February 29, 2012

White Pass and Yukon Railway - Then and now

Engine #59
Broadway Avenue, Skagway
circa 1900

Engine #73
Along the White Pass
circa 2011

I have been to Skagway numerous times since 1974 and have never taken the train trip on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

January 27, 2012, December 23, 2011

Jeff Smith


February 28, 2012

Actors and Scenes in the Soapy Smith Tragedy: Early collage photograph

Actors and Scenes
in the Soapy Smith Tragedy

The 10" by 12" Case and Draper cabinet photograph, Actors And Scenes in the Soapy Smith Tragedy shown at the top of the page, sold today on eBay for $403.98.

Shortly after the shooting of Soapy Smith on Juneau Wharf in 1898, the photographers of Skagway, including Case and Draper, began selling copies of the historical photographs taken up to that point as Skagway, Alaska souvenirs. The photograph shown here is a collage of some of those photographs. The first copies sold of the individual photographs shown in the collage are believed not to have had frames. The cardboard frame became standard with later copied and sold photographs (1899-1910).

Numbered for identification

The individual photographs in the collage are as follows. The wording is from one of the various photographers and repeated here. Errors and additional notes are bracketed.
  1. No 1. Public funeral of Frank Reid who died for the honor of our town.
  2. No 2. Frank Reid civil engineer & school teacher at Bishop Row [sic: Rowe] Hospital Skaguay after he was shot.
  3. No 3. Burial of Reid two miles above Skagway.
  4. No 4. Soapy Smith Marshall [sic] of the day on his fine horse leading big parade on July 4th 1898. Four days prior to his being killed [Photograph actually taken July 7, 1898].
  5. No 5. Soapy Smith after death -- July 8 - 1898.
  6. No 6. Judge Shelbrede [sic: Sehlbrede] of Skaguay.
  7. No 7. Examination of Smith in hospital just after being shot Dr. Whiting sitting at left.
  8. No 8. Miner called 'Skaguay' with his big poke of gold dust found in woodshed back of Soapy Smith's Saloon [No provenance John Douglas Stewart ever called “Skaguay”].
  9. No 9. Extracting bullet from Smith’s body.
  10. 10. Marshall [sic] Shoup [US marshal].
  11. No 11. Four of Smith's gang, names given above each.
  12. No 12. Rounding up the Soapy Smith gang in front of our store and bunk house [front of city hall].
  13. No 13. 10 of Smith's gang of whome [sic] picture was taken there as they stand on the Moore Wharf ready to be sent out of Alaska back to the states where they first came from, one was hoisted few feet with rope by the neck & let down again" [no provenance of rope hoisting].

The people shown in the photographs include:
Jefferson Randolph Smith II, alias "Soapy."
Frank Reid
US Commissioner, C. A. Sehlbrede
US Marshal, J. M. Shoup
Soap Gang member, "Slim Jim" Foster
Soap Gang member, "Reverend" John L. Bowers
Soap Gang member, "Professor" W. H. Jackson
Soap Gang member, "Old Man" Van B. Triplett
Soap Gang member, William F. Saportas
Soap Gang member, Nate Pollock
Soap Gang member, J. Allen Hornsby
Soap Gang member, C. S. Hussey
Soap Gang member, Bradley O’Brien
Soap Gang member, Charles Bromberg
Soap Gang member, J. Swain
Soap Gang member, J. Leary
Soap Gang member, “Blue Jay” Frank Brown
Soap Gang member, Henry Smith
Dr. Whiting
Dr. Cornelius
John Douglas Stewart (man who was robbed)
Assorted vigilantes and citizens

Alaska’s Digital Archives

April 18, 2011

Jeff Smith


February 27, 2012

Larimer Street, Denver, Colo., 1880s

Larimer at 16th Street
Denver, Colorado
circa early 1880s

(Click image to enlarge)

A fantastic view of Denver, the Queen City of the Plains when Soapy Smith arrived on the scene. A busy, bustling city ripe for his reign.

"In 1859 when Denver was established as a city, it was little more than a rough, frontier settlement at the westward edge of the Great Plains. Its mainstay was freighting to and from the growing number of mines in the Rocky Mountains, the north-south base of which lay 15 miles west. When Jeff arrived 20 years later, with a population of 35,000, Denver was the nation’s 26th largest city, and streetcars and utilities were being introduced. In 1877 Denver boasted 3 train lines while most Western cities had but one. Between 1882 and 1884, the city hosted 3 Expositions of National Mining and Industry and had become known as The Metropolis of the Territories and The Queen City of the Plains. By the mid 1880s, 6 railroad lines conveyed a steady flow of passengers to and from the depot at the northwest end of Seventeenth Street, making the mile-high city the booming business center of Colorado. Yet growth was so rapid and the pace of development so burdened that the city’s infrastructure lagged far behind. For example, main streets to and from Denver’s Union Station remained unpaved until 1891, and civil services were seriously lacking, such as an adequate police force."
Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. pp. 58-59

Denver: (first half of the book).

Jeff Smith


Captain David Legg Brainard, US Army, Skagway, Alaska

Captain David Legg Brainard
14th Infantry, US Army
Skagway, Alaska 1898

Our neighbor blog, The Skagway Historical Society, posted on David Legg Brainard, captain of the 14th Infantry when he arrived in February 1898. It is very possible Soapy Smith may have met this man so I wanted to introduce him to you. The following comes direct from the Skagway blog.
David Brainard was born in 1856 in Norway, New York. On Sept. 13, 1876, 19-year-old David Brainard left home to travel to Philadelphia and view America's first successful world's fair, the Centennial Exposition. After taking in many marvels of the Machine Age, Brainard boarded a train for home. At New York City, he changed trains and reached into his pocket for money to buy a ticket, but there was none. Too proud to write his family for funds, Brainard took the free ferry to the US Army Post at Governor's Island and joined the Regular Army. He didn't know it, but David Brainard was on his wasy to becoming one of those rare individuals in military history who rose from Private to General by pulling himself up by his bootstraps.

When Brainard joined the Army, it had been only three months since Custer's command was mauled at the Little Big Horn, and in no time, Brainard was sent to Montana Territory, to serve with the Second Cavalry against the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux Indians. The square-jawed Brainard was a keen soldier, who firmly believed orders clearly issued should be obeyed.

David L. Brainard

On May 7, 1877, Brainard participated in the Battle of Little Muddy Creek against the Sioux under Chief Lame Deer, and suffered wounds to his right hand and a gunshot wound to his right cheek, affecting his eye. Over half a century later, in 1933, he received the Purple Heart for his injuries.

He was a Captain in the 14th Infantry when he arrived in Skagway in February 1898. Captain Brainard was appointed Purchasing and Disbursing Officer of the Alaska Relief Expedition and was based in Dyea. Brainard’s relief expedition was intended to address the “sufferings” of the Dawson miners during the Alaskan Gold Rush, but they found the miners well supplied and needed no relief. He is most famous for being the last survivor (in 1935) of the United States’ Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (1881-84), an ordeal of unimaginable hardship. Only six survivors were rescued in 1884 after being stranded in the Arctic for two years in the harshest conditions.

Brigadier General Brainard died at the age of 90 on March 22, 1946 in Washington D.C. and is buried in Arlington.

For more information on Brainard please check out the following,
Skagway Historical Society blog
The Arctic Saga of David Legg Brainard
Find A Grave

14th Infantry: page 550-51, 566-67, 569.

Jeff Smith


February 25, 2012

Was W. H. StClair of the U.S. Customs office a member of the Soap Gang?

Our great neighbor at the Skagway Historical Society site posted a story on George Carson who had moved to Skagway, Alaska as the U.S. Customs officer where he logged in five thousand stampeders according to the story. Soapy Smith's gang were always on the lookout for potential victims of their confidence games, and it seems that the customs office would be an ideal place to gather such information. The story states that Carson did use the aid of various people, including a gentleman named StClair. Page 422 of my book, Alias Soapy Smith mentions a "St. Clair" as a friend or member of the Soap Gang and I can't help but wonder if these two men might perhaps be one and the same. Note that the period (.) used in the name mentioned in the letter should not confuse or alter any decision in this theory as it is merely the spelling Mr. Masterson used and may not be correct.

In the population name list from the historical society there are two St. Clair's listed and there is always a good chance of there being more we don't know about, thus this is only a theory, a possibility that at least one of Soapy's men gained employment with George Carson, the official U.S. Customs officer. W. H. StClair of the U.S. Customs office might have been a member of the Soap Gang.

W. H. StClair is the man George hired to help him. The "St. Clair" aligned with Soapy is merely mentioned in a November 18, 1896 letter to Soapy from good friend, Bat Masterson. The letter concerns Soapy's younger trouble laden brother, Bascomb Smith. Bat begins gently with salutations, commiseration over hard times, and works up to news of deep concern over Bascomb’s doings:


Friend Jeff:

Your letter received and very glad to hear from you. It would have pleased me much better had you stated that you were prospering. Well, Jeff, I am hanging on the raged [ragged] edge myself. The election went against me so far as the governor is concerned, but the ticket I supported elected the entire Arapahoe county delegation to the legislature and it looks now as though we may be able to get the city charter so amended as to abolish the fire and police board and let the right to control our city affairs revert back to the mayor. If this can be done it will be passed by the legislature in time for our April election and things may be as they used to be.

I have not seen Bascom [sic] since he was released after completing the year’s sentence. I hear of him, however, and always in some kind of trouble. He has been arrested twice of late for disturbance and discharging firearms down in the neighborhood of 20th and Market streets, and you know the kind of people who frequent that locality. If I were you I would advise him to leave here, as it is only a question of time until he will get a “settler” and every time the papers speak of him they generally say the brother of “Soapy” Smith, who was last heard of skinning suckers in Alaska. So you see you are not getting any the best of it.

I think Bruce will get out all right in time, but it will cost coin. He got into it by getting drunk with Jeff Argyle, “another good thing” as you know.

Bruce received a $100.00 already from Spokane collected in the Owl. You tell Brownie and St. Clair that, will you? Bruce is a poor writer and may not have acknowledged receipt of the money.

Well, Jeff, I wish you good luck,

Remember me to all friends you see.

As ever yours, 
W. B. Masterson


St. Clair: page 422.


1897: 100 soldiers of the 14th Infantry US Army arrive in Skagway to establish a post.

Jeff Smith


February 24, 2012

Proof our ancestors were well read

If you don't have a copy of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel I strongly suggest you buy a copy today!

"It is a brilliant book well researched and I think your great grandfather was a very intelligent man, with his skill and backing from so many people is his group I think if he was alive and changed from what he did today he would have made a great president."
                                                                                                                    —Michael Murphy.

Jeff Smith

Click HERE to join


February 23, 2012

Virtue tour of Soapy Smith's 17th Street, Denver.

Robert Bandhauer
17th and Market streets

Robert Bandhauer of Denver, Colorado is the Public Relations Chairman for the Wild West History Association. He is also a regular contributor on their Facebook page. Recently he went down to Seventeenth Street in the same area where Soapy Smith had most of his businesses in the nineteenth century and took a few photographs to show how the area looks today.

17th Street at Larimer

The above photograph shows the area Robert focus on. He started at the Union Station train depot whose tower can be seen at the far end of the street, and worked his way back to Larimer, where this photo was taken in the 1880s. The large building on the right is the Chever block where Soapy had his office, on the 2nd or 3rd floor. Soapy later opened the Midway Saloon on the bottom floor just out of range in the above photograph on the far right. The large two-story building behind the Chever (between the telephone/electric poles) contained the Tivoli Club at the far end of the building.

Union Station

The train depot pictured above opened in 1881. On March 18, 1894 fire destroyed the wooden clock tower and a large portion of the station itself. Using the surviving sections the station was quickly rebuilt with a stone clock tower. In 1914, the stone clock tower was torn down and replaced with the building's lower expanded center section that is visible today. Recently the city started the planned restoration of the depot. Thankfully, they had the foresight to save and keep the large end sections that remained from the original building of 1881.

17th Street 1880s
Looking towards Wynkoop and the depot

Union Station 1894

The original portion is plainly seen
(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

More of the restoration
(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

Now, let's head the opposite direction with Robert and see how 17th Street looks today!

(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

The large red brick building on the right is the Oxford Hotel which opened in 1892. If it's rooms could talk what stories they would tell? Across the street is where George Fisher operated several saloons used by the Soap Gang for bringing in their selected prey to buy drinks. This is also where Soapy and brother Bascomb opened the cigar store, Bascomb, Smith, and Company in 1889.

(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

17th and Market Streets, 2012
(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

17th and Market is where the Tivoli Club was located, on the left side of the above photograph. Directly across the street is what once was the Columbia Hotel. Considering it was across the street from the Tivoli it is a good assumption that he spent many a night in this building. The Columbia can be seen as it looked in Soapy's era below.

17th and Market Streets, 1890s

17th and Larimer Streets
Showing the location of the Soapy Smith memorial plaque
(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

Soapy Smith memorial plaque
(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

Location of the memorial plaque
and location where Chever block once stood
(photo by Robert Bandhauer)

~A big thanks to Robert Bandhauer for his wonderful photography skills~

Memorial plaque: Feb. 8, 2011


Jeff Smith


February 16, 2012

War Department gives Soapy Smith permission: Artifact #45

(Click image to enlarge)

When the first stampeders of the Klondike gold rush came out of Alaska there was no Skagway. The miners went to St. Michael where they boarded the steamers Excelsior or Portland. When the Excelsior docked in San Francisco on July 14, 1897, excitement spread quickly when each passenger disembarked with a reported average of from $30,000 to $90,000 in gold. The same occurred on July 17 when the Portland docked in Seattle. Soapy Smith had already made one trip to Alaska in search of his new empire. At this time most of the gold laden miners were coming through St. Michael at the head of the Yukon River, and this site looked early on to be a prime location for a major settlement and that's where Soapy wanted to be. In October 1897, to help control the disorder created by the gold rush, the US government opened Fort St. Michael. 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 his name would not be there to greet him. He had written to cousin Edwin in Washington, DC, to ask him to use his influence to secure permits to operate at Fort St. Michael in Alaska. Soapy told his cousin that he had plans to open a hotel. 

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 a 1920 interview cousin Edwin said Soapy's,
"... 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.'"
(Click image to enlarge)

The permission (artifact #45), signed by US Adjutant General Samuel Breck, and the rules (artifact #36) for using it were sent to Edwin, who in turn shipped them off to Soapy. If sent quickly, they may have arrived in Soapy's hands about the second week of February 1898 and Soapy, by this time, was already located in the new camp of Skagway. Now Soapy had a decision to make. He could build a hotel at what surely would be a major American entrance to the Klondike. Through it would pass, coming and going, vast amounts of money and gold, and many were the ways he knew how to take a share of it. But first, much needed to be done. To build the hotel, he would have to raise many thousands of dollars, arrange for supplies and builders, probably leave right away by steamship around the Aleutian island range, a voyage of about 2000 miles, stand the cost of bringing up his men…. Or should he stay in Skagway, where he had already staked a successful claim to a temporarily captive migrant population of thousands, knowing that tens of thousands more would be arriving in the spring? He chose to stay in Skagway and the rest, as they say, is history.

Note the writing on the back of the envelope. 
Soapy made notes where ever he could.
(Click image to enlarge)

June 6, 2011 

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

Jeff Smith


February 15, 2012

The Sawdust Game
(courtesy of The National Night Stick)

Our neighbor, The National Night Stick, published a story about a swindle I do not recall seeing before. It is called the "sawdust game." They wrote the story so I'll let them tell it.

Counterfeiting was an extremely lucrative crime in the nineteenth century, but it required skilled craftsmen and an intricate distribution network—it was not for amateurs. However, the "sawdust game," a confidence scam spawned by the success of counterfeiting invited amateurs. And it had the additional appeal of only swindling those who deserved to be swindled.

The sawdust game (also known as the “green goods game” or the ”boodle game”) was usually played in rural areas. A “circular” was printed up and mailed to men who were known to be attracted to lotteries and other get-rich-quick schemes. The form letters would flatter the recipient and mark him as a man well positioned to handle the goods in question, then provide a thinly veiled description of said goods:

“My business is not exactly legitimate, but the green articles I deal in are safe and profitable to handle. The sizes are ones, twos, fives, and tens. Do you understand? I cannot be plainer until I know you mean business, and if you conclude to answer this letter.”

If the mark responds to the letter he is directed to meet the writer at a specific address, it may be a disreputable saloon in his own town, or he may be directed to a hotel another city. There he will be met by a steerer who will lead him to the signatory of the letter. He is taken to another location, the “factory,” which could be in another city altogether. Here he is shown a sample of the”goods,” which will not actually be counterfeit but consist of crisp new legitimate bills. The mark may protest that they will not fool anyone, but inwardly he is amazed at how real they look. The “counterfeiters” make him an offer that, depending on the quantity, could be as low as six cents on the dollar.

The mark agrees and pays cash for his green goods, the bills are counted in his presence, bundled, and put into a bag. While they celebrate the transaction with a drink, and discuss future deals, one of the gang will switch the bag of cash for another. As he leaves, the mark is warned that, for everyone’s safety, he must not look inside the bag until he reaches his destination.

Of course, when the bag is opened, it is found to contain nothing but blank paper, or enough sawdust to give it the proper weight. He is left with no recourse; only a fool would tell the police he was swindled while trying to buy counterfeit money. In the words of Alan Pinkerton:

“It is safer than almost any other system of swindling, because it is practiced upon men, whose cupidity overcomes their judgment, and who in their desire to swindle others, become dupes themselves. For this reason the “sawdust swindler” invariably escapes punishment, as in order to arrest these men the victims are compelled to acknowledge their own dishonesty.”

In spite of the reluctance of victims to come forward, by the end of the century, sawdust game and its players were well known to police. This, however, did not seem to have any effect on the number dupes it attracted.


  • Byrnes, Thomas. Professional criminals of America. New York, N.Y: Cassel, 1886.
  • Pinkerton, Allan. Thirty years a detective: a thorough and comprehensive exposé of criminal practices of all grades and classes, containing numerous episodes of personal experience in the detection of criminals, and covering a period of thirty years' active detective life. New York: G.W. Carleton & Co., 1884.

*All credit goes to the National Night Stick. I suggest going on over and checking out their site, it's a keeper!

1914: Samuel H. Blonger, Soapy’s successor in Denver, dies.

Jeff Smith