May 4, 2011

Artifact #34: Formation of Soapy Smith's private army, March 1898.

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Perhaps one of the most famous documents I have in my personal collection is artifact #34, the formation documents of Soapy Smith's private army, the Skaguay Military Company.

March 6, 1898 the threatening handbills of the 101 vigilante organization were placed around town. Although Soapy had formed the Committee of 317 with its own handbills warning of retaliatory action against the 101 if they imposed their will, he sought a legal method to stop the vigilantes.  13 days later Soapy formed the Skaguay Military Company, his very own all volunteer private army.

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Soapy went about forming the Skaguay Military Company by working people into a state of wanting and needing it. He called for and led patriotic assemblies to address war fears and the need for readiness. During one such meeting a reporter copied parts of Soapy's speech.

(from the pages of Alias Soapy Smith)

Skaguay Military Company meeting, and Jeff, perhaps stimulated by the reporter’s presence, made a speech that led to a memorable performance by one and all. Standing on a chair among cheers and “warlike yells,” Jeff addressed the need to preserve the safety of the American coasts and stressed the necessity of guarding them to the death against supposedly projected plans of the Spanish fleet to raid cities and shipping.

“Spain will send her battleships to seize our ports,” he cried, “and they will try to capture our ships. But, be damned to them and we’ll stake our lives against their plots. … Do you realize our country’s danger?”

As these statements are attributed to Jeff by Collier and Westrate, they may be fact or fancy. However, the less unreliable Cahill in his poem “Skagway Guns!” portrays something of what Jeff said about a potential invasion of US soil by Spanish forces—“They’ll never land!”—and what happened next.

Whereat he loosened from his belt and laid
upon the bar

The weapon which for several men had set the
gates ajar;

An’ Soapy Smith, the card sharp, drew an
ivory-handled beaut’,

An’ put it on the counter, an’ the crowd all
followed suit;

The muzzle of the daisy that took off the
Marshal’s ear

Laid right beside the weapon which had
punctured Rhino Pierre;

An’ near by was the gentle, inoffensive
little thing,

That had wafted Bunco Charlie to the place
where angles sing;

Then Soapy Smith, the card sharp, standin’
near ’em on a chair,

Observed, “When Spain gets to the coast
she’ll find a welcome there!

We’ll box these guns and ship ’em by the
first boat on the run

To President McKinley, who abides at

An’ in the hist’ry books we’ll read the
Nation’s proudest boast,

How Skagway men sent Skagway guns to save the
Eastern coast;

It bein’ the one town where men made
sacrifice sublime,

Because their country could not build the
coast defense in time.

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Wasting no time, he followed up by executing a plan to recruit, organize, have recognized, and administer an all-volunteer military force created, in theory, for use by the President of the United States. Minutes of the formation, a necessary part of applying for recognition, are as follows:

At a meeting of the citizens of the United States of America residing at the city of Skaguay, a territory of Alaska, held at the Bauer Hall, for the purpose of organizing a military company in the territory of Alaska for the purpose of offering its services to the Government of the United States as volunteers in the event of a war with Spain: Said meeting was called to order on the 18th day of March, 1898, at said hall by J. [John] Callahan, who then and there stated to the meeting its object and purpose. Mr. Callahan was then unanimously elected Chairman of the meeting, and J. M. Donaldson, unanimously elected Secretary of the meeting.

It was then moved and seconded and carried that all citizens of the United States being desirous of membership in said company to be organized at Skagway for the purpose enumerated at the opening of the meeting, that each person takes oath of allegiance to support the Government of the United States, etc. and in the event of war with Spain to enlist their services for a period of two years after which oath so taken their names to be subsequently subscribed thereunder. Thereafter the oath hereto annexed was then read to each individual member who desired to become a member of said military organization and when taken he thereafter subscribes his name thereto.
District of Alaska.

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We the undersigned citizens of the United States of America being first duly sworn deposes and says that he is a citizen of the United States and will support the Constitution thereof, and if called upon as a member of that military organization known as the “Skaguay Military Company”, organized for the purpose of responding to any call or demand made by the President of the United States in the event of a war with Spain for the period of two years, and if so called will enlist and become enrolled in accordance with any rule or regulation of the United States now adopted under the military regulations.

George Arnold, William D. Barr, James Beedle, Dave Blake, Fred Bluff, F. Boker, Charles Boston, J.L. Bowers, S.P. Bowser, Ben H. Brewer, Al Britting, Ed Burns, T.H. Callahan, John W. Campbell, Martin J. Casey, Frank Cleveland, James Collins, A. Comey, Bob Delford, Jack Dolan, William Dugan, C.P. Duke, John Dureivan, John Eldridge, John M. Every, Dick Flemming, Joseph Gamack, James Gilbert, J.D. Harrigan, Pete Headly, C.E. Hill, James Holt, Al H. Isaacs, D.I. Kennedy, Lewis Kulb, Joseph Land, Andrew Lang, H.D. Laras, B.L. Leroy, D.M. Levine, Harry Linnell, Frank Luthers, James McCan [?], James McCarty, Ed McGowan, William McGuiness, J.T. Miller, Arthur Morgan, Jerry Mugivan, Thomas Murry, F. Nold, William O’Kieff, James O’Neil, Tim Parker, James Pitcher, George Pitcher, Cal Powen, George Powers, Thomas Reenan, Phil B. Robertson, G.E. Rudaugh, J. Shannon, C. Shepard, B. Smith, D.S. Spencer, Robert Stockton, Ed Stranger, E. Sulival, Mike J. Taysee, R.L. Tiegald, George Troll, L. Twedall [?], G. Vigh, H.L. Vinton, Ned Williams, John W. Wilson, T. YaGaron [?], Wm. W. Yeakens, Jack Young.

That the meeting aforesaid after the names hereto subscribed and the oaths therein taken adopted the following resolution: Be it hereby resolved that we proceed at this time to elect by ballot the following officers for said company, to-wit: A Captain, First Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant, First Sergeant, Second Sergeant, Third Sergeant, First Corporal, Second Corporal.

That in accordance with said resolution so adopted, the following officers were then and there unanimously elected for said company:

Captain, Jeff R. Smith,
First Lieutenant, John Foley, Second Lieutenant, J. M. Donaldson,
First Sergeant, J. T. Miller, Second Sergeant, R. B. McAndrew,
Third Sergeant, James Clancy, First Corporal, D. H. Wilder,
Second Corporal, John W. Campbell.

It was then moved and seconded that a copy of those resolutions, together with the minutes of the meeting so held, and the oath subscribed by the members of this meeting be sent by mail to the President of the United States of America, at Washington, D. C. and a copy of same be forwarded to Hon. John G. Brady, the Governor of the territory of Alaska.

It was then moved and seconded that said meeting be adjourned subject to the call of the Captain of said company.

Dated this 19 day of march, 1898.
[signed] J. M. Donaldson J Callahan
Sec Chairman

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Company members number 85, including 3 officers and 5 noncommissioned officers. Of the 79 enlisted men, 2 were apparently promoted: First Sergeant J.T. Miller and Second Corporal John W. Campbell. Names on the roster from the Soap Gang include John Bowers, John Miller, and Ed Burns. Recruiting a company of men ready to be soldiers for their country in so short a time took considerable skill, but then to ride the wave of patriotism to the top by being elected captain of the company was a master stroke. In Denver and during the Mexican and Cuban adventures, Jeff was just a self-proclaimed colonel. Now he had been “elected” captain.

Jeff left open the invitation to join his army company, and more came forward. The fever to “join up” spread to Dyea where more than 400 called on Colonel Anderson, commander there. He, however, could not respond without specific orders. Anderson had reported that 4 companies were no longer needed in the Lynn Canal region. In response, 2 of the 4 companies along with Anderson were ordered to return to Vancouver, Washington, the following May. No doubt some of those patriots who were turned away signed up with Captain Jeff’s Company.

Without delay, Jeff had eight copies of the minutes, enrollment, and letters of enclosure, dated March 19, 1898, typed up by Dr. Lewis Garrison, paying $10.50 for the job. One copy each was mailed to President McKinley and Governor Brady, offering the services of the Skaguay Military Company. Only a few weeks prior, Jeff had been recognized by the war department when given authority to locate at Fort St. Michael. Now he sought recognition from the President of the United States.

Skaguay, Alaska, March 19, 1899.
To Hon. William McKinley
President of the United States,
Washington, D.C.,

Sir:-- I take pleasure in enclosing for your perusal the minutes and enrollment of the Skaguay Military Company, organized for the purpose of responding to any call you may make for volunteers in the event of war with Spain.

It is the desire of the company to commence drilling at once, having secured the services of an ex-army officer for that purpose and we wish to know if we may be furnished with the necessary arms, accouterments, etc., for that purpose. This organization, we hope, will become a permanent one and one which will not be far behind any other organization of this kind in responding to the demand in time of trouble. I am
Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant
Jeff R. Smith [signed]

Jeff directed that marching and drilling of his company begin right away, and it seems likely he often reviewed it personally. One can imagine his enjoyment of this role and of the satisfaction he felt in knowing that members of the 101 witnessed the quasi military show of force and were powerless to do anything about his command of it. The Captain of the Skaguay Military Company continued this development of the Company for months. According to the June 1, 1898, edition of the Sitka Alaskan Report, men of the Company continued to drill “every night.”

A most likely entirely fictional story concerns how Jeff used the recruitment process to rob volunteers who signed up for the Military Company. The story first appeared in a Vancouver newspaper and was republished in the San Francisco Call, June 3, 1898, in which Jeff promised

The men who enlisted $5 a day and rations. Many joined and Smith and his gang fixed up a building as headquarters where recruits could enlist. They were told they would have to be medically examined and were requested to take off their clothing and step into an adjoining room. There they found a doctor who pretended to test their lungs, and then left them stark naked. The would-be soldiers waited in vain for his return and then passed out, only to find their clothing, cash, guns, etc., gone. Smith and his gang left for the mountains and the Skaguay citizens had to be appealed to before the men could leave the building.

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In November 1898 the Denver Evening Post published a more detailed story as part of a long article about Jeff as told by James Finnegan of Aspen.

About the smoothest thing Smith ever did was to start his recruiting office for the Untied States army. He secured office quarters of three rooms the first being the office, the second the doctor’s room and the third, opening out on to the alley…. The men disrobed here, placing their clothes on chairs.

“The doctor” would darken the center room and then begin to test your eyes by suddenly removing a black box from two large lamps shining like the most powerful electric lights by the agency of highly polished reflectors. The room would [be] absolutely dark and the effect was to almost stun you. …

When the applicant went back to get his clothes he found he had been robbed. Some experienced even the loss of their shoes.

A friend of mine had $1.00 in his clothes in addition to a bunch of keys and a piece of tobacco. When he returned he found his coat, trousers, tobacco, money and even his keys gone. He kicked to the “doctor.”

“Well,” said the “doctor,” “there’s the door and you know what a place Skagway is. Why didn’t you lock it?”

Finnegan claimed to be intimate with Jeff, but too much of his account of Skaguay makes this author wonder if he had ever been there. He described Jeff’s saloon as being near the wharves and filled with gaming equipment whereas Jeff Smith’s Parlor was seven blocks inland and held no gaming equipment of any size.

No other known reports of men complaining that they had been robbed in this way are known. In fact, not even any reports of “physicals” are known. Jeff wanted the Company to be a force in which its members, the town, and not least of all himself could take pride. Such a force could hardly be sustained if its men were robbed as a first experience. Even Collier and Westrate (The Reign of Soapy Smith), who document nothing and present many details and stories about Jeff and the Soap Gang that could not be true, reject that Jeff was behind the robberies. They counter the story, however, with what appears to be another fabrication: “This dastardly work was reported to Soapy, who wrathfully ordered the perpetrators rounded up and hauled before him.” The perpetrators “attempted to laugh off their performance as a practical joke,” but “Soapy” was not amused and “compelled them to disgorge their ill-gotten booty on the spot and return it to the rightful owners, after which they were forced to apologize to their victims.” That the Company remained active for nearly four months strongly suggests that the men were not abused, at least not as told in the story of its recruits being robbed.

To the eyes of the public Soapy was rising to the call of President William McKinley for volunteer armies to be founded and used during the Spanish-American War of 1898. Attached to McKinley's order for volunteers was the Warren bill. It authorized funds for such units as Jeff’s volunteer company. On “March 8, 1898, Secretary of War Russell A. Alger allocated $250,000 for organizational expenses, $197,000 for transportation and horses, $31,392 for equipment, and $15,000 for subsistence.” This sort of profit was attractive, however, Soapy also asked District of Alaska Governor John  G. Brady to officially call on the Company to remain active after the war for use in "responding to the demand in time of trouble." Soapy also politely asked for "arms, accouterments, etc., for that purpose." Had he gained the governors approval and  should “disturbances” occur, such as vigilantes might cause, Captain Smith could call up what amounted to his own private army to quell violence and maintain peace. The 101, with no stomach to oppose an organized unit of “Patriots,” shrank behind doors and bided time. Soapy, in other words,  made sure no one would dare rise against him.

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Through his secretary, the President responded to Jeff. The letter probably reached Skaguay by April 16.

Executive Mansion
April 9, 1898

The President directs me to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 19th ultimo, enclosing the minutes and enrollment of the Skaguay Military Company, organized for the purpose of responding to a call for volunteers in the event that they should be needed, and to inform you that it has been referred for the consideration of the Secretary of War.

Very Truly yours,
John Addison Porter [signed]
Secretary to the President

It is believed that Jeff framed and hung this letter in Jeff Smith’s Parlor as public witness to the fact that the Skaguay Military Company, “Capt. Jeff R. Smith” commanding, was officially recognized by the President of the United States.

(from the pages of Alias Soapy Smith)

Possibly Jeff was sincere in his quest to marshal aid for the country. True, his search for a military title had been a long one, so he had a personal interest in being officially recognized. But signs show that the Skaguay Military Company was much more than a scam or padded with Soap Gang members, only a few of whom had signed up. Possibly, though, the names of more gang members had been left off the roster to keep the company clear of controversy. Further, perhaps Jeff felt it would be making hostages of fate for too many names of the gang to be listed in one document. In fact, to this day no complete list of those who worked with and for Jeff exists.

A sincere sign of Jeff’s commitment to military service appears in his own hand. On April 19, Congress recognized Cuban independence, demanded Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, and authorized the President to use force to attain these ends. War was declared as of April 21. In a letter to Mary dated April 26, in anticipation of the declaration, Jeff wrote, “I will have to go to the front if called on.”

March 26, 2011
June 30, 2010
June 3, 2010
April 10, 2010
April 1, 2010
March 20, 2010
March 4, 2010
October 21, 2008

Skaguay Military Company: pages 79, 471, 486-90, 494-95, 498-502, 505, 510, 514-15, 595.

Jeff Smith


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