February 25, 2012

Was W. H. StClair of the U.S. Customs office a member of the Soap Gang?

Our great neighbor at the Skagway Historical Society site posted a story on George Carson who had moved to Skagway, Alaska as the U.S. Customs officer where he logged in five thousand stampeders according to the story. Soapy Smith's gang were always on the lookout for potential victims of their confidence games, and it seems that the customs office would be an ideal place to gather such information. The story states that Carson did use the aid of various people, including a gentleman named StClair. Page 422 of my book, Alias Soapy Smith mentions a "St. Clair" as a friend or member of the Soap Gang and I can't help but wonder if these two men might perhaps be one and the same. Note that the period (.) used in the name mentioned in the letter should not confuse or alter any decision in this theory as it is merely the spelling Mr. Masterson used and may not be correct.

In the population name list from the historical society there are two St. Clair's listed and there is always a good chance of there being more we don't know about, thus this is only a theory, a possibility that at least one of Soapy's men gained employment with George Carson, the official U.S. Customs officer. W. H. StClair of the U.S. Customs office might have been a member of the Soap Gang.

W. H. StClair is the man George hired to help him. The "St. Clair" aligned with Soapy is merely mentioned in a November 18, 1896 letter to Soapy from good friend, Bat Masterson. The letter concerns Soapy's younger trouble laden brother, Bascomb Smith. Bat begins gently with salutations, commiseration over hard times, and works up to news of deep concern over Bascomb’s doings:


Friend Jeff:

Your letter received and very glad to hear from you. It would have pleased me much better had you stated that you were prospering. Well, Jeff, I am hanging on the raged [ragged] edge myself. The election went against me so far as the governor is concerned, but the ticket I supported elected the entire Arapahoe county delegation to the legislature and it looks now as though we may be able to get the city charter so amended as to abolish the fire and police board and let the right to control our city affairs revert back to the mayor. If this can be done it will be passed by the legislature in time for our April election and things may be as they used to be.

I have not seen Bascom [sic] since he was released after completing the year’s sentence. I hear of him, however, and always in some kind of trouble. He has been arrested twice of late for disturbance and discharging firearms down in the neighborhood of 20th and Market streets, and you know the kind of people who frequent that locality. If I were you I would advise him to leave here, as it is only a question of time until he will get a “settler” and every time the papers speak of him they generally say the brother of “Soapy” Smith, who was last heard of skinning suckers in Alaska. So you see you are not getting any the best of it.

I think Bruce will get out all right in time, but it will cost coin. He got into it by getting drunk with Jeff Argyle, “another good thing” as you know.

Bruce received a $100.00 already from Spokane collected in the Owl. You tell Brownie and St. Clair that, will you? Bruce is a poor writer and may not have acknowledged receipt of the money.

Well, Jeff, I wish you good luck,

Remember me to all friends you see.

As ever yours, 
W. B. Masterson


St. Clair: page 422.


1897: 100 soldiers of the 14th Infantry US Army arrive in Skagway to establish a post.

Jeff Smith


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