March 14, 2014

Another "newly discovered" witness to the shooting death of Soapy Smith.

Otto Bayless
Witnessed the demise of Soapy Smith
Photograph courtesy of Mike Byer
(Click image to enlarge)

larence L. Andrews said that, "if all the men who claimed to have seen the shooting of Soapy Smith were laid end to end, the line would extend to the equator and back again." (The Real Soapy Smith, The Alaska Sportsman Nov. 1947, page 38.) Some of these were easy to disprove as their facts were all out of whack. At least one man who claimed to be there, stated the gunfight took place inside Jeff Smith's Parlor, Soapy's saloon, while another said that he was hung by the neck. Others varied their stories over the years, such as Harriet Pullen, who told her hotel guests that Soapy died with his head in her lap. Most had their facts pretty well down, but repeated the same old story of Smith and Reid shooting each other and dying on the spot with no other interaction from the others present. There really is no way people who were in the area can prove their stories as the newspapers did not interview anyone, let alone, make note of anyone being in the area at the time of the shootout, except for the Smith gang and the vigilantes.

The latest discovery (to me) of a witness to the gunfight comes from Mike Byers' who says his great grandfather, Otto Bayless, saw Soapy killed. The story Otto told to his kin appears to closely match the most up-to-date facts of how the fight took place. Mike found and contacted me about the story on Facebook.    

My Great-grandfather saw your Great-grandfather die.

My great-grandfather was 10 years old. His name was Otto Bayless and he is well documented, and it is well documented that I am his Great-grandson. I am putting together a story about Otto and about the fact he said he saw a second man killed Soapy.

Otto always told the story that Frank Reid shot Soapy twice and while he lay on the ground a man stepped out of the crowed and picked up Frank's gun and shot Soapy point blank in the chest and then dropped the gun down beside Frank, and It wasn't Jesse Murphy.

By the way my name is Mike Byers and I am really glad to meet you.
Mike explained that his great-grandfather and some other boys were playing on a stack of railroad ties. It is true that White Pass and Yukon Route Railway president, Samuel Graves was on the Sylvester Wharf, to the east of Juneau Wharf, checking on supplies that had just arrived.

Bayless family, Christmas 1923, Circle, Alaska
(left to right, Mary, John, and Otto Bayless in the rear.
the young boy is Howard Bayless, Otto's son.
Photograph courtesy of Mike Byer

Mike continues,
That was meant as just some back ground on my Great-Grandfather he did go over the chilkoot trail and founded Bayless and Robertson Trucking based out of Tok.

A breed of men apart Gene Rogge, Jess Bachner, Al Ghezzi, the O'Learys, Bayless and Roberts, among others established trucking from Valdez to Fairbanks, the forerunner of a modern industry. Beginning as high school kids hauling fuel as an odd job, they "invented" commercial freighting in Alaska's frontier. This is the first in a three-part series. One-time owner of Alaska Freight Lines, Sourdough Express and Sourdough Freighting, Gene Rogge, now 89, is an energetic, bright-eyed gentleman. He was the foundation and the capstone of Alaska trucking. Rogge, like some other high school graduates in 1929, bought a truck and began freighting firewood and fuel locally. He and his friends, Jess Bachner, Charlie Simmons, Bob and Andy Growden and Al Ghezzi met occasionally at O'Leary and Jewel trucking on the site of today's Royal Fork restaurant. With John Roberts, Otto Bayless, Maurice O'Leary and Wilbur Jewel, they drew lines on maps and discussed possible work. Rogge fired up his wooden-spoked, 1-ton Chevy pickup and began the first of a lifetime of Valdez-to-Fairbanks runs. At Paxson's roadhouse on the new Richardson Highway, Dan Whitford greeted Rogge, hollering, ``Hey, finally we're going to get some traffic on this road!'' During the next few years, Rogge ``worked 24 hours a day,'' to buy a $900 new Willy. The Richardson ``highway'' as yet had no bridges so Rogge plunged his new car through the Alaska Range's creeks. He was also testing the waters of love with Pat Hering, the daughter of the owners of Sourdough Express. In 1935, brothers Larry and Gene Rogge, bought the company. Adding 17 trucks, they extended the company's circuit from Valdez to Circle. All these young freighters, Ghezzi, Bachner, Simmons and Rogge routinely dealt with overflow, whiteouts, open rivers and failing cars everything but federal controls. Sandwiched between the territorial Alaska Road Commission and the federally owned railroad, Gene fought for independent truckers in the spontaneous Truckers' Rebellion. The ARC, in 1941, began charging $9.27 a ton for commercial loads to cross the Tanana River at Big Delta, intending to direct the freighters' business to the struggling railroad. Between federal entities, these ``gypsy'' truckers known as ``gypos''were dispensable. Risking jail, Gene, Charlie Simmons, Otto Bayless and several others outmaneuvered the questionable toll. The men built their own depot and ferry at Big Delta. Flying the pirate flag, the truckers appointed Bayless as their official ferryman. With a boat pushing their ferry, they circumvented the ARC's expensive ferry.

Thank you very much for sharing this information with us Mike. Please, if anyone has any additional information on this witness, or on Otto Bayless, feel free to leave a comment and I will make sure Mike sees it. Thank you.

It is possible that … some injustice has been done to Mr. Smith which should be corrected, if only out of regard for the distinguished family to which he belongs, for the sun never sets on the Smiths. [San Francisco Examiner]
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 493.


1629: A Royal charter is granted to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1743: First known American town meeting is held at Boston's Faneuil Hall.
1794: Eli Whitney receives a patent for his cotton gin.
1868: Twelve Indians are killed, two captured, during a battle with U.S. troops under Lieutenant Colonel George Crook at Dunder and Blitzen Creek, Oregon.
1877: Fort Keogh is established near Miles City, Montana Territory.
1900: U.S. currency goes on the gold standard with the ratification of the Gold Standard Act.
1901: Utah Governor Heber Wells vetoes a bill that would relax restrictions on polygamy.
1903: The Senate ratifies the Hay-Herran Treaty that guarantees the U.S. the right to build a canal at Panama.
1904: The Supreme Court upholds the governments’ claim that the Northern Securities Company is an illegal merger between the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railway companies.

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