Independence – Argentina

July 9

In the two decades between 1804 and 1824 the Spain lost an area of land in Latin America nearly 20 times its own size.

One of Spain’s largest provinces was Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata, which encompassed what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The Rio de la Plata (River of Silver) is the widest estuary in the world, forming the border between Argentina and Uruguay. Like the river, Argentina itself is named for the precious metal once so prevalent on its shores. Tierra Argentina is Latin for “Land of Silver”.

As Spain pushed French invaders out of its own borders, liberadores Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín sought to do the same to the Spanish in South America.Bolívar fought the Spanish in the north of the continent while San Martín gathered and led the rebel armies in the south. Between 1813 and 1824 SanMartín’s armies repelled royalist forces from Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador. He became known as the liberator of Chile, the Protector of Peru, and the national hero of Argentina, which honors him with his own holiday on August 17, the anniversary of his death.

San Martin crosses the Andes
San Martin crosses the Andes

Argentina’s national day doesn’t celebrate one of San Martín’s decisive battles, but the adoption of the 1816 Acta de Independencia by the Congress at Tucuman. After Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814, the Spanish were able to turn their full attention to the rebelling colonies overseas. In the Spring of 1816 representatives from towns throughout the Rio de la Plata gathered in San Miguel de Tucuman to discuss their political fate. Tucuman in Northern Argentina was chosen for its central location and also to downplay the resentment other territories felt toward the centralist, urban Buenos Aires. The Congress met in the home of the Bazan family, now the Casa Historica de la Independencia museum.

Casa de Tucuman
Casa de Tuchman

The Congress was unable to come up with a satisfactory answer for what form a future government would take. But on July 9, when the question of Independence arose…

“At once, animated by a holy love of justice, each and every delegate successively announced his spontaneous decision in favor of the independence of the country, signing in consequence the following declaration.

“We, the representatives of the United Provinces of South America, assembled in a general congress, invoking the God who presides over the universe, in the name and by the authority of the people whom we represent, and proclaiming to heaven and to all nations and peoples of the earth the justice of our intentions, declare solemnly to the world that the unanimous wish of these provinces is to sever the oppressive bonds which connect them with the kings of Spain, to recover the rights of which were deprived, and to assume the exalted position of a nation free and independent of Ferdinand VII, of his successors and of the metropolis of Spain.

San Martín pledged to support the Acta de Independencia the following month. He marched his troops over the Andes, joined forces with the Chileans, and defeated the Spanish forces there in 1818, effectively ending Spanish occupation in the southern half of South America.

Here lies (and cheats) Soapy Smith

July 8

Every July 8th, citizens of Skagway, Alaska, hold a wake for a citizen who died on this day in 1898: Jefferson Randolph ‘Soapy’ Smith, the “king of the frontier confidence men.”

Soapy Smith, 1860-1898
Soapy Smith, 1860-1898

Smith got his nickname Soapy from an old scam he played selling soap to miners in Colorado.

It’s hard to believe someone so concerned about the hygiene of his fellow men could get such a bad rep. But you see, Smith wrapped bars of soap in $20 to $50 bills in front of the miners, then double wrapped those in brown paper, claiming that one in ten bars had been wrapped in money. Miners would pay $5 for a nickel’s worth of soap to try their luck.

Miraculously, no one ever won the big bills. Soapy was a master at sleight-of-hand, a skill he picked up in his teens playing the “shell game” with peas and thimbles in back in Texas.

But it was in Denver that Soapy made his real mark. With his “earnings” he opened a gambling establishment known as the Tivoli Club, and organized a gang of pickpockets, muggers, disbarred lawyers, and bribed politicians.

Soapy was as good with words and he was with his hands. Once when Denver authorities brought him to trial, he explained that the Tivoli Club performed a public service, curing gamblers of their addiction, by ensuring they lost. And the court acquitted him.

When the Klondike Gold Rush began, Soapy made his way up north to Alaska, but he let others do the digging.

Smith opened his own parlor and within a few months the 38 year-old was running the town, with a supporting cast of the unusual suspects.

A typical scam: Smith had a monopoly on the local telegraph and charged $5 to send messages. Only the telegraph wasn’t connected to anything but the wall. (Skagway didn’t get a real telegraph office until 1901.)

His last swindle involved a prospector named John Stewart, who made the mistake of walking into Smith’s Parlor with a bag of $2700 (in 1898 dollars) in gold. When Stewart’s money was stolen by men in Smith’s parlor, Stewart took his cause to anyone who would listen. A group known as the Committee of 101, which had been after Smith for years, held a meeting to stop him for good. Smith tried breaking into the meeting with a Winchester, but was stopped by the city surveyor Frank Reid. A gun battle ensued, and Smith died on the spot, bullet through the heart. Reid died 12 days later.

Though not an official holiday, the traditional toast to Soapy Smith is held by the residents of Skagway—and for some reason at Hollywood’s Magic Castle—at 9:15 pm each July 8th, the approximate time of Smith’s death.

Soapy’s wakes may lack the reverence of others, but as wakes go, it’s supposed to be one hell of a party.


Soapy Smith: Con Man’s Empire –

Soapy Smith’s Soap Box –

Alias Soapy Smith –