December 24, 2010

Skagway's Deputy U.S. Marshal Sylvester S. Taylor

In every empire Soapy constructed one of the first hurdles to jump was roping the courts and the law under his control. Large graft payments were a common necessity in order for Soapy and his men to be able to operate in newly arrived camps and towns. In Skagway, Alaska 1898 one of the hurdles was 31-year old Deputy U.S. Marshal Sylvester Slade Taylor. There are no details of how or when he was lured into the criminal side of the law and placed on Soapy’s payroll as it was pretty much kept secret until early June 1898 when Mattie Silks publicly accused Taylor of being involved with the murder and robbery of Ella Wilson as well as being instrumental in the planned murder of Silks herself. All of this was according to Silks herself and is questionable. Details of her accusations and story are equally interesting and can be found in my book, Alias Soapy Smith.

Taylor’s fall happened after the robbery of John Stewart’s gold on July 8, 1898 in which he was accused of silencing the news of the robbery and failed to arrest the culprits in the case.

Not much has been known of Sylvester S. Taylor beyond his involvement with Soapy Smith, that is until about a year or so ago when I had the pleasure of corresponding with a descendant of Taylor (second cousin twice removed). This descendant wishes to remain anonymous for privacy reasons and I will respect that. At the time the Taylor family was not certain that their Sylvester Taylor was the same Taylor in Skagway. That link was recently confirmed during a renewed investigation and email exchanges between the family and various historians, including Marlene McCluskey at the Skagway Historical Society blog who did a superb job of assisting the descendant. Any questions or comments regarding Taylor and the family can be placed in the comment section and I will see to it that the family gets it.

After Soapy’s death and the collapse of Soap Gang rule in Skagway, the vigilantes accused Taylor of being involved with Soapy. Vigilante’s went to the home of Taylor to arrest him, only to find Taylor sitting in a chair holding a baby (probably Stephan Alaska Taylor, born two months prior). Taylor was ordered to stay inside his home or risk death. Later he was accused of offering the return $600 of Stewart’s gold to Alaska’s Governor Brady if allowed to leave Skagway a free man. This request was denied and Taylor was charged with “willful neglect of duty,” in which he was acquitted.

Taylor took his wife Maud [Maud Ellen Stewart] and four young children back to Idaho, and with the help a person named Pleasant Taylor [Pleasant John Taylor, and older brother of Sylvester’s], perhaps a cousin, who was a Showman and “Movey Projectionist,” Sylvester became a “Manager of Show.” That profession must have worked out for him because in 1910, living with Maude and two more children in the family, Sylvester’s occupation was that of “Showman, Vaudeville and Movey Projectionist.  Alias Soapy Smith

In 1898 Taylor’s children were
  • Stewart S. I. Taylor (1892 – unknown)
  • John Elenor Taylor (1894 – 1971)
  • Ruby Linda Taylor (1896 – 1943)
  • Stephan Alaska “Lou” Taylor (May 13, 1898 – 1990)
It is known that Taylor had married several times, including once before Maud that included the birth of a child, and had three other children born after 1900. Those interested are welcome to continue researching the Taylor family with the sources listed at the end of this post.

My Taylor descendant source writes,

His occupation on all the census’ of his adult years is listed as having to do with the entertainment industry except the 1930 and then he was listed as a Cigar Salesman. If I remember correctly his years in Alaska were in between the census years of 1890 and 1900; therefore his occupation of US Marshal is not listed on a census. I have some info I received from the Idaho US Marshal Office but I did not follow up [yet]….
(from NARA 30 June 2010 Textual Archives Services Division- WREjr) I searched Record Group 217, Records of the Accounting Officers of the Department of Treasury, Entry 316, Emolument Returns for district Attorneys, Clerks of Courts, and Marshals, July 1842 - March 1907, and located a S. F. Taylor as deputy marshal under Marshall J.I. Crutchen during the years 1891 - 1896. The documents do not mention the first and middle name of Taylor. There were no entries for Alaska. There are no files for Alaska in Entry 316.

I was able to find the following on Taylor’s past as a lawman.

“Ex-Deputy US Marshal Taylor’s case was special. Marshal Shoup said that when he appointed the man, he came “with exceptionally strong recommendations, having served in a similar capacity in Idaho…, where his reputation as an officer was unassailable.” Skaguay News, 07/15/1898.
When Rev. Dickey was in Skaguay (October 8, 1897 to April 1, 1898), he associated with Taylor, had dinner with him “and his friendly wife in their snug home.” In the fictional account of his time in Skaguay, Dickey characterized Taylor as “Strange and puzzling…,” “clever,” acting “With great courage,” a man of feeling who “completely broke down” in telling of a little girl who had died some ten years before.

And yet some people in Skaguay suspected that he was in fraternity with Soapy Smith and his league of cutthroats. We never believed that. And yet…. … Our conclusion was that he was a big-hearted man who fully determined to do right but who had in some way come under the power of Soapy and that he writhed under it. … There was something there, but whatever power Soapy had over him we never knew. It may be that he found himself powerless to enforce the law strictly and decided to follow a mediating path with the law breakers to amend their effect as best he could. Having submitted to appeasement once, perhaps he was in Soapy’s power…Alias Soapy Smith.

In the following Texas newspaper article from August 1922 Sylvester reminisces his early days in Texas, which includes a strong link to a career in law enforcement, considering his three older brothers were Texas Rangers.

Early settlers will remember the three brothers of this family, who were Texas Rangers, known from border to border of the state of Texas as Ham [Hannibal Giddings Taylor], Eph [Ephraim Kelly Taylor] and Pleas [Pleasant John Taylor] (Doctor Stephen Slade Taylor’s sons). They lived in the days of Indians, and became Rangers to protect their homes, according to Sylvester Slade Taylor, of Reno, Nevada, who is in Fort Worth, visiting his son, S. J. Taylor, 1312 College Avenue.

This is the second visit to Texas in thirty-five (35) years and the first time he had seen his sister, Mrs. Sarah Susan Taylor Click for thirty (30) years.

"I went back home and went swimmin’ in the old swimming’ hole, in the nature way,’ the Texan said. ‘But the most exciting of the whole trip was when we went out to the Hart Ranch and saw a oil well brought in. They seem to bring ‘em in while you wait out there. It was the first one I’ve ever seen brought in and believe me it was some sight to these old Nevada eyes."

He recounted many interesting things about the early days and the Indian raids. Remember the killing of the elder Dalton, father of Robert Dalton, owner of the Dalton Oil Tract. He saw his first train in Fort Worth, Texas.

New information is always forthcoming and welcome, such as the fact that Sylvester’s middle initial “S” stands for Slade. With new information also come the inevitable mistakes published in my book that need to be addressed. In my book I have “He died comparatively young, though, in 1916 at age 49.” This information was found on but since publication the information has been updated and his actual death date is believed to possibly be May 23, 1931.

  • Photograph: Taylor and Maddox Reunion August 6, 1922 Palo Alto, Texas. Taylor and Bevers Pioneer Families of Palo Pinto County, Texas, by Bobbie Ross, 1996.
  • Anonymous Taylor descendant.
  • Dickey, R. M. Gold Fever: A Narrative of the Great Klondike Gold Rush, 1897-1899. Ed, Art Petersen. Juneau: Klondike Research, 1997.
  • And of course details of the various stories and accounts from this post can be found in my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.

Taylor, Sylvester S.: pages 508-12, 520, 527, 562, 575-78, 580-81.


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