1898 in Skagway was the new Clancy Music Hall.

Frank Clancy is listed as the general manager of Clancy & Company (Skaguay News 02/11/1898, p. 1.), and Soapy is certain to be the “& Company” because he needed to be a silent partner to shield the business from his reputation. I'll take up this matter next. 

Inside Jeff Smith's Parlor
Soapy poses in front of the bar
John Clancy tends bar
(Denver Public Library)
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On page 39 of That Fiend in Hell the author states that the first known business arrangement between Soapy and Frank Clancy was the saloon called Jeff Smith’s Parlor in May 1898. This is the first publicly known business arrangement. This agreement could safely be made a public one as Jeff Smith’s Parlor was the first business operated by the two men that did not openly involve the business of gambling. Here's why that was important. During previous years in Denver (about 1889 to 1893) Soapy learned that his criminal reputation hurt his gambling establishments. Not many serious gamblers were willing to hazard their money in a casino whose owner had a national reputation as a successful confidence man. A document (artifact #111, Alias Soapy Smith, p. 197) in my collection dated 10/01/1891 shows that Soapy had publicly "sold" his Tivoli Club business to another party. To the general public he no longer owned the club; however, other sources clearly show that he continued to control and operate the Tivoli Club until approximately 1895 when he left Denver. The sale was a ruse to take Soapy’s name and criminal reputation off the business. As the years progressed, Soapy continued to open and operate numerous saloons and gaming houses, but he ceased putting his name before the public or on public documents as owner or part owner of such establishments. He instead had associates use their names as proprietor. By the time he arrived in Skagway in 1897, the name Soapy Smith was synonymous with crime and well-known across the country. Running a gambling operation under his own name was no longer a good business move; thus, he began his relationship with the Clancy brothers as a silent partner.

In my collection is a letter dated June 13, 1898, from Seattle, written by Jim Wilson, a gambler at the Pack Train saloon in Skagway, or possibly “Diamond Jim” Wilson, the highly successful Dawson businessman, gambler, and later proprietor of the Anvil Saloon in Nome. It is a letter of referral addressed to “Frank Clancy or Jeff Smith,” to introduce a gang prospect, a common practice within the brotherhood of bunco men. The letter reads,

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Frank Clancy or Jeff Smith
Dear Friends
This will introduce to you Morris Behan a brother of Hugh Behan He is all right and any thing you can do for Him will be appreciated by your friend as ever. Jim Wilson
(artifact #8, author’s col. See more here.)

This note, which appears on page 552 of Alias Soapy Smith, was likely written by Jim Wilson in Seattle and handed to Morris Behan who traveled to Skagway and handed it to Soapy as the letter was with his belongings after his death. Not known is if Morris succeeded in landing a position on Frank Clancy's and/or Soapy's payroll. What this artifact tends to show is that among those in the underworld brotherhood of confidence men and professional gamblers, Frank Clancy was known to be an underworld associate of Soapy Smith.

Inside Jeff Smith's Parlor
Soapy poses in front of the bar
Partner John Clancy stand just to Soapy's right
(Alaska State Library)
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