June 6, 2011

Soapy Smith's hotel plan for St. Michael, Alaska: Artifact #36.

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Artifact #36 is the eight-page booklet entitled Regulations Governing The Use and Occupancy of Lands Within the Limits of the Military Reservation of Fort St. Michael, Alaska. The permission and the rules for using it were received by Soapy Smith about the second week of February 1898.

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In 1896 Soapy traveled to Alaska in search of gold camps to exploit. He may have heard of the gold being found in the Yukon but he never ventured that far. Nearly a year would pass before the world began learning of the region’s enormous riches. Miners, made wealthy after their spring/summer “clean up” of the ore they had mined all winter, carried the word when they came out in July 1897. Coming 1601 miles down the Yukon on the flat-bottomed Alice and Portus B. Weare, at St. Michael they boarded the steamers Excelsior or Portland. These two ships started the Klondike gold rush when they docked in San Francisco and Seattle in July 1897.

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In October 1897, to help control the disorder created by the gold rush, the US government opened Fort St. Michael on St. Michael Island, District of Alaska. It was in a new place of abundant opportunity without competition, and at 2,000 miles from Seattle, surely it was far enough away that Soapy's name and criminal reputation would not be there to greet him. Situated near the mouth of the Yukon River, it would be the transfer point from ocean-going vessels to flat-bottomed boats that would ply the Yukon River to and from Dawson City, the boomtown nearest the gold-laden creeks.

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Soapy had written to cousin Edwin Bobo Smith in Washington, DC, to ask him to use his influence to secure permits to operate at Fort St. Michael in Alaska. This site at the head of the Yukon River looked early on to be a prime location for a major settlement and that's what Soapy was after, permission to build at an American gateway to the Klondike. Edwin was able to secure permits and forwarded the document.


65828 A. G. O.
War Department,
Adjutant General’s Office,
Washington, January 28, 1898.
J. R. Smith Esq.,
Care E. B. Smith, Washington Post,
Washington, D.C.

Sir: –

I have the honor to inform you that a suitable location for the business purpose of your company, as far as grounds, etc., [per the] available permit, on the military reservation of Fort St. Michael, Alaska, has been approved by the Secretary of War, and the papers forwarded to the Commanding Officer at that point, with instructions that, upon presentation of this letter, he shall without delay proceed to stake out the grounds, etc., necessary for your business, under the enclosed regulations, and permit you to enter upon and use them, pending the completion of the formal permit by the signature of the Secretary of War and seal of the Department.

Very respectfully,
Sm’l Breck
Adjutant General.

With the order came (artifact #36) an eight-page booklet entitled Regulations Governing The Use and Occupancy of Lands Within the Limits of the Military Reservation of Fort St. Michael, Alaska. The permission and the rules for using it arrived about the second week of February 1898.


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Edwin replied in a letter dated November 18, 1897.

Dear Jeff:

Your letters were gladly received. Always anxious to know how you are doing. You say you want me to send your permits. The letter to Col. Randall is all the permit the war department will give. That letter which I have already forwarded you grants you every concession you are after. I hope you will not get in any trouble with the minimums of the law.

Your brother Ed. B. Smith



In 1897 Ed was a reporter for the Washington Post. This position and his prior service in the US Congress gave him numerous influential contacts, and he used them to try to help Jeff make a respectable name for himself. In a 1920 interview for The Trail magazine, Edwin said that Jeff wanted a concession for a hotel site on the government reservation at St. Michael, Alaska.


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His intention seems to have been to seek an honorable fortune in the frozen north and then to return to Washington and establish himself in the respectable life of a hotel proprietor. His cousin made a vain effort to keep him out of Alaska, but he expressed the greatest confidence in the success of his schemes in that distant region and was intent upon going…. “This ... is my last opportunity to make a big haul. Alaska is the last West. I know the character of people I shall meet there and I know that I am bound to succeed with them.”

When Soapy learned of Dyea and Skagway he abandoned plans for a “hotel” in St. Michael and headed for  the White Pass.












St. Michael: page 414, 418, 425, 432, 444,449, 470, 489, 512, 524, 544. 
Fort St. Michael regulations: 449



1894: Soapy assaults Denver City Detective Griffiths.

Jeff Smith









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