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Alias Soapy Smith

The Otero/Baggs Affair.


In 1882, Miguel Otero, Sr., a prominent Las Vegas businessman, was duped by Doc Baggs while on a trip to Denver.


Albuquerque, 1882

April of 1882. Las Vegas, NM businessman Miguel Otero, a wealthy merchant, former NM statesman and VP of the ATSF, travels to Denver with his twenty-year-old son Miguel Jr. Lured into a lottery shop by a young steerer who claims to be an acquaintance from back home, the elder Otero is convinced he can't lose, until he does, forfeiting a check for $2400. Before he knows it, the shopkeeper — the notorious Doc Baggs — and his steerer are out the side door, locking it from the outside, and Otero is left to find his own way back to his hotel.

Otero Sr. is content to chalk it up to experience, but Jr. makes it his mission to get the money back. First, he stops payment on the check. Next, General Cook of the RMDA is engaged, who threatens Baggs with arrest, and then negotiates to buy back the check.

The check turns up in the hands of broker Pliny Rice, and a trade is arranged, $1000 in return for the $2400 check. As they are about to trade notes, Otero Jr. snatches the check from Rice. Unfortunately, Pliny's check is a fake.

Another meeting is arranged at a local bank. This time, Otero gets assurances that the check Pliny carries is real, but as soon as the trade is made, Otero has Rice arrested by a cop in civilian clothes. The Denver Daily News especially commends Jr. for his choice in Officer Hopkins, as he could be trusted not to let his superiors interfere with the pursuit of Baggs.

Next, Rice threatens to sue Otero Jr. over the promised $1000. The police, under Chief Lomery, are supposedly casting a wide net for Baggs. The Daily News describes the scene at the offices of Baggs' attorney:

The statement of THE NEWS yesterday morning that the whole police force were engage in hunting for "Doc" Baggs, was strictly correct, and further investigations revealed some rather amusing particulars. The office of Baggs' attorney was besieged till a late hour of the night by policemen and police sergeants, many of them in citizens clothes, who hung around the stairway and in the corridors waiting to find the bold, bad man whom Mr. Lomery thinks is armed with bowie knives and revolvers. The building in which the attorney has his office is a large one and has in it many law and other offices. The police were industriously examining the water closets, hanging around the back stairs and patrolling all parts of the building.


Some of the policemen were bolder in their ventures and nearly all of the whole forty-four called at the office of Baggs' attorney and inquired if the doctor was there, while one of them hung around the door for three mortal hours, and on being asked at the end of that time what was wanted, asked if "Doc" Baggs was inside. One policeman slept in the lawyer's office nearly all night and did not leave till 2 o'clock yesterday morning, when he was fired out by the janitor. A short time afterward he was seen groping about the alley at the back of the office looking for the great bunko-man. Baggs' attorney gave the policeman a letter to Mrs. Baggs, asking her to say to her husband that the police were hunting for him, and that if he would come down town and permit himself to be arrested everything would be all right.

The day before, a reporter had accosted Baggs walking down the street. Baggs' take on things:

"...I think the papers do wrong in trying to slaughter me. I am conducting a fair, legitimate business. My mission is to skin suckers. I will defy the newspapers or anyone else to put their hands on a single man I ever beat that was not financially able to stand it. I'd score to cheat a laboring man or a poor mechanic. My dealings are with gentlemen."
"Why don't the papers pitch into bad places and try to break them up, and also go for the 'tin-horn' gamblers, who are robbing the poor laboring man of his last dollar. Here are all these keno and faro rooms running night after night and no one says 'stop them.' Many a poor laboring man who has been robbed of his few dollars of hard-earned money has come to me for help and I always help them in such cases. I have often found a poor devil of a clerk gambling away $25 of his employer's money and I have taken him one side and said: 'look here, you are bracing yourself against a game that I can't beat, smart as I am. Here is $25, take it, fix matters straight and never bet on a game again.' There are many young men that I have thus saved from ruin. I never try to rob these poor fellows, but now because of an ex-member of Congress, who told me that he knew all about finance and was the smartest man in this whole Western country, starts out with me and gets robbed of $2,400, at least they say he was, the press all began to attack me. I look down with supreme contempt on all these 'tin-horn' gamblers, and I will give $250 toward suppressing them and driving them out of town. But I will tell you one thing: We want a chief of police that can see a trick when it is turned, and who won't let a sucker be skinned before his face and eyes.
"What is your moral defense for your action, Doctor?"
"Emotional insanity, sir. A few weeks ago a poor man was tried for murder and acquitted. The man he killed had broken down his home, destroyed his wife's honor, cheated and lied to him, and Stickney was thus driven insane. Guiteau, controlled by base passion and maddened by his thirst for office, killed Garfield. Sickles found that a man had betrayed the honor of his home and had polluted his wife. Whenever I see one of those robbers of human nature, who have grown rich from public plunder, but who still desire more, — when I see such men looking into the windows of banks and wishing they could steal the bonds without being publicly disgraced, or gazing into a jeweler's window and thinking how they would like to get away with all the diamonds, I know what with all their cunning and shrewdness they are suckers and an irresistible desire comes over me to skin them. I am emotionally insane. I feel like downing them if I can."
"If you could see men as I see them, surrounded by the glistening pile on the counter or table which they hope so soon to be theirs; if you could see the cold, selfish, cruel glitter in their eyes, you wouldn't blame me. When the last trick is turned, however, and the pile they think they are cheating somebody out of, slips from their grasp, the look of blank amazement and horror that comes over their faces is one of the funniest things I ever saw."
"What do the papers want to abuse me so for? I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't chew, I don't cheat poor people, I pay my debts. And there is one thing more you can say: I never made any attempt to and have never used my influence with Governor Pitkin to have Chilcott appointed Senator. I thank God that that is a crime I have never been accused of."
With this parting shot at the follies and vices of the day, the doctor bade the reporter "good-day," and lifting his umbrella passed out of the doorway and up the street, leaving the reporter more puzzled than ever at the singular character of the cleverest confidence man in Colorado.

Perhaps most intriguing:

  • Despite the fact that this particular swindle drew immediate media attention, Baggs appeared to be unconcerned. Which is to say that these gents generally considered fraud a perfectly legitimate vocation, and they didn't really care who knew about it as long as the law wasn't going to arrest them. The sheep bore the blame for their own sheering.
  • Again, despite the fact that this particular swindle drew immediate media attention, Otero Sr. would not pursue the matter, presumably out of shame — even though there was no longer any point in hiding his lapse in judgment.
  • Otero's son, however, was intent on getting the money back, and the newspapers heartily followed his attempts to retrieve the funds.




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