October 14, 2011

Take Him to See the Eagle: A review

My good friend, Bob "Buckshot" Bradley, over at the True West forum has a collection of old west magazines and finding several articles on Soapy Smith he wanted to know how reliable they are. In asking the question he sent me, in a pdf file, the article, Take Him to See the Eagle by Wilson O'Connor and published in The West magazine July 1964. I not only get to answer his questions, which I enjoyed, but now I have the added pleasure of bringing the whole article to you here on this blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Take Him to See the Eagle

Following is my list of historical corrections for the article. They are listed in chronological order by the articles page number.

Usually in the old magazines there are always mistakes. Remember the magazine called Frontier Times? I just read an article from the Wild West History Association that named at least two old authors who contributed articles to that magazine and others, that were completely made up. In this WWHA article this researcher showed several examples of one author who told the same story in numerous ways just to have variety and to be able to publish the same information several times. It makes me wonder how many stories are out there that we take for granted are true when they really aren't. The good news is that we have technology and eventually every newspaper will be online. It will be easier to prove or disprove stories. I know I hear more people now-a-days question photographs. We need to also start questioning the ones we have always taken for granted as well.

Take Him to See the Eagle

Page 16:

  • Soapy did not have a "Texas drawl." He had only been in Texas for 2-3 years. Perhaps a southern drawl as he was born and raised in Georgia.
  • "Jimmy" Stewart is incorrect. His real name was John Douglas Stewart.
  • The shootout on Juneau Wharf took place on July 8 not July 21.
  • John Stewart was 54 not 21-years old.
  • Soapy was never a cowboy.
  • Somehow the author thought wooden blocks played a part in the prize package soap sell racket. This is the first I ever read anything like this.

Page 17:

  • Texas Rangers did not run Soapy out of Texas for manslaughter and bunco games. Once he organized his first real bunco gang (believed to have been in Fort Worth) he began traveling around the west.
  • It wasn't until 1880-83 that he setled down in Denver and built his first empire. This is also where his first recorded charities began.
  • The article jumps over a huge amount of history to 1892 when he built his second empire in Creede, Colorado and then jumps another huge hurdle to 1897 missing a lot of fantastic history.

Page 18:

  • I laughed at the author for writing that the Klondike was "near" Skagway. If you call 800 miles "near."
  • Skagway was not Alaska's largest town. In fact Soapy arrived about two weeks after it had been founded so it certainly was not large at the time.
  • Jim Clancy is another mistake in identity. The real name(s) are John and Frank Clancy, two Seattle saloon owners who came to Skagway and partnered up with Soapy. Soapy didn't shoot him, seize his saloon, or even threaten him. This is all from the author's imagination. The Clancy's had a small saloon and with Soapy's backing they added on and became Clancy and Company, Soapy being Company. Soapy opened 3 other saloons and gaming halls. Jeff Smith's Parlor (photo on page 16) was Soapy's podium. It was too small to have any gambling and not much alcohol choices. It was his soap box to pose and appear to be an upstanding citizen. The evilness took place in his other establishments.
  • Soapy's gang, known as the Soap Gang, normally did not adhere to robbery. They were confidence men. Occasionally they did get out of hand but Soapy kept a good reign as possible on the violence. There is no evidence that his men ever murdered for money.
  • There is a quote from February 15, 1898 that the author uses. Yes, 8 dead were found on the White Pass. These men froze to death and were not murdered or robbed. Then the author adds his own fiction to it by adding that "every night there are ten to fifteen murders." This is not from the now famous February 15, 1898 account.
  • John (Jimmy) Stewart was from British Columbia not Seattle.
  • Frank Reid was not an assayer and did not know John Stewart.
  • The photo at the bottom of page 18 was taken AFTER Soapy was killed. These are some of the men that were deported from Skagway by the vigilantes.

Page 19:

  • The articles version of the robbery of Stewart is bogus. In my research I was able to chart when Stewart arrived in Skagway by boat and when he went into the Klondike to mine. I have the day he came back to Skagway, what hotel he stayed in, including his signature in the hotel register, along with all the official court paperwork that includes everything known about the robbery. He was robbed, but he wasn't attacked. He lost his money at three-card monte and the buncos grabbed his poke and ran before he could figure out that he had been swindled or had time to refuse to pay up his losses. Naturally, there is no justification for what they did, but at least let's hear the true story.
  • Con Kennedy? No such person in Skagway's list of residents. The only lawman in town was Sylvester S. Taylor the deputy U.S. Marshal. Taylor was indeed under pay from Soapy. Taylor did indeed do little as possible to help Stewart. Stewart went to the packer who brought him into town as that was the only person he knew. From there the U.S. Commisioner, five miles away at Dyea was notified.
  • All the stuff about Stewart being shot at and evicted from his hotel is made up.

Page 59:

  • Frank Reid was not appointed anything by the federal government. When Skagway was founded there were basically two gangs operating and positioning for power. The bunco men under Soapy's leadership and the real estate grifters (also called "lot jumper"). The bunco men won the fight for control of Skagway and the realestate grifters did ther best to get the power back. Reid had worked as a bartender for Soapy in the Klondike Saloon. Reid had himself appointed "City Engineer" and joined the real estate grifters to sell properties he didn't own. Stewart never went to Reid. There was no reason to.
  • Reid did not start the vigilante organization, the committee of 101. Some authors have written that he was a leader but this is simply not true. He was only a guard the night of the gunfight. The 101 was formed by members of the real estate grifters and other citizens to rid Skagway of Soapy. The citizens that were a part of the 101 probably wanted justice but the realestate grifters were looking to retake control of the city for themselves. After two men were murdered on the trail the vigilante's put the blame on Soapy and posted handbills warning the bunco men to leave Skagway. There was and is no evidence or reason to think that Soapy's men would resort to killing people. That sort of crime catches the eyes and ears of the federals which were just over in Dyea. Soapy organized his own committee, calling it the Law and Order Society of 317. He posted handbills too, which warned the vigilantes that their violent tactices would not be tolerated. The vigilante's went back into hiding. BTW, this all happened BEFORE Stewart was robbed.
  • The story of Stewart and Reid setting up a plan of action, going into Jeff Smith's Parlor, confronting and grabbing Bowers, Reid saving Stewart in the saloon, all fiction.
  • Yeah Meow Hopkins appears in many of these invented stories. There is no record of any such person.
  • The robbery and gunfight can be read on Wikipedia here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shootout_on_Juneau_Wharf and explains in more detail than I can here.
  • No Stewart didn't get married in Skagway.
  • Here's a biggie! Frank Reid did not kill Soapy. Reid shot him but the final bullet that killed Soapy was fired by Jesse Murphy, one of the other three guards. It's a long story that rings of murder! Buy the book! Click here: http://www.soapysmith.net/id50.html

Well, I hope that answers your questions Bob. Please feel free to ask more if you are confused about anything. Oh, did I mention to BUY THE BOOK! Well, in case I didn't then let me mention it now, BUY THE BOOK!

Bob has sent me several other magazine articles on pdf files that I plan to review. Watch for them! I'd like to thank Bob "Buckshot" Bradley for his work in placing the articles on pdf files and sending them to me.

Jeff Smith


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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