Part 4

Do unto others, what they'd like to do to you...But do it first!
            Jefferson R. Smith

History Part 4:

The Klondike Gold Rush, February-July, 1898
      • Soapy creates his own military army
      • Hero of Skaguay July 4, 1898
The Tragic Death of Soapy Smith
            • The J. D. Stewart robbery
            • The gunfight on Juneau wharf, July 8, 1898

 Captain Jefferson R. Smith
and the
Skaguay Military Company

The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine

The sinking of the battleship Maine in the harbor of Havava, Cuba in 1898, ignited a patriotic frenzy in the American public. President McKinley asked for volunteers to join in his fight against Spain. Soapy, being a very patriotic member of society, formed all volunteer army, calling it the Skaguay Military Company. At the first meeting he was "elected" captain. A letter, along with the meetings minutes were sent to the governor of Alaska and to the president of the United States offering his armies services. In reply, captain Smith received official military permission from the War Department to march and drill his ever growing army at fort St. Micheal, Alaska. It seemed not to bother Soapy that fort St. Micheal was over 1000 miles away. He proudly hung the document in Jeff Smith's Parlor for all to see.

Join the Skaguay Military Company TODAY!

Soapy had an important agenda for his army. These "soldiers" were there to guarantee his absolute control over Skaguay. With the official permission from the war department Soapy would be able to impose martial law in the event of a disturbance by the 101 vigilante organization, or anyone else who sought to get in his way.

185right.jpg  4th of July

The Man Who Would be King
 Although this photograph is marked "July 4" the original photographer, Rev. John Sinclair, wrote in his diary that he snapped the shutter at 9:00 am on July 7, 1898 a mere 36 hours before Soapy was shot dead, which makes this the last photograph taken of Soapy while he was alive.

Captain Smith's proudest moment must have been leading his military company as grand marshal of the 4th of July parade in Skagway. He obtained a captured bald eagle, which followed him on a caged float in the parade. He was the hero of the day and everyone seemed to love and appreciate him, except for those who wanted power and had much to lose while Soapy was on the throne.

Fitzhugh Lee
Soapy Smith's Eagle

The white Pass & Yukon Railway Company had arrived at Skagway before there was a town. They were interested in laying track along the trail to make their fortune. By the time they returned to begin building, things had changed in Skagway. Soapy and other business proprietors, realistically feared that a railroad would hurt their businesses. Skagway was a starting point for the stampeders, not the destination. Arriving at Skagway by ship, the miners could literally step off the boat and onto a train, without ever having to visit much of the town.

The White Pass & Yukon Railroad had already spent a large sum of money to get to this point, and their investors were not about to except a loss because of sometin-horn bunco man.  The railroad had to remove Soapy Smith out of their way somehow, and they knew he was not about to voluntarily step aside. They did not have to wait long for a legitimate reason to force him from his throne.

The Man Who Would be Duped

Dupe n: one that is easily deceived or cheated

John Douglas Stewart, dupe

John D. Stewart, who sought adventure but neither fame nor notoriety, found more of all three than he cared for in Skagway The photograph at the left shows Stewart, at left, and judge F. McDe Young in Atlin, British Columbia before Stewart left for Skagway and home. This was his second successful venture in the north, the first having been in the Klondike gold rush fields.  

It was while in Skagway on July 7, 1898 that Stewart met up with Soap Gang members John Bowers and James "Slim-Jim" Foster. They learned from Stewart that he had stashed his poke of gold worth close to $3,000 at the Mondimen Hotel. Bowers and Foster convinced Stewart that his gold would be safer in one of the local bank safes. They agreed to take him to meet one of the bankers, minus his poke. Along the way they cut through an alley and conveniently ran into "Professor" W. H. Jackson and Van B. "Old Man" Triplett, two more members of the gang. The boys began a Three-card Monte game and let Stewart believe he could win. He was instructed to go fetch his gold, which he did.

Three-card Monte

Stewart began to lose in his wagering and complained that he should not have to pay his loses. Seeing that Stewart was refusing to pay up, he was forcefully grabbed and the entire poke of gold was taken. The poke was tossed to Triplett and he gave the order for the gang to "beat it." In seconds Stewart was alone and broke.

Stewart complained to the U. S. deputy marshal who did little to help Stewart as he was in the pay of the Soap Gang. Stewart began to complain to others and word spread quickly around town of the robbery. The real-estate grifter gang saw an opportunity to rid the city if their competition. Between the real -estate grifters, the vigilantes and the few citizens who actually cared about law and order, a large movement against Soapy and the bunco men snowballed. The U. S. Commissioner made demands to Soapy that the gold be returned. Soapy refused, claiming Stewart had lost his money on the square. Meetings were called on to decide what actions should be taken. Skagway was in a mass state of confusion.

On the evening of July 8, 1898 the vigilantes were holding a meeting in a warehouse on the end of the Juneau Company wharf. Soapy was in Jeff Smith's Parlor drinking, after a full day of arguments and threats to and from the various factions against him.

A little before 9pm a note was given to Soapy from an associate on the newspaper payroll to take immediate action. Soapy agreed and grabbed up his rifle and headed down to the wharf. Once there he faced four vigilante guards. Frank Reid blocked Soapy's attempt to walk down to the warehouse and enter the meeting. An argument was followed by a scuffle and both men were shot.  

Soapy takes a bullet from the revolver of Frank Reid in this illustration from Frank Leslie's Popular monthly, 1901

The gunfight took place at the entrance of Juneau wharf, the third wharf from the right. (X) marks the spot.

In order to defend himself Soapy felt he, of all citizens, should be allowed in at the vigilante meeting being held down on the Juneau Company wharf. Just four days prior he stood on the podium with the territorial Governor, John Brady at Skagway's first Independence Day celebration. He had been the hero of the hour on that day, but now he was considered a criminal. Naturally he wanted to disrupt the plans to expel him. Soapy had been drinking a good part of the afternoon. At a little after 9:00 pm he was handed a note by one of his men working for the newspaper, that if he was going to do anything he had better do it now. Angry and drunk, he grabbed up his rifle and draping it over his shoulder he walked down State Street to the wharf. Some of the gang trailed a distance behind him just in case of trouble. Arriving at where the guards were stationed, about 60 feet onto the wharf.

My God, Don't Shoot!

Soapy walked past the other three men up to Frank Reid and started arguing with him. Apparently Soapy made an attempt to strike Reid with the barrel of the rifle, but Reid raised his left arm and the rifle barrel cut Reid's arm. Reid was able to grab the barrel with his left hand and forced it away from his body. As the two men fought for control of the rifle, Reid pulled out a pistol and began to fire. At that same instant, Soapy jerked his rifle back towards Reid and returned fire.

From hero to desperado in four days

When the shooting had ceased, Soapy Smith was dead and Frank Reid lay badly wounded. Twelve days later he too would pass away. There are numerous questions and theories about what took place at the gunfight and how it actually started? Who pulled their weapon first? Who fired first? How many shots were actually fired? What happened to
Reid's gun? Who else shot Soapy?


It seems most every "outlaw" in the old west who died violently has a controversial death attached to their story. Did they really die? Who really killed them?
Well, Soapy Smith is no exception.

Many historians who have written about Soapy Smith comment about the "second shooter" theories and many agree that Frank Reid was not the man who killed Soapy Smith even though the Skagway newspapers state otherwise. So who do we think killed Soapy?

The man's name was Jesse Murphy, one of the four guards on the wharf (Reid, Tanner, Murphy, Landers) to block Soapy's entrance into the vigilante meeting on the night Soapy was killed (July 8, 1898).

Witnesses, including J. M. Tanner, one of the guards who became the new US Deputy Marshal. wrote about what they saw and then quickly became silent about it. Fortunately for us, Tanner had already informed the commander of the NWMP, Sam Steele, in writing just hours after witnessing him do it, that Murphy was the one who had shot Soapy and not Reid.

From witness accounts Soapy Smith had a Winchester (model 1892, .44-40) rifle and after briefly exchanging gunfire with Frank Reid (both being wounded) Reid fell to the ground (probably unconscious). Murphy then wrestled the rifle away from Soapy and turned it on him, executing Soapy with his own rifle with a shot to the chest.

Credit for the death of Soapy was given to Frank Reid for political reasons. In Skagway, Alaska, where this all occurred, federal troops had been threatening martial law, it was decided to publish that Soapy and Reid had killed each other rather than have martial law take control from the victorious vigilantes who now ruled supreme.

Accounts of her husband's real death were secretly disclosed to her by friends of Soapy's when she and my grandfather went to Skagway to collect the estate in August 1898 (less than a month after the shoot-out).

Many other details as well as documentation will appear in Jeff Smith's upcoming biography of Soapy Smith, which is in the final editing process.

SoapyDeadHeadline.jpgSkaguay News, July 15, 1898

Was Soapy shot with his own rifle? Was he armed? Why was John Clancy made executor of Soapy's estate the very next morning. Did one of the bullets taken out of Soapy not match Reid's gun?...Was it murder?
Witnesses claimed to have heard upwards of eight shot being fired. Then there is the hard to explain side entry wound in the body of Soapy, and the accusations by his brother in which he was told by some friends of Soapy's that Soapy had been shot in the back. After Soapy had died, The Skaguay News reported that although there were several arguments going on about who actually shot and killed Soapy, Frank Reid was to be given the honor of killing Soapy Smith. Very few historians agree that Frank Reid killed Soapy. 

Skaguay News, July 15, 1898
View page 1 and 2
Click Here

The autopsy of Soapy Smith

Reverend John Sinclair watches as Dr. Whiting of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad cuts open the chest cavity of Soapy's body during the autopsy. A vigilante member was appointed to oversee the operation. Note that there are no gloves and that the vigilante is smoking a cigar.

lock of Soapy's hair
Alaska State Museum, Juneau

A lock of dark brown hair said to have been clipped off of Soapy's head while in the morgue.

A wounds chart
(Click on Photo to enlarge)

A chart showing the known, reported wounds recieved into the body of Soapy Smith.

Eight members of the Soap Gang that were
shipped out after "Soapy" was killed

The second grave marker.


Soapy Smith's Skull

A natural formation of a skull on the hillside of Skagway painted with the words Soapy Smith's Skull. It is believed to have been done in the fall of 1926. It is Alaska's grim memorial to its most celebrated gangster.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not
(Click picture to enlarge)

The "grim memorial" made the induction into Ripley's Believe It Or Not fame in 1937.

SoapyPlaque_01.jpgThe gunfight plaque at the spot where it occured
Photo by Ed Sasser

This plaque was dedicated on July 8, 1998, 100 years to the day of Soapy's death. Unfortunately there is a mistake. The fight took place on Juneau Company Wharf not Sylvester's wharf.

"X" marks the spot where the gunfight took place

He never threw down a pal.

Henry Edwards
alias "Yank Fewclothes"

There is so much more to the story of Soapy Smith.   The most fascinating stories and photographs will all be detailed in the up coming complete biography by Jeff Smith.  Jeff promises that it will be THE book on Soapy's personal and criminal life.

Did you know:

Evidence shows Frank Reid was not the only man to shoot and kill Soapy.
  • Was Soapy murdered?
  • There is evidence that a top member of the gang may have been giving crucial  information to the vigilantes.
  • The truth of the gunfight details were withheld from the newspapers and the general public. Why?
  • Soapy's petrified man from Creede, Colorado still exists!
  • And more...



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No Images may be used without written consent from Jeff Smith