May 6, 2012

Soapy Smith: Dirtiest Crook In Skagway. A review.

A tourist or an old pal?
poses with Soapy Smith's first grave marker
circa 1898-1905

y good friend, Bob "Buckshot" Bradley sent this 1966 article to me for a review. Bob has been kind enough to send me a number of these old magazine articles from his private collection. I collect anything Soapy Smith related. If there is something you want reviewed feel free to contact me. 

The following is entitled, Soapy Smith: Dirtiest Crook in Skagway by J. N. Kelly and published in the November 1966 issue of The West magazine. Below the story is my review, which is more of a correction list in my opinion.

Soapy Smith - Dirtiest Crook in Skagway

My review

Everything is in chronological order, based on the magazine page numbers and paragraphs. I am always open to comments and questions.

Page 25

Photo at top of page 25: The arrow points to Soap Gang member, William Saportas but incorrectly identified as Soapy Smith. This is a very old mistake but even today some authors make this mistake. I saved Alaskan historian, Professor Jean Haigh from making this same mistake in her little 100 page book, King Con (2006).

Paragraph 1-6: I enjoyed the authors description of Dyea and Skagway. There were attempts to settle the town from the very start but the gamblers and saloon proprietors were all seasoned pros in handling new camps and "do-gooders." They knew that once civilization took over the control of a town, their days of big money and low overhead were numbered. They knew that their best chance to make the most money was to keep "law and order" at a minimum in order to keep it from interfering with their enterprises.

Paragraph 7: The author spells Soapy's middle name wrong. It should read Randolph, not Randall.

The author claims that friends told Soapy about Skagway. Considering Soapy was up in Alaska scouting for a location over a year prior to the founding of Skagway, and arrived there within 2 weeks of its founding, I tend to believe he found out about Skagway on his own.

The author states that the family lived in South Carolina but it should read Georgia.

Paragraph 8: The author writes that "Everybody called him 'Soapy,' ...." Not everybody. In fact, only his enemies and the newspapers called him "Soapy." His friends called him Jeff. He did not like the name "Soapy" as that alias was synonymous with crime and Soapy did not see himself as a criminal. In Denver he signed his name and added "Alias Soapy" on only two known letters and that was in the line of sarcasm or perhaps even intimidation.

Page 25-41

Paragraph 9: "Smith had pulled this little trick in the fading gold towns of Colorado." This little trick, being the prize package soap racket and Soapy pulled it in many many small towns, as well as large cities all across the nation. The fact is, the only locations we currently know of are the ones in which he made the newspapers, which are quite a few. We do not have all those little mentions of a soap man down on third street because that involves a lot of work looking through microfilmed newspapers through the years of 1879-1897. One day it will be done but probably not in my lifetime. Hell, I'm still working on the Denver newspapers!

Page 41

Paragraph 3: The author states that in 1897 Soapy bought a saloon from a Dawson (Canada) businessman named Ed Kickock. I wish there was a source for this. My files, the Skagway name index, and Google contains no information on this name.

Paragraph 4: The same holds true for supposed Soap Gang member, "Tom Galbraith," the Scotsman who had beaten a murder rap in McCabe, Arizona. Googling the name I found a John Thompson Galbraith and brothers but according to his biography he was up in Canada, along the Wala Wala trail in 1864 when Soapy was but 4-years-old. If John was 16 when he went to Canada that would make him at least 53 in 1897. There is no birth year for John, however, he and his brothers were up there apparently into the 1900s so anything is possible. Perhaps John had a son he named Thomas? Unfortunately the author I am reviewing today did not source anything for the article.

Paragraph 6: "He was probably incapable of feeling honest emotion." Do I really need to address this?

Paragraph 7: The author talks of women and romance but never mentions that he was married. The ONLY mention in a newspaper of Soapy being with another woman other than his wife was published in the Skagway News after Soapy was killed. I'm not trying to imply that Soapy was always faithful, I just stating a current fact. It is also stated in this paragraph that his eye color was "green-speckled," but according to his wife his eyes were blue-gray.

Paragraph 8: The author numbers the Soap Gang at 100-300. Although there is no count of the gang these numbers are commonly used. I have a gang list in the works but it is no where near completion so I hesitate to post the numbers I have. The list will include names that are supposed; such as Tom Galbraith whose name was added today.

Page 42

Paragraph 9: "On one occasion, a school function, several persons booed Soapy and one courageous old man in the audience threw a rotten egg at him." I have never heard of this incident and I doubt it happened. There is no source, and what with sourced stories about egg prices in Alaska and the Klondike I doubt it even more.

Paragraph 10: Ed Kickock's name pops up again but this time the author spells it with an "H," as Hickock, which forced me to go back and research Ed Hickock as I had done for Ed Kickock. I found no information in Dawson of this businessman, or in Skagway. The vigilante organization leaders in Skagway are known and his name is listed no where. Not knowing which spelling is correct, if in fact it is real, I left in both spellings for this review.

According to sourced history of the vigilante meetings that took place on July 8, 1898 they did not meet at the town city hall, which was basically just a small cabin. The first location was the warehouse on the end of Sylvester's Wharf. This was the location that was decided to be too small. The vigilante's then decided to move the meeting over to the larger warehouse on the next wharf over, the Juneau Company Wharf.

The author makes the common mistake of naming Frank Reid as a vigilante leader. He was not a leader. He was appointed as one of four guards to man the entrance of the wharf while the meeting was being held.

Paragraph 11: Frank Reid had left Illinois for Oregon, not Minnesota. There are no sources anywhere that I have seen that state Reid was "... a sharpshooter with his rifle and went about Skagway armed at all times." Newspaper accounts in Skagway the following day of the gunfight said that earlier in the day Soapy had accosted Reid in the street and verbally abused him, stating that at the time Reid was unarmed.

"He always carried two knives concealed on his person as an added precaution." Sources, where are the sources!

Paragraph 12: "He had spies everywhere and one of them carried news of the meeting to him. 'They're comin' for you Soapy,' was the spy's warning. The note was written and handed to Soapy by Soap Gang member, William Saportas, who worked for the Daily Alaskan as a reporter, thus able to get into secret meetings being held by the vigilantes. If you are reading this review closely then that name should ring a bell (quickly scroll to the top of my review for page 25 - Saportas is in the photograph identified incorrectly as Soapy). The exact wording of the note handed to Soapy read as follows, "The crowd is angry, if you want to do anything do it quick."

Paragraph 15: The author erroneously has Soapy going to the door of the warehouse where the meeting was being held. Actually, the four guards were about 60' inward on a wharf that stretched out into Skagway Bay for about half-a-mile. Soapy never made it passed the guards before he was shot and killed.

It is known that Soapy and Frank Reid argued before they began shooting at one another, but no where have I read that Reid told Soapy he was "under arrest." The general consensus is that Reid told Soapy he "couldn't go down there" (down the end of the wharf where the meeting was being held).

Paragraph 16: "Soapy quickly brought up his gun—just as Reid did." This is how this author starts the gunfight. In actuality, Soapy had his rifle resting on his right shoulder. He brought his rifle DOWN to strike Reid in the head. Reid raised his arm and the rifle barrel struck it. At this moment the firing began. At least five shots were fired (counting wounds each received) so the fight involved a little more than the author describes. For a quick look at the shootout I suggest going to the following link: Shootout on Juneau Wharf. For a much more thorough and detailed accounting I strongly suggest reading, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.                

1851: The mechanical refrigerator is patented by Dr. John Gorrie. 
1851: Linus Yale patents the clock-type lock. 
1856: U.S. Army troops from Fort Tejon and Fort Miller ride out to protect Keyesville, California from an Yokut Indian attack. 
1859: John Gregory finds gold at what will be called Gregory's Gulch, on the North Branch of Clear Creek near the new city of Denver. Horace Greeley calls the area “the richest square mile on earth.” 
1861: Arkansas became the ninth state to secede from the Union. 
1868: The U.S. government begins payments of annuities to Crow Indians, Montana Territory 
1877: Chief Crazy Horse surrenders 900 warriors, women, and children to U.S. troops at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. 
1877: Sioux Chief Sitting Bull leads 1,500 of his followers into Canada to ask protection from the Queen. 1882: The U.S. Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act. The act bars Chinese immigrants from the U.S. for 10 years.

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