OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M., January 2, 2003

Soapy Smith:
Uncrowned King of Skagway

SoapySmith.jpg (6007 bytes)

by Donald L. Singer Ph.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library

Biography of the Author

Donald L. Singer received four degrees from the University of Southern California:  B. A. (with honors);  M.S. in Education;   M.A. in History;  and Ph.D. in Higher Education.

His professional experience was in public education, serving as a teacher in the public schools of Los Angeles, a professor in a number of community colleges in Southern California, and as an administrator in community colleges.  For the last 15 years of his professional life, he served as president of the two colleges in the San Bernardino Community College District:  Crafton Hills College and San Bernardino Valley College.  He also served as a part-time lecturer at California State University at Long Beach and the University of Redlands.

His professional associations include membership in the:  Association of California Community College Administrators;  the Organization of American Historians;  and the Board of Directors of the California Community Colleges Chief Executive Officers.

In the community his activities include:  member of the Board of Directors of Temple Emanuel;  member of the Board of Directors of Redlands Community Hospital;  President of the United Way of the East Valley;  member of the Board of Directors of San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce;  and, member of the Board of Trustees of St. Bernadine Medical Center Foundation.

He has written a number of papers for professional journals, and has delivered papers before a number of civic and professional groups.

He is married to Joanne and they have three adult children:  Larry, Beth Sassower, and Jennifer.

Following his retirement from the presidency of San Bernardino Valley College, he became the President/CEO of Inland Action, Inc. a non-profit organization dedicated to the economic development and betterment of the quality of life in the Inland Empire.

Introduction and Summary

The town of Skagway, Alaska in 1898 was small and insignificant until gold was discovered in the Yukon territory that year. From all parts of the world, men (and a few women) descended on the this town which was a way station to the gold fields.

While most of the newcomers were prospectors who wanted to make their fortune from gold, some came to Skagway to make their fortune from the prospectors. Among the latter was Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith.

Smith got his nickname from the confidence game he perfected whereby he tricked interested spectators at street corners into thinking that they could detect in which bar of soap he tossed into a basket contained a $100 bill.

Born in Georgia, Smith wandered around small towns in the continental U.S. until he came to Skagway in 1897 and shortly after his arrival he purchased a building on the main street and named in Jeff Smith's Parlor's (Parlor). It was a combination bar and gambling establishment.

Smith made many friends and many enemies, one of whom was the City Engineer, Frank H. Reid. This paper tells of the many exploits and activities of Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith and the famous shoot-out on the Skagway waterfront on July 8, 1898, between Smith and Reid.

Soapy Smith:
Uncrowned King of Skagway

by Donald L. Singer Ph.D.


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-1870’s 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 towns.

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 month’s 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 circus.

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 wasn’t 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 1870’s.  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 grifter’s signal.  After disposing of his soap, with nary a customer getting more than $5, Taylor folded shop, and Smith followed him back to his hotel.

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 “Teddy.”


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 supplies. 

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 man’s 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 Skagway. 

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. 


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 all. 

Then on July 17, the Pacific Whaling Co’s 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 waterfront. 

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. 


In the early summer of 1897, Skagway had but one family, Captain William Moore’s. 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 didn’t 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 Pass. 


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 Smith’s 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 Smith’s 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 Smith’s 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 (Soapy’s) 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 era.

            Historian Don Steffa’s, “tales of Noted Frontier Characters - Soapy Smith, Bad Man Bluffer,“ in Pacific Monthly of October 1908, described Jeff’s 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 Jeff’s 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 Soapy’s “on so lavish a scale as his own.” Jeff’s

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.

Soapy’s 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 Smith’s 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 Soapy’s 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 Soapy’s pocket. 


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 Brown’s 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 Reid’s 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 slicker.”

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, you’ll be the man who’ll 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.


Soapy’s 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 Fay’s 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 Fay’s neck.

Lynching doesn’t 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 Soapy’s 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. Smith’s 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 community.

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. Soapy’s announcement caught them off guard including the early arrivals who had made a fortune selling and reselling Skagway’s lots as surveyed by Reid, and who were apparently involved in other shady matters.

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 action.


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 Smith’s 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 Smith.


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 Roosevelt’s 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 Smith’s 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 Soapy’s 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 them up. 

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 town’s better three-card-monte dealers 1st Lieutenant; J.T. Miller the bouncer at Clancy’s 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 volunteer’s discarded garb and removed all cash and valuables.

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, Skagway’s 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 Women’s 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 Jeff’s 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.


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 mining efforts.

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 cousin’s 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 he did.

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 Smith’s and Reid’s scuffle) had its origin in the morning shortly before 10 o’clock 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 Smith’s 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 Soapy’s 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 Reid’s and Stewart’s paths had crossed and that Reid talked Stewart into setting up Soapy and his followers in order that the Vigilante’s could get rid of him one way or another.


No matter what, Stewart’s actions resulted in a meeting of the Merchant’s 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 Stewart’s 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 take.

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 Stewart’s 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 Jeff’s 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 meeting’s 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 o’clock 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.

Whitten’s first action was to post guards at the shore end of the long wharf to keep any strangers - especially Soapy’s 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. Moore’s 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 defend himself.

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.

I’ll 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, Smith’s 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.

 “All right,” 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 Reid’s 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 Smith’s 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 railroad’s 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 Reid’s hold jerked back the rifle suddenly, which brought the muzzle against Reid’s stomach. Reid still held Soapy’s 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 Reid’s stomach.

It would have been impossible to say which fired first, the shots were absolutely simultaneous. Each fired four shots, though one of Reid’s first shots had gone clean thorough Soapy’s 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 other’s 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 Soapy’s grandson, Randolph “Randy” J. Smith in Seattle in 1973 when Randy was attending an auction for some of Soapy’s 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 Soapy’s body. Both collapsed on the dock.


Rev. John A. Sinclair preached the sermon at Smith’s 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.

Smith’s 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.

Reid’s 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. Reid’s 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, “Skagway’s 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.”

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