by Donald L. Singer Ph.D.
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
by Donald L. Singer Ph.D.
HERE COMES SOAPY
Jefferson Randolph Smith was born in Noonan, Georgia on November 2,
1860. He died on July 8, 1898, as a result of
a shootout with Frank H. Reid on the Skagway waterfront, although there is some doubt that
Reid fired the fatal shots.
In the mid-1870s the family moved to Temple, Texas and later
settled in Round Rock where his mother went into the hotel business, operating a two-story
fame hotel in the 100 block of West Baghdad Street, as his father had become a hopeless
alcoholic. It was here that Jeff garnered the
traits that were to be his guidelines for the rest of his life. His job was to meet the incoming trains and steer
the people who got off to his mothers hotel. Most were delighted to learn from young Jeff
that the hotel in Round Rock compared to the famed Delmonicos and that they could buy
goods at honest prices, especially after having been royally fleeced in other frontier
Round Rock was in the midst of the great cattle country and Jeff
learned to ride at a young age and soon took part in the drives, first into Missouri and
later on the Chisholm trail and on to Kansas as they veered in the direction of Dodge
City, Abilene and Wichita.
It was on the cattle drives that Jeff became acquainted with Joe
Simons, who was to become his closest friend and companion.
One such drive ended in Abilene where Smith lost a months pay
in a shell game at the circus. Although he
was upset at losing, it was a game that changed the entire course of his life. Jeff decided that gaming was much better than
riding the trail as a cowboy and parted from Simon and used his riding skills to join the
He made friends with his nemesis, one Clubfoot Hall, who took him on
as a shill and taught him the fundamentals of the walnut shells and elusive pea. It wasnt long until Jeff was as skilled as
his teacher. The circus reached Leadville,
Colorado during the height of its glory days as a mining camp in the 1870s. Jeff left the circus and set up his keister at the
corner of 3rd and Harrison Sts. In
no time at all he was drawing the curious like bees to honey. His spiel was perfect and his voice was unmatched
by any other bunco artist.
One day the crowds in Leadville did not come. They were across the street watching a man selling
soap. Jeff was enthralled, and soon joined
the throng. He watched as the man apparently
wrapped large and small denomination bills in with some of the bars of soap, tossed them
into a basket, offering the crowd the opportunity to purchase the soap at $1.00 a bar with
the possibility of winning as much as $100. The
peddler was V. Bullock Old Man Taylor, inventor of the soap game. Jeff
decided this was better than the shell game, and soon gave Taylor the grifters
signal. After disposing of his soap, with
nary a customer getting more than $5, Taylor folded shop, and Smith followed him back to
After a lengthy but convincing discussion Jeff made a deal. He would serve as a capper, receive one of the
$100 packages and call attention to his luck, thus encouraging others to make a purchase. It is never wrapping them in packages, and in a
short while young Jeff Smith as gifted as his mentor.
Smith reportedly got the name Soapy in Denver when he was
arrested for selling soap without a license. Upon
being booked, the police officer making the report and who knew Jeff well had forgotten
his first name. Too embarrassed to ask, he
booked him as Soapy Smith, the name stuck. Although none of his close friend addressed him by other than
Jeff. The prefix of
Soapy was used in the sense that President Roosevelt was called
Some time after arriving in Denver, Jeff married Anna Nielson on Feb
1, 1886. She was a singer and actress known
as Allie at the Palace Theater in Denver, a notorious place resembling the
cabarets in New York. It was operated by
William Barkley Bat Masterson also known as Bartholomew Masterson. Jeff and Bat became close friends.
During the period of early 1881 to 1889, while Smith was in Colorado,
repeated reports of gold strikes on the upper Yukon River kept making the rounds in Canada
and the United States. Although little
practically no attention was paid to them at the time there were more than 50 prospectors
from the world over in the area. Smith kept
such information in the back of his mind.
Early in 1887 Captain William Billy Moore, who had made
and lost several fortunes as a river boat captain, prospector, packer and trader,
contracted to go into the Yukon Territory
with a Canadian government survey party headed by William Ogilvie. Captain Moore was to provide the know-how of
packing over wilderness trails and build and navigate a barge down the Yukon River with
At the time, the favored entry into the Yukon was by the tortuous
Chilkoot Trail, controlled by the Chilkoot Indians. Earlier
Moore had heard of another route from the head of Skagway Bay, some 600 feet lower than in
elevation. He was determined to find the
route. Accompanied by a native guide Skookum
Jim, Captain Moore sought the new route while Ogilvie and the main party traveled via
Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett, headwaters of the Yukon River.
It took Moore many days longer than the others to reach Bennett over
the unchartered, perilous switchbacks and precipitous hillsides and canyons. Despite the hardships, Captain Billy was most
enthusiastic about the new route. It was
named White Pass after Thomas White, Canadian Minister of the Interior. Concluding his explorations with Ogilivy, Captain
Moore, recalled that on many
occasions he had seen Indians coming out from the Yukon with large quantities of gold. He
was convinced that eventually there would be a discovery and following gold rush. With
this in mind he came to the conclusion that White Pass would be the route tot he gold
fields and that Skagway Bay would be the ideal entry port.
As Ogilvie recalled later, the old mans imagination was most
inspired. Every night during the two months he remained with us, he would picture
the tons of yellow dust yet to be found in the Yukon Valley. He felt Skagway Bay would be
the entry point and White Pass would reverberate with the rumble of railway trains
carrying supplies. Captain Moore returned to what is now Skagway, and on October 20,
1884, staked out and recorded a claim of 160 acres. He pitched a tent on a small knoll
along side a creek to become the first white settler although in the past, Indians had
visited the area to hunt and fish. He replaced the tent with a log cabin for his family
prior to the first winter. With his son, Ben, he started construction of a sawmill and a
pier on the shallow tide flats. This not only to enable him to land equipment and
supplies, but also because this location would be the most logical for a town to serve the
route to the Yukon. His town site was known as Skagus, Mooreville, Skagway, and finally
On August 17, 1896, Siwish George Carmark, Tagish Charlie, and
Skookum Jim (who had served as a guide fro Moore on his first trip over the White Pass)
discovered gold in Rabbit Creek. The next morning the trio staked their claim to history.
Up and down the Yukon prospectors flocked to Bonanza Creek (as Rabbit Creek became known).
The outside world knew little of the strike.
GOLD. GOLD. GOLD.
All this changed however, when the first of three ships from the
North landed in San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle wit miners and their pokes of gold.
The Alaska Commercial Co. Excelsior arrived in San Francisco from St. Michael on July 14,
1897 and docked at the foot of Market Street with 25 passengers carrying $189,000 in
Klondike gold. The San Francisco newspapers front pages headlines, however, were devoted
to the Annie Maud from Calcutta, which arrived with bubonic plague aboard. The Excelsior
was followed by the S.S. Humboldt pulling in at San Diego without any attention at
Then on July 17, the Pacific Whaling Cos dirty and battered
Portland, skippered by Captain Kingston arrived in Seattle with 68 minors
toting a Ton of Gold. Worth approximately $700,000 it was unloaded under the
watchful eyes of Wells-Fargo Express guards as thousands jammed the Seattle
Down the gangplank marched John Wilkerson with $50,000 in gold, Dick
McNulty with $20,000, Frank Keller with $35,000 and Frank Phiscator staggered ashore under
the load of his $96,000. Others had lesser amounts, but all were willing and proud to tell
of their experiences, stressing the abundance of gold. This touching off the greatest gold
rush in history thanks in part to the imagination of a former Seattle newspaper editor,
Eratus Brainard, employed as a publicity man by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce. He sent
out stories worldwide, referring to the ton of Gold. The rush was on.
CAPTAIN MOORES LOSING BATTLE
In the early summer of 1897, Skagway had but one family, Captain
William Moores. He had waited 13 years for the Yukon gold rush he was certain would
develop. On July 29 his prediction came true. The first gold rush steamer, the Queen
skippered by Captain James Carroll, anchored in the bay, and the first hordes of
Klondikers piled ashore.
Captain Carroll, unfamiliar with this part of Alaska, remarked to
Captain Moore that they had seen smoke from his cabin and came ashore to ask him a few
questions. They wanted to know if they were on the right track to Klondike and asked about
the best place to start from. Moore told them that most went over the Chilkoot train from
nearby Dyea, but he felt that the White Pass trail was a better route. They questioned him
as to who owned the land on the bay and Moore informed them that he owned it for 13 years,
but they were welcomed to unload their outfits on his small dock and the beach and that he
would help them.
Some of the gold seekers camped on the beach for the night. Others
returned to the ship. The next morning they started unloading. There were about 200 in the
party. Later they held a meeting aboard the ship and they informed Moore that they didnt
care that he had lived on the property for 13 years, they were taking it over. They jumped
his claim and took over his property.
Alaska at the time was ideal for the unlawful; the machinery of the
law had not been extended to the territory. From the land of peace and security the trail
to the gold fields became a safe field for thugs and outlaws.
Moore, tough old veteran that he was, protested in vain. He was
shoved aside. By August 7, there were enough newcomers in Skagway to set up a local but
illegal government and to lay out a town. Dave McKinney called for a city meeting. One of
the most interested was Frank H. Reid, a bartender at the Klondike Saloon, who in the
course of his duties acquired a set of survey instruments from a down and out community.
He was elected City Engineer by the provisional but illegal City
Council. He laid out the town site with 60-foot wide streets and 3600 lots,
measuring 50 by 100 feet, which were divided up among the early settlers. The council also
changed the name from Mooresville to Skaguay (Skagway), taken from the Indian Skag-waugh,
the native term for cruel wind, the icy blast the blew down the canyons from the White
Shortly after arriving in Skagway, Jeff went into partnership with
John Clancy, a respected owner of a small saloon on the outskirts of town. A short time
later they acquired the small 15 by 50 foot former First Bank of Skagway building on Holy
St. and named it Jeff Smiths Parlors (Parlor), featuring choice wines and liquors
and an oyster bar.
During their partnership, Clancy acquired other properties on his own
and in corporation with Frank Clancy; resulting in many believing Soapy was involved in
such. This was not the case as noted on his death less than a year later Smiths
estate consisted mainly of half interest in the Holly Street property.
This very modest saloon at 317 Holly St. had a bar, a small card
alcove, and a door that led from the bar into a storeroom and a small back yard. There was
also a small room with a desk, which was Smiths office. There was no evidence of
gambling equipment other than the cards. Over the years, the tiny saloon building, twice
moved and now located on the waterfront near where Smith and Reid met their fatal
shootout, grew to giant proportions if one is to believe the many articles written about
he King f Skagway. A few examples:
His (Soapys) saloon and gambling establishment in Skagway
was one of the most elaborate the northwest ever saw. It had one rival for size and none
for ferocity or double dealing, was the description in a magazine article first
published in St. Louis and then Denver, quoting an alleged eye witness to the
shoot out on the wharf.
In 1920 the same
article appeared in the Literary Digest, one of the most respected publications of that
Steffas, tales of Noted Frontier Characters - Soapy Smith, Bad Man Bluffer,
in Pacific Monthly of October 1908, described Jeffs Place.
After clearing thousands through his gambling privilege
(supposedly in a large wholesale liquor house), Soapy closed shop again and within a few
days opened Jeffs Place, a combination saloon, restaurant and gambling den, on Holly
Street. The robberies and other crimes committed within the walls of the place were beyond
adequate description. Soapy watched the operation with a criminal keenness and promptitude
that prevented anything but a plethoric condition of the exchequer.
Scarlet & Gold, official NWMP publication, stated that of the 70
or so saloons in Skagway at the time none compared to Soapys on so lavish a
scale as his own. Jeffs
Place (as it was sometimes called) had a capacious gaming room
contain crop tables. Roulette and faro paraphernalia, wheels of fortune, keno, the
Klondike game vigil-et-un, and gambling devices of every king. Half of a dozen or more
varieties of poker wee conducted by unemotional visored dealers. One end of the
establishment was occupied by a 44-inch wide polished hardwood bar - anorate affair,
reflected in frosted mirrors along which coated Nate Pollack dexterously tossed the drinks
to the clientele.
Soapys local wolf
pack was supplemented by ladies of easy virtue, working on commission, whose task it was
to encourage prodigality among the customers.
In his biography of Klondike
Mike Mahoney, Merrill Denison describes Smiths facility as a combination saloon,
dance hall, and gambling parlor with the dance floor having a five-piece orchestra and
white-coated waiters almost as plentiful as customers in the crowded facility. Everywhere
opulent touches reflected the success of Soapy and his partner John Clancy. There was a
polished hardwood bar with frosted mirrors, artificial palm trees flanking the raised
stage and fretwork screening above the private boxes.
Early in his Skagway stay, Soapy realized a big need of the
greenhorns was to get information to and from the folks back home. As a result, Soapy set
up a telegraph office ballyhooed by a sign over the door reading. Wires to Anywhere
in the United States. Messages were dutifully taken and a $5 fee charged for the
service. After a reasonable time, replies could be had on a collect basis.
Many of the answers requested funds to take care of an emergency at
home. Any amount could be handles through Soapys telegraph office at a cost of $5
plus the amount to be sent. The telegraph office was extremely popular. The fact that
there was no telegraph wires into Skagway at the time did not disturb the telegraph in the
least. The end of the outgoing line from the office was buried a few feet from the
building. The funds got no further than Soapys pocket.
REID AND THE OTHER SMITH
Frank Reid was among the first gold seekers to land at Skagway,
arriving in the late July or early August 1897. After finishing college in Michigan,
Frank, and his older brother Dick, had headed for Oregon in 18736 where they taught
school. Frank, however, did not care for that lifestyle and became a surveyor,
construction worker, and volunteer Indian fighter with Mark Browns
company of Oregon Volunteers. This was during the Bannock-Puite War of 1878 in eastern
Oregon. It is said he was among those accused of inciting some of the Indians to fight the
settlers in order to keep the volunteers busy.
In November 1879, Reid was charged win Sweet Home, Oregon with the
murder of an unarmed man who refused to speak to him when Reid requested him to do so.
Reid pleaded self-defense and in January 1880 a jury found him not guilty.
Reid however, found it healthier to move elsewhere, including Whatcom
(now Bellingham) in Washington where he was a surveyor. It is very possible that he and
Smith had crossed paths in Western Oregon as Jeff was in the same general area during part
of that period and is known to have met some of Dick Reids relatives.
In as much as the pioneer Oregonians made their own soap, Smith
confined his activities in Oregon to the walnut and pea routine, which caught the eye of
the country bumpkins who thought they could put one over on the city
Smith and Reid appeared cordial to each other in Skagway although
their philosophies differed. They often found time to have a couple of drinks together
with they met on the street.
Smith was of the opinion that there should be a law and order under
control of the proper police officers who would perhaps turn the other way as far as
gambling (which was legal at the time) and other games were concerned, but would draw the
line on violence and bloodshed. This was the case in Creede where Smith kept crime, in the
meaning of the word at that time, under control, barred ruffians, and cut throats.
On the other hand, Reid firmly believed that when law enforcement
broke down or officers failed to or were unwilling to enforce the law, it was the duty for
citizens to take the law into their own hands.
Except for that point the two got along well and respected each
other. Reid always referred to Smith as Jeff, never Soapy.
One day while chatting at the bar, Smith commented, Frank,
there is only one man in Alaska who can get me. If I am ever got, youll be the man
wholl do it. I
know it Jeff, was his only comment. Jeff Smith was not only Smith in Skagway to
create disdain for American law enforcement. The other was U.S. Commissioner John U.
Smith, (no relation). However, many newspaper accounts and word of mouth reports of
lawlessness in Skagway did not differentiate between the two Smiths (the first initial
being the same) with Soapy getting the blame for everything in as much as the other Smith
had been appointed by the federal government in July 1897. He also served as recorder for
the so-called Skagway Township, accepting recording fees on the sale of the property, but
failing to register such. Things got so bad in Skagway that Gov. John Brady had the
federal government remove Commissioner Smith from office in March 1898.
SOAPYS TAKE OVER
Soapys big chance came in January 24, 1898 shortly after his
return from a Christmas visit home. A deputy U.S. Marshall and a saloon patron were shot
and killed by a bartender.
The shooting took place when Andy McGrath, a worker on the Brackett
toll road, ordered a drink in the Palace Theater Saloon. John e. Fay, the bartender,
served McGrath. The customer tendered a dollar for the drink and did not receive any
change, as was the custom in Skagway at the time. The two got into an argument. Fay
ordered McGrath out of the saloon, with the latter promising to come back and take
care of things.
McGrath went in search of Deputy U.S. Marshall John Rowan and
attempted to borrow his revolver to settle a little matter. So insistent was
McGrath that Marshall Rowan agreed to accompany him in an attempt to settle the dispute,
despite the fact that at the time, Rowan was seeking a doctor to tend to this wife who was
about to give birth to a child.
Upon entering the saloon, they were met by a last from Fays
pistol, McGrath was killed instantly, and Rowan mortally wounded. He was taken to the
office of Dr. J.J. Moore who was at the hospital delivering Rowan a youngster (the first
child to be born in Skagway) and then rushed back to his office to tend to Marshall Rowan.
He rushed through the crowd, knocked down the man with the rope as
his followers grabbed Fay and surrounded him. Calm and unperturbed, Smith threatened to
put a bullet through the head of anyone who attempted to put a rope around Fays
Lynching doesnt go on here, Soapy shouted. How do
you know this man deserves to hang? We will let the law take its course and I personally
will see that Fay gets a fair trial.
This calmed down some of the more sober members of the mob and when
Soapys men threatened those who did not agree, Smith took command.
Soapy openly questioned Fay and in explaining what had happened,
declared that he felt his life was in danger and shot in self-defense.
Smith then convinced the crowd that Fay should have a fair trial, and
pointed out that if the crowd tried to lynch Fay, there would be a wholesale slaughter.
Smiths men escorted Fay to jail. With feelings running high there was fear that the
crowd might make another attempt to lynch Fay. Smith secretly had him moved to a private
home where his followers stood guard.
Not one to overlook a good thing, and without further delay Smith
announced that he was taking over Skagway and would restore law and order to the
Soapy became the man in Skagway who championed rationality rather
than violence. He had used diplomacy to save a man from the lynching mob so that the
accused could be handed over to the proper officials of the government. Skagway
businessmen were taking him to heart.
Some however, were most concerned; among them were the hard core of
steely-eyed frontiersman, adventurers such as Frank Reid. Soapys announcement caught
them off guard including the early arrivals who had made a fortune selling and reselling
Skagways lots as surveyed by Reid, and who were apparently involved in other shady
They decided something should be done immediately and formed the
Committee of 101, which also included respected members of the community such as Major
Strong, Si Tanner, Sam Lovell, and others, but Frank Reid was the prime mover.
They immediately issued a public notice:
A word to the wise should be sufficient. All confidence sharks,
bunco men, sure-thing men, and all other objectionable characters are notified to leave
Skagway and the White Pass. Failure to comply with this warning will be followed by prompt
Signed - COMMITTEE OF ONE HUNDRED AND ONE.
Smith was quick to realize that this could cause some of his many small business
supporters to hesitate and possibly change their loyalty. He replied almost immediately
with a bulletin of his own. Within a few hours of the posting of the Committee of 101
bulletins. Smith had posted the town with his own placards inviting all interested to take
part in not a closed session as was the Committee of 101 meeting, but open to all.
The business interests of Skagway propose to put a stop to the
lawless acts of many newcomers. We hereby summon all good citizens to a meeting at which
these matters will be discussed. Come one, come all. Immediate action will be taken for
relief. Let this be a warning to those cheechakos who are disgracing our city. The meeting
will be held at Sylvester Hall at 8 p.m. sharp.
Signed: Jefferson R. Smith, Chairman
Jeff Smiths reply, once again pointed him out as the one
man who could restore law and order in Skagway. The turnout jammed the hall to
overflowing. Smith opened the meeting with a fiery address using his God-given silk smooth
voice and power of persuasion. He developed the present conditions and pointed out that
the scum and riffraff from all over the world were coming to Skagway. He promised to form
a real committee to show the crooks just who was running the town. He proposed Committee
of Three Hundred and Three, which was immediately passed by the throng, possibly spurred
on by some of his close followers. He was then named permanent chairman of The Law and
Order Committee and immediately posted signs throughout the town and up the trail.
The body of men calling themselves the Committee of One Hundred
and One are hereby notified that any overt act committed by them will be met promptly by
the law abiding citizens of Skagway and each member and their property will be held
responsible for any unlawful act committed on their part. The Law and Order Committee of
Three Hundred and Three will see that justice is dealt out to its fullest extent and no
Blackmailers or Vigilantes will be tolerated.
Signed; Law and Order Committee of Three Hundred and Three
The forming of the two committees divided Skagway into two camps,
those who championed the forces of Frank Reid and his followers and those who backed Jeff
In the spring of 1898 the Spanish conflict aroused the patriotism in Colonel Smith to the point that he decided to recruit a company of soldiers in
Skagway such as Teddy Roosevelts Rough Riders. Such became legal under authorization
of the Volunteer Bill of April 23, 1898. The bill as presented by President William
McKinley provided for the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment - The Rough Riders - as a
result of the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898 with
the loss of 260 of her crew.
President McKinley called for 125,000 volunteers from the seven
Western states and territories, a figure that was soon raised to 267,000. Three regiments
were to be raised in the West, the first in the four territories, which included Alaska,
the second in Wyoming and the third in the Dakotas.
Playing an important part in Smiths decision must have been the
fact that Sen. Frances E. Warren of Wyoming had introduced a bill in Congress authorizing
funds for such units. Upon formation of the Wyoming unit of March 8, 1898, Secretary of
War Russell A. Lager allocated $250,000 for organizational expenses, $197,000 for
transportation and horses, $31,392 for equipment and $15,000 for subsistence. The Wyoming
unit was formed but it never saw action.
Alaska recruits were not limited to Soapys followers. Skagway
was full of newly arrived but stranded gold seekers who saw such as an opportunity to get
back to the States and eventually home at government expense. Soapy had no trouble signing
As soon as the unit, known as Company A, 1st Regiment of National
Guard of Alaska was complete, Smith was elected Captain; John Foley one of the towns
better three-card-monte dealers 1st Lieutenant; J.T. Miller the bouncer at Clancys
1st sergeant, and the head bartender at the Klondike Saloon chaplain. Smith cornered all
the silk ribbon in town and made badges for those involved. Running short of such material
late arrivals received badges made of butcher paper, but all were treated equally
proclaiming them members of the Alaska Guards.
So sincere was Smith in his patriotic fervor that he was both
mortified and infuriated when, in his commendable design to come to the rescue of the
Untied States, he was double-crossed. This was accomplished by a gang of false patriots
who went about enrolling men for the military service and taking them into a back room of
a saloon for physical examinations. While a scoundrel fake medico put the
striped candidates through stunts to test their health, deft fingers of his accomplishes
searched the pockets of the volunteers discarded garb and removed all cash and
The dastardly work was reported to Soapy, who wrathfully reported to
Soapy, who wrathfully ordered the perpetrators rounded up and hailed before him. Caught
red-handed, they attempted to laugh it off, that their performance was a practical joke
and they stated that they intended to return the loot. The excuse was not accepted. Soapy
compelled them to disgore their ill-gotten booty on the spot and return it to the rightful
owners, after which the culprits were forced to apologize to their victims and accept an
unpleasant tongue thrashing from Smith. It included a warning that any repetition of the
deed would result in their immediate banishment from Skagway.
After many days of drilling, Captain. Smith decided that the Alaska
Guards should parade through town the evening of Sunday, May 1, 1898, Skagways first
such parade. It started on the
waterfront with Capt. Smith mounted on a white horse heading up the unit. A band, a
recruited from the various saloons was placed in the middle of the marching men so that al
could hear the music. Things went without a hitch until they reached 5th and Broadway
where Capt. Smith and the lead unit turned right, the band turned, and the rear unit
turned left. They got back together at 7th &
State. Another interruption occurred in from of the Princess Hotel where Babe Davenport
and her girls demanded that a Womens Auxiliary be formed but the suggestion was
ignored. The parade lasted an hour and one-half, breaking up in front of City Hall where
several patriotic citizens addressed the group, General Weyler was hung in effigy and
Capt. Smith closed the session with an inspirational address, You are fine brave
men, each and every one of you, and I am sure that you will unhesitatingly follow me
anywhere and at any time. With that he headed for Jeffs Place and was followed
by a majority of the troops who were in need of quenching their thirst.
Needless to say, the saloon did a land-office business for the next few hours.
ENTER JOHN D. STEWART
As July 7 dawned, a lone prospector, John D. Stewart, was making hi
sway down the White Pass trail from Atlin, where he had been fairly successful in his gold
Stewart was toting a buckskin bag of gold nuggets worth roughly
$2,700, according to those he proudly showed it to on stops along the trail as well as
when he arrived in Skagway. Stewart was an experienced miner who had prospected with
success in the Pacific Northwest and the Yukon; however, he worked on his cousins
extensive holdings at Atlin and was returning home with his poke of gold when he stopped
over in Skagway.
It was in a Skagway hotel the day before his boat was to sail that
Stewart met and chatted with two strangers according to his daughter Hazel Stewart Clark.
when interviewed some time later. This was
not unusual as everyone was friendly. Stewart told them about the gold he was taking out
and the strangers suggested that he was taking a big chance carrying so much gold with him
so many men had been robbed. They suggested that he put the poke in the hotel vault, which
The next morning when he went to get his poke from the hotel safe, he
was told that it was not there, and that no one there had ever heard of him before.
Other versions as tot he disappearance of the gold included the
report in the Skagway News extra dated July 8.
The cause which
led up to the trouble (referring to Smiths and Reids scuffle) had its origin
in the morning shortly before 10 oclock when J.D. Stewart, a young man just out from
Dawson, was robbed of a sack containing 12 to 15 pounds of gold. There are conflicting
stories as to how the robbery was committed. The accepted version being that Stewart
desired to sell his gold and that Rev. Bowers, a well known member of Jeff Smiths
gang, represented to Stewart that he was here for the purpose of buying gold for some big
assaying company below. The unsuspecting stranger accompanied Bowers to a point in the
rear of Soapys place on Holly Avenue near the Mondamin Hotel where it is alleged
that two of Bowers pals were waiting when the three men overpowered Stewart,
wrestled the sack of gold containing $2,700 from his hands and disappeared from sight
around adjoining buildings leaving the returned Klondiker as when he started for the land
of gold and hardships nearly a year ago.
When Stewart finally realized that he had been taken, no matter what
the story, he went to Marshal Taylor and detailed his loss of the gold, but with little
success. When asked if he could identify the culprits, Stewart stated that he could not,
and hence was told by the marshal there was little that could be done.
Not satisfied, Stewart went to some local merchants telling his tale
of woe. Some were interested because Stewart had ordered a couple of cloths from them, and
with he loss of the gold, he could not repay. They felt that this was money out of their
own pockets. Frank Reid got wind of the situation. Some suggested that Reid himself had
set up the whole affair in order to get a chance to renew the feud between the two
communities and to get at Soapy.
There were those who also contended that Reids and Stewarts
paths had crossed and that Reid talked Stewart into setting up Soapy and his followers in
order that the Vigilantes could get rid of him one way or another.
SHOOTOUT ON THE WATERFRONT
No matter what, Stewarts actions resulted in a meeting of the
Merchants Committee composed of some of the most respected businessmen in the
community who had no personal axes to grind. Their thoughts being to do what was best for
Skagway I the long term. Some of the group were respected members of the Vigilantes and
represented that group. Seventeen members of the committee met following Stewarts
complaints and named Samuel H. Graves, president of the White Pass and Yukon Route
railroad, chairman. They then adjourned to allow Judge Charles A. Schlbrede, who had been
called over from Dyea, and others time to work out a satisfactory arrangement for the
return of the gold. They agreed to meet again at 11 p.m. to decide upon what action to
In the meantime, frank Reid and others, unknown to the committee
chairman or other members, decided to call upon Soapy, demanding that the gold be
returned, as was often the case when a rumpus was in the making. They sat a 4 p.m.
deadline, which ruffled Smith considerably.
Meanwhile Judge Schlbrede attempted to settle matters. His task had
been made difficult in Reid demanding that Smith return Stewarts gold by 4 p.m.
Judge Schlbrede called Smith to his hotel room and ordered him to return the gold by 6
p.m., stating that warrants would be issued for all concerned, including Smith, should he
not comply. Soapy was most unhappy and returned to Jeffs place.
When Smith made no attempt to meet either the 4 or 6 p.m. deadlines
for returning the gold some of the Vigilantes, despite the original meetings
adjournment until 11 p.m., concluded that things were not moving as fast as they would
like. The Committee called a secret meeting in the Sylvester warehouse for 8 oclock
in the evening without notifying Graves. So many people showed up that after electing
Thomas Whitten of the Golden North Hotel, chairman, they adjourned as the Sylvester
warehouse proved to be too small.
The meeting reconvened on Juneau wharf where there was a large
warehouse at the far end without notifying Graves.
Whittens first action was to post guards at the shore end of
the long wharf to keep any strangers - especially Soapys followers who had gained
entrance to the early session - from taking part. Reid was the only one of the four who
was armed, having borrowed a colt revolver from a friend earlier I the day although it was
not his custom to carry a weapon.
As far as the Committee was concerned, it was rather strange that a
meeting was being held without Samuel Graves, who only a few hours previous had been named
chairman and had set a meeting for 11 p.m. that evening. Graves, however, a recent
arrival, was not one of the original Committee of 101 or Vigilantes composed mostly of
those who had jumped Capt. Moores homestead.
According to Graves report to superiors in London - to which he
added local color and excitement so that the British investors would not be disappointed
in reading of the great frontier - the dock meeting had been called by others without his
being notified. This brought about Graves conjecture that another gang had taken
over the committee was bent on destroying Smith without him having the opportunity to
When Smith learned of the second meeting he left his saloon for the
dock shortly before 9 p.m. He had received a note from Billy Saportas, who had covered the
previous meetings as a reporter, stating, the crow is angry. If you wan to do
anything do it quick. Confident that once again he could bluff his way out of
trouble as he had in the past, Smith left the saloon with his trusty Winchester over his
arm, expressing his confidence.
Ill drive the bastards into the day.
He moved west along Holly Street to State, which ran parallel to
Broadway, and then turned south toward the waterfront, muttering that he would teach
these damn sons of a bitches a lesson.
Behind him at a respectful distance a crowd of curious people,
including some of his cohorts, followed. Smith swung his rifle off his shoulder and waved
it like a fly-swatter.
Chase yourselves home to bed, he shouted to the few
bystanders along the rout
The crowd hung back, but did not disperse. A few of his followers
swung in behind them, at a distance of some 25 or more feet.
Others sensing danger, had already fled to the hills.
One of the last to talk to Soapy on his way to the dock was John
Clancy, Smiths erstwhile saloon partner, who was out for a walk with his wife and
six-year old son. As Smith passed them Clancy tried to dissuade him from going to the
wharf, but Smith was in no mood for chatter.
Clancy was unable to convince Soapy to change his mind, and Smith
said, Johnny, you better leave me alone and urged them to return home.
Clancy replied in disgust. If you want to get killed, go ahead. As they
stepped aside to let Soapy pass, Mrs. Clancy began to cry.
The Skagway News reported what followed:
The Vigilantes had posted a committee of four, Frank H. Reid,
Jesse Murphy, J.M. Tanner and Mr. Landers to guard the approach to the dock that Jeff
Smith appeared, carrying a Winchester rifle in his hands. He walked straight up to Reid
and with an oath and apparent bluff, asked what he was doing there and at the same time
striking him on the head with the barrel of the gun. Reid grabbed the gun in his left hand
as it descended, pushing it down towards the ground, drawing his revolver with his right
hand at the same time. When the point was close against Reids right groin, Smith
pulled the trigger. The ball passed clear through and came out through the lower part of
the right hip. At the same time, Reid fired two or three shots in rapid succession, one of
which pierced Smiths heart, another striking one of his legs. Smith also fired a
second shot striking Reid in the leg. Both men fell about the same time. Soapy Smith stone
dead and chief engineer Reid dangerously, perhaps mortally wounded.
In describing the action Graves, who was with Frank H. Whiting, the
railroads division superintendent stated.
I saw Soapy go to Reid and make a bluff to hit him over the head
with the barrel. Reid put up one hand and protected his head by catching the rifle. Soapy
failing to shake off Reids hold jerked back the rifle suddenly, which brought the
muzzle against Reids stomach. Reid still held Soapys rifle with one hand as
before but put the other slowly in his coat pocket, and without taking it out commenced to
shoot his revolver. Soapy at the same instant began to pump shots from his Winchester into
It would have been impossible to say which fired first, the shots
were absolutely simultaneous. Each fired four shots, though one of Reids first shots
had gone clean thorough Soapys heart.
It was not murder so
much as a sort of spontaneous killing. Neither had any intention of killing a moment
before, but hey must have seen death in each others eyes at the last moment and both
fired together. They fell together in a confused heap on the planking of the wharf. Soapy
of course stone dead and Reid dying. It all happened in an instant.
Another dependable witness was Robert E. (Bobby) Sheldon Jr., a
14-year old newsboy at the time, who often delivered Seattle newspapers to Soapy.
Shelton related his version of the shoot out so Soapys
grandson, Randolph Randy J. Smith in Seattle in 1973 when Randy was attending
an auction for some of Soapys possessions belonging to Harriet Pullen.
Sheldon stated that he was about 100 feet away when Smith and Reid
met. He stated that he could see a heated argument going on between the two, and that
Soapy pointed his Winchester at Reid, who grabbed the barrel with his left hand and
reached for his revolver with the right.
Soapy was the first to fire his weapon, Sheldon reported. Despite
being hit, Reid was able to fire three times with each bullet leaving his mark on Soapys
body. Both collapsed on the dock.
Rev. John A. Sinclair preached the sermon at Smiths funeral on
Monday, July 11 after both the Baptist and Methodist ministers refused to do so. Others
had indicated that his body should be dumped into the waters of the harbor. The Rev.
Sinclair felt otherwise.
Smiths body was open for viewing shortly before the services.
Rev. Sinclair reported that there were seven men and one woman at the funeral. The text
from Proverbs 13:15 was Good understanding getting favor but the way of the
transgressor is hard.
The coffin was taken to the cemetery in an express wagon with the
undertaker and driver on the wagon seat. It was proceeded by a hack in which rode Mr.
Butler, a prominent member of the Vigilante Committee, three lawyers who had done work for
Soapy, a late partner of the deceased and Rev. Sinclair. The body was buried six feet
outside of the cemetery boundary so as not to desecrate the cemetery grounds.
Reids wounds, at first thought to be not too serious became
worse as infection set in. He passed away in the Bishop Rower Hospital on July 20, 12 days
after the shooting.
He was found to have been hit by a Winchester 45.80 caliber riffle
bullet, the ball entering two inches above the groin on the right making its exit an inch
to the right of the point of the spinal column. The bullet made a comminuted fracture of
the pelvic bone and several fragments were removed by Dr. F.B. Whiting at the time of the
examination. Reids body lay in state in a flag draped coffin in the Union Church
from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 22 and was followed by a funeral which according to the
Daily Alaskan, Skagways first public funeral was the greatest popular
demonstration that Alaska has ever known. The Rev. Dr. Wooden conducted the services
reading the ritual for the dead of the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Sinclair delivered an
elegant tribute to the memory of Skagway hero.
A large marble marker was placed over the grave with the inscription, He gave his life for the honor of Skagway.