Here is a LINK to the first of six parts of a documentary made in the late 1970s about four men who hiked the Chilkoot trail to Dawson. It'll give you an idea of what the 1898 stampeders went through for gold.
(Lima News Ohio, September 23, 1898)
CRIME AT SKAGUAY.
Tough Band of Criminals Wiped Out.
Henry Rydstrom Tells of the Killing of “Soapy” Smith -- A Chicago Man Illustrates How Skaguay Was Rid of a Desperado.
Henry Rydstrom, formerly a Chicago man, but now a citizen of Skaguay, Alaska, was an eyewitness of the night in which the notorious “Soapy” Smith was killed in that place by City Surveyor Reed. He stood, in fact, where the desperado almost fell against him when Reed shot him. Mr. Rydstrom has been in Skaguay since last January and has seen the rapid growth of the place from simply a group of tents, constantly being put up and constantly taken away as the migrating herds of humanity came and went. From the start “Soapy” Smith’s reign has been supreme. He had a gang of 29 toughs, all as desperate as himself and all completely under his control. Like the able leader in villainy he was, he had his crew well distributed among the municipal offices and in all places where they could be used to best further his schemes and to afford protection to himself and the gang. “Boss” Tweed never in his palmiest days had such a perfectly and systematically organized band of robbers. There were always three of them in the city council, his first lieutenant was the deputy city marshal and his second officer was the editor of the one daily paper in the town. The others were disposed to the best advantage possible.
Smith was a genius and a general in his line. His place was among the high officials, where he acted as adviser and director in all the affairs of the city. He could easily have been the mayor had he chosen, but that would not suit his purposes half so well as being in the position he occupied. His band was never actually seen in any of the villainies perpetrated, and it was known how useless a task it would have been to try and fasten any of the crimes upon him. But everyone knew he was the leader of the gang just the same. “Soapy,” however, was an admirable strategist and often laid plans for bold robberies that completely deceived the good and honest citizens and invariably proved successful. One of these schemes, which was carried through with masterly generalship, will serve to illustrate the ability of the man as a leader and a campaign planner. There was a Canadian minister in town who was anxious to raise enough money to build a church for his congregation. It was “Soapy” Smith who put him in the right way to accomplish his purpose. He advised the minister to make a personal canvass of the town and solicit subscriptions from the prominent business men. To show his genuine interest in the matter he at once put down his name and really gave up $350 in cash toward the project. This liberal donation had a marked effect upon the “other” good citizens.
They all subscribed liberally, and the minister was gratified that in a very short time he had raised several thousand dollars. But that money was never used to build the church. The minister had no sooner completed his work and had the money in his possession than he was waylaid and robbed of the whole sum. It is a certainty that “Soapy” had his $350 duly returned to him and with a liberal interest added, while the rest of the gang, to the same certainty, profited individually, according to their rank in “Soapy’s” army of robbers.
But such was this man’s power that no one dared openly denounce him. It was bad enough to know that he systematically plundered from the strangers who chanced to land in Skaguay with gold dust, but it was worse when his scheming brain devised plans to rob his fellow citizens and set his band to carry them out. And yet his reign continued, though Skaguay had grown to be a city of 5,000 business men. He was at the height of his power just previous to his being killed. On the Fourth of July Skaguay had resolved to be patriotic and a general celebration was inaugurated. One of the features was a grand parade, and in this “Soapy” Smith was the leader. But even then matters were shaping themselves to bring about his destruction. About the first of July and miner had come into town from the north with some $3,000 in gold. One of the gang succeeded in getting him in town and took him to one of the dens where the robberies were committed. It was Smith’s policy never to use extreme measures when it could be avoided, although a murder or two cut no figure with these villains. The ordinary plan was to get the victim drunk and draw him into a “shell” game and thus relieve him of his money in a “legitimate” manner. In this way, the miner was robbed of his $3,000. He, however, made a vigorous kick and an effort was made to induce “Soapy” to give up the spoils. But this “Soapy” would not do, and the refusal led to his tragic end. For the first time since his reign began he was publicly denounced. There were open and private meetings held and measures were in the way of adoption to depose the “boss.”
On July 8, a large number of the citizens had congregated on the wharf and the city surveyor was just calling upon the people to take some decisive action and drive Smith and his gang out of town, when the desperado himself appeared on the scene, Winchester in hand. He deliberately shot Reed, who fell to the ground, but, wounded and dying as he was, he pulled his pistol and shot Smith in the head, killing him instantly.
"I consider bunco steering more honorable than the life led by the average politician."
Can we bring down the new Soapy Smiths?
I write this from aboard the Celebrity Millennium as we approach the end of the WND Tea Party at Sea conference/cruise. We've spent almost a week now in and about the great state of Alaska alternating between activities that bring to mind the greatness of our country's heritage and the infinitely more impressive greatness of God, our creator; and presentations and discussions that focus our minds on the crisis that currently afflicts our nation's material well-being, and the much greater crisis that affects its moral judgment and character.
Yesterday we visited Skagway, Alaska (the childhood home of Sarah Palin), a town whose historic role in Alaska's gold rush years reflects the gritty admixture of decent aspiration and downright wickedness characteristic of the historical drama of America's frontier life. Where there's gold, there's greed. But where ambition must proceed through hardship, the imperatives of survival can also produce a natural inclination to remember the golden rule and a grateful appreciation for the company of unadorned humanity.
We listened to the saga of the gangster "Soapy Smith," whose nine-month reign of terror and extortion ended with a bullet through his heart once townsfolk developed the backbone to stand up to his thugs. By the time his end came, most of his ruffians had scattered to the cold winds, startled into flight by the mere prospect of regular folk who overcame their fear (and their distrust of one another) to unite against their criminal overlords.
For those nine months "Soapy Smith" and his henchmen and hangers-on were Skagway's "ruling class." They imposed a hefty tax on the inhabitants of Skagway, in exchange for promises of "protection." It was taken out in servility and fear as well as money. His usurpation of sovereignty succeeded so well that he occupied a seat of honor during a visit to Skagway by the president of the United States.
As I listened to the account of this violent con artist's briefly triumphant career, I couldn't help but think of the more pristine elitists who have in our day consummated a far more vast, more cunning and more successful con against the whole American people. In exchange for promises that they would protect people from sickness, poverty and all kinds of discrimination, they have imposed a tax that now consumes a lion's share of the money the nation works for now; and of the credit established by the good faith efforts it has made in the past. The shadow of their extortion projects loom far forward into the future, promising to make all our posterity the wage slaves of these new "Soapy Smiths."
Today they call themselves Democrats, Republicans, liberals, socialists and even conservatives. They've split themselves into ostensibly rival gangs to engage in the mock combats that now pass for political campaigns and competitions. But their alternate victories and defeats are like the rivalry of the feet as the body goes through its paces. When the right moves forward, the left suffers a setback. When the left moves forward, the right falls behind. Their competition seems real enough, until and unless you lift your eyes to the horizon long enough to realize that we are always moving in the same direction: toward great government control, greater elite power and domination, greater destruction of the institutions America's founders put in place to encourage the effective participation of regular folk, the sovereignty of "we, the people."
All the signs indicate that the historic elitist con that somewhere along the way replaced representative politics in America is close to the final payoff. That's the moment when they roll up the con, leaving the hapless mark to realize that he's been skinned. People who still think that this or that candidate from one of the "major" parties will turn out to be the real thing are pitiably destined to play out that forlorn scene. Some people already talk of America as an historic artifact, so sure are they that the American people have passed the point of no return.
There are days when I am tempted to think like them. But then I remember that the tormented people of Skagway, Alaska, eventually signaled their willingness to unite against the little gang that for a time frighted them with the totem of threats and violence. Then I remember that their story is just one of many, repeated again and again in frontier villages and towns from the far north to the far south, from the colonial east to the golden west as America's character found itself in the midst of hope and hardship, in the competition between decent aspiration and elitist greed for power.
Ours is just another episode in the drama. We've reached the point at which the bad guys feel threatened and start to slander and bad-mouth the people who dare to speak out against them. Some shrink back. But even more resent their arrogant slurs and resolve to swell the ranks of the townsfolk gathering to take their stand. Sometime between now and election day in 2012, the gavel will fall that calls them to order. If they respond, ballots, not bullets, will end the pretensions of this generation's Soapy Smiths. And as they fall, Americans will hustle past them, toward the future liberty their decent hope is still determined to preserve.