February 22, 2011

Soapy Smith's horse.

(Click image to enlarge)

Did anyone ever wonder what happened to Soapy's horse after he was killed up in Skagway?

In the 1980s I published ads in magazines like Wild West and True West, searching for new information on Soapy. These were the days before many people, including myself, were computer literate. In those days I had to depend on the USPS, more commonly known as “snail mail.” My ads were slow with responses and I often wondered if the money spent was worth the returns. Once in a while I received a gem.

In June 1986 someone responded to one of my ads with a letter stating that he knew a man, Clyde E. Talbot, who had gained possession of Soapy’s horse after he had been killed. Mr. Talbot was still living at the time in Tacoma, Washington and I was fortunate to get his mailing address. Turns out Clyde did not actually own the horse but had used it everyday where he worked as a young boy. Clyde writes,

Tacoma, Wa.
Apr. 2nd 1986

Dear Jeff:

You surprised me with your letter but must say I was glad to hear from you and hope when you go to Skagway you can stop and say “hello”!

I read about your visit to Skagway in ’77. Wondered what your reaction was in digging up all the things that old “Soapy” was accused of.

Yes I knew all the people you mentioned [Martin Itjen, Harriet Pullen, George Rapuzzi]. The last couple of years in grade school I drove laundry wagon for the Royal Steam Laundry. The white horse I drove was supposed to have been “Soapy’s” old horse. Most all I can tell you about old Soapy is hearsay as I landed in Skagway Apr. 5th 1899 – aged 3-1/2 – My dad was there about a year ahead – Can’t remember his even discussing “Soapy.” Dad was one of the original employees in the train service. Retired in 1935 and passed away in Sept. 1939.

I left the nest in Oct. 1917 and after wandering around Arizona for a couple of years, Uncle Sam put his arm around me and moved me up to Tacoma – where I came from originally upon discharge from air force landed in Tacoma Fire Dept. At present am the oldest retired fire fighter and co-author of History of Tacoma Fire Dept.

Hope to see you when you come north. I have lots of pictures.

Anything I can help with I will be glad. Any one that has first hand information will be gone. Am 91 so you can see what I mean. Best of luck.

The list of Skagway residents sent to me by Marlene over at our neighbors of the Skagway Historical Society blog lists Clyde Talbot as a White Pass and Yukon Railway employee, born in Montana in 1895. He states he was 3-1/2-years-old when he arrived in Skagway in 1899 and that he used Soapy’s horse in the “last couple of years in grade school,” so if grade school in Skagway was anything like it was when I was a boy then the “last couple of years in grade school” might mean that he was between 7-1/2 and 12-years-old, so that the years of his using Soapy’s horse would be in the neighborhood of 1903-1907. In another letter to me Mr. Talbot said he had no pictures of Soapy’s horse, which he referred to as, “Old Nellie.”

I went back to Skagway in July 1986 in which I stopped for a day in Seattle, Washington, but was not able to get to Tacoma to visit Mr. Talbot. I regret not being to do so. He was 91 when I first contacted him. My first visit to Tacoma was in 1997 during the Alaskan Centennial of the gold rush. Mr. Talbot would have been about 102-years-old at the time had he still been living. I would have loved to have seen his “lots of pictures.”


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