September 25, 2012

Soapy Smith: Shah of Skagway, Alaska

The Shah of Skaguay!
Colorized Soapy Smith
(Click image to enlarge)

he story of Soapy Smith as the "Shah of Skaguay" made it's way across the states ever since it was first coined in the San Francisco Examiner on February 25, 1898. Included in the story was Soapy's wish to become chief of police. Some mistakenly thought he was referring to just Skagway, but the truth of the matter is that he wanted to become the highest lawman of the entire district of Alaska. You may recall the story in which Governor Brady offered him a lower position lawman's job in Sitka but that Soapy turned it down. That off did not just materialize out of thin air. It is pretty obvious that the governor and Soapy talked over the possibility.   

Below is the entire contents of the story in the Nebraska, Omaha Daily Bee for March 10, 1898.

“Soapy” Smith Blooms Out as the Shah of Skagway.

“Soapy” Smith, one time known as Jeff, gambler, politician, “sure-thing” man, has added to his other titles that of “Shah of Skagway.” He also longs to be called “Chief.” In the boom town at the entrance of White Pass “Soapy” is a power and a prominent citizen. The sporting fraternity owe allegiance to his game and when the place is incorporated will further his ambition to be chief of police.

The story of the career of the would-be policeman teems with tales of adventure. He is known all about the Pacific coast as a most desperate gambler. It was however, in Colorado that he first achieved prominence.

It was in the good old times every man had money–unless he had met “Soapy.” In the midst of the throng of people there in Denver stood “Soapy” on a box. He had soap to sell. It was very remarkable soap. “Soapy” touched it and lo there was an inner wrapping of crisp bank notes around every bar. What was the use of hunting over the hills for deceptive silver mines? Here was a fortune close at hand. “Soapy” had just a few left for sale. Under his magic touch a bar was seen to be enfolded in money. With eager eye fixed upon the tempting treasure the spectator placed his hard-earned to the magician and grasped the potent bar. Upon opening the outer wrapper, breathing short and quick the while he found–just soap; but it was a very good soap.

“Soapy” became very proficient in the shell game and in all the various schemes of the high-class bunko man. Year after year he flourished, bunkoed visitors, conducted a gambling house and made his name a byword and a synonym. He made fortune after fortune and spent it all in riotous living.

He left Denver in 1896, driven out at last by the women empowered with the suffrage. He went to New Orleans, was imprisoned there for vagrancy and finally drifted to the Pacific coast.

Shah of Skaguay
February 14, 2009 
September 27, 2009 

The Shah of Skaguay: page 463-464.

"You couldn’t help liking Soapy. He was the most gentlemanly crook that ever scuttled a ship or cut a throat."
—George Dedman, Skagway pioneer merchant


1492: The crew of the Pinta, one of Christopher Columbus' ships, mistakenly thinks they have spotted land.  
1493: Christopher Columbus leaves Spain with 17 ships on his second voyage to the Western Hemisphere.  
1513: The Pacific Ocean is “discovered” by Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa when he crossed the Isthmus of Panama. He named the body of water the South Sea. He was simply the first European to see the Pacific Ocean.
1775: Ethan Allen is captured by the British during the American Revolutionary War as he led an attack on Montreal. 
1789: The first U.S. Congress adopts 12 amendments to the Constitution. Ten of the amendments become the Bill of Rights. 
1847: U.S. forces led by General Zachary Taylor capture Monterrey, Mexico during the Mexican-American War. 
1867: Cattleman Oliver Loving dies at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico Territory of gangrene poisoning resulting from an Indian attack. He requested that his body be returned to Texas as he did not want to be buried in a "foreign land." 
1868: 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) come to the rescue (with a field ambulance and medical supplies) of Col. George A. Forsyth and his men during the Battle of Beecher Island in Eastern Colorado/Western Kansas. 
1872: Captain J. W. Mason reports that 40 Indians were killed by the 5th Cavalry at Muchos Canyon on Arizona's Santa Maria River. 
1873: Martha Jane Canary, alias “Calamity Jane,” gives birth to a baby girl in Benson's Landing, Montana Territory. She names the baby, Jean Hickok, claiming that the child is Wild Bill Hickok's. 
1875: Billy the Kid escapes from a Silver City jail. 
1877: Major Guido Ilges and civilian volunteers fight Nez Pierce Indians at Cow Creek Canyon, Montana Territory. One settler is killed and two Indians are wounded. 
1877: Bill Heffridge and Joel Collins, members of the outlaw Sam Bass gang, are killed by soldiers in Grove County, Kansas. 
1882: The first major league double header is played between Worcester and Providence teams. 
1886: Major Frederick Benteen, of Little Bighorn fame, is found drunk while on duty at Fort Du Chesne, Utah. 
1888: Outlaws, Bill Whitley, Brack Cornett, and others battle U.S. marshals in Floresville, Texas. Whitley is killed, another member is captured, while Cornett escapes. Sheriff Alfred Allee tracks the bandit across Arizona before killing him. 
1890: The Sequoia National Park is established as a U.S. National Park in Central California. 
1890: Mormon President Wilford Woodruff issues a Manifesto renouncing the practice of polygamy.

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