Back on September 16 I posted the beginnings of an email conversation between myself and Mark Reid, a descendant of Frank H. Reid, the man who once was credited with the killing of Soapy Smith. Below the conversation continues.
September 14, 2009
Thank you very much for responding. Like I wrote in my first email to you, the first goal in my book is for the truth. I am not out to make Frank Reid look bad in order to make Soapy appear less evil. However, that truth appears not to be of a completely innocent man. My goal in contacting you is to get to know you, in the hopes that we might become friends that at the very least share knowledge. I know that I am expecting a lot from you considering the "sprinkling of Frank." There is simply no justification or excuse for such a horrid town tradition. It was wrong, period, and nothing I can say will take away what has already been done. My website has a permanent and sincere apology knowing full well that it can never be enough, but it is a start. You responding in such a pleasant manner is that second step in the process of healing between our families. Please let me explain what the common beliefs were at that time between the 1970s and 1980s when all "that" was going on.
Today, my family knows who really killed Soapy. A lot of new information has been uncovered since "those days." If it means anything, I personally see Frank in a much better light then I did back then but I'll get to that in a minute.
Within days after being shot by Frank and killed by Jesse Murphy, the real story of how Soapy died was suppressed by the vigilantes and the newspapers. The reason was one of maintaining control over the city against threatened martial law by the U.S. army stationed in Dyea. My book goes into much greater detail about all this. Very soon after Soapy's death his widow, siblings and children heard rumors of "another shooter." Soapy's younger brother Bascomb boldly stated in a newspaper interview that his older brother had been "shot in the back and all of his possessions stolen." Over the next few decades old residents slowly began to let out bits and pieces of the true tragic events during interviews about the gold rush. There were a number of residents in Skagway, including Soapy's partner, John Clancy, who were exonerated of any wrong doing and given Soapy's property. Soapy was very wealthy at the time of his death but every single penny was taken. Granted it was mostly tainted money he had swindled from victims but to the Smith family the main point was that a large scale conspiracy had taken place. In the 1970s we were surprised to learn that many of the current residents in Skagway also believed there was some sort of cover-up, but no one had any details or provenance. It very much appeared to us that Soapy had been set-up and assassinated. Unfortunately the total sum of contempt the Smith's held for all those involved fell fully upon Frank Reid who sadly bared the brunt of our anger.
In the mid 1990s I began learning through numerous leads that the killer of Soapy Smith was actually Jesse Murphy.
(Click image to enlarge)
Reid's funeral. outside of the Union church.
My research shows that Frank was a bartender for Soapy in the Klondike saloon. He apparently had some sort of falling out with Soapy and joined in with the "real estate grifters." If it is true that Frank did work for Soapy then obviously they knew one another and most likely Frank knew what Soapy was capable of, that Soapy was not one who would back down from a fight. On the night of July 8, 1898 the ONLY man who would dare block and confront Soapy was Frank Reid. Even J. M. Tanner, who author Cathy Spude believes to be the true "savior of Skagway" would not make a move against Soapy let alone utter a single word to keep him from going down to the vigilante meeting, even though it was his job to stop Soapy. In my mind two very brave men faced off against one-another that night 111 years ago.
Please know that you are always welcome on my sites to make any comments or ask questions that you see fit.
September 14, 2009
Your response is nothing if not gracious. Thank you for that. I will be the first to admit how little I know about the story and about Frank Reid. I can totally understand how your family would feel under the circumstances as you describe them. I certainly would not hold a grudge for something already done that I myself would be sorely tempted to do under similar ones. And if it afforded your family and friends of Soapy some comfort, I am sure Frank cares less about it than any of us, so why should I care more. What's done is done. My request was simply to say that now that we have begun a dialog, maybe we can move past that. As far as I am concerned, you have already done more in that regard with your words than many might have. Thank you for that.
Fact is history does not stop. The accidents do not stop. The accident of Soapy and Frank shooting each other on the wharf. The accident of your cousin and I meeting over 100 years later, and now you and I are talking. That older reality is no more real than this one. This one is just so much more freaky and interesting because it echoes the first one in a way.
I recently learned that the band width of light that we can perceive is very narrow, such that when a rainbow appears, there are actually at least 10 more rainbows, or 10 more orders of rainbow. The first rainbow is difficult enough to see usually. You have to be in the right place at the right time. If you are extremely lucky, you may see two, or even three of the rainbows, one outside of the other, each one larger than the first. I think, more now than ever, that history may also be like that, operating in larger dimensions than we can normally perceive.
I can only speak for myself, of course, but from my point of view this whole series of events has been a slight echo of the energy of the events in Skaguay. No doubt my perception only, but I suppose I felt "called out" a little. I know that is the last thing you meant in your invitation. But because of my internal, vague and uninformed relationship with Frank Reid, and what I perceived to be your cousin's and perhaps your presumption that I might be a direct descendant of his or equally connected to Frank as you are to Soapy, I felt I needed to answer if not for Frank, then for the Reid's. My answer could not be, "Well, I'm really not at all related to the guy," and throw him under the bus when, in my heart, I was harboring a secret pride at having a gunfighter relative up to that point. So I squared off and tried to find out what I could, both to do you the courtesy of honoring your request and also to see if I could find out something on my own to answer history's call.
The evening I was writing my last paragraph to you, I had a sudden mental picture of you and I inextricably drawn into the same positions as our predecessors by forces too large to be perceived. Not that we would shoot each other on a wharf, but that we were at odds for a moment, on the side each of our own DNA, re-enacting our programming at some core, primitive level. But this time with the benefit of some knowledge of history and gun control laws and much more civility. Nevertheless there may be more of the character of the men in this story living in their descendants than in all the facts put together. I hope that character is in your book. I will look forward to reading it.
Thanks for your heartfelt response.
September 15, 2009
Thank you for your understanding and for not holding a grudge. It takes a good man to get past my families modern wrongs. I would only have to understand if you did not, but you did so I agree, it is time to move on to the present.
(Click image to enlarge)
Frank Reid's estate papers
Skagway City Museum
The first time I met members of the Reid family was on July 4, 1998 in Skagway, Alaska. I have their names in my files but can't recall them at the moment. It was before the big parade started and they were sitting in an antique car. I had a plan. I told my 8-year-old daughter, Ashley to be the first to speak as her and I made our way over to the car. I waved "Hi" but bit my tongue to keep from uttering a word until Ashley spoke. Wouldn't you know it she had a sudden case of stage fright, lol. The Reid ladies said "hello" and then stared at us as I keep nudging Ashley to say something ... anything. Finally she blurted out a hello and my daughter (as far as I know) became the first Smith to speak with a Reid in 96 years. A photo of her with the Reid's can be seen on my website here.
I attached some photos I thought you might like. One is Reid Falls behind the cemetery. The two drawings are from artist John Bruce that were never finished. They are the closets example of how I believe the gunfight took place. The first one shows Frank and Jeff (he hated to be called Soapy but my name is Jeff too) struggling with the rifle as Frank has his pistol out. The second one shows Frank on the ground and Murphy shooting Jeff with Jeff's own rifle. A great artist is currently painting the "gunfight on Juneau Wharf" and I will make sure you get all the information when I am allowed to release it (his call). The story of the gunfight would make a great movie and any movie would help both men become house-hold names. The we would meet at some big Hollywood star-filled premier and get our names plastered across the country and perhaps the world. Did I mention I dream big? I think I get that from Soapy, lol. I have a number of Reid related photographs, including Frank's first grave marker, and will get them to you if you are interested. I am more than happy to help learn more about your famous descendant and I very much look forward to your next.
I am hoping for and await Mark's very interesting replies.