January 26, 2012

He Died To Save Skagway (part 2): A review.

Jeff Smith's private Soapy Smith museum

Back on January 20, 2012 I posted part one of my article review, He Died To Save Skagway. I 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. Please enjoy part two.

He Died to Save Skagway (Part 2) Real West April 1968

Page 38
  • (Text above photograph) "Frank Reid is forgotten but his headstone is still unblemished. That tiny stone marker is the only reminder of a man who sacrificed his life to save Skagway." With all the books and articles that author Cy Martin has written on Skagway I find it hard to believe that he never paid the cemetery a visit, if not the town. Anyone who has been to that cemetery since 1900 will see that Frank Reid's memorial (see page 41 in this article above) is huge!
  • Paragraph 1: Cy writes that Soapy was a "small-time bad man from Colorado mining camps." Soapy was definitely not small-time. My book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, gives a ton of provenance that Soapy was big-time. In fact, another post on this blog (January 23, 2012) shows that Soapy was more well known than Wyatt Earp while the two men were alive. I know of no small-time bad men, or good men for that matter, that can claim the same!
  • Paragraph 3: There is no provenance that the man was a member of the Soap Gang.   
Page 39
  • Paragraph 9: I would like to credit Cy for correctly naming Soapy's opposing organization to the 101, as the 317. So many early biography's made the common mistake of calling it the 303 (exactly three times larger than the 101). This article was written in 1968 but even the well researched 1961 biography, Soapy Smith: King of the Frontier Con Men by Frank Robertson and Beth Harris made the 303 mistake. As a side note, the number 317 is the address of Jeff Smith's Parlor, one of Soapy's saloons.
  • Paragraph 11: The July 4 parade is still somewhat of a mystery as there are no known newspapers existing that cover the event. Many old residents said that Soapy led the parade as grand marshal. Newspapers previous to the parade list him as grand-marshal of the 4th division. There are no accounts from old-timers stating Soapy was at the end of the parade and there are several theories that he made his way to the front, but that is a post for another day. No matter, in the parade he was followed by the volunteers of his private army, the Skaguay Military Company, as well as a float containing a caged live eagle named "Gen. Lee Fitzhugh" after the famed Spanish-American War general.
  • Paragraph 15: John Douglas Stewart, the man robbed by the Soap Gang had $2,600 in gold dust, according to the court trial records. That amount is the equivalent of $84,832.79 in today's market!
  • Paragraph 16: The two gang members who befriended Stewart were John L. Bowers and "Slim Jim" Foster. They took Stewart towards Jeff Smith's Parlor where they met up with gang member Van B. Triplett who introduced the three-card monte game that was played and lost by Stewart previous to having his gold poke stolen away from him.
  • Paragraph 17: The robbery actually took place outside the Parlor in an adjacent alley.   
Page 40
  • (Photograph of Soapy's grave marker) This marker shown was metal and hideous. In 1997 I had a reproduction of the original grave marker (in my possession) made and placed on Soapy's grave.
  • Paragraph 1-9: The details that Cy wrote differ a little, but not my much, to what actually occurred. What actually took place can be found, with plenty of provenance, inside the pages of my book.
  • Paragraph 10: There is no other mention anywhere that I've seen that Frank Reid went to Jeff Smith's Parlor to see Soapy. Reid was only a guard the night of the shootout. He was not a leader of the vigilante organization as many old versions like to portray.
  • Paragraph 14: The "I've got 500 men behind me" speech is actually credited to the incident five months previous when bartender John Fay shot the deputy U.S. marshal (another great story).
  • Paragraph 16: Soapy was not a "rare drinker." There are numerous accounts in Colorado in which he indulged a little too much and caused a little hilarity and sometimes trouble.
  • Paragraph 19: Although Samuel Graves added interesting facts to the shootout on Juneau Wharf (Wikipedia page about the fight) his words are far from "the most accurate and factual account..."
  • Paragraph 25: "Reid was the only man Soapy Smith ever feared." Not one piece of provenance covers this statement.
  • Paragraph 26: Reid and Tanner were not known as the leaders of the vigilante movement, except in later published articles and books.
Page 41
  • Paragraph 10: Soapy's partner, John Clancy also was at Soapy's grave. There is no information on "Soapy's mistress" as this is the only mention of her.
  • Paragraph 11: The amount missing from Stewart's gold was $600, believed to have been the amount paid to Deputy U.S. Taylor as graft, not to take action in regards to the robbery.
  • Paragraph 12: There is no accounting as to how much Soapy had on his corpse when he died. He was obviously robbed of that amount. What is reported is that his assets were worth $148.60 after subtraction of inquest fees. There is numerous information that Soapy had made millions in Skagway during his reign, most of it being robbed by those he had keeping it in Skagway, Seattle, and San Francisco.
  • Paragraph 13-14: Although his marker gives the age of 38 Soapy was born November 2, 1860 which makes him 37 at the time of his death.
  • Paragraph 20: Soapy has had a total of 5 markers over his grave. The history of those markers can be viewed on the main website here.

1883: “Big Ed” Burns, member of the Soap Gang, is arrested in Denver. Burns eventually followed Soapy to Alaska in 1897-98.

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