September 29, 2009

Judge James Wickersham on Soapy Smith.

(Click image to enlarge)
Battleship U.S.S. Maine
Sank in Havana Harbor

The following passage comes from Old Yukon: Tales — Trails — and Trials by Judge James Wickersham, 1938. Wickersham was a U.S. District Judge in Alaska between 1900-1908 and later a delegate to Congress for 14 years. His credentials are good but his stories about Soapy are mostly fiction with added filler to help sell books.

The War with Spain then engaged the attention of the country and the people were filled with patriotism. With that cunning impudence which characterized him, Smith wrote a letter to President McKinley offering to raise a company of Alaska rough riders. Smith received from the President's secretary a courteous letter of acknowledgment that gave no authority to act as an enlisting officer. This letter served Smith's purpose, however, for it was promptly framed and displayed in "Jeff's Place," where it was accepted by the ignorant public as proof that Soapy was a patriotic citizen in direct communication with the White House. Quite a crowd of men appeared and offered to enlist. His "lambs," as Soapy called the sneak thieves and highwaymen that composed his town gang, picked clean the pockets of the volunteers when they left their clothing in the disrobing room preparatory to submitting to a pretended medical examination in another apartment.

Soapy also boldly took over the 4th of July celebration. His gangsters controlled in true ward-heeler style the public meeting held to organize the parade, and elected Soapy grand marshal. He led the parade on a spirited gray horse followed by a brass band of dance hall musicians, then by a special body guard of "tigers" and such citizens as marched in loyalty to their country's flag notwithstanding the character of their leader.


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