June 14, 2011

Tara Kane: Skaguay Military Company

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In the novel, Tara Kane the German photographer, Hart tries desperately to convince Tara of Soapy Smith's evil intentions of raising a private army to seize control of the ports and trails leading into Canada and the Klondike gold fields. This fictional account is based on the real regarding the creation of the Skaguay Military Company in May 1898. 

“Tara,” he said gravely. “You must get away from him. He is a bad man.”

“You don’t have to worry, I know all about Mr. Smith,” she replied dismissively, getting up.

I don’t think you do.” The way he said it made her stop. “There are rumors. He is planning something. Something dangerous. I hear stories.”

“I’m not interested in gossip,” she retorted.

“No, you must listen,” Hart said urgently. “He is raising an army. Shipping in weapons. Ammunition. Training men.”

“That’s his little hobby. He likes playing soldiers. He’ll come to see you any day now for a photograph of him in his pretty uniform. You’re taking it all too seriously, Ernst.”

“Don’t you understand?” Hart was getting excited. “He plans a Putsch, a revolt. When he has enough men and enough guns, he will take over the tow, the railroad, maybe Dyea, seize the Chilkoot, the White Pass.”

“That’s crazy!” she cried.

“With his army, who can stop him? A couple of deputy marshals? By the time they send troops, he’ll control everything.”

“Ernst, you’re being ridiculous.”

“I beg you, Tara, you must leave here. Before it’s too late.”

“Ernst, I don’t believe any of” she began, but he cut her short.

“I will protect you from him,” he burst out. “He won’t be able to do anything. You can rely on me. I will look after you and the baby. You need not have anything to do with the man ever again.”

Tara said nothing. …


[Tara confronts Soapy in his office]
There was a knock on the door. Smith ignored it, but Tara disengaged herself. Again the knock came.

“Yes?” Smith called out irritably. His eyes were on Tara. She was trying to take advantage of the operation to collect herself.

Yeah Mow came in and stopped when he saw the two of them.

“Well?” Smith demanded. His voice was sharp.

“I didn’t know you were busy, Boss,” grunted Yeah Now, “only they’re going to start unloading.” He stopped. “The cargo will be coming ashore soon. Thought you’d better know.”

“OK,” Smith said curtly, “I’ll be there.”

She could tell something was being kept from her. Yeah Mow closed the door, and Tara asked, “What cargo’s that, Jeff?”

Doubts were crossing her mind, and echo of what Hart had said, “When he has enough men and enough guns.”

“Christ, honey, we got more important things to talk about than that,” he said. Suddenly, he seemed guarded.

“No. I want to know.”

She sat down and looked at him challengingly. Her softness had gone. She was tough, businesslike.

“You don’t make sense,” he replied. Under his hooded lids, his eyes were wary.

“You keep disappearing for days on end. Nobody sees you. Then all these cargoes that arrive. You keep going to the waterfront. What’s so important about them? You keep that gunman outside your door. Your office gets burgled. What’s happening? Your right-hand wants to know what’s happening.

He hesitated, then he shrugged. “I’m training my men. Hell, I’m the CO of the outfit. I’m whipping them into shape. I got to spend time with them. And those cargoes, why they’re just supplies. Military supplies. Uniforms. Boots.”

“Arms?” Her voice was quiet.

He didn’t blink. “Sure. Rifles, sidearms. I’m having them shippedin, and I don’t aim to see them go astray. So I keep an eye on things. You don’t want my soldier boys to have wooden swords, do you?”

He laughed as if that was a good joke. He opened a drawer and took out some sheets of paper.

“Now while I’m gone, I’d appreciate you copying these out, just for me and a couple of the boys.”

He passed them over to her.

She glanced at them, uneasiness growing. “What are these list?”
“It’s the payroll. If the men get called out, if a state of emergency is declared.”

“You mean martial law? In Skagway? Who’d declare that?

“I like to be safe.”

“Safe from what, Jeff? She pressed.

“Safe from other people’s interference.”
She stood up, putting down the lists. “But all this is illegal. Recruiting private mercenaries in the name of the United States, shipping in arms, wearing uniforms, giving out ranks. National Guard, indeed!”

Smith looked amused. “He’s put you up to this, hasn’t he? That lousy photographer made your beautiful hair stand on end? Right?”

“I can use my own eyes,” Tara said. She didn’t want to bring Hart into this.

He grinned. “Now you listen. Congress has rushed through a bill authorizing the immediate enlisting of volunteer troops for the war. Here.” He went to a chair, picked up some Seattle and San Francisco newspapers. The headlines were there. They were recruiting men for the Spanish War.

“What’s good for Teddy Roosevelt is good enough for me,” went on Smith.

Tara shook her head. “You’ll have to try harder than that. You’re raising a private army, and I want to know why.”

He strode across the room to the newly installed safe. “Goddamn it, Tara, you can be the most aggravating female,” he shouted. He took out a sheet of paper and thrust it at her.

“Private army, indeed,” he growled.

The paper had an officially printed letterhead embossed with the legend: Office of the Secretary of War, Washington, D.C.

Dear Captain Smith, [it read] The President has passed over to the Department of the Army your letter and asked me to reply on his behalf.

He joins me in commending your patriotic spirit in forming your militia unit. You and your volunteer forces and the enthusiasm with which you have rallied to the colors in this hour of your country’s need are a tribute to the people of Alaska.

Your offer to put your unit at the disposal of the United States Army and to lead your men in an invasion of Spanish Cuba is greatly appreciated, but I can assure you that the forces we have available are adequate and there is no need for the War Department to require your services overseas.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

And it was signed Russel A. Alger, Secretary of War.

“Well?” He stood beaming at her. “You still think I’m planning to start some cockeyed private war?”

She had to admit that it was not what she had expected. She hadn’t known that he had been in touch with Washington. She thought he was doing it all on his own here, thousands of miles away. Maybe he was right, she thought. Maybe Hart had wanted to paint Smith in the blackest colors. She gave him back the letter.

“How many men have you got now?” she asked.

“Two, three hundred,” he said, going out the door.

Washington knew what Smith was up to, and they had raised no objections. What was really going on? …


Smith displayed his letter from Washington proudly. It hung in a prominent position in the Oyster Parlor, reverently framed. Only Tara knew that he had cut out part of the letter and neatly joined the two other pieces. There was no mention of Washington brushing him off; only the grateful thanks of his President and the War Department.

May 18, 2011
May 3, 2011 
April 29, 2011 
April 28, 2011

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

Jeff Smith


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