November 21, 2010

Cathy Spude, Slotkin and Soapy Smith

I made the above piece and just couldn't wait to use it!

But the logo below which I also made, is the real way I feel right now.

It seems Cathy Spude, in writing her own Soapy Smith book, has chosen to ignore the most detailed and complete biography on Soapy written to date, which needless to say is mine. Anyone who has read my book and ventures over to Cathy's webpage (as of 11/16/2010) devoted to her book on Soapy will absolutely have to agree that what I'm saying is true. I'd like to get some of this off my chest as this angers me to no end. I invite you to follow along and see if you agree or disagree with my issues. My plan here is to quote sections of Cathy's page and comment on each one.

"With reference to Richard Slotkin’s discussion of the American Frontier Myth and his theme of “regeneration through violence,” Catherine Spude discusses how journalists and popular writers interpreted the death of Jefferson Randolph Smith in 1898 as a morality play. From the moment it happened, this petty con man was elevated to the status of an arch villain in order to create another legend of the frontier west in which elite Anglo males redeem their communities through a cleansing bath of blood."

Cathy has admitted several times that she has only read the second half of my book. Her interest deals with Soapy in Skagway, Alaska, however if she would read the first half of the book dealing with Soapy's rise to power numerous times in Colorado and other parts of the western United States she would see that Soapy was already "elevated to the status of an arch villain." There was no creating a legend as I have shown in my book and recently on this blog that Soapy was as well known, if not more so, than Wyatt Earp (see here) perhaps the most well known old west character in history.

"To date, very little scholarly treatment of Soapy Smith exists. While over a hundred publications on his life exist, less than a handful were written by scholars, and only one has treated the event of his death with any serious study (William R. Hunt, Distant Justice: Policing the Alaska Frontier, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1987)."

Are you kidding me? Now I could understand this statement if Cathy had never seen or read my book but this is not the case at all. She personally purchased a copy from my publisher and recently wrote a review of my book for the Alaska Historical Society (see here). Considering my book covers the death of Soapy in extreme detail in several chapters Distant Justice covers Soapy's entire time in Skagway in a mere 15 pages ( pp. 52-67). As for the sequence of events on July 8, 1898, Hunt is not very accurate or detailed, and as for what happened on the Juneau Wharf, Hunt doesn't even try to parse that. This only proves my point, which is that Cathy is ignoring my book, not to mention that I find her comments very insulting.

It is not meant to compete with recent biographies of Smith such as Jefferson Randolph Smith, IV, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. The Biography of Jefferson Randolph Smith II, (Juneau, AK: Klondike Research, 2009) or Jane G. Haigh, King Con: The Story of Soapy Smith (Whitehorse, YT: Friday 501, 2006), which are full length biographies and compile the vast literature of the con man’s life. Instead, Spude's book focuses on his few months in Alaska and the way his death contributes to popular literature, folklore and American mythology.

To say she does not wish to compete with my book is one thing, but Cathy is choosing to ignore my research, as if my facts that I have spent 25-years researching do not exist. This is not  very professional  on her part.

Cathy lists a 'table of contents' for her future publication that I'd like to comment on. I have been told that I am actually doing her a favor by leading her to her own mistakes but considering she has supposedly read my book already,  I am confident that she won't change her beliefs anyway. Following are some of  the larger more enjoyable (for me) mistakes. I won't go into great detail but anyone who has read my book will easily be able to follow along. I look forward to see how she attempts to disprove what actually took place.

CHAPTER 2. DOUBLE MURDER. The first event of any significance in the Smith legend was that of the murders of Ed McGrath and James Rowan, in which it is believed that Smith stopped the lynching of bartender Ed Fay. Using court records, contemporary newspaper reports, and early twentieth century interviews, it is shown that this portion of the legend is a later invention of journalists and friends of Soapy Smith, interested in giving him a larger role in the incident than he actually played (16 pages; 4589 words).

Soapy's clear role in the incident was recorded at the time it took place by the people involved. I look forward to Cathy's explanation that it was a "future invention."

CHAPTER 3. THE COMMITTEE OF 101. The author explores the origins of Skagway’s Committee of 101, a citizen’s committee established to adjudicate lands claims and establish a city government in the absence of a code of laws that could incorporate communities in Alaska. The Smith legend has long held that this organization arose in response to Smith, but it existed long before Smith became entrenched in the community, and had little to do with anything Smith and his colleagues were interested in. The author discusses similar committees and their functions throughout the west (11 pages; 3085 words).

Soapy was "entrenched in the community" within weeks of the founding of the camp. Read my book.

CHAPTER 4. DEEDS AND RIGHTS. Two issues were of paramount importance to the more permanent residents of Skagway in the winter of 1897-1898: obtaining clear deed to their property and the rights-of-way to the railroad and Brackett Wagon Road. The author demonstrates how these issues dominated both the news and the politics of the time and that no one could be said to be “king” of Skagway without being intimately involved in these issues (7 pages; 1808 words).

My book clearly shows Soapy was involved in land and the Brackett Wagon Road. Another clue Cathy did not read my book closely enough.

CHAPTER 6. THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1898. Using diaries and newspaper articles, this chapter corrects many of the exaggerated and incorrect facts about Smith’s place in the festivities of July 4, 1898 and discusses why his role became so important in retrospect (4 pages; 889 words).

Can't wait to see her 'facts.'

CHAPTER 9. ON JUNEAU WHARF. A recapitulation of the shoot-out on Juneau Wharf, in which J. R. Smith and Frank Reid are each shot, as well as a dissection of the theory that there was a third shooter on the wharf (9 pages; 2588 words).

Cathy does not believe Murphy shot and killed Soapy although there is plenty of evidence showing otherwise. My theory on her belief is that if Murphy did kill Soapy then it would not only disprove other theories of hers regarding the vigilantes, but would also show her hero, J. M. Tanner as a liar as he was the one who wrote the note to Steele that shows Murphy killed Soapy.

CHAPTER 10. A LIE AGREED UPON. A discussion of why, in the minds of the middle-class merchants who made up the coroner’s jury, the Irish laborer Jesse Murphy could not have killed Soapy Smith. This is where the legend began (9 pages; 2614 words).

Can't wait. Hope she has some facts to back up her theory as I do in my book.

CHAPTER 14. POLITICAL SATIRE. The first publication of the Smith legend was in 1907, by Chris Shea, running for Skagway mayor. He evoked the time of political chaos and lawlessness with his tongue-in-cheek satire, which is today taken for a history. It is in this cartoonish political statement that most of the elements of the legend first appear (15 pages; 4283 words).

This is a fun one for me as this is strictly Cathy's invention. There is no hint of fact that Chris Shea's book was written as a "tongue-in-cheek satire." You can read the invention in Cathy's fictional novel, The Unterrified on her site here.



  1. Here is a site I came across that gives a nice timeline of Skaguay's history...along with many interesting photographs and illustrations.

  2. Whoops! I forgot the link....

  3. Agreed, a great time line supplied by the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Parks (National Park Service).

    Here is the link activated

    Jeff Smith


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