May 20, 2012

The Great Gold Rush: A Tale of the Klondike, by William Henry Pope Jarvis, 1913.

A couple of "gentleman" prepare to roll a drunk
"knock-out" drops were often added to victims drinks by the unscrupulous

cott Silver introduced to me, The Great Gold Rush: A Tale of the Klondike, by William Henry Pope Jarvis, Toronto, Canada, The Macmillan Company, April 1913. I found the book very interesting and historically accurate for the most part. The descriptions of Skagway were of course of great interest and to my liking. The author told of a rough and wild new camp where the saloons and gamblers ruled supreme and operated unmolested by the law, which consisted of a body of United States Regulars stationed at Skagway, but did nothing and the deputy United States marshal who made promises, but took little action.

Of special note is the authors descriptions of official corruption. It goes almost without saying that the officials on the American side, in Skagway and elsewhere, were ready and willing to take every bribe within their grasp, but what really caught my interest was the authors descriptions of petty larceny, thievery and highway robbery associated with the Canadian officials in Dawson and the Klondike. Much like the American cowboy, historians for years have described the Canadian officials as near super heroes, whom somehow were able to side-step normal human nature in such a way as to not be able to become corrupted by wealth or power.

Scott knew I'd be interested in the sections that spoke of Soapy Smith. The first mention started on page 33 in chapter 4 (Society in Alaska).

The old lady presiding wore the smile of prosperity, and looked communicative, so John opened conversation. "Been in Skagway long?"

"Just a month."

"Doing well?"

"Sure thing! feed about three hundred people a day. Don't care if the rush never lets up."

"You've got a gold-mine here without the trouble of going to Dawson."

"Sure!--that is if Soapy don't put the whole town out of business. He makes the saloons and gambling-halls pay him royalty now, besides running shows himself; and I guess he'll be after us soon to make us anti-up too."

"I thought Alaska was a prohibition territory, no whisky sold here."

"Yes, that's what they say back East; but when you get up town you'll find every second place a saloon with all the hootch you want to drink, or have money to pay for."

"But how do they get the whisky?"

"Oh, that's easy enough. The hootch is consigned through to the Canadian side in bond; but when it is landed here they drill a hole in the barrel and take out the whisky. They refill the barrel with water, and it is packed over the summit."

"But it costs thirty cents a pound to put the water over the summit!"

"That don't matter--with whisky fifty cents a glass over the bar."

"Don't the officers know this is going on?"

"Sure thing they do; but they 'stand in. There is no graft like a whisky

"Stand in" and "graft"!--the two Australians felt they knew the meaning of the terms, but they had yet to grasp how deep the meaning of "standing in" and "grafting," as understood by officialdom in Alaska and the Yukon, could be.

Chapter 5, entitled Soapy's Little Game, begins with the usual but shorter run-down of Soapy's life of crime. Page 39 contains a paragraph that very much reminded me of the shooting of Clifton Sparks in Denver 1892 by Soapy and Jim Jordan.There is a link at the bottom of this article for those wishing to read a little about the Sparks shooting.

In the Mining Camps of the Western States he later took more radical methods, making many enemies and some friends. When he and his gang wished to exterminate an enemy they would hunt him out in some saloon, gather about him, and play at fighting among themselves. Revolvers would be drawn and shots fired—the man "wanted" would be killed. It would be somewhat hard to find the actual man who fired the fatal shot, and, in any case, a subservient jury would bring in a verdict of "accidental" death.

As seemingly par with most early histories of Soapy, authors seem to feel the need to exaggerate or add events that probably never occurred. I say probably because I can't say for certain that the following episode did not happen just as the author writes it. There are no other examples of locking men in rooms known to me.

On the next night, in the vicinity of Skagway's Sixth Avenue, they wandered into a saloon which had no sign: the question of what its name was did not cross their minds! The air was foul, and floor space not too plentiful. Women stared at them, and "Passed them up." Not so the men. They moved on to the gaming-tables. John threw a coin on to the Black Jack table. To his surprise he won. He speculated again: again he won. Then he remembered the old dodge of letting the novice win a bit at first, so he decided he would keep on until he found himself losing. When he had won twenty dollars he put the money into his pocket, and went on with George to watch a man playing for heavy stakes at roulette. At this table there was never a word spoken, and the gold pieces passed from banker to player, from player to banker, without comment.

While the two were looking on they noticed a man come and stand by the banker, watch the game for a little while, glance shrewdly at them, and go away. Shortly afterwards another man did the same. John and George realized this attention, but said nothing. A third man came along, and bluntly asked them,

"Ever play roulette?"

"No; at least not often," said John.

"Good game."


"Ever shoot craps?"


"There's a table down at the end of the hall. Care to see it?"

They followed their entertainer to the dimly-lighted rear, where several men were leaning over a table throwing dice. They watched the game a bit, and found it uninteresting. They turned to go, when their new acquaintance made a move to follow—and asked in a hesitating way, "Have a drink?"

George declined.

The fellow pondered a bit, and then said in an ingratiating way, "Would you fellows like to see a big mountain goat I bought from the Siwashes to-day?"

John and George followed the man through a doorway into a cold room where a few candles were burning on a rough table. On the floor lay an immense mountain goat.

"My word!" said George, "what a beauty!"

They stood for some minutes surveying the dead monarch of the mountain crests, their entertainer taking one of the candles and holding it at the animal's head. Suddenly they heard groans, which appeared to come through the doorway at the opposite end of the room.

"What's that?"

The man took a candle and walked to the door, bending his head, as if listening intently. The groans were continued. John and George went over to him. He held the candle in his left hand, and appeared to haul at the door with his right. "Oh! Oh!" came from the room in tones of deepest distress. The fellow handed the candle to John, and then, catching the door with both hands, gave it a mighty wrench. The heavy plank door opened and showed a dark cavity, which drank up the slender light of the candle so effectually that they could distinguish nothing. Cautiously John entered, followed by George. The door was slammed; they were trapped.

"We're caught! Soapy has us," exclaimed George.

John turned, shaded the candle with his hand, and explored the room. It was not large, and it took him but a minute to make a circuit of the four walls.

"We're caught!" was said again.

"But there is no one here: where did the groans come from?" asked John.

"Don't know, if they weren't ventriloquism," replied George.

That seemed likely. John ran and gave the door a kick: it was solid as a wall.

"What will they do with us?" he asked.

"Freeze us to death; we'll freeze quick enough in this atmosphere."

The place was cold, clammy, benumbing. The walls were log; the floor of earth, sparkling with frost crystals; the roof was built of poles. There was no window. Here and there, where the crevices of the logs had not been thoroughly filled, and the air came in, there were patches of frost. They searched for some implement. The room was thoroughly bare—there was not even a billet of wood, let alone an axe, or saw. Things were at a pass. They were both to perish in horrible death. The cold was seizing them. They stamped up and down the room, and shouted. There was, there could be, no answer.

Frenzy came over them. Trapped! To perish of bitter cold! Horrible!... Horrible! To famish as caged animals. They saw their little destiny—to walk, and walk, and walk, and then to lie down and sleep till death, the reality, came. Their impotency galled them. How weak were their arms and strength against these walls of logs!

They marched about for an hour or more, encouraging each other as brave men will.

Then cries were heard faintly from the outside, and new noises, which grew, and continued to grow. A great blow shook the wall, and then another. John shouted; George shouted; the blows were repeated; then they heard voices and shouted again. The door was burst open and in rushed a number of men.

"Come, fellows, out of this, or you'll be cooked!"

It was the voice of Hugh.

They eagerly followed him through the room where the goat was, and out through a side door into the open, where a great glare met them. An outhouse was on fire. Men were rushing about and shouting; but Hugh kept on through the crowd, and the rescued followed him till they reached the safety of the street.

"Now we'd better duck for home," said Spencer. "I go with you"; and through the storm they struggled till they reached the Frau's restaurant.

She had not yet retired, so they called for supper—tea, bacon, and beans. After they had settled down Hugh told his story.

"You see, fellows, after I landed I went over to the Chilkoot to have a look at things there; but after talking to the fellows I reckoned that the White Pass was best for me, so back I comes. I was in the hall to-night with you fellows, but you did not see me; and I thought I would just lay back and see if you would hit the games. Then I kind of got a notion Soapy's men were watching you; so I thought I would watch the whole outfit. I see you go back to the crap-game, and then I see you go into the room with your bunco man—and then I don't see you come out; so I said to myself, you are there for keeps! Now there was with me one fellow I could rely on, so I asked him to keep an eye on that door, and I got out on the street to size up the building. I see towards the rear the wing you went into, so I walks down there, sizing things up. Round on the back side I see a door and a window, but the door had the snow piled up against it—besides, I knew they would not lock you in a room with a window in it, as you could easily kick that out.

"Then I looks at the walls, and I see by the end of the logs sticking out that there was a room which had neither window nor door to the outside, and I said, 'That's the cage!' So I ran back to the saloon and asked my friend there if anybody had come out, and he said 'No.' I came to the conclusion that I would make a bluff of going in at the door you came out of. It was no good; a fellow stopped me and said, 'This room is private.' This made me sure you were still there, so I commenced figuring out how I could get you free, and I thought hard. The thing was to get a crowd together; and as a dog fight is no good in Skagway in the middle of the night—especially in a snowstorm—I said to myself, 'Fire!' I remembered a building I took for a wood-shed lying near your skookum house, so I just hunted it up, and after finding there was a lot of wood in it, with some hay, I set a match to it, and got out, taking an axe with me. In five minutes it was going fine, and I yelled 'Fire! fire! fire!' Then it was all easy. I struck the logs with the axe, and yelled there was somebody in there who would get burned; I busted in the door to the outer room, and then the one into where you were locked up—the other fellows following. I don't know what the other fellows around the fire will think you were doing in there; but I guess they won't ask any questions. Fellows don't ask questions in Soapy's town; it doesn't do them much good if they do."

If this is a true story it did not take place in Jeff Smith's Parlor as it was far too small for table games and there was only one small office room most likely used as Soapy's office and possibly as a room for rigged poker games. There is no evidence that locking men in rooms was a tactic used by the Soap Gang, or anyone in Skagway.

Clifton Sparks
August 3, 2011

Clifton Sparks: pages 79, 250-259, 263, 268, 289, 291-92, 502, 507, 529.

MAY 20
1774: Britain's Parliament passes the Coercive Acts to punish the American colonists for their increasingly anti-British behavior. 
1775: North Carolina becomes the first colony to declare its independence. 
1830: The fountain pen is patented by H. D. Hyde. 
1861: North Carolina becomes the eleventh state to secede from the Union. 
1861: The capitol of the Confederacy is moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia. 
1862: The Homestead Act allowing citizens or intended citizens over 21 to claim 160 surveyed government acres after living on them for five years is signed by President Lincoln. 
1869: The 5th Cavalry, including William F. Cody, return to Fort McPherson, Nebraska after fighting Tall Bull (Indian) and his men. 
1874: Levi Strauss begins marketing blue jeans with copper rivets. 
1875: The International Bureau of Weights and Measures is established. 
1894: Outlaw Doolin gang robs the bank in Southwest City, Missouri. Clifton, Doolin, and Bill Dalton shoot their way out of town. They shoot and kill former Missouri state auditor, J. C. Seaborn as he tries to stop the bandits. Doolin is seriously wounded in the head. 
1898: Rev. John Sinclair arrives in Skagway. He takes some of the most famous photographs of Soapy. 
1899: Jacob German of New York City is the first driver to be arrested for speeding. The posted speed limit is 12 miles per hour. 
1902: The U.S. military occupation of Cuba ends when Cuba gains its independence from Spain.

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