May 13, 2017

What date did Soapy Smith actually arrive in Skagway, Alaska

The Willamette
"Discharging freight at Skaguay, Alaska"
Left Seattle Aug. 8, 1897
six days previous to the Utopia's departure
courtesy of the Library of Congress
(Click image to enlarge)

hat date did Soapy arrive in Skagway, Alaska?

Let's begin with a look at how things stood in early August, 1897. Here is a summary from the Seattle Daily Times:
     Up to the 8th [8th day of August] inst. 3150 prospectors had left Seattle for the North, 500 going in by way of St. Michaels and thence up the Yukon River, and the rest going in via Dyea over the [Chilcoot] pass and down the Yukon to the Klondike. Up to the 8th inst. also 910 horses had been taken in to be used as pack animals between Dyea and Lake Linderman [Lindeman]. It is estimated that by September 1, 7928 prospectors will have left Seattle for the diggings, and that oxen, horses, mules, and cows, coming under the head of "beasts of burden," to the number of 1766 will have been taken into the territory by the gold hunters. This does not include the exodus from California, leaving San Francisco and other California points, which will easily run the total number of gold-hunters on their way northward to more that 10,000 men. A well-known local steamship man has furnished The Times the following schedule of steamers, and his estimates, based on advance sale of tickets and the pulse of the rush, are believed to be conservative, the steamers named with the exceptions of the Elder, which sailed from Portland, and the Islander, from Victoria, all leaving Seattle. 
Seattle Daily Times, August 15, 1897

     In the mad rush to reach the Klondike via Skaguay and neighboring Dyea, here is what we knew with the publishing of Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel in 2009 (p. 435).
     The date of Jeff’s arrival in Skaguay is not certain. Jerry Daily, one of Jeff’s partners, told “Bat” Masterson that their first visit to Skaguay was for 23 days. Jeff left Skaguay for an “outside” visit on September 14, 1897, so the date of his arrival in Skaguay may be pegged as Sunday, August 22, 1897, 27 days after the first ship of miners arrived. The Utopia left Seattle on August 14 with a “J. R. Smith” among its passengers. The ship was scheduled to leave on Friday, August 13, but superstitious passengers and a flexible Captain O’Brien opted to wait a day. When reporters asked about the delayed departure, they were told that it was taking longer than anticipated to load cargo. As travel to Skaguay from Seattle then could take about a week, it is more than likely that the “J. R. Smith” is Jeff aboard the Utopia. Moreover, after he came south in 1896 with Captain O’Brien, the captain’s biography has Jeff returning “from Seattle with O’Brien on the Utopia” along with some of “his gang of cut-throats and gamblers….”
     Jeff, Daily, and two other unnamed members of Jeff’s “crew” disembarked in Skaguay and worked 19 of the 23 days they were there. In that time, according to Daily, they made $30,000 and divided it 4 ways before Jeff returned to Seattle.
    New research indicates Soapy very likely arrived in Skagway on August 18, 1897 as a passenger on the Utopia, four days earlier than previous believed.  
     Previously, all we knew came from Soap Gang member Jerry Daily and news correspondent Sylvester Scovel who sent a dispatch from Skaguay dated August 20, 1897, to The World in New York, in which he wrote "Smith, known all over the West as 'Soupy' [Soapy] Smith" (published August 27, 1897, p. 2).
     We know from a passenger list printed in the Seattle Post Intelligencer (8/14/1897) that Jeff was listed as being aboard the Utopia when she sailed at 1 a.m. on August 14, 1897 (Seattle Daily Times 8/13/1897 Evening Edition). Studying sailing times to and from Skaguay and Seattle shows the Utopia and the slightly larger Rosalie made port on average in five days. As the Utopia sailed from Seattle early on the morning of August 14, she would have made Skaguay Bay on the morning or afternoon of August 18, 1897, putting Soapy into Skaguay four days earlier than previously thought.
     However, is the "J. R. Smith" listed as aboard the Utopia actually Soapy Smith? Further evidence indicates that the answer is yes.
     How do we know Soapy arrived on the Utopia? After all, in the second paragraph of the dispatch by Scovel, he writes, "They are now unloading in the bay the big ships Islander and Bristol with the smaller boats Utopia and Edith." These vessels are the four nominees for Soapy's conveyance to Skaguay. The first two are Canadian, and their home port is Victoria, British Columbia. To sail either the Islander or Bristol, Soapy would have had to take a small boat north from Seattle to Victoria on Union Bay. This choice seems unlikely as much more convenient and direct transport was available from Seattle on either the Edith or the Utopia.

Ships heading north
Departure dates from Seattle
Seattle Daily Times
August 15, 1897

The Topeka

The Rosalie

     Let's open back up for a moment the possible means of transport. The Times clipping above is a list of steamships and their departure dates from Seattle (with the Elder leaving from Portland and the Canadian ship Islander leaving from Victoria, B.C.). Of interest are the ships Topeka, Rosalie, Edith, and Utopia, and especially the Utopia. The first three depart on August 12, 1897. The Topeka is out, I think, because it makes ports of call, thus lengthening travel time, although that might not have concerned Soapy. The next 3 are direct to Skaguay/Dyea. The steamship Edith, which departed on August 12, was much smaller than the Utopia and carried but 25 passengers arrived on the 18th, 19th or 20th, it would have been a slow boat to Skaguay. Big steamers direct to Skaguay bragged about making the trip in 70 hours, or within 3 days. As mentioned, The Utopia, and later the slightly larger Rosalie, made the trip on average in 5 days.

Reportedly the Utopia?
courtesy of Skagway Stories

     The Utopia, departed Seattle on August 14, 1897 at 1 a.m. (Seattle Daily Times, August 13, 1897), which, assuming a 5-day voyage, would put her anchored in Skaguay Bay on the morning or afternoon of August 18th. It would have taken the rest of the 18th and perhaps all of the 19th for the Utopia to off load its 250 passengers, their freight, and 50 horses and then to take on returning passengers and freight before pulling anchor on the 20th. This time frame allows plenty of time for Soapy to come ashore on the 18th, 19th, or 20th, look around, and visit with Scovel, perhaps at "The World Office Building" (a tent). It also would have given Scovel time to write up his story and dispatch it on an August 20 southbound ship (that ship was likely the Utopia as she would have been ready to sail.).
     Foremost among reasons that make the Utopia Soapy's most likely transport are these: he knew the ship and its captain, who owed Soapy a big favor. In 1896 Soapy returned from Cook Inlet, Alaska on the Utopia with Captain O'Brien, who was recovering from an appendectomy. According to O'Brien's biography, Smith took care of him during recuperation. Additionally, Smith lent the captain not just money for badly needed coal; he also loaned him pistols for the purpose of restoring discipline to his crew.

Seattle ad for the Utopia
sailing "August 11, 1897"
Courtesy of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

     The Utopia had first class and steerage with accommodation for 80 passengers and baggage. In August 1897 she was taken off the Puget Sound run and scheduled to depart Seattle for Skaguay/Dyea on August 11th with 100 passengers, but when the Utopia finally sailed on August 14th, she had 250 passengers plus 50 horses and freight. All northbound ships became severely overbooked because of the huge demand for passage, but demand at that time was made even more acute with the sinking of the Steamer Mexico on August 5, 1897.
     The Mexico was the first big ship into Skaguay/Dyea after the gold-seeker rush began. On her hurried return to Seattle for more passengers, the Mexico drifted off course in heavy fog. With visibility lifting in the early morning of August 5th, the Mexico got up steam, and at 4:30 a.m. at Dixon Entrance, going full speed, she struck rocks, sheared off much of her keel, and began to sink. Evacuation was orderly, with no casualties, and by 6:30 a.m. the Mexico went under. Passage for the next scheduled return trip to Skaguay/Dyea on the Mexico, which could carry 600 or more passengers, was fully booked, so her sinking stranded those Argonauts in Seattle and sent them begging for passage aboard other ships, including the Utopia.
     Another sign the Utopia is Soapy's ship north comes from page 416 in Alias Soapy Smith: The life and Death of a Scoundrel. Captain O'Brien (through his biographer Dalby), "he returned from Seattle [to Skaguay] with O'Brien on the Utopia [in 1897] and, at O'Brien's urgent plea, kept a tight grip on his gang of cut-throats and gamblers during the trip north." (The Sea Saga of Dynamite Johnny O'Brien by Milton Dalby, 1933, p. 179). This sentence could be referring to 1897 or 1898 as Soapy went north to Skagway at least twice. But the 1897 trip is certain because Captain O'Brien ceased being master of the Utopia as of about September 3, 1897, according to the Seattle Daily Times, and a little later was given command of the Rosalie, which was on a regular Seattle/Skagway run.
    Despite the Utopia having triple the number of passengers than could be reasonably accommodated, given the past between O'Brien and Soapy, the captain may have made a special accommodation. Dalby reports this for that voyage:
Four well-known Seattle business men slept on the floor of O'Brien's cabin in the Utopia on his last trip northward, and were grateful for the space. (p. 180)
     Skaguay on August 18, 1897, was but 24 days old. It was a tent city with all "rooms" likely occupied. It is probable that Soapy returned to the Utopia to a comfortable birth there for the night, coming ashore again in the daylight hours. Scovel's August 20 dispatch had to have left Skaguay by boat, perhaps by the returning Utopia whose next stop was Seattle in 4.5 or 5 days. That would put the Scovel dispatch there on the 25th or 26th. It then would have been telephoned or telegraphed to the New York World and published there on the 27th. It's not a certain scenario but a reasonable one.   
     For the rest of 1897 the Utopia returned to short runs on Puget Sound, and John O'Brien continued as master of the Rosalie on the Seattle-Skaguay run into 1898, the same Rosalie the widow of Soapy, Mary Eva, went to and from Skagway after he was killed (Alias Soapy Smith, pp 584-86).
     Soapy probably embarked from Seattle for Skagway on August 14 aboard the Utopia and first set foot in Skaguay on the morning or afternoon of August 18, 1897. The pieces of evidence are numerous: his name on the Utopia passenger list, the running time of five days for ships of the Utopia class, Captain O'Brien's biography linking Soapy to the captain's last voyage as master of the Utopia, and Scovel's interview of Soapy Smith in the August 20 dispatch to The World. About Soapy, Scovel wrote in part,

Smith, known all over the West as "Soupy" [Soapy] Smith, … is regarded as the king of prognosticators, and he says:
     "This thing eclipses all previous gold excitements. The best men are here, the big mine experts, the big mine owners, and the biggest gamblers. You can tell a gold strike from the number of men who gamble and what they play for." 
Among the biggest gamblers and how much they were willing to gamble, no doubt Soapy also had himself in mind.

The new information is credited to the research talents of Art Petersen of Klondike Research.

"Jeff had a disarming smile that invited trust, the firm handshake and warm demeanor of a successful businessman, and the silvery personality of a man impossible to dislike. His manners were those of a Southern gentleman and his persuasive powers those of the devil."
Alias Soapy Smith, p. 15


1607: Jamestown, Virginia, is settled as a colony of England.
1648: Margaret Jones of Plymouth is found guilty of witchcraft and is sentenced to death.
1821: The first practical printing press is patented by Samuel Rust.
1846: The U.S. declares that war with Mexico already existed.
1848: Louis C. Blonger, Soapy Smith’s successor in Denver, Colorado, is born.
1854: The first professional billiards match is held at Malcolm Hall in Syracuse, New York.
1861: Britain declares neutrality in the American Civil War.
1864: The Battle of Resaca is fought as Union General Sherman marches towards Atlanta during the Civil War.
1865: The last land engagement of the Civil War is fought at the Battle of Palmito Ranch in Texas, more than a month after General Lee's surrender.
1865: Sergeant Crocker of an all-black Union unit dies at White's Ranch, Texas and is recorded as the last death of the Civil War.
1867: Confederate President Jefferson Davis is released from prison after spending two years behind bars for his role in the Civil War.
1870: An Indian attack on a Kansas Pacific Railroad crew near the town of Kit Carson, Colorado Territory kills eleven and wounds nineteen. 500 head of livestock are stolen.
1873: Ludwig M. Wolf patents the sewing machine lamp holder.
1877: Outlaw “Wild Bill” Longley is arrested in Louisiana and taken to Giddings, Texas where he is sentenced to hang for the murder of Roland Lay.
1880: Thomas Edison tests his experimental electric railway in Menlo Park, New Jersey.
1881: Outlaw “Billy the Kid” was meant to hang in Mesilla, New Mexico Territory for the murder of Sheriff William Brady, but he escapes, killing two more law men while doing so.
1885: First mention of Jefferson Randolph Smith as “Soapy” Smith published in a Denver newspaper.
1892: Two robbers attempt to rob a train at Temple, Texas by laying across the tracks to force it to stop. The train engineer guesses their intent and keeps moving. The robbers are forced to flee.
1898: Wild Bunch gang members, Joe Walker and John Herring, are killed by a posse. When the two bodies are brought into the town of Thompson, Utah people turn out to gawk at Herring, thinking he is the famed outlaw Robert Leroy “Butch Cassidy” Parker.
1902: Denver, Colorado’s first porn theater opens. The Wonderland features hand-cranked flicker films that flipped a succession of photos bearing images of nude females.
1908: Outlaw Henry Starr is apprehended in a small Arizona mining camp near the Mexican border, after having robbed a bank in Amity, Colorado. He was taken back to Colorado, tried and sentenced to 20-years. He was paroled after seven years, in which he returned to robbing banks.

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