May 8, 2009

William Howe Welsh - revisited.

courtesy of Heidi Welsh
(click image to enlarge)
The group photo of North-West Mounted Police (N.W.M.P.) detectives.
Heidi recalls that William Howe Welsh is the one in the front row holding the dog.

ack on March 25, 2009 I posted Welsh’s Fiction, an interview of famed detective, William H. Welsh in which he, or the writing reporter, messed up a few of the historical facts regarding Soapy Smith, which is the main reason I post many of these articles. Thirty-six days later, on April 30, 2009 I received something I did not expect, a response to the post from the great-granddaughter, Heidi Welsh, of detective William Welsh. I love hearing from descendants of persons who had some connection to Soapy and the cities he controlled so here, in her own words through our correspondences is a tip-of-the-iceberg hint of this extraordinary last-frontier career detective. Heidi explained to me that he was not in the Mounties, but was one of the several private detectives to whom the Mounties contracted out work—such as the LaBelle case. for which Welsh is most famous. She thinks the photograph above may be a number of these particular detectives.

he response post:

I am the great-granddaughter of the above-mentioned and maligned (!) detective William Howe Welsh. He definitely was in Skagway in 1898, as I've seen the records in Skagway to prove this. He was on his way to the Yukon and brought his family there. Whether or not he witnessed the events, I don't know, but he was a highly respected detective in the Yukon and responsible for tracking down a murderer in a famous case, going all the way to Utah before he brought him back to Dawson for hanging. We have a scrapbook of original clippings from his cases--although there's nothing in there about Skagway. He was from Portland, Ore., however, so it seems likely he was familiar with Smith and this case.
--Heidi Welsh

An email:

Dear Jeff,

My husband just ran across your website on Soapy Smith, and I just posted (I think) a comment. I’ve been doing a lot of genealogy research of late and am familiar with many of my great-grandfather’s exploits in the Yukon since he kept a scrapbook of his famous cases that we still have. (I grew up in Sitka, Alaska, but now live on the East Coast.) I said in the post, in response to a skeptical comment about a 1907 article about Detective W. H. Welsh’s recollections of Soapy, that it seems quite likely that Welsh was familiar with Soapy because they both were from Portland, Ore., originally. My great-grandfather went up to the Yukon in 1898 along with some relatives, never struck it rich, and went back to being a detective. He traveled back and forth a few times to Oregon to get his family (my grandfather went over the Chilkoot Pass when he was just 6 months old), so he would have passed through Skagway and would therefore have had ample opportunity to find out about Soapy’s storied career.

Anyway, I love your website and look forward to reading more of it. Just wanted to put in a plug for my great-grandpa….he died young in Vancouver and I never met him, but love the stories I’ve been able to collect.

Best wishes,
Heidi Welsh

rom the start of our correspondences I had decided to write a short article on Welsh but quickly found that personally hearing about him directly from his g-granddaughter was a much more interesting choice.

Courtesy of Heidi Welsh
(click image to enlarge)

Heidi writes,

There’s a bunch of stuff I’ve uncovered about my g-grandfather that might be of interest (although I’ve discovered in this genealogy hunt that even one’s family members can think you’ve gone off the deep end at times…) Here’s a great account of his most famous [1902] case about LaBelle and Fournier, in a book about crime in the Yukon called Strange Things Done [link to the book in Google Books]

I look forward to our continued conversations, and best wishes on your book.

(click image to enlarge)
from Strange Things Done
He got his man!

egarding the original newspaper article I posted, Heidi writes,

I suspect that, given the date of the article you discussed (1907), it could well be that the writer was trying to trade on my g-grandfather’s reputation as a detective for the Mounties, as his big case with LaBelle-Fournier was in 1902 and it was widely covered. I don’t have any evidence to show he might have been in Skagway at the time of Soapy, at all, and it could very well be that the whole 1907 article was made up out of the whole cloth—that seemed to be the style in those days. You should read some of the articles in our scrap book!

I haven’t been in touch with anyone else in Skagway about any of this—since it was really a stopover for W. H. Welsh, whose experiences pretty much all related to his time living in Dawson and what he did there. We did get in touch with Prof. Ken Coates, a dean at the University of Waterloo in Canada, who wrote the book I noted below about crime in the Yukon, and got a nice response back. I’m always happy to chat with people about these things—great fun—so if you want to put me in touch with people, that’s fine.

Best wishes,

I suggested Jeff Brady at the Skagway News and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park for starters. After that Heidi should seriously consider writing the biography of her great grandfather and of the private detectives. We wish her all the luck in the world, although she doesn't seem to really need it...


  1. I enjoyed reading Heidi's comments. My great grandpa is Leon Bouthillette. I heard about the book "Strange Things Done" from my family and just finished reading it.

    Heidi, I'm very impressed by your great grandfather's detective work. And I'm grateful that he worked so hard to bring my great grandpa's murderers to justice. Thanks for posting his photo!

    - Eileen Bouthillet

  2. Glad you found the story Dolphin.

  3. I was quite pleased to have found this website. I have been working on a project for my husband for father's day. The project is all information on the murder of Alphonse Constantin in June 1902. Alphonse Constantin was a cousin to my husband's grandfather.

    If Mr Welsh had not persevered, we would not have known the details of Alphonse's death. My husband's father was named Alphonse also.

    It is great to see the picture of Mr Welsh, that we admire very much. Without him, Alphonse would have a date of birth and a date of his death and that would have been all.

    To: Heidi, your grandfather is in the highest esteem of our family.

    Thanks, Denis and Martine Constantin and all the Constantin Families.


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith