June 24, 2011

Excerpts from Grit, Grief and Gold by Dr. Fenton Whiting.

Soapy Smith's Descendants at his grave
Skagway, Alaska July 8, 1998
(Click image to enlarge)

After meeting David Nelson, a descendant of Dr. Fenton Blakemore Whiting, who performed the autopsy on Soapy, I decided to read his book, Grit, Grief and Gold: A True Narrative of an Alaska Pathfinder (Seattle, Peacock publishing co., 1933), once again. It contains the adventures Dr. Whiting had in dealing with Skagway's underworld king.

Following are a few excerpts from the book I thought you might enjoy.

Chapter 3, Pages 24-25

"Skookum Jim" and "Tagish Charlie," Indians in on the "ground floor" with Carmack in his original discovery, came out after the "clean-up" and emulated their white brethren as best they knew how in flooding the town with their newly acquired wealth—although denied the freedom of the saloons, due to their Indian blood. However, there was no dearth of law-breakers here, and they readily procured their liquor from the gentry of the under-world, and thereby satiated the well-known craving of their tribe for that luxury. The "Soapy Smith gang" was more than willing to serve them, obviously, at a fabulous price, which meant nothing to these "fattened lambs"—the "ready money" in the parlance of the under-world, the "wolves" ever lurking behind the "fold." The Smith gang covered the entire criminal field, and hesitated at nothing from actual murder on down the long line, and without fear of interference from the authorities, who gave tacit consent—for a "split" of profits. Smith, the crafty leader of the criminal wolf pack, had, long years since, acquired the art of handling both officials as well as victims diplomatically, and lost no sleep from worry. He'd had his schooling from early life in the wild mining camps of Colorado, and unsophisticated Alaska was "easy pickings" for him.

Chapter 4, Pages 28-31 ("Soapy Smith," the Outlaw)

"Soapy Smith," the Outlaw "Jeff Smith's Parlors," read the sign over one door. Here the headquarters of the notorious "Soapy Smith" gang. Here the "Fly," the unsophisticated one, was invited into the "Parlor" by the proverbial "Spider," with the usual result. Here crime flourished unhampered, with the connivance of the constituted authorities.

A few days after our arrival a very interesting character introduced himself on the street. A man of striking personality, he more nearly represented the typical Southern planter of olden days. "I believe," he began, "this is Mr."

Dressed immaculately, a man in his late thirties, wearing an expensive silk shirt upon which rested a gaudy tie, surmounted by a flashy, huge diamond, a well-trimmed Vandyke beard of ebony hue, broad brimmed Stetson hat of light color, a clear-white skin and keen gray eyes. He took some cigars from his pocket and handed over one. The butt of a heavy, ivory-handled Colt's six-shooter loomed above his belt.

"My name is Jeff Smith," he began. "They call me 'Soapy' up here," smiling slightly. "Anyway, that's alright with me. Well, now, you're going to be up here for some time, and I want you to make yourself at home at my place. Come on over now and see what you think of it."

We strolled on over to "Jeff Smith's Parlor" and entered. Stepping up to the bar, he commanded the man behind to produce his best, which command was promptly complied with. As we once more turned about, there appeared before us a motley array of faces, standing idly by, watching and waiting for the mysterious gesture from their leader. They waited in vain, however; this was simply a social affair, and the trained galaxy of hardened criminals soon caught the idea and marked time. They were, however, ready for any emergency, each suited to his own particular calling; the burly prize fighter, his massive hands resting upon his hips, wearing a heavy blue sweater, ready for action; the sure thing card shark, his bejewelled hands betraying his illegal calling. Several tough-looking gun men with well-known criminal records in the wild mining camps of the "Rockies"—Creede, Cripple Creek, Denver and others—lolled about the bar or fumbled with cards at the tables nearby. Two young striplings in their twenties waiting for messages from their chief to go out and bring in some new arrival who promised real money—a veritable rogues' gallery of one hundred per cent efficiency, on tap and ready to go the limit at a moment's notice.

"Soapy Smith," the one biggest man in town by long odds, proudly emphasized that fact by proclaiming himself the "Uncrowned King of Skagway." Many more or less prominent citizens hobnobbed with him, partly through fear, but also for financial gain, indirectly, and winked at his depredations, although well knowing of his illegal activities. He presented a striking appearance a few days later, as he rode a prancing dapple-gray horse at the head of the Fourth of July parade, in front of a noisy brass band playing patriotic airs. Dozens of cameras snapped him as he passed, much to his satisfaction and pride. He was killed four days later as an outlaw, by the vigilantes.

The Spanish-American War having broken out that same Spring, Smith had seized upon the opportunity to arm and drill many of his admirers and followers, and had volunteered their services to the President at Washington, who had courteously declined the offer, for obvious reasons, with thanks, and "Soapy" had thereupon framed the document and hung it up on the wall of his parlors as a drawing card.

This was Skagway in '98.

June 19, 2011
April 12, 2009
January 8, 2009
January 8, 2009

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

Jeff Smith


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