July 2, 2011

First time together, the two photographs of the Soap Gang deportees.

(Click image to enlarge)

(Click image to enlarge)

For the first time, published together, the two photographs taken of the Soap Gang just before they were placed aboard ship and deported out of Skagway, Alaska July 12, 1898.

Most everyone who has read a Soapy Smith book or two has seen photograph #1. The few times photograph #2 has been published no one has noticed a difference and no doubt thought it was photograph #1. There were two photos shot that day and looking at the two photographs you can see slight differences in the men. It was many years ago that I had found #2 but I have never published them together until now.

In my book I told the story of the gang deportees but because of the ever growing size of the book I was forced to leave information out. Below is some of some of the more interesting bits left out.

(From my book)

A total of fifteen men were known to be deported. The account of the first ten to leave appeared this way in The Skaguay News:

J. Allen Hornsby, W. F. Saportas, Nate Pollock, C. S. Hussey, Bradley O’Brien, Chas Bromberg, J. Swain, J. Leary, Frank Brown and Henry Smith. They were accordingly marched to the wharf where after being lined up, the command “hats off” was given and the gang was photographed, after which they were placed aboard the big steamer [Tartar] which soon after quietly pulled out….

“The committee kept up its work unceasingly, and by Wednesday night, a second crowd, consisting of five men and one women, had been selected for deportation.

Generally believed was that most of the Skaguay deportees were wanted men and would be nabbed by law enforcement in Seattle. According to the Daily Alaskan for July 25, 1898, Seattle Police Chief Reid “gave instructions that the deportees were to be picked up for safekeeping. It is proposed that Seattle not be made a dumping ground for the criminal element of Skaguay.” However, no evidence indicates that any of the deportees was taken into custody. The same issue of the Alaskan reprinted news from a Seattle newspaper about William Saportas and J. Allen Hornsby.

W. F. Saportas will return [to Skaguay] on the next steamer. He says he came out to look after some business matters. He thinks that Soapy Smith wanted to commit suicide when he went down to the wharf. He thinks that the matter might have ended very differently had not Soapy ran up against the nervy Reid. He agrees with the prevailing opinion in the north that Skaguay will be a much better town now that Smith is dead.

This orientation was blatantly self-serving from the person whom most of Skaguay knew to have been in the employ of Jeff. Moreover, widely known was that when Jeff’s clothing was searched, a note was found that read, “‘the crowd is angry, if you want to do anything do it quick.’ … [signed] ‘S.’” Further, the handwriting was identified as belonging to “one ‘Billie’ Saportas.”

As for Hornsby, he

was very indignant at the treatment he received at the hands of the vigilance committee, and expects to receive an invitation to return by the next boat. He said: “I was sent out of Skaguay in a most arbitrary manner. The United States Commissioner said there were no charges against me, but that he had no power to combat the citizens’ committee that had put me on the boat at the point of loaded Winchesters. Everyone was very much excited, and although I was very badly treated I am not ‘squealing.’ The only thing they seemed to have against me was that I did not publish an account of the robbery [of Stewart] in the Friday evening edition. I could have explained the omission satisfactorily, but was not given the chance. Several of my enemies are at the bottom of the trouble, but it will turn out all right.”

It is not known if Hornsby returned to Skaguay, but the US Census for 1900 shows a John Allen Hornsby as a miner and previously a physician living in Eagle City, a District of Alaska mining community. Born in 1859 in St. Louis, records show him as a physician in a hospital in that city in 1880 and still a medical doctor there in 1890. By 1910 he was superintendent of a hospital in Chicago and then in 1920 a physician in a Washington, DC, hospital. He appears to have died in 1939, age 80.

As for Saportas, he resorted to what some have done in romance when in trouble and gone off to join the French Foreign Legion. William, though, who was not that romantic, did not go so far. At the Presidio in San Francisco on October 4, 1898, at the age of 26 years, 8½ months, he joined the US Army. He was made a clerk, served his enlistment, enlisted again and continued enlisting. He received good-to-excellent reviews, rose to sergeant, sergeant major, and into the officer ranks to captain. Saportas received postings all over the country, and apparently in his travels, he met again the wife of the formerly famous World Sylvester Scovel, whom he had rescued from Bennett and who had become Scovel’s widow. He married her in Hawaii in 1917 and is presumed to have remained so until his death June 1942.

(Daily Alaskan, July 12, 1898)

The citizens expected that a shipment would be made as soon as the first steamer came in, and when the hour for the Tartar to leave drew near they began to gather about the Burkhardt [sic] Hotel. About two o’clock the sidewalk was cleared and ten prisoners were marched down the stairs, each accompanied by an armed guard, and in this order they marched to Moore’s wharf. They were received in absolute silence, not a cheer or a jeer. …

On reaching the wharf entrance the crowd was held back, only the prisoners, the guards and the committee being permitted to pass. This was to avoid any chance of an attempt to rescue. In front of the warehouse the prisoners were arranged in line and made to face the unblinking eye of Mr. Case’s camera. They were taken twice and each time had to take off their hats and “look pleasant,” Only one, Nate Pollock, tried to distort his face so that the camera would give a wrong impression. Then they were marched into the ticket office and Mr. Baker made out their passage checks, and they were taken on board.

At the gangplank stood Commissioner Sehlbrede. He first asked each man his name and then if he was leaving on his own consent and free will. The replies made were various. Nearly all of them expressed a disinclination to go but preferred to do so rather than return and face the music. Hornsby made a long argument to Commissioner Selbrede against his being forced away and the Commissioner could only say that Mr. Hornsby had his choice of leaving or not. “Would you prefer to return and take your trial?” asked the Commissioner. To this Hornsby made no direct reply, but when he reached the gangplank and the formal question as to whether he went of his own consent was put he answered “Yes.”

Nate Pollock gave his name as W. V. Jennings, and said “No, I don’t want to go but I have to.” Bradley O’Brien first said “No, I do not consent.” On the question being reput the answer was “Yes I do want to go.”

Charles Bromberg said: “Yes, I cannot do otherwise.”

J. Swain said, “Yes, I am under compulsion.” He was told that answer would not do. He could return and stand trial if he choose. “Yes, I am going,” was the reply.

Frank Brown said, “Yes, and I want to say that Captain Tanner is a perfect gentleman.” “No bouquets, please,” interrupted deputy marshal Tanner.

By this time the wharf was crowded, yet as the Tartar pulled out there was no demonstration.

As soon as the committee returned it went to work again sifting new evidence. There are all sorts of rumors about town, many of them are absurd, but the citizens must wait in patience for the committee to complete its work, when its report in full will be given in the Daily Alaskan.

Although we know the names of all the deportees only two of the gang members can be positively linked to their name.

I can only imagine that those "rumors about town" include the fact that Jesse Murphy was the man who had shot and killed Soapy.

1898: Soapy and Deputy U.S. Marshal Taylor file suit in Seattle against the Seattle Times for $25,000. each.

Jeff Smith



  1. What a great amount of information here, Jeff, it shows how much research you have done! Thanks and have a Happy 4th of July!

  2. Thank you very much for the kind comment. Happy 4th of July!


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