February 23, 2011

Van B. "Old Man" Triplett's death.

"Old Man" Triplett on his way to Sitka and trial
after his capture in Skagway.
(Click image to enlarge)

Van B. Triplett was one of the main members of the Soap Gang in Skagway in 1898. After Soapy was murdered the gang hid in the nearby hills. Triplett being to old for eating roots and sleeping on the cold ground walked back into town and gave himself up. He was the three-card monte operator who took John Douglas Stewart's sack of gold. He is also one of the gang who did time in prison after being deported to Sitka in handcuffs. Three years after Soapy's death and Triplett's death still made the front pages!

The Evening News(Washington D.C.)
May 2, 1901

Originator of the Gold Brick Swindle Expires in Poverty.

CHICAGO, May 2—Van B. Triplett, the originator of the gold brick swindle, who is said to have swindled people out of a million dollars by different kinds of confidence games, died yesterday at West Belso [look up cities in Chicago] in poverty. Money is now being raised by friends to give him a decent burial. Triplett, who was also known as John V. Tripp and “old Tripp,” was born in Virginia sixty years ago and came of a good family. He began his life of crime when he was young and for more than forty years had been pitted against the police.

Although the origin of the gold brick game is sometimes credited to Bill Train who is said to be responsible for the death of “Red” Leaky [spelling ?] in New York, it was Triplett who first made the game a financial success. The police say he sold he sold hundreds of gold bricks and made a fortune out of them.

He served time for an action of this kind but once, and that was when he and “Big Ed” Miner sold a brick to Chinamen in Dayton, Ohio. Both he and Miner were sent to the penitentiary for the crime and Triplett was released in 1894. After that he went to the Klondike and made a companion of “Soapy” Smith, “Kid” Bowen and “Kid” Eddie Fresh. They were accused of buncoing a miner out of a sack of gold dust. In the events that followed Smith was killed, after he had shot Frank Reid, the district attorney at Skagway. Triplett was sentenced to a year’s imprisonment at Sitka. When he was in jail a mob gathered about the jail to lynch him. Officers dispersed the mob, however, and Triplett served out his term. He was often subjected to arrest in Chicago, and detective Marnane[spelling ?] is said to have taken him to the central station more than 200 times. At last John D. Sheas[spelling ?], then chief of detectives, gave orders that he was not to be molested unless there was proof that he had committed some crime.



  1. I found an interesting fact about the name Triplett which I researched some years ago.
    There were Tripletts in my husband's family tree and I found that several sets of actual triplets were born into that family! Is it possible that some families have a genetic preference for triplets? Maybe old man Tripp had a couple of brothers?

  2. Wow, you could very well may be related. Don't pass that around town or you might be deported! Lol. I will let you know if I find out anything on his family ties.

    Jeff Smith

  3. I always liked the story that 'old Tripp' didn't go back into town to just turn himself in....he first sat down and enjoyed a nice breakfast! [priorities] lol

    Skagway Sleuth....please keep us informed. It's a small world...and it was a lot smaller back then...so you never know.


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