mith’s Skagway Guards
Seattle Daily Times, April 2, 1898.
Within seven days of the Committee of 101’s distribution of handbills warning Soapy Smith and his gang out of Skagway, Soapy created his own Alaska army unit with himself as captain. Soapy named his all-volunteer militia, the Skaguay Military Company, in response to President McKinley's call for volunteer companies at the start of the Spanish-American War. Soapy held meetings and volunteer drives, sending the minutes to President McKinley, to which he acknowledged receipt of, and thanked Soapy for, via the War Department. Soapy also sent the same package to Governor Brady of the District of Alaska, offering his services in keeping law and order in Skagway, Dyea and the two trails, basically making Soapy the law. The Skaguay Military Company under command of Captain Jeff Smith, what amounted to his own private army, could quell any “disturbances,” such as vigilantes might cause. The 101, with no stomach to oppose an organized unit of “Patriots,” shrank behind doors and bided time. It is surely interesting to imagine how Soapy's history might have played out had either McKinley or Brady accepted his offer.
No other known reports of men complaining that they had been robbed in this way are known. In fact, not even any reports of “physicals” are known. Jeff wanted the Company to be a force in which its members, the town, and not least of all himself could take pride. Such a force could hardly be sustained if its men were robbed as a first experience. Even Collier and Westrate [The Reign of Soapy Smith, 1935], who document nothing and present many details and stories about Jeff and the Soap Gang that could not be true, reject that Jeff was behind the robberies. They counter the story, however, with what appears to be another fabrication: “This dastardly work was reported to Soapy, who wrathfully ordered the perpetrators rounded up and hauled before him.” The perpetrators “attempted to laugh off their performance as a practical joke,” but “Soapy” was not amused and “compelled them to disgorge their ill-gotten booty on the spot and return it to the rightful owners, after which they were forced to apologize to their victims.” That the Company remained active for nearly four months strongly suggests that the men were not abused, at least not as told in the story of its recruits being robbed. —Alias Soapy Smith, p. 491
For your enjoyment and research, following is the original story as it came out in April 1898.
SMITH’S SKAGWAY GUARDS
How “Soapy” and His Gang
WORK A VERY SMOOTH GAME
Open a Recruiting Office, Make
Applicants Strip for a Physical
Examination and Remove All
Valuables From Their Clothes.
A correspondent of the Port Townsend Call, who seems to have wandered away from home without his mother, got as far as Skagway, where the much-maligned “Soapy” Smith appears to have pressed his button, while the gang did the rest.The article published below is taken from the above named paper, and merely shows the remarkable resources of men who live upon their wits and who are smart enough to take advantage of every opportunity presented for fleecing the tenderfoot. The article is as follows:A special correspondent of the Call at Skagway, writing under date of March 19, sends a grist of information that will be of interest here. Conspicuous among the news furnished is concerning the town itself, which he pronounces to be, without doubt, the toughest town on the face of the earth. The lawless element prevails there, says the writer, and all you have to do is listen to hear pistol shots after nightfall. “Skin games” are thicker than fleas on a dog, and the following of the notorious “Soapy” Smith is reaping a rich harvest from the unsophisticated.“The latest, and probably most amusing while at the same time serious game that is being perpetrated upon the unwary is entitled ‘Soapy’ Smith’s Cuban Army, and only goes to demonstrate the vast resources of those who prefer to make money without work.“Immediately following the first news of impending trouble between the United States and Spain over the Havana horror, it was announced that a company of militia would be raised at Skagway, outfitted, provisioned and sent to Cuba at once. One of the ‘Soapy’ gang took the matter in hand, and inside of three days 150 men had enlisted.“Smith, it was understood, was to put the bills and the organization was to be known as ‘Smith’s Skagway Guards.’ People who had hitherto harbored a bad opinion of the Prince of gamblers applauded the movement, and it was on this account solely such opportunity for fleecing was given.“I heard rumors of crooked work in the matter, and determined to find out by enlisting. Dispensing with everything of value about my clothes, and taking nothing but a couple of dollars, a jackknife and a plug of tobacco, I presented myself.“The recruiting officer was pleased to see me, and asked me if I was willing to enlist and die if necessary for my country. I told him I was, and he then administered an oath covering the above. At the proper moment the ‘major’ arrived. The recruiting officer said:“’Major, this is private S — —, whom you will take to surgeon so-and-so to be examined as to his physical qualifications. Instruct the surgeon to spare no pains in the examination, though we want none but first-class men in Smith’s Skagway guards.’“I was led into a dark room, and told to address. I did so, placing my clothes on a chair in plain view. That did not hinder me being robbed, for presently my eyesight was tested on a display card at the back end of the room. After a short delay I was told I could not pass, and the doctor withdrew. I at once went to my clothes, and found as predicted that I had been robbed. There was no one in the front room, so I was compelled to depart by a side entrance, which had been left conveniently open. While I lost only $2 and a jackknife, I am reliably informed that in several instances men have been ‘enlisted’ to the tune of several hundred dollars, in fact relieved of everything they were so shortsighted as to carry with them to the recruiting station.”
Skaguay Military Company: May 4, 2011, Nov. 11, 2017, June 30, 2010, June 3, 2010, April 1, 2010, 11
Skaguay Military Company: pages 79, 471, 486-90, 494-95, 498-502, 505, 510, 514-15, 595.
"Captain Jeff R. Smith, Captain Co A, 1st regiment National Guard of Alaska, recd [received] a communication directly from President McKinley yesterday, notifying him that an order had been issued to make out and forward commission for officers and enrollment of men in Co A Skaguay Guards. Capt Smith was not advised whether the services of himself or men would be required in the coming unpleasantness.
We can only suggest that if the president thinks he is going to have any real warm work, a few men like Jeff Smith would be a comfort."
—Daily Alaskan, April 27, 1898
1715: Sybilla Thomas Masters becomes the first American to be granted an English patent for cleaning and curing Indian corn.
1758: During the French and Indian War, the British capture Fort Duquesne at what is now known as Pittsburgh.
1783: The British evacuate New York, their last military position in the U.S., during the Revolutionary War.
1837: William Crompton patents the silk power loom.
1846: Carrie Amelia Moore is born in rural Kentucky, to George and Mary Moore. Carry eventually marries Dr. David A. Nation, and becomes Carry Nation, the famed temperance radical. Her daughter, Charlien, suffers from mental difficulties, which Carry blames on her first husband's alcoholism. Charlien is eventually committed to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum (the same asylum Soapy Smith’s father was institutionalized in). In 1889 Carry begins her radical temperance life, starting a local branch or of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.
1850: Texas relinquishes one-third of its territory in exchange for $10 million from the U.S. to pay its public debts and settle border disputes.
1867: Alfred Nobel patents dynamite.
1884: J. B. Meyenberg receives the patent for evaporated milk.
1867: Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer's court-martial ends at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
1868: Outlaw William “Elzy” Ellsworth Lay is born in McArthur, Ohio. He would later join the outlaw gang of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch.
1876: Indian Chief Dull Knife's village in the Bighorn Mountains near the Red Fork of the Powder River is destroyed by Colonel Mackenzie's troops during the Great Sioux War. Over 200 lodges are burned and items from Custer's 7th Cavalry are found in the camp.
1882: Fort Point in San Francisco, California, is renamed Fort Winfield Scott.
1902: Frank “Buckskin” Leslie, at 60-years-old, accidentally shoots himself in the leg when his gun fell out of his pocket while bending over in a San Francisco saloon.