July 19, 2017

New photograph of the steamer Utopia discovered.

Circa November 17, 1898
Note the boarded up windows
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

he Utopia

     Previous to 2011 there have been no known photographs of the steamship Utopia. The photograph below was introduced as the only known photo of the vessel, however there is no provenance that it is actually the Utopia, though it does resemble the my recent acquired photograph (at top of post) shows the discovering of a "new" pic of the Utopia. I can confirm that this photograph is of the Utopia because of the sign hanging between the wheel house (steering room) and the mast.
     The steamship Utopia was built in Seattle, Washington in 1893 and is famous because of its captain, “Dynamite Johnny” O’Brien. On November 17, 1898 the Steamship Utopia caught fire while en route from Seattle to Skagway. It is believed that the photograph at the top may have been taken shortly after the fire. It was owned by the Alaskan Steamship Company until 1903 when it was acquired by the Puget Sound Navigation Company.

The Utopia
    The Utopia is also famous because of its link to Soapy Smith's journeys to Alaska and his friendship with its captain. In the period previous to the Klondike gold rush the Utopia was operating the waterways to the goldfields near Homer, Hope, and Sunrise, Cook Inlet, Alaska in 1896. Previous to Skagway's founding, Soapy was looking for a new boom-town in Alaska.
     Other ships arriving at the location that would become Homer and having to wait for the late breakup of the Inlet ice were the steamers Utopia and Lakme, containing together, as Mrs. Banks tells us, “four hundred men headed for the Turnagain Arm district. They camped on the spit….” During this wait at some point, Mrs. Banks met Jeff. He “was a dark-haired, medium-sized, mild-mannered man,” she wrote of him forty-nine years later, “and I was quite surprised after my introduction to him to learn that he was the notorious Denver confidence man.”
     Soapy also wrote to his young brother Bascomb while apparently camped on the spit, as a couple of details from his letter match Mrs. Banks’ remembrance. This letter made the press:
Dear Bas. —Well I am 600 or 700 miles more on my way. Over 400 men are camped here on ice waiting for a thaw. You can write here but I may never get the letter. Have done no business yet. I expect to look for gold with the balance of the guys. Regards to all the people in the jail. I don’t suppose the governor has done anything for you. Take it easy; the world was not made in a day.
Your brother.
     Soapy seems to have reached the head of Cook Inlet the following day. A letter to a friend from there, apparently dated May 11, came to publication over a month later.
Col. Sapolio Smith Heard From.
A citizen of Greeley received a postal card Saturday from the notorious “Soapy Smith.” The card was written from “Cook’s Inlet, Six Mile Creek-Alaska,” and dated May 1 [11?]. An attaché of the Tribune made the following extract: “This place is 2,500 miles north of San Francisco, 1,500 miles from a railroad or telegraph office and 600 miles to the nearest post office. There are about 2,000 men in camp looking for placer claims and we think we have it. Only one woman in camp. I expect to be in Denver next fall in time to aid my brother redeemers. Your friend,” “Jeff Smith.”
Mrs. Banks met that “one woman” to whom Soapy referred. “She was red-headed, and attractive in a bold way. She and her husband were running a restaurant at Hope.”
—Alias Soapy Smith, p. 412
     The first available ship into the area, arriving ahead of the returning General Canby, was the steamship Utopia. It had dropped anchor at the head of Cook Inlet, disembarked its chartered cargo and hundred passengers bound for the Susitna River region, likely looped to the Sunrise-Hope beach sites to take on passengers, and returned south. Jeff boarded and paid passage to Seattle, but had he known what lay ahead, he might have waited for another ship. First, the Utopia was missing its master. He was Captain Dynamite Johnny A. O’Brien, an explosive Irishman from Cork who had gone to sea at 15, become a captain at 25, fought pirates, and who at the slightest infraction, battled insubordinates with his will and sometimes his fists. The nickname “Dynamite” seems to have grown out of his quickness to detonate when faced with dereliction of duty or disrespect for his station aboard ship. Once in Nagasaki “he had disposed of two larger opponents in less than thirty seconds.” They had not liked O’Brien’s tossing overboard their “two bottles of vile-looking liquor.”  
—Alias Soapy Smith, p. 413.

The ships name
sign hanging between wheel house and mast
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)
     What happened next varies in different versions, but the one told in Milton A. Dalby’s The Sea Saga of Dynamite Johnny O’Brien (1933) carries the clearest ring of veracity. To prepare for this biography, Dalby met regularly with O’Brien in his eightieth year in the months before his death in August 1931. Dalby also had access to the captain’s diary as well as other records. The biography is unsentimental and often realistically hard-hitting in its clear-cut accounts of brutal first mates, murderous cooks, loves, murders, numerous fights, and men perishing in storm-whipped seas. The following sequence is based primarily on Dalby’s biography of O’Brien.
     When the Utopia reached lower Cook Inlet, it encountered a heavy outflow of ice and so “came to anchorage in Seldovia Bay, with two other vessels, until the ice cleared….” It was here that O’Brien suddenly collapsed in terrific pain. Dalby recounts how since no doctor had been aboard, a hurried survey
of the anchored ships revealed a fortune-seeking miner who had once been a surgeon. He shook his head dolefully over O’Brien after a hasty examination.
     “About a thousand to one shot to pull through,” he told the Utopia’s hovering officers. O’Brien was partially conscious and heard the remark. “I’d operate if I had any tools but I haven’t any,” the ex-doctor went on.
     O’Brien painfully roused himself. “Doc, I heard you say I had a long chance to pull through. I’m a sport and God knows I don’t want to die in this damn place. Go ahead; all you need is a knife and a pair of scissors.”
These tools were “honed to razor sharpness and roughly sterilized.” Since the ship was “rolling somewhat,” men carried the captain ashore in the bitter cold to “a rough hut,” slipping “repeatedly on the icy ground.” Here he was “placed on three planks laid over two packing boxes” for the operation. O’Brien said he did not know what anesthetic was used but that “it was at least partially effective.” He said he was conscious at times during the operation “but felt no marked pain.”
     “O’Brien lay in a bunk in the hut for several days,” recuperating. In the meantime, ice had cleared sufficiently to allow ships up the Inlet, and the Utopia’s 100 restless miners wanted to join them. So somewhat behind the other vessels, the Utopia also made the 200-mile voyage to the head of Cook Inlet but without its ailing captain. He was left in a better accommodation than the hut, “the galley of some ill-fated ship,” as Mrs. Banks described it, but she and her husband had transformed it into their home.
     The Captain of the Utopia was ill, apparently from appendicitis. We had been moved hastily from the derelict galley … so as to give over our quarters to the sick man, they being the quietest and the cleanest spot.
When Soapy returned to Coal Bay at the Homer Spit on the Utopia, the captain was returned to his cabin to continue his recuperation.
     At some point, Soapy learned that “The vessel’s coal supply ran very low, the bunkers were scraped almost bare,” apparently a Seattle provisioning error. Coal was to be had, just not the $300 ($9,372 today) for a sufficient supply of it. So, from his bunk aboard ship, O’Brien ordered coal dug “from the bottom of the bay” where “a straggling coal formation was uncovered” when the tide was out. Over the next two days, ten tons were taken into the Utopia’s coal bunker. Bitter cold made the wet, back-breaking work even worse, and on the third day, the crew refused to dig any more. Such was the state of things when
     A knock came on O’Brien’s door and a bearded man entered. He smiled. “When do you sail, skipper?” he asked.
     “No coal, mister, and no money to buy any with, dammit….”
     Out came a bulky wad of crumpled bills. “How much do you need?” O’Brien told him, and three hundred dollars were quickly peeled off.
     Coal was purchased, and during the three days … before the Utopia was ready to sail the bearded stranger spent much time in O’Brien’s cabin. His name? “Just Smith, skipper!” He … tended O’Brien as carefully as a nurse might. He kept the cabin clean and brought O’Brien such food delicacies as could be found. If O’Brien wondered a little about the two heavy-framed revolvers which nestled under either armpit he said nothing, for they were none of his business.
     The Utopia sailed and O’Brien slipped into uneasy sleep with the welcome pounding of her engines in his ears. But when he awoke—it was some eight hours later, the cabin clock disclosed—all was quiet and the ship seemed anchored. He called feebly but none heard him, and Smith was not about. He gripped a stout water glass and hurled it through a cabin window and out onto the deck. The mate came running in response to the crash.
     O’Brien demanded the cause of the ship’s halting and was told that the purchased coal was of wretched quality, and that the engineers refused to burn any more of it. “So we’ve decided to anchor here under the lee of Cape Elizabeth and wait for a supply of good coal,” the mate explained. “The crew agrees with the engineers,” he added.
     O’Brien exploded…, and then had to grip his side in mad pain. “Why in the devil wasn’t I told about this? Who do you think is master of this ship?”
     “We didn’t think you were in any condition to handle the ship, captain.”
     “Call Smith, the bearded passenger, at once,” O’Brien demanded.
     “Dynamite Johnny explained to Smith the situation and asked if he might borrow his guns—the damn crew was mutinous and needed a little convincing that the “old man” knew what was best for ’em!
     An unusual fifteen minutes followed on deck. O’Brien was aided to a deck chair by Smith and, with a revolver in each hand, called the crew to file by him and swear that they would help get the ship into Juneau where an ample supply of good coal would be obtained. He stormed at the engineers particularly and shook the weapons at them threateningly.
     “If that coal was good enough to steam on for six or seven hours it’s good enough to get into Juneau with,” he shouted. “By the Rock of Cashel I want steam up in this old tub and I want it in a hurry! Understand me?”
     And apparently he was understood for the Utopia crossed the Gulf of Alaska without trouble and refueled in Juneau. When the vessel reached Seattle it was a pale O’Brien who went ashore on the arm of his friend Smith. He had weighed nearly 160 pounds when the Utopia had sailed…; he was reduced to 120 when he came ashore. He spent the next month in a hospital.
On June 2, 1896, after an absence of two months, the steamer Utopia docked in Seattle. Soapy may have spent a longer time in the frozen hell than he had wished for but he had made a very valuable friend, one who never denied Soapy and the Soap Gang passage aboard the two ships captained by O'Brien in Alaskan waters.
Dalby reported from O’Brien that members of the Soap Gang
frequently traveled on O’Brien’s ships although their identity was not always known. O’Brien found Smith kind-hearted and generous; indeed such was his reputation in Skagway outside of purely business hours! He returned … [to Skagway] with O’Brien on the Utopia [in 1897] and, at O’Brien’s urgent plea, kept a tight grip on his gang of cut-throats and gamblers during the trip north.
     The Utopia had first class and steerage with accommodation for 80 passengers and baggage. In August 1897 she was taken off the Puget Sound run and scheduled to depart Seattle for the new towns of Skaguay and Dyea which sprouted at the start of the discovery of gold in the Klondike, on August 11th with 100 passengers, but when the Utopia finally sailed on August 14th, she had 250 passengers plus 50 horses and freight, including a “J. R. Smith” among its passengers. The ship was scheduled to leave on Friday, August 13, but superstitious passengers and a flexible Captain O’Brien opted to wait a day. When reporters asked about the delayed departure, they were told that it was taking longer than anticipated to load cargo.
     For the rest of 1897 the Utopia returned to short runs on Puget Sound, and John O'Brien continued as master of the Rosalie on the Seattle-Skaguay run into 1898, the same Rosalie the widow of Soapy, Mary Eva, went to and from Skagway after he was killed (Alias Soapy Smith, pp 584-86).

Soapy arrives in Skagway on the Utopia: May 13, 2017
The other photo of the Utopia: August 13, 2011 

The Utopia: pages 412-17, 435, 447.

"The most infamous of his unique schemes was the prize package soap sell in which he put large-denomination bills inside the wrappers of some cakes of soap and auctioned off the packages for $1 each, then for more as the number of cakes diminished. Only Jeff’s men, who seeded every crowd, ever won the larger bills. From this swindle came the sobriquet “Soapy” by which he came to be known throughout the American West."
Alias Soapy Smith, page 15


1848: A women's rights convention takes place in Seneca Fall, New York.
1867: Construction begins on Fort Fetterman near the North Platte River, Dakota Territory.
1878: Outlaw John Selman arrives in the Pecos Valley, New Mexico Territory. His cattle rustling gang is known as the “Selman Scouts.”
1878: Outlaws Sam Bass, James Murphy, Seaborn Barnes, and Frank Jackson shoot it out with Texas Rangers in Round Rock, Texas. Deputy Sheriff A. W. Grimes and wounded Deputy Sheriff Maurice Moore are shot dead. Outlaws Barnes and Bass are shot dead, Bass not passing away for another two days. Bad man Soapy Smith and Cousin Ed witness Dick Ware shoot Bass.
1878: The five-day battle in Lincoln, New Mexico Territory ends. Outlaw Billy the Kid and others were able to escape.
1879: Famed gambler and bad man Doc Holliday shoots and kills Mike Gordon outside a saloon in Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory.
1881: Indian Chief Sitting Bull and 187 Sioux Indians surrender to Fort Buford, Dakota Territory, after four years of exile in Canada.
1881: Pat Garrett arrives in Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory and announces that he is going to resign as sheriff of Lincoln County.
1881: Three citizens are killed in an Indian raid of Arena Blanca, New Mexico Territory.
1890: “Crazy Bill” Lynn, a Spokane, Washington thug, shoots and wounds two boxers at the Spokesman City Room. Ed Hutchinson, Sporting Editor of a Spokesman newspaper promotes a boxing match between Patsy Muligan and Jimmy Casey, but there is a weight dispute and the fight is about to be called off when 'Crazy Bill' Lynn decides he should take Mulligan’s place in the ring, and strikes Mulligan in the face. Mulligan pulls out a revolver, but editor Hutchinson grabs the gun before it can be fired. Lynn calls Mulligan an undesirable name and Mulligan strikes Lynn. Lynn pulls a revolver, but is subdued and escorted from the building. Later, Lynn returns with gun in hand. A man named Smith attempts to stop Lynn and is shot twice, in the hand and kneecap. Mulligan attempts to flee, but Lynn fires wounding Mulligan with a bullet to his body.
1893: Bad man Soapy Smith pays $25 so that 125 unemployed workers could attend a meeting in their behalf at the Coliseum Hall in Denver, Colorado. After paying, he hollered out, “walk in boys, the hall’s yours and nothing to pay.”
1909: The first unassisted triple play in major-league baseball was made by Cleveland Indians shortstop Neal Ball in a game against Boston.

May 17, 2017

Location of the shootout on Juneau Wharf

(#1) Postcard view from Juneau Wharf
Circa 1908-1915Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

ocation of the shootout on Juneau Wharf

     This recent acquisition shows one of the closest photographs I have yet to see of the location where my great-grandfather, "Soapy" Smith, met his demise at the hands of vigilantes Frank Reid and Jesse Murphy on July 8, 1898. It is a postcard dated by the seller between 1907-1915.
     The earliest this photo can be is May 1908 as that is the date that the Dewey Hotel moved to Broadway and 2nd Avenue (see photo #2).

(#2) Same postcard cleaned up and identified
Circa 1908-1915
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

     The railroad tracks in the picture above (#2) confirm that this photograph was taken from where the Juneau Company Wharf ruins then stood. The wharf posts are still in place and wharf planks litter the ground. The spot where the photographer is standing, as well as the direction he/she is shooting, is noted on photo (#3).

(#3) Skaguay street plan
March 8, 1898
Note that this plan was created with the aid of Frank Reid,
the vigilante who shot and wounded Soapy Smith.
(Click image to enlarge)

November 3, 2016
October 14, 2014
February 23, 2014
May 2, 2012
April 19, 2012
June 2, 2009
November 29, 2008

"I find people putting their money into savings banks. Now, this is dead wrong. The faro bank is the only safe bank. It is run by honorable, high-minded men, who would scorn to do evil."
— Jefferson R. Smith
Rocky Mountain News, 9/25/1894
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 352.

MAY 17

1792: The New York Stock Exchange is founded by 24 brokers.
1875: The first Kentucky Derby is run at Louisville, Kentucky.
1877: The first telephone switchboard burglar alarm is installed.
1881: Frederick Douglass is appointed recorder of deeds for Washington, D.C.
1849: Fire destroys much of St. Louis, Missouri. At around 9 a.m., a paddleboat on the Mississippi River catches fire. As it drifts, bumping into other steamboats along the way, it destroys 22 more steamers. The fire leaps to shore and spreads through the town. Fire Captain Thomas Targee dies trying to use gunpowder to create a firebreak; He is the first known firefighter killed in the line of duty. The city burns for nearly 12-hours. Remarkably, only two other lives are lost. St. Louis is home to the Noonan family, whose daughter, Mary Eva, marries bad man “Soapy” Smith.
1853: Fort Riley is established in Kansas Territory.
1868: Camp Cooke, on the Judith River, Montana Territory, is attacked by an estimated 2,500 Sioux Indians.
1870: The Union Pacific water tower in Kit Carson, Colorado Territory is torn down by Indians.
1871: Town lots go on sale in Tucson, Arizona Territory.
1872: Tracks for the Denver and Rio Grande railroad are still 20 miles from Pueblo, Colorado Territory when the workers run out of iron.
1876: George Armstrong Custer begins his campaign against the Indians. He will die this year during the Battle of Little Bighorn.
1883: Buffalo Bill's first touring outdoor show, The Wild West: Honorable W. F. Carver's Rocky Mountain and Prairie Exhibition, debuts in Omaha, Nebraska.
1885: Geronimo and Nana lead 134 Apache Indians off the San Carlos reservation, Arizona Territory, and begin a series of raids, killing 73 civilians and soldiers on their way to Mexico.
1891: Cash and other relics left behind by the Donner Party are found in Truckee, California.

May 13, 2017

What date did Soapy Smith actually arrive in Skagway, Alaska

The Willamette
"Discharging freight at Skaguay, Alaska"
Left Seattle Aug. 8, 1897
six days previous to the Utopia's departure
courtesy of the Library of Congress
(Click image to enlarge)

hat date did Soapy arrive in Skagway, Alaska?

Let's begin with a look at how things stood in early August, 1897. Here is a summary from the Seattle Daily Times:
     Up to the 8th [8th day of August] inst. 3150 prospectors had left Seattle for the North, 500 going in by way of St. Michaels and thence up the Yukon River, and the rest going in via Dyea over the [Chilcoot] pass and down the Yukon to the Klondike. Up to the 8th inst. also 910 horses had been taken in to be used as pack animals between Dyea and Lake Linderman [Lindeman]. It is estimated that by September 1, 7928 prospectors will have left Seattle for the diggings, and that oxen, horses, mules, and cows, coming under the head of "beasts of burden," to the number of 1766 will have been taken into the territory by the gold hunters. This does not include the exodus from California, leaving San Francisco and other California points, which will easily run the total number of gold-hunters on their way northward to more that 10,000 men. A well-known local steamship man has furnished The Times the following schedule of steamers, and his estimates, based on advance sale of tickets and the pulse of the rush, are believed to be conservative, the steamers named with the exceptions of the Elder, which sailed from Portland, and the Islander, from Victoria, all leaving Seattle. 
Seattle Daily Times, August 15, 1897

     In the mad rush to reach the Klondike via Skaguay and neighboring Dyea, here is what we knew with the publishing of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel in 2009 (p. 435).
     The date of Jeff’s arrival in Skaguay is not certain. Jerry Daily, one of Jeff’s partners, told “Bat” Masterson that their first visit to Skaguay was for 23 days. Jeff left Skaguay for an “outside” visit on September 14, 1897, so the date of his arrival in Skaguay may be pegged as Sunday, August 22, 1897, 27 days after the first ship of miners arrived. The Utopia left Seattle on August 14 with a “J. R. Smith” among its passengers. The ship was scheduled to leave on Friday, August 13, but superstitious passengers and a flexible Captain O’Brien opted to wait a day. When reporters asked about the delayed departure, they were told that it was taking longer than anticipated to load cargo. As travel to Skaguay from Seattle then could take about a week, it is more than likely that the “J. R. Smith” is Jeff aboard the Utopia. Moreover, after he came south in 1896 with Captain O’Brien, the captain’s biography has Jeff returning “from Seattle with O’Brien on the Utopia” along with some of “his gang of cut-throats and gamblers….”
     Jeff, Daily, and two other unnamed members of Jeff’s “crew” disembarked in Skaguay and worked 19 of the 23 days they were there. In that time, according to Daily, they made $30,000 and divided it 4 ways before Jeff returned to Seattle.
    New research indicates Soapy very likely arrived in Skagway on August 18, 1897 as a passenger on the Utopia, four days earlier than previous believed.  
     Previously, all we knew came from Soap Gang member Jerry Daily and news correspondent Sylvester Scovel who sent a dispatch from Skaguay dated August 20, 1897, to The World in New York, in which he wrote "Smith, known all over the West as 'Soupy' [Soapy] Smith" (published August 27, 1897, p. 2).
     We know from a passenger list printed in the Seattle Post Intelligencer (8/14/1897) that Jeff was listed as being aboard the Utopia when she sailed at 1 a.m. on August 14, 1897 (Seattle Daily Times 8/13/1897 Evening Edition). Studying sailing times to and from Skaguay and Seattle shows the Utopia and the slightly larger Rosalie made port on average in five days. As the Utopia sailed from Seattle early on the morning of August 14, she would have made Skaguay Bay on the morning or afternoon of August 18, 1897, putting Soapy into Skaguay four days earlier than previously thought.
     However, is the "J. R. Smith" listed as aboard the Utopia actually Soapy Smith? Further evidence indicates that the answer is yes.
     How do we know Soapy arrived on the Utopia? After all, in the second paragraph of the dispatch by Scovel, he writes, "They are now unloading in the bay the big ships Islander and Bristol with the smaller boats Utopia and Edith." These vessels are the four nominees for Soapy's conveyance to Skaguay. The first two are Canadian, and their home port is Victoria, British Columbia. To sail either the Islander or Bristol, Soapy would have had to take a small boat north from Seattle to Victoria on Union Bay. This choice seems unlikely as much more convenient and direct transport was available from Seattle on either the Edith or the Utopia.

Ships heading north
Departure dates from Seattle
Seattle Daily Times
August 15, 1897

The Topeka

The Rosalie

     Let's open back up for a moment the possible means of transport. The Times clipping above is a list of steamships and their departure dates from Seattle (with the Elder leaving from Portland and the Canadian ship Islander leaving from Victoria, B.C.). Of interest are the ships Topeka, Rosalie, Edith, and Utopia, and especially the Utopia. The first three depart on August 12, 1897. The Topeka is out, I think, because it makes ports of call, thus lengthening travel time, although that might not have concerned Soapy. The next 3 are direct to Skaguay/Dyea. The steamship Edith, which departed on August 12, was much smaller than the Utopia and carried but 25 passengers arrived on the 18th, 19th or 20th, it would have been a slow boat to Skaguay. Big steamers direct to Skaguay bragged about making the trip in 70 hours, or within 3 days. As mentioned, The Utopia, and later the slightly larger Rosalie, made the trip on average in 5 days.

Reportedly the Utopia?
courtesy of Skagway Stories

     The Utopia, departed Seattle on August 14, 1897 at 1 a.m. (Seattle Daily Times, August 13, 1897), which, assuming a 5-day voyage, would put her anchored in Skaguay Bay on the morning or afternoon of August 18th. It would have taken the rest of the 18th and perhaps all of the 19th for the Utopia to off load its 250 passengers, their freight, and 50 horses and then to take on returning passengers and freight before pulling anchor on the 20th. This time frame allows plenty of time for Soapy to come ashore on the 18th, 19th, or 20th, look around, and visit with Scovel, perhaps at "The World Office Building" (a tent). It also would have given Scovel time to write up his story and dispatch it on an August 20 southbound ship (that ship was likely the Utopia as she would have been ready to sail.).
     Foremost among reasons that make the Utopia Soapy's most likely transport are these: he knew the ship and its captain, who owed Soapy a big favor. In 1896 Soapy returned from Cook Inlet, Alaska on the Utopia with Captain O'Brien, who was recovering from an appendectomy. According to O'Brien's biography, Smith took care of him during recuperation. Additionally, Smith lent the captain not just money for badly needed coal; he also loaned him pistols for the purpose of restoring discipline to his crew.

Seattle ad for the Utopia
sailing "August 11, 1897"
Courtesy of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

     The Utopia had first class and steerage with accommodation for 80 passengers and baggage. In August 1897 she was taken off the Puget Sound run and scheduled to depart Seattle for Skaguay/Dyea on August 11th with 100 passengers, but when the Utopia finally sailed on August 14th, she had 250 passengers plus 50 horses and freight. All northbound ships became severely overbooked because of the huge demand for passage, but demand at that time was made even more acute with the sinking of the Steamer Mexico on August 5, 1897.
     The Mexico was the first big ship into Skaguay/Dyea after the gold-seeker rush began. On her hurried return to Seattle for more passengers, the Mexico drifted off course in heavy fog. With visibility lifting in the early morning of August 5th, the Mexico got up steam, and at 4:30 a.m. at Dixon Entrance, going full speed, she struck rocks, sheared off much of her keel, and began to sink. Evacuation was orderly, with no casualties, and by 6:30 a.m. the Mexico went under. Passage for the next scheduled return trip to Skaguay/Dyea on the Mexico, which could carry 600 or more passengers, was fully booked, so her sinking stranded those Argonauts in Seattle and sent them begging for passage aboard other ships, including the Utopia.
     Another sign the Utopia is Soapy's ship north comes from page 416 in Alias Soapy Smith: The life and Death of a Scoundrel. Captain O'Brien (through his biographer Dalby), "he returned from Seattle [to Skaguay] with O'Brien on the Utopia [in 1897] and, at O'Brien's urgent plea, kept a tight grip on his gang of cut-throats and gamblers during the trip north." (The Sea Saga of Dynamite Johnny O'Brien by Milton Dalby, 1933, p. 179). This sentence could be referring to 1897 or 1898 as Soapy went north to Skagway at least twice. But the 1897 trip is certain because Captain O'Brien ceased being master of the Utopia as of about September 3, 1897, according to the Seattle Daily Times, and a little later was given command of the Rosalie, which was on a regular Seattle/Skagway run.
    Despite the Utopia having triple the number of passengers than could be reasonably accommodated, given the past between O'Brien and Soapy, the captain may have made a special accommodation. Dalby reports this for that voyage:
Four well-known Seattle business men slept on the floor of O'Brien's cabin in the Utopia on his last trip northward, and were grateful for the space. (p. 180)
     Skaguay on August 18, 1897, was but 24 days old. It was a tent city with all "rooms" likely occupied. It is probable that Soapy returned to the Utopia to a comfortable birth there for the night, coming ashore again in the daylight hours. Scovel's August 20 dispatch had to have left Skaguay by boat, perhaps by the returning Utopia whose next stop was Seattle in 4.5 or 5 days. That would put the Scovel dispatch there on the 25th or 26th. It then would have been telephoned or telegraphed to the New York World and published there on the 27th. It's not a certain scenario but a reasonable one.   
     For the rest of 1897 the Utopia returned to short runs on Puget Sound, and John O'Brien continued as master of the Rosalie on the Seattle-Skaguay run into 1898, the same Rosalie the widow of Soapy, Mary Eva, went to and from Skagway after he was killed (Alias Soapy Smith, pp 584-86).
     Soapy probably embarked from Seattle for Skagway on August 14 aboard the Utopia and first set foot in Skaguay on the morning or afternoon of August 18, 1897. The pieces of evidence are numerous: his name on the Utopia passenger list, the running time of five days for ships of the Utopia class, Captain O'Brien's biography linking Soapy to the captain's last voyage as master of the Utopia, and Scovel's interview of Soapy Smith in the August 20 dispatch to The World. About Soapy, Scovel wrote in part,

Smith, known all over the West as "Soupy" [Soapy] Smith, … is regarded as the king of prognosticators, and he says:
     "This thing eclipses all previous gold excitements. The best men are here, the big mine experts, the big mine owners, and the biggest gamblers. You can tell a gold strike from the number of men who gamble and what they play for." 
Among the biggest gamblers and how much they were willing to gamble, no doubt Soapy also had himself in mind.

The new information is credited to the research talents of Art Petersen of Klondike Research.

"Jeff had a disarming smile that invited trust, the firm handshake and warm demeanor of a successful businessman, and the silvery personality of a man impossible to dislike. His manners were those of a Southern gentleman and his persuasive powers those of the devil."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 15


1607: Jamestown, Virginia, is settled as a colony of England.
1648: Margaret Jones of Plymouth is found guilty of witchcraft and is sentenced to death.
1821: The first practical printing press is patented by Samuel Rust.
1846: The U.S. declares that war with Mexico already existed.
1848: Louis C. Blonger, Soapy Smith’s successor in Denver, Colorado, is born.
1854: The first professional billiards match is held at Malcolm Hall in Syracuse, New York.
1861: Britain declares neutrality in the American Civil War.
1864: The Battle of Resaca is fought as Union General Sherman marches towards Atlanta during the Civil War.
1865: The last land engagement of the Civil War is fought at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas, more than a month after General Lee's surrender.
1865: Sergeant Crocker of an all-black Union unit dies at White's Ranch, Texas and is recorded as the last death of the Civil War.
1867: Confederate President Jefferson Davis is released from prison after spending two years behind bars for his role in the Civil War.
1870: An Indian attack on a Kansas Pacific Railroad crew near the town of Kit Carson, Colorado Territory kills eleven and wounds nineteen. 500 head of livestock are stolen.
1873: Ludwig M. Wolf patents the sewing machine lamp holder.
1877: Outlaw “Wild Bill” Longley is arrested in Louisiana and taken to Giddings, Texas where he is sentenced to hang for the murder of Roland Lay.
1880: Thomas Edison tests his experimental electric railway in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
1881: Outlaw “Billy the Kid” was meant to hang in Mesilla, New Mexico Territory for the murder of Sheriff William Brady, but he escapes, killing two more law men while doing so.
1885: First mention of Jefferson Randolph Smith as “Soapy” Smith published in a Denver newspaper.
1892: Two robbers attempt to rob a train at Temple, Texas by laying across the tracks to force it to stop. The train engineer guesses their intent and keeps moving. The robbers are forced to flee.
1898: Wild Bunch gang members, Joe Walker and John Herring, are killed by a posse. When the two bodies are brought into the town of Thompson, Utah people turn out to gawk at Herring, thinking he is the famed outlaw Robert Leroy “Butch Cassidy” Parker.
1902: Denver, Colorado’s first porn theater opens. The Wonderland features hand-cranked flicker films that flipped a succession of photos bearing images of nude females.
1908: Outlaw Henry Starr is apprehended in a small Arizona mining camp near the Mexican border, after having robbed a bank in Amity, Colorado. He was taken back to Colorado, tried and sentenced to 20-years. He was paroled after seven years, in which he returned to robbing banks.

May 11, 2017

A new Soap Gang photograph?

The auction photograph
courtesy of Raynors' Historical Collectible Auctions
(Click image to enlarge)

ew Soapy Smith related photograph?

     Soapy Smith fan and personal friend, Gary Wiggins, notified me of an auction selling some Soapy related photographs. The auction house Raynors' Historical Collectible Auctions describes lot #544 as follows:
A pair of photographs withdrawn from a scrapbook, still nestled in the scrapbook holder pages, each 6-1/4” x 4-1/2” with ID on scrap book page. To include, “Gang of Soapy Smith: Skagway 1898,” showing 19 men aligned outside in front of a building. ... plus, “Skagway 1898, * Rounding up the Soapy Smith Gang” with a large group of men in front of wood buildings. The foreground is out of focus, dark image These are period copy photos taken by the photographers Webster and Stevens, within minutes of one another, in front of the Skagway city hall where members of the Soap Gang were being held after their capture the day after bad man Soapy Smith met his demise on the Juneau Company Wharf in a shootout with the vigilante Committee of 101. Three armed vigilantes or deputy U.S. Marshals can be seen in the door way blocking the entrance. Some of the more radical vigilantes outside, seek to obtain custody of the prisoners to serve their own brand of justice. Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II (1860-1898) was a con artist, saloon and gambling house proprietor, gangster, and crime boss of the 19th-century Old West. Although he traveled and operated his confidence swindles all across the western United States, he is most famous for having a major hand in the organized criminal operations of Denver and Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska, from 1879 to 1898. When he settled in the towns of Creede and Skagway, opening businesses with the primary goal of gently robbing his customers, while making a name for himself. He died in spectacular fashion in the shootout on Juneau Wharf in Skagway.

The same exact photograph
For comparison
note the major differences in clarity and contrastAuthor's collection
(Click image to enlarge)

     I can confirm that the top photo is definitely a scene from the Soapy Smith drama, but I have great reservations about the second photograph, although it is not nearly as clear as any other copy I have seen. Take note of the clarity of the white text below the photograph, which shows that this photo is very blurry. Now examine the exact same photograph I attached "for comparison."
     The lower photo of the two offered for auction is unknown to me. I do not recognize any of the men or the building. It appears to have been taken outside of Skagway as I know of no "L" shaped buildings existing in Skagway in July 1898 (see photograph below). Some of the men appear to be Indian or Mexican, which there were not known to be any in the Soap Gang in Skagway. Then there are the four children; why would they be posed alongside arrested gang members? In fact, it would be a good idea for the auction house to send me better, larger copies of these, along with any additional information and/or provenance.

Skagway, Alaska
June 1898
Note: No "L" shaped buildings
(Click image to enlarge)

I sent the photos to Alaskan historian and the publisher of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel for his well sought after opinion. He had the following to add.
     The second picture is not taken in Skaguay ... or so I'd be willing to wager. I'll tell you why I think so, but first let's address who the seller says took the photos, Webster and Stevens.
     Here's what Candy Waugaman writes about them in Alaska History, Spring/Fall 2002, p51:
Circa 1898-1906; Dawson, Skagway, Seward Peninsula; Seattle firm begun by Ira Webster and Nelson Stevens in 1903, may not have taken Alaskan photos of their own, acquired photos by Nowell, Hegg, LaRouche, and perhaps others; Seattle Museum of History and Industry; BWP [Biographies of Western Photographers]
So the photos could not have been "taken by" Webster and Stevens as they weren't even around until 1903. Rather, W and S made a copy of the photo, taken by either Hegg or Sinclair or someone else.
     I read the description on HCAauctions.com. Says there that the photos are copies. That they surely are. Muddy and fuzzy as they are, they're poor copies at that. The first photo is one we've both seen many times, in front of City Hall with many excited Skaguay citizens.
     The second photo cannot be as described, taken "within minutes of one another" [that is, the first photo]. No building on 5th street looks like that, nor could the background terrain be from that location on 5th. Next, no building in all of Skaguay in 1898 has a grass/leaf roof with small-diameter poles holding them down. One Skaguay blow [Skagway means home of the north-wind] would remove such a roof with ease. The walls appear to be stucco, not the milled lumber that predominated Skaguay then.
     To the backdrop again; those are spindly trees whereas in Skaguay, the trees are dense on steep, high cliff walls on one side and distant sloping, high hills on the other, across the Skaguay river. To the north is the interior valley with no hills, and to the south is Skaguay Bay. Now the foreground: it looks parched and hard, with dried-out vegetation in front of the line of men and young children. In the summer of 1898, every street in Skaguay had been marched into mud and then was pliant soil when not mud soup. No vegetation appears on any of the streets--except that placed there for celebrations.
     Now the people. I have searched their faces for any sign of a gang member's face, as I expect you have. None is recognizable to me. I agree about the children; none would be lined up with gang members for a photo. Some of the men appear to be Caucasian while others to be Indian and still others to be Mexican. I would guess the locale to be southwest US or perhaps even Mexico, in a high plains, somewhat desert area. The jackets on some suggest it's chilly but getting on into a late morning that's warming up. One man with an X above him is in shirtsleeves while the other with an X above him is also and wearing an apron, suggesting he is a cook.
     To conclude, the 2nd photo, in my opinion, cannot be Skaguay and certainly is not of Soapy Smith gang members. My guess would be that whoever put the album together made an assumption about photos acquired years before and placed the two together and wrote what was written without knowledge or accurate remembrance of Skaguay nor of the merchants, workers, Cheechakos, or Sourdoughs who peopled Skaguay in July 1898. Perhaps the person had never even visited Skaguay.
    A minimum bid of $400 is unreasonably high for these photos. One is a poor copy of a common photograph, and the other is certainly misidentified. However, I don't believe a scam is being perpetrated. Rather, I suspect the seller is just repeating the error of the person who built the album and wrote captions for these photos. Hope these notes help.
In the end all we can really do is repeat the words from the sign that hung at the entrance of Soapy's Tivoli Club in Denver, caveat emptor, which means "let the buyer beware." 

Raynor's Historical Collectible Auctions.
Art Petersen

"In times of physical danger he could draw a pistol or knife as smoothly as he could deal aces from the bottom of the deck."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 15

MAY 11

1792: The Columbia River is discovered by Captain Robert Gray.
1858: Minnesota is admitted as the 32nd state.
1872: Passengers on a Kansas Pacific train protest against the senseless killing of buffalo from railroad cars.
1888: The outlaw Jack Taylor gang rob a Sonora Railroad in Agua Zarca, Mexico. Five outlaws, Jack Taylor, Geronimo Miranda, Federico Duran, Nieves Duran and Manuel Orozco Robles open fire on the train killing fireman John Forbes. The engineer jumps off the engine fleeing. The outlaws surround and fire their guns into the express car. The express car agent, Isaac Hay, is wounded with bullets to the head and shoulder. Louis Atkinson steps from the baggage car and his shot and killed. Another passenger is wounded with a bullet to the arm. The outlaws get away with only $140.
1889: Robbers unsuccessfully attempt to rob $28,000 in gold and silver in Arizona Territory. During the botched robbery eight soldiers are wounded and eight of the attackers are captured. Sergeant Benjamin Brown and Corporal Isaiah Mays (both black) of the 24th Infantry receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for their bravery.
1894: Workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company in Illinois go on strike.
1894: Three visitors to Denver, Colorado, L. B. Casebier, Solomon Corell and James Mills complain to the police about being robbed in a gambling house. Casebier was knocked unconscious, and identified bad man “Soapy” Smith as one of the men responsible, and was arrested. Police Chief Armstrong announced “’a general war on suspected poker clubs,’ which was a hollow threat and the gamblers knew it.”
1910: Glacier National Park in Montana is established.

May 9, 2017

Did Soapy Smith stay at Zang's Hotel in Creede, Colorado?

Zang's Hotel and Annex (saloon)
circa 1892-93
Courtesy of Denver Public Library Digital Collections
(Click image to enlarge)

id Soapy stay in Zang's Hotel?
New information about Creede, Colorado 1892.

     I have always pondered the story that "Soapy" Smith, Bob Ford, Bat Masterson and "Poker Alice" Tubbs stayed at Zang's Hotel (now the Creede Hotel). The sign that once graced the front stated so, but there is no other provenance, and I have yet found where the information originated. Up until today I was under the impression that the hotel was built in late 1892-93 after Ford's death and Soapy had moved back to Denver. Photographs of the business district taken on June 8-9, 1892 show everything burnt to soil level. I figured that the hotel was built post June 8, 1892. There have been no advertisements, at least seen by me, of Zang's Hotel previous to the fire so I "assumed," and you know what happens when historians assume.   

Creede Hotel sign
Summer 1985
"Famous Guests, Soapy Smith," etc.
Author's collection

     Soapy and numerous other saloon and gaming house proprietors came to Creede as it was a silver rush boom-town that sprang up at the same time Denver was going through a reform to close down gambling in the capital. Soapy left Creede in April 1892 just as Denver's reform movment began to wane. The fire of June 5, 1892 settle the question for most of the others. There is a June 1892 newspaper interview of Soapy, after the fire in which he said he was going to rebuild in Creede, but there is no provenance. If he did return, and Zang's was built within 2-3 weeks of the fire, then it is possible that Soapy stayed there, but again, there is no provenance. All we got is the word of the hotel.

(formerly known as Zang's Hotel)
Summer 1985
Author's collection
 (Click image to enlarge)

Though I searched the pages of The Candle (Creede) for 1892 Kandra Payne of Creede found something I missed! Kandra has organized a historical walking tour/ghost tour as part of the 125th-anniversary celebration of Creede's founding and silver rush. As of now this one-night event will most likely be the evening of June 17, 2017.

Zang's to rebuild on same lot
The Candle
Creede, Colorado
July 5, 1892

     So now we know that Zang's had another structure, hotel, on the same lot prior to the June 5, 1892 fire, but because there appears to be no advertisements for a Zang's Hotel previous to the fire I will guess that a possible reason is that it was not called "Zang's." Considering that Zang's was built on the same lot as the original hotel, I think the next step would be to compare the location before and after the fire, to see if a hotel can be located.
    Soapy Smith could indeed have possibly stayed at Mr and Mrs Zang's hotel prior to the fire, but there still remains a lack of provenance.

Creede Hotel, 1985
stairway to five rooms upstairs
author's collection

"He opposed bloodshed, but as violence came with the people and places he did business with, it frequently could not be avoided. Tough and treacherous men filled out the roster of Soap Gang members for these occasions."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 15


1502: Christopher Columbus leaves Spain for his final trip to the Western Hemisphere.
1754: The first newspaper cartoon in America shows a divided snake "Join or die" in The Pennsylvania Gazette.
1785: Joseph Bramah patents the beer-pump handle.
1825: The Chatham Theatre opens in New York City. It is the first gas-lit theater in the U.S.
1879: Construction begins on Fort Assiniboine, south of Havre, Montana Territory.
1891: The Dalton Gang stopped and robbed the Guthrie-Wichita train at Wharton (now Perry), Oklahoma. A station agent was shot dead as he tried to telegraph about the robbery.

May 8, 2017

Another supposed Soapy Smith related revolver

Sold as Soapy Smith's gun?
Courtesy of Invaluable auction house
(Click image to enlarge)

nother supposed Soapy Smith revolver?

I almost dislike giving these sort of items any advertising. Invaluable auction house in Denver, Pennsylvania is having auction on June 10, 2017 that contains a revolver that they claim was one of the revolvers Skagway's U.S. Deputy Marshal J. M. Tanner and others sold and gave away to others, with the impression that it once belonged to Soapy Smith.

Lot 1007: (A) New York Style Engraved Colt Model 1878 With Carved Grips & Presentation.
Starting bid of $1,100 and an estimate of $4,500 - $6,500

Description (condensed from original):
  • Shipped to E. C. Meacham in St. Louis on February 7th, 1890.
  • Shipped as .44 caliber with 5-1/2" barrel, nickel finish and rubber stocks.
  • Now finished in blue, has nearly full coverage scroll and punch dot Helfricht style engraving, large 1902 trigger guard with large extended trigger, Colt silver medallion ivory grips with Indian brave carved on right panel.
  • Backstrap is engraved "Soapy Smith Skagway 1897" (old spelling). There are numerous photographs of the revolver on the website, but the auction house forgot a photograph of the engraving!
  • His great-grandson [me] has an interesting website dedicated to Soapy and all things related, such as stories, weapons that have surfaced, etc. We had several interesting exchanges regarding this revolver in which he stated that when Soapy was killed on July 8th, 1898; he was so well-known that everyone wanted a souvenir that belonged to him. This revolver with the beautiful presentation on the back, dated 1897, was probably one such revolver. It was made up and sold to a wealthy miner as a souvenir. 
  • [at least they admit that] unfortunately, Soapy had been buried for three years before Colt ever produced the large trigger guard and trigger. Since the finish and engraving continues from gun onto trigger guard, it must be assumed that it was engraved with the large trigger guard and trigger assembly after Soapy was dead. This exquisite revolver would have thrilled Soapy to no end, as even in death, unscrupulous people were using Soapy's name to continue the con. 
  • "For other interesting tidbits, you might want to visit Soapy's great-grandson's website about Soapy: www.soapysmith.net."
  • Manufacturer: Colt, Model: 1878, Serial Number: 24737, Caliber: .44-40, Barrel Length: 5 - 1/2", FFL Status: Antique, Paperwork: , Blade Length: , Overall Length: , Gauge: , Chamber: , Length of Pull: , Drop at Comb: , Drop at Heel: , Internal Bore Diameter: , Barrel Wall Thickness: , Choke: , Weight: , Length of Pull: , Chamber: , Paperwork: Yes

Invaluable link to revolver.
Soapy Smith's Weapons (Alias Soapy Smith website) 

"He knew how to use to his advantage anything he had ever read, from news stories to literature. He wrote and published essays, stories, and poetry that conveyed not only the sporting man’s activities but also heart-felt political feelings of the day. Thankfully, he collected and saved most of his writings and business documents, giving us the unique opportunity to view the world as he saw it, or at least as he sought to portray it."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 16


1541: Hernando De Soto reaches the Mississippi River. He calls it Rio de Espiritu Santo.
1794: The U.S. Postal Service is established.
1827: First known as Cantonment Leavenworth, Fort Leavenworth is established on the Missouri River as an army post to protect travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
1829: Sublette's pack-train, en route West by way of Independence, Missouri travels out the Santa Fe Trail some distance before turning northwest toward the Kansas River. This becomes the Oregon-California trail route.
1846: The first major battle of the Mexican-American War is fought in Palo Alto, Texas, resulting in victory for General Zachary Taylor's forces.
1847: The rubber tire is patented by Robert W. Thompson.
1862: James and Granville Stuart erect the first sluice box for catching gold at Gold Creek, Montana Territory.
1879: George Selden applies for the first automobile patent.
1886: Pharmacist Dr. John Styth Pemberton invents "Coca-Cola."
1904: U.S. Marines land in Tangier, Morocco to protect the Belgian legation.

May 5, 2017

Says Soapy's ghost robbed him!

Robbed by Soapy's ghost
Denver Post September 13, 1899
(Click image to enlarge)

ays Soapy Smith Robbed him
one year - two months after Soapy's demise.

     Paul Calabrese, aged 19, was taken to jail last hopelessly insane. Calabrese lives with his parents at 1819 Platte Street in Denver. Yesterday at the city stock yards he acted queerly and was sent to jail. In the afternoon his father and sister came for him and as he seemed rational he was released.
     Last night, however, he got a club and a butcher knife and said he was going to kill his father, but a policeman arrived in time to prevent the tragedy. All night long Calabrese raved in his cell and his ravings kept all the other prisoners from sleeping.
     Calabrese had been working on a ranch near Fort Lupton. He came home a week ago without any money, and said the man for whom he had been working refused to pay him. Since he has been in jail he blames Soapy Smith and Gus Chase [“Big Ed” Chase] of buncoing, and calls up Smith's spirit to argue with it at the top of his voice. He will be sent to the county hospital.

 (Click image to enlarge)

Denver District Attorney Booth M. Malone (1898-1900) filed a lunacy case against Calabrese and he was sent to the state insane asylum after he was judged to be insane.

"I owe my success in life to the free advertising I have received in newspapers by the number of lies they have written about me."
Alaska Mining Record, April 5, 1899


1798: Secretary of War William McHenry orders the USS Constitution be made ready for sea. The frigate is launched on October 21, 1797, but had never been put to sea.
1809: Mary Kies receives the first patent given toa woman. It is for the technique of weaving straw with silk and thread.
1814: British attack U.S. troops at Ft. Ontario, Oswego, New York.
1865: The Thirteenth Amendment is ratified, abolishing slavery.
1866: Fort Fletcher in Kansas is abandoned.
1871: The Bear Springs Fight, in which 11 soldiers are killed when Apache Indians, led by Cochise, trap a detail of Cavalry in the Whetson Mountains of Arizona Territory.
1877: Sitting Bull leads his people into Canada, which the Indians call “Grandmother's Land,” a reference to Queen Victoria.
1877: Crazy Horse leads near 900 followers to the Red Cloud Agency at Fort Robinson, Nebraska having been promised a reservation in the Powder River country.
1877: A cattle war breaks out when Jerry Dillon kills an unarmed Paul Dowlin at Dowlin's Mill, New Mexico Territory.
1881: Con man John Bull opens the Turf Exchange on Larimer Street in Denver, Colorado.
1886: A bomb explodes on the fourth day of a workers' strike in Chicago, Illinois.
1891: A music hall, later called Carnegie Hall, is dedicated in New York City.
1892: Congress extends the Geary Chinese Exclusion Act for 10 years. The act requires the Chinese to be registered or face deportation.
1895: Members of the outlaw Doolin Gang are camping on the Cimarron River when a posse comes upon them as they sleep. Tulsa Jack Blake is on guard and spots Deputy William Banks in the dark. Blake fires at Banks, awaking the gang, and a gun fight erupts. Blake continues exchanging shots with Banks until a shot from Banks' hits a bullet on Blake’s cartridge belt, causing it to explode into his body, killing him. Bill Doolin and the other bandits manage to escape. It is believed that the wife of bad man Soapy Smith (Mary Noonan) is related to the Dalton family.