March 24, 2019

Skagway's Bad Men.

Getting robbed
(Click image to enlarge)

hich of them to hills do you thinks the highest?
Getting robbed of $700 in Skagway, Alaska

Newspaper clipping from the Victoria Daily Colonist, March 11, 1898 telling of the robbery of S. F. Jones and others, upon arrival in Skagway, Alaska.

Passengers by the “Pakshan” tell of wholesale and scientific robbery.
Bad Water Alleged to Be the Chief Cause of the Spinal Meningitis Epidemic.

     It takes a very short time for the enterprising subject of Soapy Smith to separate from his money the luckless sojourner within the precincts of Skagway. Half a dozen of the passengers on the Pakshan discovered this to their cost, and three who returned in disgust with the steamer that had taken them North, unfold a tale of woe which graphically pictures the modus operandi.
     S. F. Jones of Chicago is one of these. He remembers the city at the gateway of the White Pass just $250 worth, while the others are losers to the extent of $700 and $150 respectively. From their reports the bunco man flourishes in Skagway like a green bay tree, and can give the longest kind of odds to his Metropolitan contemporary in the fleecing of the innocent.
     The Pakshan passenger who unwittingly contributed the $700 to the Smith campaign fund was such a lamb as Skagway is glad to welcome. He had barely landed from the steamer when he ran against a very verdant looking party who, open-mouth and gawky, was gazing at the distant hills. This landscape-inspector apologized for getting in the way, and introduced conversation by inquiring:
     “Which of them to hills do you thinks the highest?”
     As the relative altitudes of the mountains in question compared on somewhat the same basis as the new COLONIST and the old post office buildings, the Pakshan passenger replied at once:
     “Why, the one on the right” – the new COLONIST size.
     “Well now, I think you’re wrong,” insisted the interested one. “What’ll you bet that’s the highest?”
     The Pakshan man did not regard it as a betting proposition.
      “It’s nonsense to talk that way,” he said. “It would be betting on a sure thing.”
     “You think so” – the mountain gazer became even more interested. “I’ll just bet you $500 you’re wrong–and will leave it to this man–he seems to know the town–“indicating one who was apparently a resident.
     The new arrival in the city agreed with a laugh, still treating the matter as something of a joke, and imagining that he had run across a decidedly unique but harmless specimen of humanity.
     Of course the citizen agreed with a stranger as to the relative heights of the two mountains, and immediately the proposer of the wage forced $500 notes into the hand of the surprised new-comer. The latter was still looking at the money and trying to collect his senses, when his profitable new acquaintance asked:
     “Now if you have lost, would you have paid up as quick as that. Did you have the money with you to make good, when we made the bet?”
     “Of course I had,” said the unsuspecting lamb.
     An almost before the words had left his lips he found himself looking into the muzzle of an ugly revolver, while the man he has thought so green and comical was demanding in a gruff voice:
     “Well, fork over all you’ve got, and be quick about it. I don’t think you know enough to take care of so much money.”
     This refinement of detail was lacking in the other cases. The victims were simply held up in broad daylight, and gave up their money to escape being murdered. Jones, who was thus relieved of $300, went to Deputy Marshall Rankin and asked for the arrest of the highwayman, whom he knew where to find and could easily and positively identify. The official looked wise, and said it was a very peculiar case, in which he could not possibly act without first writing to Washington and receiving explicit instructions. Then he seemed to see a way out of the difficulty, and suggested that there was a good attorney in town to whom he would introduce the Chicagoan.
     This was how Mr. Jones became acquainted with Mr. Smith, of Skagway, head of the lawless combine and prospective mayor. Soapy’s advice was “not to squeal, but get out as quickly as possible.” Jones replied that he had not been left enough to get out on, whereupon Soapy produced a fifty dollar bill and suggested that the Chicagoan was in great luck to get this much back–following with the admonition that if he remained ten hours in the town he would never have opportunity to move anywhere. Jones says that robbery is conducted on a scientific wholesale principles in Skagway, and that for this reason, as much as because both the trails are blocked, the bulk of the pilgrims are now turning back to go in by the way of the Wrangle. This town he, as well as all the others on the Pakshan, describes as the most orderly as well as most promising place on the northern coast.
     “The United States soldiery are no protection whatever,” says Mr. Jones, “for they are camped three miles up the trail, and are blind and deaf to the lawlessness of the town. Their excuse is that the town is too unhealthy for a place of residence, which is in a measure true. …

Original clipping
Victoria Daily Colonist,
March 11, 1898
(Click image to enlarge)

My thoughts and notes.

  • I found no information on the steamship Pakshan
  • It is amazing that six of it's passengers were swindled or outright robbed, and even more amazing that none of them got justice. Then again, they sought "justice" from those in the pay of Soapy Smith.
  • The common histories written about Soapy in Skagway mention Deputy Marshall Sylvester Taylor as the lawman working for Soapy, but this news clipping mentions Deputy Marshall Rankin as also being in Soapy's pay.
  • Very interesting and so common for the Soapy to pretend to be a Skagway attorney, handing out free advice, suggesting that the victim leave Skagway while he's ahead. Then turning into a charitable benefactor by handing $50 travel money to the unfortunate dupe. $50 coming out of the $700 the gang had robbed from the new comer.  

"Anyone who gambles today, not only bucks the laws of chance but
is likely as well to meet the chicanery of science-using crooks."
Modern Mechanix, 1933


1629: The first game law is passed in Virginia.
1664: A charter to colonize Rhode Island is granted to Roger Williams of London.
1765: Britain passes the Quartering Act that requires the American colonies to house British troops in public and private buildings.
1828: The Philadelphia and Columbia Railway is the first state owned railway.
1832: A mob in Hiram, Ohio tar and feathers Mormon leader Joseph Smith, Jr.
1834: John W. Powell is born. He achieves recognition while conducting an expedition in the plateau country of southern Utah and Arizona north and west of the Colorado River in 1869. A second trip down the Colorado was conducted by him in 1871 and in 1873.
1855: Manhattan, Kansas is founded as New Boston, Kansas.
1868: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company is formed.
1872: Four accused outlaws are lynched in Tucson, Arizona Territory.
1880: The first "hail insurance company" is incorporated in Connecticut, known as the Tobacco Growers’ Mutual Insurance Company.
1882: Vigilantes in Las Vegas, New Mexico post handbills ordering “thieves, thugs, fakirs and bunko-steerers,” to leave town. It is signed “100 substantial citizens.”
1882: Horace Austin Warner Tabor, knowing that his wife would not agree to a divorce, spends a small fortune to obtain a secret decree of divorce, so that he could then marry “Baby” Doe. Tabor marries Doe, only to find out the divorce is not binding, thus his marriage was not either.
1882: The battle of Iron Springs, a shootout between cowboys and the Wyatt Earp vendetta riders, takes place in the Whetstone Mountains in Arizona Territory. Earp makes the claim that he killed cowboy leader Curly Bill Brocius. With Earp is John O. “Texas Jack” Vermillion, who later becomes a member of the Soapy Smith gang in Denver, Colorado, becoming known as “Shoot-Your-Eye-Out-Jack.”
1883: The first telephone call between New York and Chicago is made.
1884: Soapy Smith’s brother-in-law, William S. Light, rides with a legal posse that tracks and kills local Texas outlaw, William Northcott.
1898: The first automobile is sold.
1900: Mayor Van Wyck of New York breaks ground for the New York subway tunnel that will link Manhattan and Brooklyn.
1900: The Carnegie Steel Corporation is formed in New Jersey.

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