January 20, 2012

He Died To Save Skagway (part 1): A review.

He Died To Save Skagway

Today I'd like to bring you another article review from an old issue of Real West magazine. I can do this thanks to Bob "Buckshot" Bradley who has supplied me with the pdf format pages from his personal collection. I have to admit that this article has been the 2nd most pleasurable article to review. Author, Cy Martin published several books on the White Pass & Yukon Railway and Skagway so he had pretty good access to some of the older books on that history and nearly all of them included something on Soapy Smith.  Following the article is my review. I hope you enjoy both.

He Died to Save Skagway (Part 1) Real West Jan 1968

Page 16
  • Comment above photograph: Mr. Martin writes that the photograph was taken in April 1898. The fact is that although some of the photographs have been etched with the date of July 4, 1898, we do not know for certain the exact dates of the three inside photographs taken inside Soapy's saloon, Jeff Smith's Parlor. We do know all three were taken on different dates as the pictures and decor hanging on the walls differ. Being that May 1 and July 4, 1898 were huge celebrations for Soapy it is a good guess that at least one of the photographs was taken on May 1 and at least one was taken on July 4, 1898.   
  • Paragraph 3: Mr. Martin incorrectly dates the robbery of John Stewart as July 6. The correct date is July 8, 1898.
  • Paragraph 4: Martin incorrectly lists the weapons Soapy had on his person. He mentions a dagger but there is no evidence he had a knife of any kind on his person. Martin writes of a .45 Colt revolver. There is a photograph of Soapy's corpse in the morgue with a double-action revolver which appears to be a model 1892 .41 DA Army revolver. Martin writes that the Winchester Soapy carried to the shootout on Juneau Wharf was a .30-30 when in reality it was a .44-40. That rifle is still in the possession of the Smith family. At the end of the paragraph he talks about running into some citizens on his walk to the Juneau Wharf and how Soapy told them to chase themselves "home to bed." This confrontation actually happened earlier in the evening. There is no evidence that Soapy confronted any citizens during his walk towards the wharf.
  • Paragraph 6: Martin states that a "dozen or so" of the gang followed behind Soapy. The number is closer to 7 or 8.
  • Paragraph 7: Martin is correct in his reporting of this supposed meeting. However, I do not believe it took place. There was a cover-up involving the Clancy brothers, John and Frank and I believe this was just one of the contrived fables to make it appear that John was nor privy to what was going on. The whole story is found in my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.
Page 17
  • Paragraph 4: Martin states that Frank Reid was standing "100 feet from the dock." Frank Reid was actually about 60 feet into the wharf.
  • Paragraph 5-6: Martin copies what many of the older biographies published as to what Smith and Reid said to one another, but the truth of the matter is that none of the 3 other guards present could fully hear the discussion and none could agree as to what was said.
  • Paragraph 9-10: Soapy could not have shot Reid in the groin in his first shot. Once Reid was hit in the groin he fell and most likely could not have possibly fired another shot intentionally. At least five wounds were received by both men. The debate continues as to what order those wounds were received.
  • Paragraph 13: Martin follows the well worn legend of the gunfight. In 1968 when Martin wrote this article there were very few people who knew what actually occurred. Even in Skagway many of the residents only knew of the story that another man had possibly shot Soapy but few knew his name. My book covers this story in great detail, including the account that Jesse Murphy, one of the four guards on the wharf was the killer of Smith.
  • Paragraph 14-16: Martin correctly includes the comment of Samuel Graves, taken from his book, On the White Pass Payroll (1908). 
Page 49
  • Paragraph 1-8: The continuation of comments taken from Samuel Graves' book, On the White Pass Payroll. Interesting to note that Graves is one of the few published works that includes Jesse Murphy's actions during the shootout, but stops just short of mentioning that Murphy pointed the rifle at Soapy and shot him dead. Again my book covers this in detail, including Murphy's actions to gain credit for the killing as well as correspondence from J. M. Tanner, one of the four guards on the wharf, naming Murphy as the killer and not Reid.
  • Paragraph 20: Martin writes that Soapy was proud of his alias ("Soapy"). This is not true. It might have amused him when it was first used but it quickly became synonymous with "criminal" and Soapy did not like to be referred to as one who was against society. His friends called him "Jeff." In a few rare instances he signed a letter or two with "Soapy," to instill fear.
  • Paragraph 21: Martin writes that Soapy arrived in the "fall of 1897." Soapy actually arrived in Skagway August 22, 1897 (summer).
Page 50
  • Paragraph 1: Martin states that the name of Soapy's saloon was Jeff's Place or Jeff Smith's Oyster Parlor. That one saloon was named Jeff. Smith's Parlor. The period after "Jeff" meant that it was short for "Jefferson." I guess to be 100% one would call it Jefferson Smith's Parlor. It should be noted that Soapy had at least 2 other saloons that were considered under his operation. Those details are in my book.
  • Paragraph 3: Martin gives Soapy credit for the terms "sure-thing" and "sure-thing men." I can't verify this.
  • Paragraph 4: There is no other contemporary works that state that Soapy's men were known as "tigers" or "lambs."
  • Paragraph 14-15: There is no evidence Soapy or his men "played a joke" or robbed any of the men of cloth that came to Skagway.
Page 51
  • Paragraph 1-7: The continuation of the supposed "jokes" or robbery of Skagway ministers. There is no contemporary evidence.
  • Paragraph 8-9: These two paragraphs can actually be attributed to much of Soapy's adult life not just in Skagway.
  • Paragraph 10: Martin writes that Soapy's private army was the "national guard." Actually, his army was named the Skagway Military Company.

End of part 1. (watch for part 2 coming soon!)

Jeff Smith


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