August 11, 2010

Skagway Deputy US Marshal James M. Rowan

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James Mark Rowan, the deputy U.S. marshal shot and killed in Skagway, Alaska in 1898, whose killer was protected by Soapy Smith was given special honors and new concrete marker was placed on his grave in Skagway July 4, 2010 thanks to the work of his great-granddaughter, Renee Rowan.

Renee Rowan wrote me regarding what I knew of James M. Rowan and the events that led to his death. In private emails I gave her what I had. That correspondence was posted here July 23, 2008 and September 12, 2008.

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Rowan's grave
Skagway cemetery


The following article was published in the Skaguay Alaskan Visitors Guide, Summer 2010


Marshal James M. and Beryl Rowan
A Hero, Not to be Forgotten!
By Renee Rowan

Skagway has been the plot setting for many a novel, Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London, to mention two. Little did a kid, whose father died when she was eleven, imagine the history and legacy of her great grandfather during the Gold Rush of Alaska. Nor could she envision the reunion of immediate and distant family members who would celebrate his service to mankind.

[Deputy U.S.] Marshal James Mark Rowan journeyed west of his hometown of Rogersville, Tennessee. One of his stops along the way was Mt. Vernon, Washington, where he served as a city marshal and married his future wife, Beryl Grove.

In August of 1897, James and Beryl Rowan moved to Alaska where they were one of the first people, just after Frank Reid, to buy a plot of property in Skagway. James Rowan also helped build the Brackett Wagon Road from Skagway to White Pass City. It seemed obvious that he wanted to be a long-time resident, not one just passing through.

Less than six months after settling in Skagway, and working primarily in Dyea, [Deputy U.S.] Marshal Rowan was asked to work in Skagway while Marshal McInness was escorting prisoners to Sitka. Skagway was a boomtown, complete with dance halls, gambling, brothels and all the degradation that accompanies dishonorable behaviors. It was not uncommon for bartenders to short change customers and have an argument ensue.

On January 31, 1898, Marshal Rowan and his wife experienced the greatest joy and the worst sorrow one could imagine: the birth of his son, and Marshal Rowan dying in the line of duty. Two hours after giving birth to their son, Beryl needed medical attention. Marshal Rowan sought Dr. Moore, but was intercepted by Andy McGrath who had been short changed and beaten by Jake Rice, the owner of the People’s Theatre, a known brothel. When McGrath and Rowan entered the People’s Theatre, Ed Fay, who was behind the bar and was prepared for McGrath’s return. What he was not prepared for was that McGrath would return with the law!

Upon entering the Theatre, Fay encountered an angry McGrath. Fay either did not recognize or didn’t care that Marshal Rowan had accompanied McGrath. Fay reacted to McGrath, thinking he was armed. Fay shot the “unarmed” McGrath and then fatally shot Marshal Rowan.

The story of what happened to Beryl and young James Mark Rowan has been somewhat fractured. They left Skagway and moved to Seattle, Washington. With the help of the internet and the persistence of Marshal Rowan’s great granddaughter, the story continues to evolve and reveal the strength of a widow, alone, in the Northwest Territory.

Since January 1794, the U.S. Marshals Office has recognized individuals who have given their lives in service of our nation. There are currently over 200 Federal Marshals, Deputy Marshals, Special Deputy Marshals and Marshals, including Marshal Rowan, who have been recognized for their service. The name of Marshal James M. Rowan was added to the Roll Call of Honor, in 1998.

On July 4, 2010, the U.S. Marshals Office will re-commemorate the service of Marshal Rowan in Skagway, Alaska. Descendants of Marshal Rowan, including his great grandson, James Mark Rowan III, will be in attendance. A new grave marker, in his honor, will be placed in the Gold Rush Cemetery at that time. Renee Rowan is the great-granddaughter of James M. and Beryl Rowan. She lives in Fountain Valley, California. She received assistance for this article from Catherine Spude and William Wilbanks.

Questions and discrepancies:
I don't enjoy sounding negative but a "red flag" popped up in my head when I read that Cathy Spude assisted Renee in her research, thus I must ask questions.
  • "James and Beryl Rowan moved to Alaska where they were one of the first people, just after Frank Reid, to buy a plot of property in Skagway. James Rowan also helped build the Brackett Wagon Road from Skagway to White Pass City." (I need provenance before I would accept this.)
  • "Two hours after giving birth to their son, Beryl needed medical attention. Marshal Rowan sought Dr. Moore, but was intercepted by Andy McGrath..." (According to the Daily Alaskan, Feb. 1, 1898 Rowan was sitting in an all night restaurant when McGrath approached him. The shooting had taken place at approximately 2 a.m.)
  • "Ed Fay." His name was actually John Fay. It was the Seattle Daily Times on Feb. 7, 1898 who first mistakenly printed his name as "Ed." Later book authors carried on using Ed as few Skagway newspapers, who printed his correct name, were available decades ago. Old traditions and mistakes die hard.
  • "Ed Fay, who was behind the bar and was prepared for McGrath’s return." (John Fay was actually behind a faro table.)


The following article was published in the Skagway News, July 9, 2010


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CEREMONY FOR A HERO – Above, Pat Ross plays the closing hymns behind James Mark Rowan’s new gravestone. Photos by Jeff Brady

James Mark Rowan: A hero gets his tribute
By Jeff Brady

Growing up in California, Renee Rowan had heard about her great-grandfather dying in Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush, but until two years ago, when she started researching his brief time in Skagway, she never really knew what happened.

Now, through her efforts, James Mark Rowan, a Deputy U.S. Marshal killed in the line of duty, has a dignified memorial over his grave in Skagway’s historic Gold Rush Cemetery.

Rowan’s story is well-known in Skagway: it is told every night during the Days of ’98 Show. Just a few hours before he was killed on January 31, 1898, Rowan was with his wife, Beryl, who was giving birth to their first child, James Mark Rowan Jr.

Across the street, an incident was developing upstairs at the People’s Theatre bar. A bartender there allegedly had short-changed local resident Andy McGrath. Unsatisfied, McGrath sought out Rowan and asked to borrow his gun, according to The Skaguay News. Rowan refused, patted his wife’s hand, and said he would go with McGrath and see what the trouble was about.

”As they entered the People’s Theatre two shots were fired,” reported the News, “McGrath dropping to the floor and dying in a few minutes. Rowan was also shot, but managed to go to Dr. Moore’s office where he soon expired.”

A vigilante committee soon formed to roust out Ed Fay, the alleged assailant, but legendary con man and gang leader Soapy Smith intervened and shouted down mob rule and prevented a lynching. He also started a fund for Mrs. Rowan and her baby. Fay, who was believed to be under Smith’s employ in some capacity, was sent to a jail in Sitka and subsequently charged with murder by a grand jury in May 1898. But the incident, and Soapy’s control of the situation, eventually led to the con man’s own violent demise on July 8, 1898.

Rowan was buried in the Gold Rush Cemetery on Feb. 4, 1898. A small wooden marker was placed above his grave. It listed his age, 33, and date of death, nothing more. Beryl remained in Skagway at least through the 1900 census, but had moved to Seattle by the 1910 census.

Renee began her search on the Internet two years ago. As a young girl she had remembered her mother telling her that her grandpa, “Pom Pom”, was a musician, but that his dad was killed while on “shore patrol” in Alaska. Through her research, she found out that her great grandfather was indeed a Deputy U.S. Marshal killed on duty. The name of Mark James Rowan is now on the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., and, working with the U.S. Marshal’s Service in Alaska, Rowan helped with a new memorial stone to take the place of the old wooden marker in Skagway.

“The more I started to dig, the more I decided I knew who I was,” Renee Rowan said, adding that as an educator she conveys the importance of law, patriotism and honor. “I’m proud to say my great grandfather served with the U.S. Marshal’s Service.”

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The new marker ceremony

Renee and her husband Gary Moe came to Skagway for the 4th of July and to commemorate the new marker. From Anchorage, U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland and Alaska Chief Deputy Marshal Marc Otte also came to Skagway for the ceremony, as well as Sgt. John Sutherland of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s M Division in Whitehorse. Skagway law enforcement was represented by Police Chief Ray Leggett and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Port Director Boyd Worley. After a brief reception at AB Hall hosted by Buckwheat Donahue of the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau, about 20 people drove out to the cemetery.

The new marker is stone, and small enough to fit where the old one was. But it tells so much more about the man, giving dignity to one who gave his life in the service of his country.

At the gravesite, Otte spoke of the importance of deputy marshals, and read an inscription from Proverbs 28:1 on one of the cornerstones of the memorial in the nation’s capital: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

Above the inscription is a sculpture of a lion, and Otte said Deputy Marshal Rowan “did his duty and paid the price.”

Judge Holland said the U.S. Marshal’s Service is the oldest federal military unit, dating back to the 1790s, and that they are known as the “protectors.”

Renee spoke again, thanking the people of Skagway. “The warmth I’ve felt being here to get people to work with me has been wonderful,” she said. “I really appreciate the acts of kindness.”

Pat Ross, of the Midnight Sun Pipe Band from Whitehorse, then stood behind the grave and played “Amazing Grace.” Everyone in the cemetery paused to remember “A Hero Not Forgotten.”


Questions and discrepancies:
  • "Ed Fay " Again, his real name is John Fay.
  • "...according to The Skaguay News. Rowan refused, patted his wife’s hand, and said he would go with McGrath and see what the trouble was about." (I don't recall seeing anywhere that Rowan's wife was with him when McGrath found him in the eatery at 2 a.m.)
  • "Fay, who was believed to be under Smith’s employ in some capacity..." (There is no evidence or accusation made in 1898. To this day there is no provenance that Soapy even knew Fay.)

There are those who assume John Fay was a member of the Soap Gang in some capacity because Soapy hid and protected the murderer from the vigilante mob who wished to hang him.


Ed Fay, the murderer of Rowan and McGrath at Skaguay, was not hanged; his friends, headed by Soapy Smith, the gambler, organized and threatened to use their guns if Fay was hanged. Fay was therefore sent to Juneau. -Seattle Daily Times 02/07/1898.

What many don't consider is that Soapy went to U.S. Commissioner John U. Smith (no relation) and demanded his help in protecting Fay. Agreeing to take immediate action, the commissioner was taken to Fay’s hiding place, and on the spot, he deputized Jeff’s men, who were guarding and protecting Fay, and ordered them to escort the prisoner to a ship that would take him to Sitka. There Fay would be held for trial. -Seattle Daily Times 02/11/1898, p. 2, and Denver Times 01/06/1901.

Soapy's defense of Fay may have been entirely business. Allowing the vigilantes to have their way would set a precedent. Then Jeff could expect swift and harsh retaliation from armed, emotional mobs who rarely sided with Jeff’s kind. No matter his reasons, however, the actions he took to stop the lynching of Fay was what any officer of the law or legal court would have been expected to do.

Soapy then created the Rowan fund to collect money for the widow and new born baby. Soapy started off the collection by giving $50 the equivalent of $1,555.91 in today's dollars.










James Mark Rowan: pages 442, 457, 460, 462, 466, 477, 578.
John Fay: 457-61, 578.










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