“Never con an honest John.”
~Soapy Smith (attributed)
Con artists are the criminals we hate that we love because deep down we respect them. Their biggest crimes involve outsmarting someone looking to screw them over in the first place, so it comes with a healthy sense of schadenfreude. When you rob someone, you’re forcibly stealing from them, taking what is theirs that they earned. But when you con a mark, you are letting them give you money because you’ve caught them in their greed and have found a way to take advantage of that.
Now, we’ve previously talked about cons, swindles, scams, hustles, bunkos, or what have you (we can go on all day- flimflams, gaffles, bamboozles, okay we’re done) but we’ve never really talked about the perpetrators of these crimes because, well, most of our examples of con artists come from watching movies like The Sting or, if you’re in a pinch, Matchstick Men. But that was before we heard about Soapy Smith, the 19th century con man, gambler, and crime boss with a funny name who essentially ran Denver, Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska during various periods of time and who is so respected that even today people gather for a wake in his honor on the anniversary of his death. So why not give this man a fun fact? After all, criminals are Americans too! No seriously, lots of us are criminals! Half of our staff are felons who aren’t allowed to vote!
Soapy Smith: America’s Con Artist