Jeff Smith, Soapy Smith's great grandson, contends that Soapy was better known during his lifetime than Wyatt Earp. He published some bar graphs supporting this hypothesis on his blog on October 3, 2010 (http://soapysmiths.blogspot.com/2010/10/was-soapy-smith-more-well-known-than.html
). If you take a look at his bar graphs, prepared by Google News Archives, you will see that there are no scales, and no idea of what database of newspapers the articles come from. In other words, we don't know if the Wyatt Earp scale is the same as the Soapy Smith scale, and we don't know if Google News's 1880's newspapers were mostly large cities only (including Denver) and didn't include the smaller towns such as Tombstone, Dodge City and the cow towns where the Earp name would have been more familiar.
Checking up with Google News today, almost two years after this posting was made, it is impossible to determine how Smith came up with his data. The graphing feature he cites doesn't exist and Google News does not talk about its database of newspapers.
What I CAN do is provide the kind of data that I found missing on Smith's graphs. GenealogyBank.com is a database of over 6,100 historic newspapers that can be searched on-line for a very reasonable yearly subscription fee. They have made an effort to cover every state for all time periods for both large and small population towns.
I did a search for both "Soapy Smith" and "Wyatt Earp" by decade between 1880 and 2010 and compiled the following bar graphs. As you will see, Earp wins by a landslide. For the short period of time that Smith appeared in a few more articles than Earp, we can attribute that to the fact that Smith lived in a large metropolitan area with multiple newspapers.