April 1, 2010

Historical mistakes can definitely be a plus.

(Click image to enlarge)
Photo 37-A: Grand photograph of a grand parade

May 1, 1898
Skagway, Alaska

(Alaska State Library, William R. Norton col.)

There is a mistake in my book for the caption for Photograph 37A (above) and B. It reads

Patriotic bunting on Jeff Smith’s Parlor indicates this photograph was taken on May 1, 1898, probably just before the parade of the Skaguay Military Company. A large crowd of citizens (children, women, men in formal dress) appears fresh and staged for a group photograph to commemorate the occasion. Nearly every face looks to the camera. Jeff is at attention on his mount, his posture erect and right arm straight down. Behind Jeff, a man standing among men holds a large sign reading, “The Skaguay Military Company.” This eastern side of Holly Street (6th Avenue today), between Broadway and State streets, was a business section. A little sign on the right of Jeff Smith’s Parlor reads, “Merchant’s Lunch,” and down the street (r to l) from Jeff Smith’s Parlor are various businesses: H. Bauer General Merchandise, H. B. Litt Ready Made Suits and Cloaks, Louvre CafĂ©, Barber Shop, Theatre Royal, New York-Alaska Trading & Mining, N. H. Wilson Druggist.

It started when Gary Jayne, a dealer on eBay sent me some copies of several photographs he had up for auction. In one of the photographs (I shall refer to as Mondamin #1 from here on) was what appeared to be the same man and horse in one of my photographs (#37A-B) in my book, Alias Soapy Smith. Cousin Jim (great-grandson of Soapy) and I have been corresponding back and forth a lot lately so I sent him a copy of Mondamin #1 for his own collection. He replied back with

“– I hate to say it, but several things cause me to doubt that #37A-B is Soapy. The man’s beard is pretty clearly grey, not the dark black that I associate with Soapy. Compare #33-35 to #37A-B. Also: Soapy’s hat is clearly grey in #35 (hard to tell in #38), whereas the hat of the man in #37A-B is clearly black. Now, Soapy certainly could have two hats. And, to me, these look like different horses. #35 is a grey or dappled horse. #37A-B looks much whiter. #38 looks somewhere between the white and the grey, but we can’t see the horse’s face and the exposure of the photo is not as good as either #35 or #37A-B. The biggest point to me is the beard.”

(Click image to enlarge)
“Mondamin #1”

Mondamin #1 was photographed in front of the Mondamin Hotel just two doors east of Jeff Smith’s Parlor. At first glance I thought Mondamin #1 might have been taken moments before or after Photograph #37. There are a number of people in the photo I was interested in seeing close up. The carriage holds two and then there is the gentleman on the horse at the left. This person and white horse looked strikingly like the man and white horse in photo #37 but this not the case. Getting out my larger copies I recognized my error. The man I thought to be Soapy is not. I was shocked that I had mistakenly identified the man. My publisher, Art Petersen a much-respected Alaskan historian, beautifully expressed thoughts about taking it for granted that it was Soapy. Art was

"… surprised and disappointed that the mounted figure in photos 37A & B is not Soapy. I guess it shows how powerful circumstantial evidence can be: a dark figure on a white horse (most probably Soapy's!) in front of "the Parlor" with a "Skaguay Military Company" sign behind him. A patriotic parade is being prepared for (or is just over), so what other parade could it be than the one that occurred on May 1, 1898, in which we know Jeff participated?"

Karl Gurcke believes the Mondamin #1 photo was from July 4, 1898. He writes,

“It's the 4 of July 1898 no doubt. The photos we have of the Decoration Day parade (May 1898) doesn't show anything on the Mondamin.”

So the question remains, who is this guy and while we are at it let’s question the other faces? The man on the horse is a tall, thin, almost frail-looking elderly man with a mid to long gray beard. My first thought was of Captain William Moore, the original inhabitant of Skagway (originally called Mooresville). However, Moore was heavier and shorter so that idea is improbable. Art Petersen thinks it might be I. N. Wilcoxen. Art writes that

"Perhaps it's Attorney I. N. Wilcoxen, a battle-scarred veteran of the last war (Alias p. 501 top). Maybe Soapy gave Wilcoxen his mount for the photo. The horse surely is Jeff's. The coloring and physique are too close in appearance in other photos to be some other horse. Too, the Post has Moore, Wilcoxen, Hornsby, Church, and Cudihee in a carriage, not on a mount. So perhaps no one in the parade was mounted. ... Guess I would have lost $$ betting on the fellow on the mount being Soapy in the Mondamin photo. That carriage, though, I'd bet, is the one described in the Post. (Yes, I confess to being a betting man, who ought to know better.)"

From Alias Soapy Smith, page 500-1.

From the customs house the procession headed for the city hall, where Captain Smith gave the order to “break ranks.” And a general round-up took place on Fifth Avenue before the city hall, but the avenue was crowded the entire distance between State and Broadway. By previous arrangement Dr. J. A. Hornsby had been selected as chairman of the “spread eagle” portion of the exercises, and for ten minutes he entertained the large crowd with the kind of patriotic speech that causes a man to want to take the next steamer for the scene of action. Dr. Hornsby retired by introducing the well known attorney, Walter Church, who, in his usually happy, eloquent and pleasant manner, delivered an address aptly appropriate and pointed. He was followed by Attorney I. N. Wilcoxen, a battle-scarred veteran of the last war. Mr. Wilcoxen is still able and willing to battle for the stars and stripes, and before his able address was concluded all his hearers were ready to enlist in the good cause. F. T. Kellar followed in a speech rampant in vim, vigor, humor and patriotism. He is only a “boy” but the war spirit is strong within him.

At age 61 Wilcoxen seems a very good nominee, but as of now we do not have any photographs of him.

From Marlene McCluskey of the Skagway Historical Society I learned that Judge Isaac Newton Wilcoxen died at the age of 73 on October 23, 1910 in Seattle and since he was a Civil War vet is buried in the GAR cemetery there. I. N. Wilcoxen was a member of the Arctic Brotherhood in 1900, a Judge in 1902, and member of the school board. He was also a lawyer and notary public in 1901.

Marlene and Karl Gurcke of the Klondike Gold National Historical Park think it might be George Brackett. Marlene writes that she

"… talked to Karl who said that he had looked at this photo before and thinks it is either Moore or possibly George Augustus Brackett, builder of the Brackett road. here is a link to a page with his photo which looks very similar: www.housengroup.com

I think that at one point there were some Brackett descendents that came here, they may know for sure, but I don't know where to located them, maybe White Pass has that...

... There was something about his right earlobe that looked like Bracketts too, but just guessing."

It does look like Brackett's beard in Photograph #37. Although he is not mentioned as having taken part in the May 1 parade it seems likely that he probably did considering how important his Road was.

By all means everyone is welcome to throw their two cents into the pot and give an educated opinion as to why it might be one and not the other. Until then the mystery remains open.

Soapy or Wiliam Saportas

We figured/imagined a great little scenario in which kind-hearted Soapy helped an aging veteran up onto his horse to get a photo with the Skagway Military Company, naturally the horse is in front of Jeff Smith's Parlor as that's where it was parked. Well, Soapy can't be standing there holding the horse so he backs off a ways... Take a look at the attachment and see if that's Soapy. Could he be behind the cameraman “directing the all important shot?”

Is that Soapy’s horse?

The horse surely is Jeff's. Art wrote.

"... to be brief, the shape, look, coloring, musculature--all discernable details from various photos of that fine animal sure make it look like Soapy's horse!The coloring and physique are too close in appearance in other photos to be some other horse."

The face in the window

In the photograph Mondamin #1 there is an open window on the second floor surrounded by patriotic decor. There appears to be a woman sitting next to the window looking out. Could this be the window to room #61, Soapy’s room? The location seems perfect to keep an eye on the Parlor and the streets of Broadway and Holly. The woman? Soapy's mistress mentioned after his death? Then again, it could be the hotel owner’s room or some other patriotic guest.

The parade carriage

The building behind is the Klondike Trading Company building or Sylvester's store on the southeast corner of Third and State. This is the building that is moved to the southwest corner of Third and Broadway in 1908, a third story added, and the whole thing turned into the Golden North Hotel.

The Denver Post has Moore, Wilcoxen, Hornsby, Church, and Cudihee in a carriage for the parade. Karl wrote,

"I don't know who the guys are but obviously some very important VIPs - perhaps associated with the railroad. Here's another shot of them. This is at 3rd and State."

Note that the men in the carriage in each photograph are different, which would indicate different days.

One more question...

In the photograph Karl shared with us there is a figure that looks too familiar. Is this Soapy Smith? I just can’t help seeing him everywhere!

Although our research is never done I wish to thank those who donated their expertise and opinions and got us this far.

“Cousin Jim,” great-grandson of Soapy.
Art Petersen, editor, publisher, historian.
Gary Jayne, eBay dealer, early Alaskan artifacts.
Marelene McCluskey, Skagway Historical Society
Karl Gurcke, historian, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.


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