Soapy Smith had been traveling around the Pacific Northwest since 1896. For the most part he remained an unknown, successfully keeping his past identity from the newspapers. That began to change once he settled in Skagway, Alaska and made a noise for himself. Newspaper reporters researched who "Soapy" Smith was, and published their findings in their newspapers, and as the Klondike gold rush was on everyone's minds, the newspapers capitalized on the "uncrowned king of Skaguay." The San Francisco Examiner found a copy of Soapy's cabinet card (see below) taken in Denver and had an artist draw Soapy for publication with an article on Soapy.
As the newspapers of the states increased their publications on Soapy Smith, exposing his crimes, as well as those of his gang, the growing concerns of the citizens of Skagway were that the Klondikers coming to, and going from, the gold fields, may choose another route, by-passing Skagway all-together. Skagway witnessed how quickly the neighboring town of Dyea died, and they had no wish to be victims of the same fate. In the coming five months Soapy worked diligently to retain his power, his popularity with the Skagway residents, and improve relations with the newspapers, especially those on the west coast, Tacoma, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Below is the transcription of the San Francisco Examiner article pictured above.
|Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith|
Jeff Smith Collection
(Click image to enlarge)
THIS GAMBLER ASPIRES TO BE AN ALASKAN CHIEF OF POLICE.
Rules the Sporting Fraternity at the Gateway of the Gold Fields and Thinks He Would Be the Best Man to Preserve Peace in the District.
“SOAPY” SMITH, THE UNCROWNED KING OF THE TOWN OF SKAGUAY.
“Soapy” Smith, one time known as Jeff, gambler, politician, “sure-thing” man, has added to his other titles that of “Shah of Skaguay.” He also longs to be called "Chief.” In the Boom town at the entrance to White pass, "Soapy" is a power and a prominent citizen. The sporting fraternity own allegiance to his cause and when the place is incorporated will further his ambition to be Chief of Police.
It was Smith who saved the neck of Fay, the bartender who recently shot United States Deputy Marshal McGowan [sic: "Rowan"] and another man. Vigilantes would have lynched Fay had "Soapy" not gathered his forces and prevented the execution.
The story of the career of the would-be policeman teems with tales of adventure. He is known all along the Pacific Coast as a most desperate gambler. It was, however in Colorado that he first achieved prominence. The memory of "Soapy" Smith lingers in Denver like the recollection of a bad dream. Is almost impossible to ascertain when "Soapy" came to Denver or Whence, but out of the tangle of rich anecdotes of his earlier career there rises a picture which is indelible.
It was in good old times. Every man had money―unless he met "Soapy." Up Seventeenth street from the Union Depot there streamed a throng of people. In the midst of them stood "Soapy" on a box. He had soap to sell; it was not plain, ordinary soap, fit only for the washing of dirty hands or soiled linen. It was, on the contrary, very remarkable soap. "Soapy" touched the soap and lo! there was an inner wrapping of crisp bank notes around every bar. The eyes of the spectators bulged out. What was the use hunting over the hills for deceptive silver mines? Here was a fortune close at hand. “Soapy” had just a few left for sale. Under his magic touch a bar was seen to be enfolded in money. With eager eye fixed upon the tempting treasure, the spectator passed his hard-earned cash to the magician and grabbed the potent bar. Upon opening the outer wrapper, breathing short and quick the while, he found―just soap; but it was a very good soap. That was one thing to be said of "Soapy." He was always conscientious and in little things and was far above petty tricks. Other people bought soap and "Soapy's" business came to be profitable and he devoted himself to it till greater ambitions inspired him to more original endeavors.
"Soapy" became very proficient in the shell game and in all the various schemes of the high class bunco man. For many years he enjoyed power and influence in Denver, for his political relations and the authority he welded in the downtown districts gave him immunity from police interference. Year after year he flourished, buncoed visitors, conducted a gambling-house and made his name a by-word and a synonym. He made fortune after fortune and spent it all in riotous living and in good deeds, for it must be ever said of "Soapy" that no hungry man ever asked aid of him and was refused. Smith left Denver in 1896, driven out at last by the women empowered with the suffrage. He went to New Orleans, was imprisoned there for vagrancy and finally drifted to the Pacific Coast.
The following comes from the book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel.
The article correctly exposed Jeff’s past in Denver, including a detailed exposé of the prize soap sell racket. But even in this damning article, the reporter apparently felt compelled to include that Jeff also had a good side. ...
... Jeff’s infamous past had caught up with him. Too soon every Skaguay resident would know his full identity. An obviously powerful friend in San Francisco, known only as “John,” wrote to Jeff about the article and to warn him about a “squealer” thought to be in Skaguay. This interesting and colorful but long and somewhat repetitive letter has been shortened; otherwise, with a few assists, it appears as written.Esmond House, 43 Sixth StreetSan Francisco, Cal., Feby. 25 1898
Jeff Smith, Esqr.
Chief Police, Skaguay, Alaska:Friend Jeff:—Today’s San Francisco Examiner gives you quite a good send off with a large picture of you. It seems by this able sheet you will be the next or first chief and if so I am glad of it, so you can regulate some of the wolfs that’s in our line of calling. They must have some man of judgment to regulate them or they will break up any place they go. There is one in particular, who is strickly out for himself and I here he is in your town (Skaguay); he will undermine you or any one else in order to gain his own point. I tell you Jeff he Dutch or John Rennels would put you and everyone else in jail to have the graft himself. If he had his way in this city while with me he would have had many of the gang drove out or put in the workhouse. You will always find him sneaking around talking to officers and telling other people[’s] bisness to them. Jeff he … is beyond a doubt one of the most dangerous men in the country and avoid[s] any principle. The only friend or God he knows or acknowledges is the mazuma and to reach that he will stop at nothing, he has not a charatable or Honorable hair in his head. When I had to drop him from the pay roll he got drunk like any cheap guy on 5¢ beer—large glasses, and combined with old McCormick to write me and the police department up through a pettifogging attorney here [—] he with McCormick in their letter given to the Daily Call newspaper claimed that I had the Chief of Police right and was given him the chief money. Now I and everyone else knows this to be true that Rennels and McCormick are the guilty ones—…. Such people ought to be in the sewer. You can rest assured he is your enemy. He has roasted you to me more than once and told me what smart capers he cut while in Denver, Col.There was nothing bad enough he did not say about you he can give you plenty of taffy while there is money in it but he is full of deceit, if you touch his pocket you can find out where his Dutch heart is if he has any. There is only one thing to do with him to keep him on the walk [—] drive him out of town for you or anyone else can not do a thing he will not tell officials to get into favor. I learned that deceitful rascals faults at my own expense. Why Golden Gaggers and others would have driven him from here a pauper only for me, and he repaid me well for my favors shown him by writing up the police dept and saying I was giving them percentages. … They put some of the gang on the tramp, but I am living well and eating the same and no trouble on my mind, for I am O K and treated all as I would wish to be treated myself. …McCormick, Atkins and others … are dead letters here as well as many other places. Their pedigree is ahead of them in many citys. Any information or anything I can do for you here I will do cheerfully in the way of ordering anything you might want. Hoping I may have the pleasure of hearing of you been elected Chief and with best wishes I remain
Your Friend and well wisher.
[P.S.] This is no heresay. The cop, the attorney who wrote the article and Billy Atkins who was there listening to Dutch getting McC to do it all tell me Dutch is to blame for all.
San Francisco Examiner article, Feb 25, 1898: page 463-64.
"In a bet there is a fool and a thief."