March 2, 2011

Dr. Isaac Moore on Soapy Smith, 1931.

(Click image to enlarge)

I received a nice new piece of Soapy folklore from Ashley Bowman of the Arctic Brotherhood historical research blog.

I. H. Moore is Dr. Isaac H. Moore who came to Skagway from Pocatello, Idaho in 1897. He is one of the White Pass & Yukon Railway physicians who examined Frank Reid after the shootout on Juneau Wharf. -Information comes from Marlene McClusky of the Skagway Historical Society

Ashley writes,

Hi Jeff,

We emailed a little last summer about who would play Soapy in a movie-- my pick being Jim Richards :) [Richards owns and portrayed Soapy in the Days of ’98 Show] I'm writing you because I'm writing a book about the Arctic Brotherhood, and in my research came across an article written in the 30s by Dr. I. H. Moore for Alaska Weekly. He gives more than just a passing mention to Soapy and I was wondering if you folks had that source as part of your collection of Soapy resources. If you don't, let me know-- … Hope everything's going well!

… Here are the excerpts from Dr. Moore's article about Soapy! At the end I added some of my comments on what was interesting about it... because I kinda like to dissect things like this :)
--Ashley Bowman

Here is the article excerpts she sent us.

...The Arctic Brothers carried truth and justice wherever they went, either to established communities or the wilderness. They played a prominent part in breaking up the infamous Soapy Smith gang in Skagway 1898. No Arctic Brother was ever a member or sympathized with that gang which was recruited from mining and cow camps of the West and from city undesirables.
For many months this gang had spread a reign of fear and terror in the community and along the trail. Many a poor, innocent, tenderfoot stampeder was victimized by this ruthless crowd.

“Soapy” Smith a Bandit Gentleman

It met its downfall through the slaying of its leader by vigilante Reed… (section missing) encounter. The sacrifice made by Reed in performing this service is recognized by all as a great public service in the furtherance of law and order throughout the north. The disposal of the leader had a salutary effect on the undesirables-- many were “blue-ticketed” out of the country and others went voluntarily to a safer and more genial clime.

Not wanting to be considered an admirer or champion of Soapy Smith, I feel that, in keeping with the Arctic Brotherhood teaching, “look for the good in everyone,” I can say for him a few kindly words.

I knew him well and really had learned to appreciate some outstanding qualities of heart and mind. He was a natural-born leader of men and enjoyed a rare loyalty from his gang. He was generous-hearted to a fault. More than once I asked a charity donation from him for some one in distress and always received a generous donation of gold. He held the friendship of many of the Skagway merchants by his “keep-the-change” system of doing business with them. This, perhaps, was a diplomatic method of banking on men’s weakness.

He came from a family of refinement and education. A brother has been, for years, one of the most prominent journalists in a large Eastern city. He was public-spirited, and it seemed, not acted, but natural. The purpose of this may have been to dull and hypnotise the minds of men to such a degree as to cause them to be indifferent so that they would not enangle him with the law.
He controlled the U. S. Commissioners’ Court at so much per day, and none of his men ever arrested and tried, u up to the time of his death, was ever convicted. Old-timers of Skagway will not forget the disappearance of John U. Smith, U. S. Commissioner, the night of Skagway’s great tragedy.

“Soapy” Died Broke

It is supposed that he took a small boat and made his way down Lynn Canal and finally to Juneau, to catch a boat for Seattle. He could not at that time be intercepted, for it was before the days of the telegraph in the Northland. The U. S. Deputy Marshal was also on the payroll, but his salary was small when compared with the commissioner’s. He was punished by court sentence at a trial held in Sitka later.

Soapy was naturally a polished gentleman. He was just an unfortunate bad-boy, led away by evil companions, and had a proper environment and influence moulded his life he would have been a useful citizen to any country.

He was supposed to have a large amount of money at his death, but to the contrary, his cash on hand was less than $100, and an old trunk full of cards and sure thing games. He was so popular with the men of Skagway that he was selected to serve as grand marshal on July 4th, just three days before his death. He assigned me a seat in the only carriage in the parade, to me a novel experience.

Just three days later, “Soapy” Smith breathed his last. I held his head as he passed into the Great Beyond. He died with his boots on. His body lies in the cemetery at Skagway, and on his grave is laid an occasional wreath, a tribute by a passing tourist who possibly appreciated the good in this colorful character.

I tell this much of unwritten history only because the Arctic Brotherhood was so active in making the country safe and clean.

As the embers on the hearth die away the visions change from that depicted in the last episode to more cheering memories of which I shall give you in a succeeding chapter.

“If one of my readers should linger,
Over my pages in the long, long night,
And on some lone line lay a calloused finger,
Saying ; It’s human, true, it hits me right,’
Then will I count this living toll well spent;
Then I will dream a while-- content, content.”


My thoughts.... [Ashley Bowman]

1. Interesting that Moore claims that the AB was instrumental in breaking up the Soap Gang, considering the brotherhood wasn't formed until 1899, and a good deal of the members didn't even arrive in Alaska until after Soapy was gone. He says at the end that he only includes this story as a way to illustrate the great deeds of the AB... but I think it's just a way to try and make himself seem important by claiming to know famous people in Alaska legend.

2. Interesting that he is not willing to be considered a Soapy sympathizer but ignores Frank Reid's sordid past in idolizing him as a hero. And spells Reid wrong!

3. As you are aware, Soapy and Frank being such celebrities in Skagway, lots of people claimed to have known them but didn't... the details Moore gives make it seem feasible that he actually did, considering he acknowledges Soapy's good side; but if he actually did know him, and is giving a factual account, why include the fictitious detail about Soapy being grand marshal at the 4th of July parade? Maybe he saw the days of 98 show too much... ;)

Unfortunately I don't have the official date of this particular article. It was in the sixth installment of Moore's history of the AB in Alaska Weekly magazine; the first installment was in December 1931 so this would have been likely published at some point in '32.

Hope this is a good addition to all the rest of your sources! I read your book-- it seems as though you have a LOT. keep up the good work :)


I felt it worth mentioning... that in all of my research of the Arctic Brotherhood I keep hoping that at some point I'll find some link between an AB member and the soap gang... yet to be uncovered but I REALLY want it to be there!

My thoughts [Jeff Smith]

Ashley, I sincerely thank you for this wonderful new addition to the families collection of published articles pertaining to Soapy. This is the first I have seen this piece and I'm guessing others in my family will concur. It simply amazes me how much I still don’t have after 25-plus years of searching! I enjoyed and wholly agree with your comments that there is a lot of fiction in Moore’s account and possibly his memory. It suspiciously appears that much of what Moore writes was taken from the newspapers; for instance, the part about a brother being a prominent journalist back east. In actuallity, it was not a brother, but cousin, Edwin Bobo Smith.

I love the part in which Moore claims to have held Soapy’s head as he passed away.

As for being a grand marshal of the parade, Soapy was the marshal of the fourth division, yet so many remember him as the grand marshal, why? Some claim he moved his way up to the front. I have some ideas on that, which will be posted in an article on the July 4 parade along with a newly discovered photograph of Soapy…soon.



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