July 31, 2011

National Park Service tour includes Jeff Smith's theory about Soapy Smith's death.

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This year marks a turning point with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park's views regarding who shot and killed Soapy Smith. Arlen McClusky, a Skagway interpreter for the park service began giving public tours that included conspiracy theories about Soapy's death. This is a huge step towards the truth. Naturally, no matter how convincing my research may be, the National Park Service can't officially come out in favor of my work when there is so many decades of opposing stories that were reported in newspapers and books.

Arlen contacted me when he was given the go ahead  for the tour. He had a few questions and wanted permission to print out a copy of the portrait on the cover of my book. I understand he carries both the picture and my book on the tour.

Following is the preliminary outline I received of his walk.

1. Breezeway
  • Welcome.
  • Theme: Crime, Power, Murder, Conspiracy Theories.
2. Map/Building Rear
  • Gold Rush.
  • Skagway.
  • Lawless frontier town.
  • Con men, Soapy Smith.
  • NEXT STOP: Story opens on a Vigilante meeting.
3. Shootout Spot
  • July 8th, 9:15pm ...Meeting on wharf.
  • Several men gather... argument, gunfire, pause, then last two shots.
  • Jeff Smith dead.
  • Reid mortally wounded, dies later.
  • Card found in pocket... “Clancy and Company.”
  • Autopsy, Dr. Whiting (works for White Pass).
  • NEXT STOP: What happened just before? lets go back further in time.
4. Jeff Smith Parlor
  • 6pm...Jeff Smith arguing with others.
  • Some claim Soapy left drunk, angry.
  • Some claim Soapy left sober, and calm.
  • Meanwhile, Vigilantes gathering.
  • Much of business community was seen joining vigilantes.
  • NEXT STOP: What provoked vigilantes? July 4th 1898.
5. Across from AB
  • Laundress Ella Wilson Murdered.
  • Supposedly $3800 lost.
  • How can be? $40/day.
  • Something fishy.
  • Mattie Silks strange testimony.
  • Was somebody trying to frame Soapy?
  • June 15th, RR construction begins in secret at night, without permission of Skagway’s power elite...a sudden and aggressive move from a previously quiet player.
  • NEXT STOP: Mysterious fires in town...
6. Pack Train Saloon
  • Mysterious incendiaries.
  • Explosions on White Pass kill two workers.
  • Townsfolk distracted by everything, especially parade.
  • Soapy feels confident.
  • Soapy con men shaking down local businesses.
  • Is possible arrogant shake down White Pass?
  • Resentment against Soapy from different factions of Skagway for different reasons.
  • John Clancy, Soapy’s partner, seen talking to vigilante leaders. Betrayal?
  • NEXT STOP: Memory of unpunished double murder.
7. Boss Bakery Area
  • Andy McGrath...Peoples Bar.
  • Marshall Rowan...shooting.
  • Next day noon, angry mob forms.
  • Soapy disperses them.
  • Soapy blamed for miscarriage of justice.
  • LAST STOP: Is this the reason? Real reason? Why is everyone here in the first place?
8. Moore House
  • Homestead of Captain Moore, Father Skagway.
  • Arrived, settled, lost land, stayed, went quiet.
  • Harmless yet shadowy and influential figure in Skagway.
  • Capt. Moore and others had a financial interest in seeing return of law to Skagway... could they have plotted against him behind the scenes from the beginning?
  • Soapy arrived in August 1897, left, returned with money, and men.
  • Took over quickly.
  • But then, the arrival of the railroad happened, led by tough, ruthless man named Mike Heney, backed by British financiers with millions of dollars.
  • Soapy may have called himself uncrowned king of Skagway, but the real power in Skagway was behind the scenes, with businessmen, rail men, and in the boardrooms of faraway banks.
  • I’ll let you decide, was Soapy shot because he was a hothead fool, or was he lured to his death by emerging powerful interests, who needed him out of the way?
  • The truth may never be know...

Arlen had some ideas of his own which included Skagway's founder, Captain William Moore that had us corresponding back and forth with some interesting emails. Following are some I thought might be of interest.


Thanks so much for the photo you let me print out for my walking tour! I do have a question I was wondering if you could help me answer... Is there any connection between Captain Moore and the vigilante mob, or Capn Moore and Soapy Smith? And are you aware of any additional things which suggest that the WP & YR may have been behind Soapy's death?


Hi, Arlen.

I'm glad to hear from you. The most interesting research for my book regarding the vigilante's comes from the words of the old-timers in Skagway. The general consensus I found, was that there were basically two gangs in the town. Of course there was Soapy and the bunco men and the others were the vigilante's. Rather than calling them vigilante's, the old-timers called them, the real estate grifter's and lot jumpers. Frank Reid apparently worked with both. Newspapers show he took lot fees and sold lots too. To answer your question, Moore could not have been too supportive of the real estate grifters. They were the ones who had stolen his land, ignored and changed his street layout and then forcefully moved his home. I don't think Soapy had any issues with Moore, besides being an early resident of the town. The only time, that I know of, in which they met, was when Moore rode in a carriage at the front of the May 1, 1898 parade that paraded Soapy's new Skaguay Military Company around town. Soapy's men were not to swindle or bother residents so Moore would not have have any trouble that way. There is so much that we do not know about those early days.

A WP & YR connection in Soapy's death is only circumstantial at best. Smith family stories always included the railway as a prime instigator. We know that Fenton Whiting was employed by the railroad, as was Jesse Murphy. Before the shootout Graves, president of the railroad, was chairman of the vigilante organization. The railway was losing money and Soapy was a big hurdle for them. Naturally, if there were outright plans to get rid of him nothing was written down. My personal belief and reasoning would say that the railroad started taking Soapy as a serious threat when he created the Skaguay Military Company in May, 1898. I believe it was then that they started thinking that they would have to get him out of the way. Probably at first they thought they could have him imprisoned or deported. Later, there must have been a point when they decided that there was only one way to get rid of him. There was already opposition to the railroad from many of the business men, packers, Brackett's Road, and everyone else who had something to lose. Soapy did have at least one lot along the original planned path of the railroad, as well as an interest in Brackett's Road. It is guessed that he had more but so many of his properties were under other people's names. If you read the section in my book on Creede, Colorado you will see an amazing transformation in land lots in which at one point Soapy bought up a number of leases on one street, only to end up with many of the choice lots for he and his associates on the main street. All these lots were sold at auction and Soapy bought one I know of, yet in time he and his friends ended up with the best lots in town. I doubt Skagway was much different. In fact, it seems he used pretty much the same formula.

I hope this helps some. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, your own theories and research (even if they disagree with mine), etc. Your mom and I have learned from each other by going back and forth with our thoughts and I'd be honored to be able to do so with you as well.


Hi Jeff!

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome!

This is exactly what I was hoping to hear... these details plug some of the major holes in the fabric of my walking tour. For instance, they help further cement the connection between Soapy and the WP & YR. So far, people love my walking tour, and they like the idea of Jeff Smith going up against the mighty railroad, backed by the bankers.

Specifically, I like the reference to the Committee of 101 as the real estate grifters and lot jumpers.

Do you happen to know who all went to Jeff's funeral?

Supposedly there were two autopsies not one, right? Why might that have been? Was one of the autopsies kept secret, and if so was it the first or second? and was the photo of the autopsy with Dr. Whiting the first or second? Did Whiting preside over both, or only one?

Sorry for all the questions! I'll try to get you a photo some how.


Hi, Arlen.

I'm very happy to hear that my information was indeed helpful. I believe four "Awesomes" is about as good as anyone can strive for, lol.

Getting a photograph of you and one of your tours is easy. I happen to know someone at the Skagway Historical Society who might volunteer? Lol.

Rev. Sinclair recorded who went to Soapy's funeral. The following comes direct from my book.

Rev. Sinclair received word from other ministers in town that they would not help serve Jeff’s last rites. “But I knew I was right,” Sinclair wrote in his diary, to be “determined to give the remains a decent burial even if I should afterwards be invited to leave town because of my action.” Rev. Sinclair than took precautions against that possibility. He wrote out his sermon in advance so that what he said could not be reinvented later, and he “persuaded” a Mr. Butler, one of the well-known members of the vigilante committee, to attend the service “as a safeguard against misunderstanding and mob violence.” And so on July 11 at approximately 3 p.m., in a brief ceremony, Sinclair wrote how,

in the dreary morgue, in the presence of a few who were not afraid, in the presence of no mourners, with the exception of his late mistress whose presence I felt was no tribute but rather, an insult to his living family in the East; in the presence of an ever-loving God, I closed the chapter of this poor desperado’s career.

Eight people accompanied Jeff’s remains to the cemetery. A driver and the undertaker conveyed the coffin in an express wagon. Before it in “a hack … rode Mr. Butler, three lawyers who had done business with Soapy, a late partner of the deceased and myself.” Rev. Sinclair wrote feelingly about the loneliness of the procession, contrasting it with all those who “rode or walked in” parades with Jeff, “marking the declaration of war with Spain…,” and all those who had been proud to wear his July 4th badges…, but of whom now “not one had the courage to do his remains justice.”

There were two autopsies. The following comes from my book

After the fight Jesse Murphy immediately insisted it was he who had killed Smith. A letter to Dr. H. R Littlefield from Dr. Cornelius, published eleven days after the gunfight, clearly indicates that someone in power, most likely US Commissioner Sehlbrede, took his claim seriously enough to order another autopsy examination.

The shooting, Dr. Cornelius says, is the best thing that ever happened to Skagway next to the new railroad. Dr. Cornelius performed the autopsy on Smith’s body for the coroner’s jury. A man named Murphy claimed after the first autopsy that it was his bullet that killed the gambler, and it was necessary to perform a second [autopsy] to determine that Reed’s [sic] bullet did the work.

The second autopsy was never reported on except for the above. I would imagine that Whiting performed the second as well, in order to keep the record straight. If Murphy did not shoot Soapy then why would he demand a second autopsy? I assume you already know about Si' Tanners not to NWMP Steel stating that it was Murphy and not Reid who killed Soapy. Tanners original note is gone but Steel made the report to his superiors, twice! Soon after that nothing was mentioned again about Murphy having killed Soapy. Even Murphy stopped talking. I always figured they let him know that he would be placed under arrest for murder if he continued. After all, he shot Soapy while he was wounded and on the ground...unarmed! It's only a technicality but it was surely enough to silence Murphy. Nothing more is known of him.

I am certain that more information is out there just waiting for discovery.

Arlen graduated from UH Manoa with a Masters in Communication. He also happens to be the son of Marlene McClusky, the author of one of our neighbor blogs, the Skagway Historical Society.

We hope the tour is popular enough that the park service will wish to continue the idea next year, and many years to come. 

Jeff Smith


July 30, 2011

New colorized portrait of Soapy Smith

Colorized portrait by Dave Chapman

Thank you go out to Dave Chapman for this wonderful colorized portrait of Soapy Smith. This color portrait and the recent black and white drawing by Daniel Urbach really bring out Soapy's eyes like I've never seen them before.

1864: Battle of Browns Mill in Newnan, Georgia begins.

Jeff Smith


July 29, 2011

Artifact #38: Automatic Ballot Box and election fraud.

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If only this card could talk! Why did Soapy have and keep this card? What was his plan? This firms "automatic ballot box" no doubt interfered with Soapy's election fraud duties. Did he perhaps plan to run the company out of Denver or to obtain a machine and figure out a way to disengage the mechanism?

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Family members and those who have my book know that Soapy was involved in election fraud. Both Republican and Democrat officials dealt in election fraud to get their candidates elected. In Denver the Republicans were so corrupt that they engaged Soapy's help in fraudulent registration and ballot box collection and counting. The most historically noted is the election of 1889 in which Soapy was subpoenaed to testify in court about his involvement. As a witness he was protected against prosecution for his roll in the scandal which led to the ousting of Denver's Mayor, Wolfe Londoner in 1890.

I could not find anything online about the Matthews' Automatic Ballot Box Company or it's officers. I was able to locate some interesting information about "automatic" voting. The first official use of a lever type voting machine, known then as the "Myers Automatic Booth," occurred in Lockport, New York in 1892 (History of the voting machines).

The Acme automatic voting machine
Circa 1880
Smithsonian collection

In the words of Jacob H. Myers, this machine was designed to "protect mechanically the voter from rascaldom, and make the process of casting the ballot perfectly plain, simple and secret." ( A Brief Illustrated History of Voting).

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On the back of the card Soapy wrote what appears to read "Grow + Veach." These are probably names and I am willing to bet Veach is actually Veatch, as in Denver Police Chief,  J. C. Veatch. If this is correct then that dates this card to about 1893-1894 as Veatch served in 1893 but was fired after only a few months by Governor Waite at the time of the City Hall War. Veatch continued to lead opposition against the governor, including leading armed ex-police and firemen into Cripple Creek during the miners strike of 1894.

I can always use your help so I invite any comments, suggestions, questions and opinions! Thank you.

Election fraud: December 26, 2010, October 21, 2009 

J. C. Veatch: pages 268, 296-97, 328, 346, 348.

1889: Soapy assaults Rocky Mountain News manager, John Arkins, for mentioning his family in News articles along side Soapy’s criminal acts.

Jeff Smith


July 27, 2011

Modern day Soapy Smith money soap from Creede, Colorado

I received a fun gift today in the mail. Judi Ries, author of Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer, just returned from a trip to Creede, Colorado where on June 8, 1892 her Great-great uncle shot and killed Bob Ford, "The dirty little coward, who shot Mr. Howard, and laid Jesse James in his grave." While selling her book to the local stores in the small community she ran across Soapy Smith Money Soap from the Creede Soap and Candle Company. What a great gift idea! This cake of soap, however, will never be used so unfortunately I'll never know the riches that lie within.

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So very nice of Judi! Thank you.

1893: Deputy Sheriff Bascomb Smith (yes, Soapy's younger brother) beats and arrests a John Cooney.

Jeff Smith


July 26, 2011

The Bob Ford slaying mural.

Bob Ford gets it in the neck
Ed O'Kelley blasts Ford with a shotgun
Creede, Colorado June 8, 1892
photo by Judi Ries
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Author, Judi Ries, Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer, recently took a trip to Creede, Colorado where she photographed the above mural. It's a graphic piece of art showing the death of Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, by Edward Capehart O'Kelley, who is Judi's great-great-uncle. Note in the mural that Soapy Smith stands in the rear of the tent (black hat). It is believed by some that Soapy had something to do with the killing of Ford.

The mural once graced an outside wall of a Creede brick building. Construction of a neighboring building covered the mural for years. When the neighboring building had to be torn down the mural was once again exposed. It was donated to the Creede Historical Society and there it now resides. 

Judi and I are currently trying to locate exactly where Ford's tent stood. Photographs show it stood between two buildings, The Cafe and the Leadville Headquarters.

Outside Ford's tent saloon just after the shooting.

Judi's book is a must have for collectors and historians. She exposes the complete truth about the life of Ed O'Kelley. You can order a copy direct from her at the following.

Ed O'Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James' Murderer
$22.95 (price includes postage)

Judi Ries
9161 Vasel
Affton, MO 63123

Judi Ries/Ed O'Kelley: December 29, 2009
Bob Ford: February 7, 2010  September 20, 2009  October 14, 2008

Edward Capehart O'Kelley: page 246.
Robert Newton Ford: pages 216, 218-21, 246, 273.

1892: Soapy and Bowers get into a street fight with John Cully over a poker swindle. 
1893: Gambling halls armed themselves against gangs of poor men planning on rushing the halls to grab money. 
1897: The steamer Queen is the first ship to arrive in Mooresville, soon to be renamed Skaguay

Jeff Smith


July 21, 2011

Soapy's short shots...

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I was told by friend Whit Haydn that this year's Soapy Smith Night fundraiser, at the Magic Castle, after all expenses, raised $4000 for the Vernon Fund. The best year ever, even though the expenses for the event nearly tripled. Congratulations are in order. Drinks all around, on the house!

A little comedy using Soapy's history was had at Sara Palin's expense on July 8. A website page called Sarah Palin’s “Today In History” Lesson had the following displayed.

Soupy Sales

July 8 – Alaskan Telegraph Pioneer, Soapy Smith dies

Soapy Smith opened the first Telegraph office in Skagway, Alaska, during the Gold Rush. In addition to bringing telegraph services to the miners in Skagway, he also formed the ‘Law and Order Society’ to ensure the safety of the town’s settlers.

On July 8, 1898, just days after acting as Grand Marshall in the July 4th Parade, Soapy died defending himself against thieves on Juneau Wharf.

You might recall some time back I warned Soapy fans about a very poorly made video for sale on Soapy's history. My publishers attorney is working on the case and I was asked to informed Savage Run, the one man company who is putting out the video to cease using my photographs and name. Rather than decease the owner included the following paragraph on his page. I did not bother cleaning up his paragraph. It is as posted.

thanks to jeff smith (soapysmith.net) for his technical assistance in the making of "soapy smith: gold rush goodfella." he was of great assistance in identifying parties in photographs and he helped me clear up some of the errors i made (and am probably still clearing up) in getitng the history right. thanks jeff.
The last thing I want is to be linked to this crap! I have asked the legals to step up the process.

1880: Soapy has his photograph taken in Leadville, Colorado. Ex-President Grant is in the background. 1889: The Logan Park riot, which snowballed into trouble for Soapy.

Jeff Smith


July 16, 2011

Soapy Smith wake addendum

Dave Elstun at the Soapy Smith wake in Denver
performing the prize package soap racket

A few additional bits about this year's wakes.

I knew that Dave Elstun was the man of the hour, who put together the event in Denver, but I did not know he performed Soapy's prize package soap racket for the guests! His photo (see above) appeared this morning on Facebook. I would have liked to have seen his portrayal of the scam.

Whit Haydn, the fearless leader of the event in Hollywood at the Magic Castle popped in to say a few words and submit one correction. Here's Whit.

Enjoyed your blog on Soapy Night. The silver shells sell for $500, though, not $300.

What a wonderful event. I finally uploaded 2009 video on YouTube, so we have great videos of all the last five years on YouTube.

I just posted all of them to my Facebook. So glad things worked out for Jeff III and Ashley. Great to get that video of the toast!

Thank you gentlemen!

1890: “Big Ed” Burns is given 24-hours to leave Denver by Chief of Detectives Loar.

Jeff Smith


July 15, 2011

Soapy Smith Wakes overview.

Ashley, Jeff alias "dad," and Jefferson R. Smith
Ashley and Jefferson are great-grandchildren of Soapy Smith

Sorry for the delay in posting about the three Soapy Smith wakes held across the states.  I guess all the excitement wiped out my immune system and I came down with something that kept me out of the mood and ability to write much.

As I have been reporting there were three main events this year, Skagway, Denver, and Hollywood.


The cast of The Days of '98 Show
with one of Soapy's markers

The wake in Skagway has been going on since 1977. The Eagles and the cast of the Days of '98 Show put on a dance as no one is allowed to party in the cemetery at Soapy's grave. Even so, Ashley Bowman, of Skagway wrote to me and said that six of them

"went to the cemetery and memorialized Soapy on July 8th with some Robert Service, eulogies, and music. It wasn't a very big event, but it was definitely a good time!"
Ashley, please thank all who were there for the Smith family. It's quality not quantity.


Laura Oster alias "Dewliscious"
sings a tribute to Soapy

Dave Elstun writes,
Denver's First Annual Soapy Smith Wake was a smashing success! A big thank you to all the participants, Darrin Ray, Matt Vander Meulen, Laura Oster (Dewliscious), Reid Belstock and most of all to Walter Keller for allowing us to use The Lumber Baron Inn as a facility. Look for photo's to hit these pages in the next few days.

Reid Belstock juggles
in honor of Soapy

The two Soapy's
Darrin Ray and Matt Vander Meulen


Once again, in fact for the 8th year in a row, the Magic Castle was home to the Soapy Smith wake in Hollywood, California. Everyone who attended seems to agree that this year's event was the best one yet. I wholeheartedly agree! The event is a charity drive for the Dai Vernon Fund, a worthy cause considering Dai was a huge fan of Soapy Smith. I have photographs of him taken in the 1980s at my parents home before we knew who he was and before the event started.

Karin Mckechnie, the goddess of sewing
shows off her latest 1890s attire.

There is simply not enough I can say about this event. The music was nineteenth century favorites played by Dave Bourne and his Medicine Show band. The costuming this year was even better than the last, and included steam-punkers (think Wild Wild West). I made a slew of new friends and connections.

The proud parent (me) watches his children gamble at faro

My daughter Ashley was present for the third year in a row and this was the first time for my son, Jefferson Randolph Smith. His age (15) is a reason for not being able to attend previously but I am hopeful that he now has that spark.

Jan Harness won "most authentic"

The main event for the charity is an auction. Actor, Neil Patrick Harris, the current President of the Magic Castle, donated a "walk on" part on his hit show "How I Met your Mother." It went for something like $600! Also included in the auction to bid on were

  • Tickets for Two to PENN and TELLER LIVE AT THE RIO.
  • Tickets for Two to the Brookledge Follies – Produced by Erika Larsen.
  • Genuine authenticated soil from the grave of Soapy Smith.
  • Personal Pool Lesson with Two-Time U. S. Trick Shot Pool Champion Chef Anton – The winner gets to visit Chef in his beautiful Canyon Lake home, enjoy a personally prepared gourmet meal, then settle in for two hours of intense training at the hands of the Master!
  • Personal Magic Lesson with “Pop” Haydn – Six-time AMA Award Winning Magician Whit Haydn, recipient of the Stage, Parlour, Close-up and Bar Magician of the Year Awards, engages you in a one-on-one intensive learning session focusing on the Shell Game, Fast and Loose, Three-Card Monte or General Magic – the choice is up to the winner.
  • HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER Poker Set, signed by the entire cast of the hit CBS Comedy Series
    This rare collectible was a gift to members of the crew of the TV show during its first season on the air, and contains a card signed by every member of the cast. It's been donated by Neil Patrick Harris, President of the AMA, who plays the role of Barney Stinson on the series. A personally signed photo of Neil completes this highly desirable package.
*One of the items I would have loved to have won was an original sketch of Soapy Smith by artist Daniel Urbach. This piece was just fantastic! It captured an intense personality in the eyes.

I was so happy to be a costume judge this year!

Throughout the night there was period gambling, complete with 3 faro tables, all thanks to my good friend, Phil Gessert and his lovely wife Jo. They trucked in Wyatt Earp, Morgan and Doc Holliday from Tombstone.  Guests to the Castle received $100 in Soapy Money and play-gambled at various games set up by Phil, which included faro, blackjack, craps, and a wheel of fortune. My kids learned how to play faro and while they were playing I told them stories of Soapy and faro, like the time he knife-slit a faro layout in Denver's Arcade saloon.
There were also several in-house contests going on during the night. Before the event several people signed up for the contest in which the winner of the most Soapy bucks would win a set of solid silver shells (three shell and pea game) worth $300. The contestants could operate any game they wished. But what the guests did not know is that honesty was not a requirement.

Ashley and Jefferson gambled until the very end!
Jefferson was the very last player at this table

William Draven operated a lottery in which guests gave $20 of their Soapy money for the chance to win a brand new car. He even had a photograph of the car. Whit Haydn, the main sponsor of the event wrote that the "favorite comment heard more than once at Soapy Smith Night: "You mean there really isn't a lottery for a car? He said you could win a car...he took all my Soapy Money!"

Giuseppe Aliott ran a shell game but near the end of the night he was behind William Draven in total count so he came up with a brilliant idea to win the contest.  He went around and collected the Soapy dollars from guests, telling them that the sponsors of the event wanted them back so they could use them again next year!

Whit Haydn said he figures William and Giuseppe each robbed about 150 people of all their Soapy Money. Oh what cons these two characters are... Soapy would be so proud.

"I can't wait for next year" was hear at all three events. I have to concur!

Some of the items for sale and auction

Jeff Smith