March 11, 2017

The Missing Piece: Soapy Smith's Exploded Headstone.

The last piece of Soapy Smith's 3rd headstone
Protected within a "stone bench"
courtesy of Valerie Feero

Soapy Smith's blown-up headstone.

Soapy Smith's first and second grave markers were wooden. The third was a marble headstone paid for in 1927 by Tom Kearney, a friend of Soapy's. Mr. Kearney sent the money to Skagway resident Harriet S. Pullen, and the marker was placed on the grave in the spring of 1927. Tourists began chipping away at the stone marker, so according to the Decatur Daily Review of Decatur, Illinois, on October 3, 1933, Mrs. Pullen "erected a stiff guard through which it [the headstone] may be seen and not chipped."

Soapy's third headstone
Before the protective cage
Circa 1927 - Oct. 2, 1933

Soapy's third headstone
After the protective cage
Circa Oct. 4, 1933 - Aug 15, 1954

(Click image to enlarge)

The "stiff guard" worked for two decades, but in the end it was not enough to protect the grave marker from determined vandals.

Crime Follows Alaska Badman To His Grave

SKAGWAY, Alaska, Aug. 20.
    The headstone over the grave of Soapy Smith, Alaska's famous gold rush badman, lay in pieces today, the victim of exploding dynamite and caps.
    The blast startled residents of now-quiet Skagway last Sunday [August 15, 1954]. Some residents, seeing smoke rise above the trees, drove out to the old cemetery where Soapy Smith lies buried.
     The dynamite, stolen from the White Pass and Yukon Railroad shed here, blew the top from Smith's headstone.
Seattle Daily Times, August 20, 1954

(newspaper clipping)
Seattle Daily Times
August 20, 1954
Uncovered by Linda Gay Mathis

(Click image to enlarge)

    The story of that "explosive" day 60+ years ago was nearly lost to time. Probably most people assumed, as I did, that the headstone had been blown to bits and dust. But this was not the case! I learned of the destruction in the 1990s but later on was told that a nice chunk of the marker had been found and preserved in a most unusual way, as part of a foundation inside a Skagway residence. Recently in 2017, I wrote on Facebook about the explosion of the marble headstone and then heard from Valerie Feero of Skagway. She writes,
    The house we live in my husband has lived in since 1967, was originally owned by a gentleman that did some rock work in the foundation and walls and there's a piece of granite that has "R. SMITH" engraved on it. We have wondered if it belonged to Soapy's headstone.
    It is on a rock bench inside our downstairs apartment. My name is Valerie Feero, family has been here since the [Gold] Rush! Pells and Feero were a Pack Train outfit that hauled your goods over the White Pass. My Dad, Bill Feero, use to tease that the Railroad put them out of business! My husbands name is Grant Lawson. You can use my name.

The "rock bench"
the headstone piece is circled in yellow
courtesy of Valerie Feero

Close-up of the headstone piece within the bench
courtesy of Valerie Feero

      The piece is not available for public viewing, but hey, at least it is indoors, safe from dynamite!
      Today, the concrete base of grave marker #3 can still be seen, in front of the current grave marker #5. For more on the history of Soapy's grave markers go HERE.
      Many thanks for the rest of this story go to Valerie Feero, Linda Gay Mathis, and numerous residents of Skagway, Alaska.

"Always a step ahead of his competition and the law, still repeatedly he would stop, spin, and face his troubles head-on. His daring, fanned by successful escapes or confrontations of trouble, increased rather than diminished with age."
Alias Soapy Smith, page 17


1791: Samuel Mulliken becomes the first person to receive more than one patent from the U.S. Patent Office.
1824: The U.S. War Department creates the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Seneca Indian Ely Parker becomes the first Indian to lead the Bureau.
1847: John “Johnny Appleseed” Chapman dies in Allen County, Indiana. This day becomes known as Johnny Appleseed Day.
1861: A Confederate Convention is held in Montgomery, Alabama, where a new constitution is adopted.
1865: The forces of Union General William Sherman occupy Fayetteville, North Carolina.
1867: a pony express-type route is established between Helen, Montana Territory and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
1881: US. Army Engineer Paymaster Alexander Smith is robbed of the payroll near Florence, Alabama by three bandits identified as outlaw Jesse James, Frank James, and "Wild Bill" Ryan. They relieve Smith of $500 in gold, $4,500 in currency, his watch, and $221 from his purse. They force him to accompany them until midnight, at which time they return his watch, overcoat, and $21 cash and release him.
1882: The Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association is formed in Princeton, New Jersey.
1884: Gambler Ben Thompson and lawman John King Fisher are murdered in a hail of gunfire while attending a show at the Vaudeville Variety Theater in San Antonio, Texas in retaliation for the shooting death of Jack Harris two years earlier. On July 11, 1882, Thompson, an Austin, Texas City Marshal at the time, had shot and killed Jack Harris, the owner of the Vaudeville Variety Theater. Thompson was acquitted. Two years later, on March 11, 1884, Thompson and rancher, King Fisher went into the Theater as Thompson wanted to see Joe Foster, a theater owner and old friend of Harris.'Thompson and Fisher went upstairs to meet with Foster in one of the theater boxes. Foster refused to speak with Thompson. Then a hail of bullets from an adjoining box struck Thompson and Fisher killing them. Thompson fell dead immediately. Fisher was shot thirteen times, but was able to fire one round, possibly wounding one of the ambushers.
1887: The local Cheyenne, Wyoming newspaper reports that Calamity Jane is in town.
1887: Major Benteen, of Little Bighorn fame, is discharged from military service after being court-martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer. The charge includes entering a store at Fort Du Chesne, Utah, intoxicated, quarreling with civilians and exposing himself.
1888: The "Blizzard of '88" begins to rage along the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard shutting down communications and transportation lines. More than 400 people die before the storm ends on March 14.
1890: Lieutenant Watson reports two Indians slain and three captured in a battle with the 4th Cavalry near Salt River, Arizona Territory.
1901: U.S. Steel is formed when industrialist J. P. Morgan purchases Carnegie Steep Corporation. The event makes Andrew Carnegie the richest man in the world.
1907: President Theodore Roosevelt induces California to revoke its anti-Japanese legislation.