November 30, 2008

Started in on your Chapter 13. My gracious--commander of an army to invade Cuba and then coming out the good guy after being beaten by 2 (or 4) cops in St. Louis. I tell you, Jeff, people are going to call your book "a helluva read." It's one incredible thing after another.
Art Peterson, Klondike Research, 11/30/2008

First Bank of Skaguay...

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Here's another nice example of Holly street (now 6th) in Skagway, Alaska. The First Bank of Skaguay is marked with the red "X." This was to become Jeff Smith's Parlor in the spring of 1898.

November 29, 2008

Juneau Wharf...

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Here is a busy photograph of Juneau Company Wharf believed to have been taken in 1898. This is the wharf where Soapy Smith was killed. On the right you can see the roof of the warehouse where the vigilantes held their meeting that was to decide once and for all what should be done with the Soap Gang. Courtesy of the Alaska State Library Historical Collection.

November 26, 2008

Steamer City of Seattle floor plans...

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I found the floor plans for the steamer City of Seattle. They were in the November 11, 1897 issue of the Daily Ledger in Tacoma, Washington. You might recall that it was aboard this steam ship that Soapy Smith stopped a mutiny/riot when a fellow passenger was accidentally killed by a falling lantern.

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The ship captain & crew with some
passengers pose near the ships pilot house.

Frank Robertson and Beth Kay Harris, authors of, Soapy Smith King of the Frontier Con Men, describe the event.

On another trip, aboard the City of Seattle, Soapy’s quick wit rescued another steamer captain from an embarrassing situation. The City of Seattle was one of the typical hell ships engaged in plying the Alaska route—over-crowded, poor quarters, stinking food, improper facilities for cleanliness—and all the passengers were on edge. One of them, fooling around the ropes, caused a heavy lamp to fall on his head, killing him instantly. The passengers held a meeting to discuss the possibility of suing the captain.

While they were confabbing, Soapy bent over the victim and pretended to search him,
coming up with a wallet which he loudly proclaimed the dead man had stolen from him. Holding his “evidence” aloft, Soapy called the dead man a stowaway, a cheat, and a bum. “Now,” he said, “are you willing to throw this ship in turmoil for such a bum?”

Soapy swayed the other passengers and a presumably innocent man was buried at sea under the stigma of thief.

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City of Seattle docked at Moore's Wharf,
Skagway, Alaska, 1899.

  • Yukon Archives Images Database (photographs of the City of Seattle).
  • Robertson, Frank C. and Beth Kay Harris. Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men. NY: Hastings House Publishers, 1961.

November 22, 2008

No marker for son of Soapy Smith...

I was very surprised to learn that no grave marker exists for my grandfather, Jefferson Randolph Smith III. I admit I am somewhat confused as to why.

In my family files I came across a map that marked his grave located at the Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, 4201 Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, Ca. Being only 40 miles from me I decided to take a day trip with my son and take a few nice photographs. In order to make it more fun for him (age 12) I thought we would also take in the Natural History museum having to only add an additional 5 miles to the trip.

The map I had was "X'd" where the grave site was so I treated it like a treasure hunt for him. I have to admit we did have fun trying to locate it. My son wanted to continue hunting for it...even if it meant reading every marker in the rather large cemetery. I suggested we go to the main office on the grounds and find out if they could help us. They were indeed very helpful, still having all the records. They confirmed no marker was ever put in place. Strike 1!

Not only was I disappointed in not being able to find a marker to photograph, but even more so at the thought that his children (my father and his siblings) did not erect one. I wondered for the rest of the day what the reasons were?

I still had the rest of the day to spend with my son, Jefferson and I was looking very much forward to taking him to the museum. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found that the entire parking lot for the museum, and every lot within miles, was taken up for a USC pre-game fair. The museum was open but no parking had been set aside for patrons. Strike 2!

What was planned as a nice family outing went bust. Perhaps I was meant to see that no marker was in place. Perhaps when the economy returns to normal the family can rally together and properly another Jefferson Randolph Smith III.

...To be continued.

November 21, 2008

Soapy Smith's grave, July 7, 1950

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Here is another photograph from the Google/Life collection. This one shows the grave of Soapy Smith photographed on July 7, 1950, one day from the 52nd anniversary of his death. This marker is of an unknown stone and was believed to have been placed in the ground in 1929 by Harriet Pullen, who had received the money from Tom Kearney, a friend of Soapy's and/or of the Smith family. It is also possible the money came directly from Soapy's widow and son using Kearney as a go between, fearing Pullen would not perform the task if it was coming at the request of the family.

The metal cage was placed over the marker after a number of years of vandalism, most likely by Martin Itjen, the owner of Jeff Smith's Parlor museum and the Skagway Streetcar Tour.

November 19, 2008

Soapy Smith Museum, 1950

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Google recently purchased the rights to the entire collection of photographs from Life Magazine. In the collection are these two great photographs of the inside of Jeff Smith's Parlor in July of 1950. The older gentleman behind the bar is Jack Griesbach who took over ownership after Martin Itjen passed away. The mechanical Soapy Smith raises his beer glass, his head turns and his eye light up every time someone opens the front door (to the right of where the camera man took this photo).

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November 18, 2008

Days of 98 Show

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A postcard circa 1960s-1970s advertising the Days of 98 Show. On the left Soapy Smith, (Jim Richards or Tom Biss) roughs up a victim, while on the right patrons of the show play gamble with "Soapy money" at the roulette table (still in use today).

November 12, 2008

Skagway and gold rush bibliography...

Here is a great LINK anyone interested in the history of Skagway, Alaska, Soapy Smith and the Klondike gold rush should bookmark for reference. I personally have read a number of the books listed and would not do without them in my collection. Some are very rare and pricey while others can be found at larger libraries and through interlibrary loan.

Jeff Smith

November 10, 2008

Larimer and Seventeenth...

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A wonderful glass slide (circa 1890) of Larimer street, looking west towards Seventeenth. The corner of Larimer and Seventeenth is famous for being the main thoroughfare where Soapy Smith operated the Prize Package Soap Racket. The red "X" marks the Chever Block building on the corner where Soapy is said to have had an office on the second floor. Note the trash everywhere.

November 9, 2008

Quick quotes...

In his own home he was Mr. Jefferson Smith, a gentleman above reproach, and to his wife and children the dearly beloved who guarded them from all harm and bountifully provided for their every want, ministering to their happiness in every possible manner. Woe to the man, woman or child who dared bring sorrow to them or allude in any way to a life other than the one they knew.

~ George T. Buffum, Smith of Bear City and Other Frontier Sketches, 1906.

November 7, 2008

Frank Lowe...Skagway vigilante, marshal, & fire chief.

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Lowe's badge (circa 1900).

Doug Campbell writes in.
My aunt nursed Frank Lowe years age. Frank Lowe was the Skagway Fire Marshall and apparently part of the vigilante group that was after Soapy Smith. I am researching Frank's background, apparently he was a store owner. I have Frank's Fire Chief badge and ribbons as well as his badge. If you are interested I can send a photo of Frank's artifacts. I'd appreciate any information you may have regarding Frank Lowe.
Cheers, Doug Campbell.

I contacted my inside man at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park who was able to retrieve the following information about Frank Lowe.

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Lowe's Fire Chief badge.

Frank Lowe was the first city marshal of the incorporated city of Skagway, appointed by the city council on December 4, 1900 (Daily Alaskan, December 5, 1900, p. 1). Skagway had had others in that position before incorporation, but none that were paid, and none in an official capacity, due to the fact the city was not incorporated.

Lowe was also the first Chief of the Fire Department of the incorporated city, having been appointed in that capacity sometime the previous winter.

In the 1899 wet /dry petition, an “F. Lowe” is listed. It indicates that he is from Bradford, is a furniture builder or dealer, and that he arrived in Skagway in January 1898.

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Lowe's Fire Chief ribbon (circa 1901).

In the 1899 Skagway business directory (page 135), we have (under the furniture category), Frank Lowe & Company (Frank Lowe & Martin Sickenger), 621 Broadway.

In the 1901 city directory he's listed as: "Lowe, Frank, (Lowe & Sickenger)

Skagway, City Marshal & Fire Chief, Broadway" (page 853). Lowe
& Sickenger are also listed under Second Hand Goods heading (page 867).

If anyone out there has more information on Frank Lowe, especially his role as a vigilante in Skagway please contact us. Thank you.

November 5, 2008

Soapy's Place in Creede

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On November 3, 2008 in the comments for the Bob Ford tent post, someone known only as "S" listed a website with a nice selection of old Creede, Colorado photographs from the Denver Public Library collection. Among them was the one shown to the right (call number CHS.X5893).

The photo is thought to have been taken circa 1940-1950. On the wall of the building on the right side of the street, you can see that it reads, "SOAPY PLACE." Looking closer it appears to have a very small "'s," making it "SOAPY'S PLACE." Soapy's saloon in Creede burnt to the ground on June 5, 1892 and was never rebuilt. It is only my guess that this was a merchant or bar.

Jeff Smith

November 4, 2008


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Bob Majni wrote this poem in 1984. I have known Bob for a while now and he is a wonderful Klondike gold rush historian. However, it was just very recently that I knew he had written a poem about Soapy. He happen to mention it while we were talking on the phone and sent it to me. A proud new edition to my Soapy Smith collection.

Note the last line has, "Soapy lives!" When Bob wrote the poem the name of the Soapy Smith play in Skagway was, Soapy Lives. Now it is combined with the Days of 98 Show.

With the latest information on Soapy's death now published, I would like to take a little artistic license and add a line to the poem,

The story of Soapy's death is at best Murky,
Be it known the killer was really Jesse Murphy.

Thank you Bob!

November 3, 2008

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Back on October 21 I posted about the above ribbon/bookmark. I began a nice discussion with the seller and buyer, Candy. She was kind enough to send me a scan of her purchase as the seller's eBay auction photograph was blurry. I am impressed with the look. Having a photograph of one of the original ribbons sent by Soapy to his wife, I am pretty sure this was manufactured by Martin Itjen in the 1920s-30s. He was known to have made a number of Soapy related reproductions as advertisement for his Skagway street car tour.

If anyone has any other information about this particular item please add your comments.

November 2, 2008

Soapy Smith toy-bank...

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A rare find indeed! A Soapy Smith toy-bank of unknown vintage. Ok, I can dream can't I. Actually, it's a fantasy piece coming from out very own "Grub" our Preservation Trust's, Historical Weapons Analyst, who also happens to be a gifted artist as well. Every Christmas he makes up custom artwork for friends as Christmas gifts. I think it is a wonderful idea. Thank you "Grub."