June 19, 2011

Dr. Fenton B. Whiting descendant, David Nelson

Received an email from Mr. David Nelson, a descendant of Dr. Fenton Blackmore Whiting, the White Pass and Yukon Railway doctor who performed the post-mortem examination on Soapy Smith's body after he was killed in the gunfight on Juneau Wharf, July 8, 1898. It is always a pleasure to get to talk to descendants of those "on the other side" of the Skagway conflict as we get another side of the history.

The first objective Mr. Nelson wanted to accomplish was to correct my and Marlene McClusky's mistake in identifying a line drawing of what we thought was Dr. Whiting. My mistaken post was back on  January 20, 2011 and I have since posted a correction notice so that no one will make the same mistake in the future, at least by looking at my blog page.

Mr. Nelson has some interesting observations and I will let him have his say.

Mr. Smith:

I came across your Soapy Smith site this a.m. at  (LINK). It contains a portrait purporting to be Dr. FB Whiting according to the Skagway Hist Soc. The portrait is not Dr Whiting but rather his father, Fenton Berkeley Whiting, 1827-1898, born Virginia and died California. I am a descendant of his brother, George Carlyle Whiting.

The portrait can be found at page 136 of Farris & Smith's Illustrated History of Plumas, Lassen and Sierra Counties..., 1882, available online. A number of photos of Dr. Whiting can be found in his book Grit, Grief and Gold, also available online as I recall.

Hope this information will be helpful.

David Nelson

Whiting's book, Grit, Grief, Gold: A True Narrative of an Alaska Pathfinder can be read online on the Hathi Trust Digital Library. I, of course, wrote back to Mr. Nelson and shared what I knew of Dr. Whiting which centers around the aftermath of the gunfight. I ask if he wished to share what he knew with the readers here and he was kind enough to send the following.


Thanks for writing back.

So apparently you have a somewhat different view of what happened to Soapy than did Dr Whiting and the literature I've run across. Tell me about that.

All of the stuff I have for Dr Whiting is public domain stuff but I'm happy to attach a few things which might pique your interest. I note a Seattle newspaper article which pointed out that the good Dr had in his possession late in his life the rifle which killed your gg-grandfather! I've attached the pdf of that article and others along with a couple of photos from sources other than Grit Grief and Gold.

The Whitings were of notable heritage in VA with signers of the Declaration and Constitution way back. Dr Whiting's dad was also FB Whiting who left VA with the CA gold rush and settled in Quincy CA where he explored, ran a kinda famous dogsled freight company, became a local politician and raised a big family. All of FB Sr's brothers and sisters went west except for GC Whiting (my ggg-grandfather) who was the Chief Clerk of the Dept of the Interior until his death in 1866. All of Sr's surviving sisters settled around him in northern CA.

Dr Fenton B Whiting had five brothers and two sisters. Randolph V Whiting was asst Dist Atty in SF. Richard H was a newspaper compositor in SF. Frank M was also a doctor in Oroville CA. Eugene C was a pharmacist in SF. Herbert W worked for the govt in Marin Co CA. Pearle lived in Quincy and married William Clinch. Agnes Frances married Colvin Reed in SF. Their mom was Martha Jane Mastin born in MS and died in CA. (Booooooring! Sorry)

I'm assuming you will see his photos from those times in Grit Grief etc and have maybe seen the pic where he is doing autopsy on Soapy.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

David Nelson

The obituary David sent comes from the Seattle Daily Times, January 15, 1936. I found it very interesting that Dr. Whiting was Seattle’s first expert plastic surgeon. But the most important piece of the obituary, in my personal quest, was the mention of that rifle David spoke of. Visitors to Whiting's office were favored with seeing artifacts from Whiting’s gold rush days, including “the rifle which killed the bandit the Skagway saloon keeper, ‘Soapy Smith.’” Members of the Smith family and those who read my book know that the rifle Soapy used on Frank Reid and that was taken from him by Jesse Murphy and used to kill him, was handed over to the widow and her son in August 1898 by court order. My family still possess that rifle. I would love to know more about Whiting's rifle as I believe this is the first I have heard of it. I hope the Whiting family still retains it.

Perhaps the hardest part about our hoped for new friendship that David will need to understand is that my research shows that Jesse Murphy killed Soapy and not Frank Reid. This fact was hushed by the vigilantes soon after the U.S. Army threaten marshal law on Skagway. If my research is correct then that means Dr, Whiting was a part of this cover-up as he performed the autopsies. I say that in the plural because Murphy demanded another autopsy in order to be recognized as the one who actually killed Soapy and Whiting was ordered to do so. Obviously, if Murphy had shot Soapy with Soapy's rifle there would be a difference in the true findings. I have to wonder how David will react to this news. I do hope not in the negative. The goal for me is not to point fingers, but rather to know the truth.   

January 8, 2009
April 12, 2009
January 8, 2009

Fenton B. Whiting: pages 80, 521, 537, 542, 564, 567-70, 595.

Jeff Smith


1 comment:

  1. Jeff, thanks for the update, I corrected my entry also. Happy Father's Day!


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith