January 2, 2020

"Sopie" Smith, the notorious sure-thing gambler, arrives in Seattle, Sept 22, 1897.

Seattle Daily Times
September 23, 1897
(Click image to enlarge)

opie Smith, the famous St. Louis confidence operator, who has been running a three-shell game at Skaguay and along the trail, and who has been interested in several gambling games, came down yesterday on the Queen and there are those among the passengers who declare that he brought back with him from $18,000-$20,000, won from the tenderfeet about Skaguay.

Soapy Smith, Jerry J. Daly and Jack Jolly took their first trip to Skagway, Alaska, in August 1897. According to Daily, the three men worked 19 days of the 23 days they were in the new camp, netting about $30,000, which was split three ways. The stories, including from Soapy's friend, "Bat" Masterson, vary, but all of them speak of the great success the three con men had. After 23 days the trio boarded the steamer Queen and sailed to Seattle, Washington. The following account comes from the Seattle Daily Times, September 23, 1897

The Skaguay Rush Is Now Headed This Way.
Steamer Queen Returns With 125 passengers in All, of Whom 80 Are Discouraged Would–Be Klondikers– Home Rush Commenced.
The steamer Queen arrived in Seattle yesterday afternoon, bringing down news from Skaguay that will tend to dishearten those who are still afflicted with the gold fever. Briefly summarized, the news would seem to amount to this: Winter has set in at Skaguay and from now on it will be practically impossible to cross the trail with anything like a sufficient amount of supplies, hence a considerable proportion of those who are now at Skagway will return here to spend the winter. The lawless element is in charge of Skaguay, and is making things decidedly interesting.

One of the officers on the Queen is authority for the statement that it is getting to be unsafe for any steamboat employee on any vessel to go on shore at either Dyea or Skaguay. This is owning to the fact that the miners are disgusted with the way in which freight is landed at both of these places. Ever since the present rush to Alaska started this subject has been one of chronic complaint, but of late it has seemed to grow unbearable and threatens to cause an open outbreak.

Among the passengers on the Queen was United States District Attorney Bennett, who came down from Juneau. He admitted that active measures had been taken to suppress gamblers and liquor dealers at Skaguay, and said that the grand jury had been called to sit at Juneau October 9, when all cases of gambling and selling liquor would be dealt with. He said that he believed there were not over 2500 men at Skaguay now, and that as soon as snow commenced to fly in earnest nearly all of them would either cross over the divide and camp along the lakes or go to Juneau for the winter.

Steamer Queen
(taken from a postcard)
Jeff Smith collection
 (Click image to enlarge)

“There are many reckless men at Skaguay,” said the attorney, “but beyond gambling and whiskey selling there has been no trouble. All these reports of lynchings are untrue. Only one shot has been fired at Skaguay at any man, and the man who fired that shot is now in jail at Juneau. He did not hit his man and he says he did not intend to shoot to kill, or even wound: that his revolver went off accidentally. Excepting two or three drownings, and one death from heart failure, there has not been a casualty on the Skaguay trail.”

“Sopie” [sic] Smith, the famous St. Louis confidence operator, who has been running a three-shell game at Skaguay and along the trail, and who has been interested in several gambling games, came down yesterday on the Queen and there are those among the passengers who declare that he brought back with him from $18,000-$20,000, won from the tenderfeet about Skaguay. He did not like the aspect of the authorities, who exhibit an intention to deal firmly with his element, and so he came out of the country. The Queen brought down 128 passengers, 80 of whom are disgusted returning Yukon-bound prospectors. Nearly all still have the fever, and say they will return in the spring and make another attempt to reach the land of gold and ice.

Sherwood Gillespie, state manager of the Mutual Life Insurance Company, with headquarters at Seattle, returned from Skaguay on the Queen. He went north with the intention of looking into the condition of the Skaguay trail, and has some interesting information.

The Steamer Queen going back to Skagway after arriving in Seattle

“Skaguay is a complete mixup,” said Mr. Gillespie. “You can’t imagine anything like it. All of the eighty disgusted prospectors who came back are ‘damning’ everybody and everything connected with the trail. It seems absolutely impossible to get across and if one does, boats cannot be purchased for love or money. Skaguay is in the hands of a lot of tough gamblers and saloon keepers. They are making all kinds of money and are counting on staying all winter. They are running the town to suit themselves. The correspondent of the Chicago Times–Harold was almost lynched the day we left, September 12, for sending out a letter calculated to keep people from coming to Skaguay. The saloon element held and indignation meeting and it was voted to hang the correspondent on the charge of ‘sending out lying statements calculated to injure the trade of the business men of the city.’ He had not been found up to the time the Queen sailed. There was nothing in his letter but what was absolutely true. Among the passengers was ‘Sopie’ [sic] Smith, the notorious sure-thing gambler. He has between $15,000 and $20,000, all made from his shell game. He would not take a bet for less than $20, and has been busy all the time for two months. During that time he did not lose a bet. I understood at Juneau that a force of marshals had been sent to Skaguay with warrants for the most notorious of the gamblers, confidence men and saloon keepers. The authorities proposed to keep Skaguay closed down. They were shooting horses the day we left Skaguay. They were good horses, but it did not pay to feed them, for they were absolutely no use. Hay is cheaper than it is in Seattle, and provisions can be secured for almost nothing from the returning prospectors.”

United States Marshal James M. Shoup of Sitka was one of the passengers on the Queen. He is in charge of all the deputy marshals in Alaska, and is very well posting on criminal matters in the territory. Regarding crime and gambling at Skaguay he said:

“Gambling at Skagway will have to stop just as soon as my deputies can arrest the gamblers. There are a great many of them, and they have been doing a big business, but it is against the laws of the territory and they must leave. I have a deputy at Skagway, McGinnis, who is keeping me posted, and who has all of the gamblers spotted. I cannot say just when the arrests will be, but the District Attorney has signified his intention of commencing at once. The saloon-keepers are also violating the law, and although they are in control at Skaguay, they too will have to shut up shop. They will find that Alaska is not a state, and that there is no use bucking the United States marshals. Outside of gambling and liquor selling there has been very little of a criminal nature at Skaguay. A little stealing perhaps, but no serious fighting or breaches of the peace.”

Following is the passenger list of the Queen for Seattle:
E. W. Gurney, P. I. Packard, G. S. Lansing, A. H. Taylor, L. Millen, Emma Williams, Miss Rose Williams, Mrs. F. Nichols and two children, Emil Free, F. A. White, Fred Lysons, J. H. Bristow, Geo. Laing, J. Sales, Mrs. O. C. Starck, G. Koxen, J. J. Carscadden, F. R. Pingree, D. M. Duncan, O. R. Murray, W. Appleby, Mr. and Mrs. B. E. Bennett and son, F. P. Kendall, Jeff R. Smith, J. J. Daly, J. M. Shoup, H. G. Bryant, T. McCauley, Wm. Montgomery, and forty-seven second-class.

James McCain Shoup
US Marshal, District of Alaska
(taken from a postcard)
Jeff Smith collection
(Click image to enlarge)

When the Queen left Juneau the Al-Ki was there, and her boilers were leaking. It would probably take three or four days to repair them and in the meantime the Al-Ki will not be heard from. The Queen also spoke the City of Topeka near Juneau. Two of the Topeka’s propeller blades were broken and her crank shaft bent. The cause of the accident was not learned.

February 17, 2011,

Steamer Queen: page 442.
Jerry J. Daly: pages 435, 443, 497.
James McCain Shoup: pages 442, 562, 575-76, 580-81. 

"It was not generally known how many were included in Smith’s gang. Dr. Whiting and Keelar, the “Money King,” later compiled a list of the roughnecks who were supposed to have belonged, and both those men were in a position to judge fairly well. There were 192 names on their list, all of them suggestive of the underworld and many of them unprintable. The sobriquets range from “Soapy” Smith and the “Lamb” to “Moon Face Kid,” “Slim Jim,” “Blackjack Doctor,” “The Queen,” “B. S. Jack….”"
— Clarence Andrews, Alias Soapy Smith, p. 564.


1788: Georgia is the 4th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution.
1867: Fourteen Arizona Rangers led by Tom Hodges attack Apache Indians at Rock Springs, killing 21.
1871: Golden, Colorado is incorporated.
1872: Brigham Young, the 71-year-old leader of the Mormon Church, is arrested on a charge of bigamy. He has 25 wives.
1877: Gambler Langford “Farmer” Peel becomes the gambling kingpin of Virginia City, Nevada when another gambler, Dick Paddock challenged Peel to a duel. Paddock was wounded, but survived while Peel was unscathed.
1878: Dick Paddock is killed in the Delta saloon in Virginia City, Nevada during a brawl in which he was trying to stop. Gambler Tom Hughes struck police officer Robert McDonald over the head with his pistol. In doing so, the pistol discharged and the bullet was sent into Paddock’s left temple. Hughes was then shot and killed by the police officer Paddock died 3-days later.
1879: Thomas Edison begins construction on his first generator.
1883: Augusta Tabor files her suit for divorce from Horace Austin Warner Tabor. She had only recently discovered that her husband had already secretly divorced her and married “Baby” Doe, in 1880. Horace’s divorce and following marriage to Doe were found to be non-binding.
1889: In a fight over which town will be the seat of Gray County, Kansas, the town of Ingalls hires Dodge City men, including Jim Masterson and Bill Tilghman, to raid the Cimarron courthouse for the county records. Residents of Cimarron open fire and capture four of the raiders including Masterson. His brother “Bat” Masterson sends a telegram asking Cimarron to free his brother or else he will “hire a train and come in with enough men to blow Cimarron off the face of Kansas.” The four are freed, and later tried and acquitted for the death of J. W. English.
1890: Alice Sanger became the first female White House staffer. 1893: The first commemorative postage stamps are issued.
1904: Amy Bassett, famed Denver brothel madame, dies in a gasoline explosion.

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