April 5, 2012

Rev. John A. Sinclair diary and papers: Part 1.

(Click image to enlarge)

n 1978 James M. Sinclair published Mission: Klondike a biography of his father, Rev. John A. Sincliar. My father corresponded with James about Soapy Smith. The Rev. played a key part in Soapy's time in Skagway, Alaska. It was his interest in Soapy that caught our families interest in the Rev. and his son James. When I first read Mission: Klondike I noticed several very interesting facts. Two of the most important facts are that Rev. Sinclair took numerous photographs of Soapy, and that his son James added fictional facts to his father's life. His book told two different versions of how Rev. Sinclair obtained Soapy's supposed Colt "derringer" pistol. In the book bibliography James listed his father's "papers" as being unpublished and in his possession. Upon his death his papers, all handwritten notes, were donated to the Royal British Columbia Archives (MS-1061) in Victoria, British Columbia. Historian Cathy Spude was the first person that I personally know who purchased copies of the microfilm containing Sinclair's papers. Because I had not seen the Sinclair papers, Cathy bragged that my book on Soapy was missing too much information to be considered correct. In 2009 my publisher, Art Petersen and I talked about purchasing the microfilm. It was not cheap and took a while to receive. Once Cathy found out that we were going to actually obtain the microfilm she started sharing some of her transcription work. I did not share it here on the blog because my past experience has shown that Cathy is not the most proficient transcriber. In the past she was known to include her own opinions inside of her work and without having the original document handy it was nearly impossible to distinguish the fact from opinion. With the offer to share her latest transcriptions she promised not to include her opinions. That was a nice offer but I chose to wait until Art deciphered the papers, and I'm glad did. The mistakes were nominal but they were there. Art Petersen, on the other hand, is detailed and precise. He has purchased special equipment and spent weeks deciphering the rolls. He then sends his finished notes for me to look at again for mistakes in deciphering. I have yet to find anything I disagree with. There is still a lot to decipher and a ways to go.

I will be posting the finds as I receive them. This ongoing task will be numbered, this being the first. Some of these articles come from newspaper issues that are no longer known to exist in any public or private collection. Due to that fact we do not know if Sinclair's handwritten version of the newspaper article is exact. The following is seen by me and published here for the first time.    

Alaskan Ap 27th: 98 [Daily Alaskan, April 27, 1898] Page 1.

− Skaguay Guards −

    Captain Jeff R. Smith, Captain Co A, 1st regiment National Guard of Alaska, recd [received] a communication directly from President McKinley yesterday, notifying him that an order had been made out* issued and forwarded to him to make out and forward commission and papers for officers and enrollment of men in Co A Skaguay Guards x** Capt Smith was not advised whether the services of himself or men would be required in the coming unpleasantness.
    We can only suggest that if the president thinks he is going to have any real warm work, a few men like Jeff Smith would be a comfort.

[*Note: Sinclair appears to correct himself with crossed out text.]
[**Note: Sinclair's "x" sometimes clearly indicates intentional omissions. Other times, the "x" is very small, as in this case, and may indicate just an emphatic period. Until a comparison copy is found, the difference will be hard to determine.]

Rev. John A. Sinclair
March 3, 2010
February 4, 2010 

The Skaguay Military Company
June 14, 2011
May 4, 2011
March 26, 2011
June 30, 2010

Rev. John A. Sinclair: pages 17, 437, 452-53, 505, 513-14, 522-23, 542-43, 546-47, 557-61, 565-66, 576, 595. 
Skaguay Military Company: pages 79, 471, 486-90, 494-95, 498-502, 505, 510, 514-15, 595.



  1. Where did Sinclair's collection of photographs end up, I wonder. Not the Soapy photos, but the rest. Bob Lyon

    1. Good question, and one I do not have an answer for. Apparently there were no photographs included with his donated papers to the Royal British Columbia Archives in Victoria.

      One theory is that he sold them to many of the photographers who then put their names on them.

      Jeff Smith

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