August 21, 2017

Right in front of my eyes: Was Soapy Smith's grave washed away in 1919?

Soapy Smith's grave as it looks today
(Photo #1)
Insert shows the rocks from photo #2
(Photo courtesy of "Creepee Baybe")
(Click image to enlarge)

ight in front of my eyes.
"Vigilantes killed Soapy Smith but it was mother nature who permanently exiled Soapy from Skagway."
... Or did it? 

Does Soapy's grave contain Soapy?

     Since the mid-1970s my family assumed that a 1919 Skagway newspaper article was correct when it reported that a September 12 flood had washed Soapy's grave and remains out to sea. We were told by a few residents that the original grave location was likely in the gully about 15-20 feet to the south of the current grave displaying wooden head-board number five. But what if the article was mistaken? What if there was a pretty good chance that Soapy is buried right where his grave has been all this time?
     My publisher, Art Petersen, is an excellent historian and sleuth. I really enjoy talking with him as we see history through all sorts of different angles. During one of our exploratory discussions we were going over a photograph he had located in the University of Washington digital depository (see photo #2). We were talking about the rocks and boulders being intentionally placed where they were, and that got me wondering where those very heavy rocks might have ended up after the flood. I wondered whether they could still be in the gully, perhaps at the bottom near the river shore. If found they would certainly substantiate the theory that the gully was indeed where Soapy's grave was originally located.      

Soapy Smith's original grave marker
circa 1901
(Photo #2)
The rocks in question are at the foot of the grave
The marker is small making the rocks appear much larger
(Note the three American flags)
Courtesy of University of Washington
(Click image to enlarge)


     On Facebook there is a page called the Skagway Bulletin Board where locals find out what's going on in town. Occasionally, I post new or interesting stories about Soapy. Sometimes I post questions and the residents are always very helpful and nice. I posted a request for someone to head out to the cemetery to do a little snooping around in the gully. Several people responded that they would be happy to check it out for me. A day or so later I got my answer, and what a surprise it was too!
     Skagway resident and friend who goes by "Creepee Baybe" posted photo #1 (minus the insert) and writes,
There you go, bubbles. It's the same spot. I thought those rocks looked familiar since I've stood by them for decades telling the story of the shootout. Fun field trip
How in the world were those rocks missed all this time! Thank you very much "Creepee Baybe," you solved a 98 year mystery.

The rocks closeup
There is no doubt they are the same
(Click image to enlarge)

1919 flood

 October 3, 2011

"The gambling paraphernalia in the family collection generated in John Randolph a fondness for magic and gambling. He studied and performed standard magic acts for neighborhood shows in the early 1920s. He also learned some methods of deception from his father, Jefferson, who had learned them from his father, Soapy himself. I learned from my father, John, those same methods and in turn developed my own magic and gambling shows. From the 1980s through the publishing date of this book (2009), I could be seen at old festivals, dressed authentically as Soapy Smith, reenacting the prize package soap sell racket, the shell game, and three-card monte on the tripod and keister my father had made."
Alias Soapy Smith


1680: Pueblo Indians drive the Spanish out of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
1831: Nathaniel "Nat" Turner, a former black slave, leads a violent slave uprising in Virginia, resulting in at least 200 slave deaths and 60 white deaths. He is captured in Southampton County, Virginia on October 30, 1831, convicted and executed on November 11, 1831.
1841: A patent for venetian blinds is issued to John Hampton.
1862: Indian Chief Little Crow's warriors lead by Mankato battle 250 settlers on the outskirts of New Ulm, Minnesota.
1863: Confederate guerrilla William C. Quantrill leads “Quantrill's Raiders,” about 450 men, in an attack against the town of Lawrence, Kansas. Of the 2,000 inhabitants, about 180-200 men and boys are murdered. They loot the two banks, along with other merchants and private dwellings, and then burn Lawrence to the ground. 182 buildings are destroyed. Future outlaws Frank James and Cole Younger likely participated in the raid.
1878: Cowboy George Hoyt dies of gunshot wounds received on July 26, 1878 in Dodge City, Kansas. He had fired his revolver into the windows of the crowded Comique Variety Hall, and was subsequently Assistant City Marshal Wyatt Earp and Deputy City Marshal Jim Masterson shot and wounded Hoyt.
1878: The American Bar Association is formed in Saratoga, New York.
1879: Samuel H. Gatchell, 4th Cavalry, is killed by a band of outlaws he was pursuing, near Little River, Chickasaw Nation. His corpse is returned to Fort Sill and buried in the post cemetery.
1880: A Denver, Colorado newspaper reports that the city council is unable to meet for a lack of a quorum due to the grand opening of a new brothel on Holliday (Market) Street.
1888: The adding machine is patented by William Burroughs.
1911: President Taft approves statehood for Arizona and New Mexico.

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