February 17, 2011

Soapy Smith's first visit to Skagway: San Francisco Call, 09/23/1897.

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San Francisco Call, September 23, 1897

Fleeced Skaguay Crowds


“Soapy” Smith, Who Operated a Shell Game, Returns With $10,000.

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SEATTLE, Wash., Sept. 22—“Soapy” Smith, the St. Louis gambler who is a professional in working the shell game, came down on the steamer Queen to-day, but to-night local detectives who desire to get a look at him were unable to locate him. Passengers on the Queen who know him say that he had about $10,000 every cent of which he made by playing the shell game.

Smith went to Skaguay about two months ago and a day did not go by after that without his making money. People who have been at Skaguay tell many stories about the successful way he operated. For a time the town of Skaguay was his headquarters. He stayed there night and day, and whenever he could get a crowd around him he started to play the game upon a little table that he allowed to rest on one arm. A Swede was among his early victims. In fact he seemed to cater more of that nationality than of any other. He took in the neighborhood of $300 from his first victim, who felt sure each time that he could locate the little black ball. Each time he failed and Smith put the money in his pocket.

Things became too hot for Smith at Skaguay after a time. Every time he tried to work his game men who had already bet and lost called the new victim away. At last Smith, with “Jack” Jolly, the notorious Montana ex-convict, went out in the direction of the pass. As miners came along en route for the summit they were invited to bet. Smith had man or two among them who always bet and won. That inspired the others and they bet and lost until they were compelled, because of no money, to return to Skaguay.

The men who made $10 a day each packing met Smith on the pass. They were returning from a trip over the summit. Smith got them interested in his game and in twenty minutes he had about $200 of their money. They demanded that he return it. Smith refused and the men made an attack on him. He drew his revolver and with the aid of that and ex-convict Jolly made his escape. He disappeared after that for several days, but at the end of that time was back on the pass. Local detectives say that Smith’s reputation for working the shell game is the “best” in the United States.

When I obtained Klondike Research as my publishing company I was reminded that at some point all historians and biographers have to quit researching and publish. There was no fear of not having enough information. Even cut back my book is over 650 pages long. That's more than most, perhaps, as stated in a few reviews, too much information. Too much for whom? Certainly not historians. As many of you are aware, this blog is mainly for new information that comes my way as I continue the quest to find the truth. The above newspaper clipping is one such piece. Whether some of the information contained in the article is true has to be determined. The two newest stories I am looking forward to investigating are the inclusion of  "Jack" Jolly in Soapy's first visit to Skagway ("Skaguay") and the armed confrontation with packers. It is know in a later interview with Soapy that he and his men on the passes left the packers alone. Could that "rule" have been implemented because of his prior trouble with them? Seems likely doesn't it? Or is the story even true? Did Soapy already know to leave the packers alone as they could spread the word to stay clear of the shell games.

As far as the part about Soapy and his men being forced to leave Skagway, we know this not to be the case and that is well explained in my book. One such example comes from the famous lawman "Bat" Masterson.
In November 1897 “Bat” Masterson returned from Washington state and spoke to the Denver Evening Post about Jeff’s departure from Alaska.

I saw very few people from Denver. I heard of but did not see Soapy Smith. The report that he was driven out of Skaguay was erroneous. I met his partner Jerry Daily, at Spokane. He said they were in Skaguay twenty-three days and ‘worked’ nineteen days while there. During the nineteen days they captured $30,000, which was divided into four parts, over $7,000 each, but Soapy got the most of it ultimately. He received a telegram that his wife was sick in St. Louis and went to that city to be with her. They did not have time to bother with him at Skaguay, for everybody was too busy looking out for themselves. –alias soapy p.443

I am seeking information on "Jack" Jolly.
Do you know who he is?

Soapy first trip to skagway: pages 435-443.



  1. There is a full biography of Jack Jolly in Volume 2 of DeArment's Deadly Dozen Gunfighter trilogy.

    I had some notes on this guy, but I found out today that Jolly's bio is in that book. Check it out.

    Peter Brand


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