Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Soapy Smith & The Shootout on Juneau Wharf

Soapy Smith
Lie, cheat, and steal are not the normal morals of most people. One's personal set of ethics, their morals, their code of conduct, is usually governed by how one sees right and wrong.

Most will agree that ethics pertains to the law, while morals pertain to one's belief in right and wrong in spite of the law.

Yes, in spite of the law. Yes, sometimes we don't always agree with the law and have to go with what we believe is right instead.

The vigilantes didn't always agree with the law. And yes, in many cases in the Old West like in San Francisco in 1851, they had to reestablish law and order because the law was corrupt.

As for dealing with dishonest men, badmen, outlaws, con artists, theives, and other criminal types? 

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt stated, "Let's us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready."

When he said that in a speech, he was referring to diplomacy between nations -- but he learned that lesson as a rancher in the Old West where he found out that some folks aren't always above board in their dealings.
And yes, contrary to what some say, there were certainly unscrupulous types in the Old West ready to pounce on the innocent and the naive, the greedy, and those looking for a sure thing -- as well as others with character flaws. 

In his work Dutchman's Flat, Louie L'Amour addressed character saying, "Everything a man does is an indication of his character, whether he cheats at cards or takes an unfair advantage because it is legal." 

If one thinks it's OK to lie, cheat, and steal as a way of life, then one is said to have no scruples, no morals, and subsequently has no conscience, no principles, no shame.

Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith was born on November 2, 1860. And yes, some say he was a con man who was born dishonest, without scruples, morals, or shame.

We do know that he was a a bunco artist, a con artist, a flimflam man, a crook. And yes, some of the other names that Smith has been called include hustler, swindler, sharpie, shark, a barracuda, an impostor, mountebank, a phony, and a chiseler.

Men and women who were confidence men were also known as double-crossers,
double-dealers, fakes, scammers, and two-timers.

We know he was all of the above as well as a notorious liar and cheat. He stole with regularity, and wasn't above using hired thugs to rob, threaten, or strong arm, yes intimidate, his victims.

He was in fact a notorious gangster, and a crime boss of the 19th century in the Old West. He was known for using money to bribe and payoff the police, and use muscle to terrify his victims into silence.

Unlike the lovable very witty con artists in television shows such as Leverage, or those great 1950's television Westerns like Maverick, con artists are in fact criminals who swindle and steal mostly from the innocent and unsuspecting.

It doesn't matter if it's an old woman's life-saving or a school's building fund, they want what that can get -- and nothing is sacred.

It does not matter if one were sick or poor, con artists want to take their unsuspecting victim for everything they can get away with. And no, nothing has changed since the Old West.

Soapy Smith's most famous scam was "the prize package soap sell racket." It was what got him the moniker "Soapy" which remained with him to his death.

Some time in the late 1870s or early 1880s, Smith began swindling entire crowds with a ploy that a Denver newspapers called "The Prize Soap Racket". He would open his "tripe and keister," a display case on a tripod, on a busy street corner. It was there and then that the con game started.

Piling ordinary bars of soap onto the keister top, like a barker at a carnival he then began expounding on their wonders.

Of course as he spoke a crown grew out of curiosity. Onlookers soon gathered around and watch as he would pull out his wallet and begin wrapping paper money, ranging from one dollar up to one hundred dollars, around a select few of the bars of soap.

He then finished each bar by wrapping plain paper around it to hide the money. Then he supposedly mixed the money-wrapped packages in with wrapped bars containing no money. Once he had his crowd's sense of greed peaked, he would then sell the soap to the crowd for one dollar a bar.

A shill, a cohort, a partner of his, was planted in the crowd to be the first to get the buying started and would buy a bar, tear it open, and loudly proclaim that he had won some money.

The shill would wave it around for all to see, and soon his performance had the desired effect of enticing the sale of the packages. More often than not, the victims, those who are always looking for something for nothing, bought several bars before the sale was completed.

Smith was smart, and unlike most other con artists -- he knew when to stop the swindle and take his money and move on. He was famous for not over-playing his hand.

Midway through the sale, Smith would announce that the hundred-dollar bill yet remained in the pile unpurchased. He would then auction off the remaining bars of soap to the highest bidders -- all with the guarantee that there was still a hundred dollar bill wrapped with one of the bars.

Of course that was far from the truth. Through manipulation and sleight-of-hand, he hid the bars of soap that were wrapped with money and replaced them with packages holding no cash.

The only money "won" went to his shills, his cohorts, those members of the gang planted in the crowd pretending to win in order to increase the interest of the crowd. .

Although he traveled and operated his confidence games, the swindles of one sort or another where he reported stole millions from people, all across the western United States, he is most famous for having a major hand in the organized crime operations of Denver and Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska, during a 20 year period from about 1879 to 1898.

In Denver, Soapy Smith ran several saloons, gambling halls, cigar stores, and auction houses that specialized in cheating and bilking clientele out of thousands of dollars. It was there that Smith made a name for himself as a bad man, a cheat, a clip artist, a scam artist, a slickerster, a smoothie, a trickster, a charlatan, and a "fixer" of everything from gaming tables to horse races.

Denver is also where he entered into the arena of political fixing, where for favors he could sway the outcome of city, county, and state elections -- and make the big money.

Because of his bribes, some of the police officers patrolling the streets would not arrest Smith or members of his gang. If they did, a quick release from jail was arranged easily.

A voting fraud trial after the municipal elections of 1889 focused attention on corrupt ties and payoffs between Smith, the mayor, and the chief of police.

They were referred to in local newspapers as "the firm of Londoner, Farley and Smith." All crooks! 

Smith opened an office in the prominent Chever block, a block away from his Tivoli Club, from which he ran his criminal operations. This was also a front where he passed himself off as a business tycoon. From there, it's said he played out high-stakes swindles on some of the richest people in town.

Smith was not without enemies and rivals for his position as the underworld boss. He faced several attempts on his life and shot several of his assailants. He became known increasingly for his gambling and bad temper. And yes, later that would be his downfall.

After Denver became too hot for him, he used the same methods of operation when he settled in the towns of Creede and later in Skagway by opening up businesses with the primary goal of robbing unsuspected customers while making a name for himself.

The founding of Skagway, Alaska, in December 1897 was no different than a lot of frontier towns in that it attracted those chasing their dream to get rich -- and those who wanted to take their money from them.

Smith and his gang of confidence men landed in Skagway as it was the main American town leading onto the White Pass Trail and into the Klondike gold fields discovered in 1896. And yes, almost immediately, Soapy Smith set up his swindle operations and quickly became the region's crime boss just as he did in Denver and Creede, Colorado.

Rival gangs sought control of Skagway, in fact one such gang formed a vigilante committee under the guise of law and order but they had little effect in the beginning.

Smith was popular and supported by many of the merchants in town as they benefited from the criminal operations of Smith and his men who freely spent their loot in the local businesses. Yes, he set up his third empire much the same way as he had in Denver and Creede, but this time learning from his mistakes.

With no official law, Smith's gang filled the bill. His gang made the law as well as interpreted the law to their choosing. Later he put the town's deputy U.S. Marshal on his payroll, and then began collecting allies for a complete takeover of the town.

Soapy opened a fake telegraph office in which the wires went only as far as the wall. Not only did the telegraph office obtain fees for "sending" messages, but cash-laden victims soon found themselves losing even more money in poker games with new found "friends".

Fact is, telegraph lines did not reach or leave Skagway until 1901.

Soapy opened a saloon named Jeff Smith's Parlor in March 1898, as an office and front from which to run his criminal operations. Although Skagway already had a municipal building, Soapy's saloon became known as "the real city hall."

Skagway was gaining a reputation as a "hell on earth," with many perils for the unwary.

Smith's gang played a variety of roles, such as newspaper reporter or clergyman, with the intention of befriending a new arrival and determining the best way to rid him of his money.

A new arrival would be steered by his "friends" to dishonest shipping companies, hotels, or gambling dens, until he was wiped out. And yes, if the man was likely to make trouble or could not be recruited into the gang, Smith himself would then appear and offer to pay his way back to where he came from.
During that time, the vigilantes remained quiet and small in numbers -- after all, it's hard to buck a guy who's giving so much to the community right.

Remember, this was a guy that didn't miss a trick. For example, during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Smith formed his own volunteer army with the approval of the U.S. War Department. And yes, he supposedly received government funds to help him do so.

Known as the "Skaguay Military Company," with Smith as its Captain. Smith wrote to President William McKinley and gained official recognition for his company. Of course Smith used his "militia" to strengthen his straggle hold on the town.

Yes, on July 4th 1898, Smith even rode as grand marshal of the Fourth Division of the parade leading his army on his gray horse. On the grandstand, believe it or not, the con artist later sat beside the territorial governor and other officials.

But don't be fooled, because not all were happy in Skagway. Victims of the gang's confidence swindles had little to no help getting justice because like most places that have such things going on, the law is usually paid off.

In the case of Skagway, it's said that the deputy United States Marshal was receiving graft from Smith which enabled the gang to operate with little fear of arrest. That, coupled with the already bogged-down legal system in the area, made resolution of crime difficult at best.

Crime was taking its toll and the harsh and lawless environment invited crimes of violence. It is said that some of the criminal violence was not associated with Smith and his bunco gang, but with rival gangs who used the opportunity to blame things on Smith.

Several murders, one after another, in March 1898, coupled with negative newspaper accounts about Skagway's lawless element, aroused fear and concern that the gold rush stampeders might abandon Skagway as an access point to the gold fields.

Skagway was making a name for itself in the same way that Chicago has a name for itself today -- with similar results.  And yes, why go there if you can bypass it since its too dangerous.

Around that time, a vigilance committee calling themselves the "Committee of 101" demanded help from the federal government. When the Federal government proved to be too slow to act, they took matters into their own hands and posted handbills around Skagway ordering Smith and his criminal gang to leave Skagway or face the consequences.

Believe it or not, Smith retaliated by forming his own "law and order committee" made up of crooks and criminals. He claimed his vigilance committee consisted of "317 citizens." And yes, he also had handbills printed up and posted around town warning the vigilantes from attempting to take the law into their own hands.

Tensions escalated and climaxed on July 7th, 1898, after the robbery of a returning miner's gold. Soapy Smith proved that his greed killed the golden goose.

It seems apparent today that Smith's greed couldn't stop him from that act that would turn out to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

It was on July 7th, 1898, John Douglas Stewart arrived in Skagway returning from his claim in the Klondike with a canvas pouch containing $2,600 in gold and $87 in cash. That's roughly $79,000 in 2014 dollars.

Stewart placed his gold in a local store safe and rented a room to wait for passage on an outgoing steamer. But at approximately 10:00 a.m., Stewart was met by John L. "Reverend" Bowers and W. E. "Slim-Jim" Foster, two members of Soapy Smith's gang.

They lured Stewart into the alleyway beside Jeff Smith's Parlor. And yes, once there they were joined by Van B. "Old Man" Triplett who started up a game of three-card monte to swindle Stewart out of his gold.

Stewart lost his $87 in cash, some of which Triplett then offered to return to continue the game. He was then asked to provide evidence that he could pay it back if he lost.

Stewart reported what happened next:

"I told Foster I should hold him for the money, and the old man, Van Triplett, said we acted as if we could not trust him, and gave some of the money back, and then said he would give us a chance to win it all back, so Foster turned the right card and Triplett started to give him the money, but said, ‘Supposing you had bet that in earnest, did you have the money to put up?’ 

Foster said, ‘No,’ and turning to me said, ‘You have the money,’ and I said no, I did not have any money; that he took it all, but he said, ‘You have some dust,’ and wanted me to get it just to show the old man that we had the money in case the bet had been a real one. 

Bowers and I went to Kaufman’s store to get the money and Van Triplett and Foster remained behind. 

We came back with the dust and I unrolled it and showed them the sack, and the old man said he did not know if that was gold, and Bowers said, ‘Open it and show it to him, as he don’t know gold dust when he sees it,’ but I did not open it, and was just about to roll it up again, when Foster grabbed it and handing it to the old man, said, “Git!” and I started to grab the old man when they held me and said if I made a noise it would not be well for me. 

I pulled away from them and started after the old man, but could not see him and then went across the street and asked a party where there was an officer: that I had been robbed of $3,000 by some men over there."

Stewart tried to file a complaint with Deputy US Marshal Sylvester S. Taylor but found it to be absolutely no use because Taylor was on Smith's payroll. Taylor was under Smith's control and informed Stewart that if he kept quiet about the affair that he Taylor would see what he could do to get his money back.

Stewart complained to anyone who would listen, including US Commissioner Sehlbrede stationed in the neighboring town of Dyea.

Soon the citizens learned about robbery, but Smith took to the streets mingling with the residents and merchants -- claiming that no one had been robbed. And yes, just like what politicians do today, Smith put his spin on things and argued that Stewart had lost his gold in a square game but was a "sore loser".

Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., it is said that "at least a dozen men went to Soapy Smith and tried to get him to disavow the robbery and give up the men."

Smith, however, maintained his position and "declined to do anything about the matter," finally stating in exasperation "that if Stewart had not ‘hollered,’ he [Smith] would feel like going out and getting him a piece of the money back."

During the early part of the excitement, Smith partially promised several men, including the newspapers "that if there were no roar made in the papers, the gold would be returned by 4 o’clock that evening, and that his influence would be used to prevent his men from in any way interfering with returning Klondikers in the future."

Smith had said the gold would be returned by 4 pm, but the hour passed with no word. Then when he was told by a Skaguay Newspaper reporter that unless the gold was returned that there would be trouble, Smith is said to have replied, "By God, trouble is what I am looking for."

Arriving in Skaguay, Commissioner Sehlbrede sent for Smith to come to the marshal’s office. And yes. Smith arrived in front of the Commissioner at 6 p.m.

In the presence of the marshal and a Daily Alaskan reporter, Commissioner Sehlbrede demanded that the gold and the men responsible be turned in. But a defiant Smith stuck to his defense that his men who had the money won it in a fair game and they should keep it.

He also said he had a hundred men who would stand behind him and see that they were protected. And no, the threat did not go unnoticed.
The Commissioner  finally told Smith that could not afford to stand up for a gang of thieves, but then Smith screamed, "Well, Judge, declare me in with the thieves. I’ll stay with them!" And with that, Smith is said to have pounded the table with his fist and left the room.

Commissioner Sehlbrede then asked the men present in the room if they would arrest Smith and his whole gang if he issued warrants for their arrest? The reply was unanimous and emphatic in that Smith and every one of his men would be brought in.

Commissioner Sehlbrede added that "he wanted the men alive if possible, but dead if necessary."

While this was going on, two separate vigilante groups, the Merchants Committee and the Citizens Committee began to call for immediate action to rid the town of the criminal element there. The bunco men had to go and they had to put an end to their rein of terror in Skagway.

Several hundred people attended the Citizens Committee meeting at Sylvester Hall. So many so that there were too many for the facility to accommodate.

Because it was rumored that members of the Soap Gang had infiltrated Sylvester Hall in order to cause disruption, another meeting was called to be held at the end of the Skaguay Wharf Improvement Company -- which was  more commonly known as Juneau Wharf.

At the first meeting of the Citizens Committee, Thomas Whitten of the Golden North Hotel had been elected chairman. He appointed four men "to guard the approach to the dock in order that no objectionable characters might be admitted to disturb the deliberations of the meeting."

The four men were Frank H. Reid, Captain Josias Martin Tanner, Jesse Murphy, and John Landers. Tanner, Murphy and Landers were unarmed. Frank Reid, the apparent leader of the four guards, carried a .38 caliber revolver on him.

Frank Reid, a 54-year-old resident of Oregon, had worked as a bartender in the Klondike Saloon, a gambling den under Smith's control. He then became the city engineer and operated lot sales to miners.

Martin Tanner, a 48-year-old Captain of barges and steamers, was from Skagway. After the shootout, Martin Tanner would be appointed as a Deputy US Marshal.

Jesse Murphy was an Irish employee of the newly arrived White Pass & Yukon Railway. As for the last of the four, very little is known about John Landers.

On the evening of July 8th, 1898, about 9 p.m. Soapy Smith was inside Smith's Parlor drinking when William “Bill” Saportas, a reporter for the Daily Alaskan and a member of the Soap Gang came to Smith and gave him a note that read:

"The crowd is angry, if you want to do anything do it quick." signed "S".

Smith stuffed the note into his pocket, grabbed a Winchester Model 1892 .44-40 rifle, and some say he possibly gabbed a Colt Model 1889 New Army .41 caliber double action revolver and headed for the vigilante meeting.

With 6 or 7 of his men following at a distance, he walked west on Holly to State Street and turned south toward the Juneau Wharf 6 blocks away. The wharf extended nearly 1/2 mile into the bay. It was between 15-to-20-feet wide and came straight in over the mud and gravel beach at a height of 10 to 6 feet.

At the wharf entrance, John Landers was talking with another man. About 60 feet down the wharf against the west railing, Josias Tanner and Jesse Murphy stood near one another. Frank Reid stood further down the wharf.  Their job was to identify Soap Gang members and prevent them from entering the meeting then in progress.

It is said that sometime between 9:00 and 9:30 pm, Smith approached the wharf entrance with his rifle over his right shoulder -- its muzzle pointing upwards and to the rear.  At the entrance, he ordered the men who followed him to remain there while he proceeded alone up the center of the wharf.

Approaching Landers and the other man, Smith ordered them off the wharf. Supposedly they obeyed by jumping over the side to the beach about six feet below. And yes Smith continued, passing Tanner and Murphy without addressing them, nor did they offer resistance.

Smith continued towards Reid, who called out, "Halt, you can't go down there."

So here we go! Witnesses claimed Smith argued with Reid for a few seconds swearing at each other. Generally, it is believed that at this point Reid still had his .38 revolver tucked away in his coat out of sight and Smith had his Winchester resting on his shoulder.

What happened next, in those few seconds before gunfire erupted, accounts differ greatly with some accounts claiming that Reid drew his weapon first while others claim Reid did not draw until Smith attempted to shoot him.

It is certain that the two men moved to face each other within a few feet apart. At some point Smith became angry and suddenly swung his rifle off his shoulder and struck Reid with it. Whether Smith intended to shoot Reid at that moment or to club Reid is uncertain, but at that moment Reid raised his left arm to block the fast-approaching barrel.

It struck and cut his arm, but Reid managed to grab the barrel and yank it away from the general direction of his head and press it downward.

The Daily Alaskan wrote that Reid grabbed the rifle barrel without being cut but that during the scuffle Smith pulled it free and hit Reid’s arm as he swung the rifle at Reid again.

Either way, Reid grabbed the rifle barrel with his left hand and pressed it down, with his right he drew his revolver -- if it was not already drawn by then -- and pointed it at Smith. Reid is said to have then pulled the trigger, but the hammer fell on a faulty cartridge. Not a good thing to happen in a gunfight.

Reid then tried to shoot again as Smith jerked his rifle from Reid’s desperate grasp and quickly moved it in the direction of Reid.

Many accounts state that both men fired in near perfect unison. Some stated that it sounded as if one shot had been fired. Then, a moment or two after the first were heard, a number of shots followed, ranging between five and nine according to different testimonies.

The newspaper wrote, "One witness said it looked as if the guns were spitting fire at the same time." 

As reports tell of a total of five entry wounds in the two men, the minimum number of shots fired have to be five. And yes, the exchange occurred quickly.

Reid received a bullet to one leg. Reid fired two more rounds, one grazing Smith’s left arm and the other striking his left thigh above the knee and exiting the other side. Chambering his Winchester, Smith sent another bullet into Reid’s lower abdomen and groin.

Reid fell face down upon the planking, severely wounded. It is not known if Smith remained standing or also had fallen. Seconds after the initial exchange of gunfire Smith’s men began running toward their wounded leader, weapons drawn.

Murphy rushed over to assist Reid and soon got to Smith. He wrestled the Winchester from Smith's hands and turned the rifle towards Smith. And yes, Smith supposedly turned yellow and yelled out his last words, "My God, don’t shoot!"

Murphy pulled the trigger killing him instantly with a bullet to the heart. Then Murphy faced the charging gang members, and raised the rifle toward them and took aim.

Gang member W. H. Jackson pointed his revolver at Tanner, who testified that Jackson was "possibly twenty or thirty feet" away. Tanner was unarmed and could do nothing. But since Jackson probably saw that Murphy was aiming his now dead boss' rifle in his direction, this along with the fast approaching men from the Citizen's Committee  -- who prematurely ended their meeting with the sound of gun fire -- convinced Jackson not fire his pistol at Tanner.

Someone yelled out towards the men who were with Smith, "They have killed Soapy! And if you don’t clear out quick they will kill you too!”

Not wanting to engage in a gun battle in which they were vastly outnumbered, the Smith gang fled. Smith's criminal empire was over and the vigilante leaders took over control and rounded up the Smith Gang.

The US Army stationed in Dyea threatened martial law, but that did not materialize. And yes, for years, credit for killing the crime boss, the man who controlled organized crime in Skagway went to Frank Reid.

Supposedly this led to decades of a mistaken history. Then later as accounts of the second shooter came to light in various books and articles over the decades, when numerous documents and accounts, including those of Murphy and Tanner, clearly show Murphy had in fact shot and killed Smith.
As Smith's gang fled to town, Tanner rushed over to Reid and asked for his pistol which lay under him. Reid replied that he was badly hurt, but he managed to roll off his gun. Except for two empty shells and one unexploded cartridge, it was empty. Reid died from his wounds twelve days later.

Despite the fact that Reid's own reputation was far from untarnished, his funeral was the largest in Skagway's history -- and his gravestone was inscribed with the words: "He gave his life for the honor of Skagway."

A letter from Samuel Steele, the head of the Canadian Mounties at the time, indicates that Jesse Murphy had fired the fatal shot and that Smith died on the spot with a bullet to the heart. It also stated that Smith also received a bullet in his left leg and a severe wound on the left arm by the elbow.

On July 14th, 1898, six days after the gunfight, John Stewart's gold was found by vigilantes searching Smith's stuff.  It was in a trunk located in a shed behind Smith's Parlor. All of the gold minus $600, was there. The three gang members who robbed Stewart all received jail sentences.

Since 1974, some in Skagway, Alaska, celebrate a criminal who robbed and swindled innocent miners and residents out of thousands -- some say millions -- of dollars.

It's true, for some July 8th is the annual Soapy Smith Wake, which is held at the Eagles Hall. This event used to take place at Smith's graveside where visitors were known to drink a lot before going over to the grave of Frank Reid -- to urinate on his grave.

Supposedly, from what I've been told, Soapy Smith supporters have sort of stopped urinating on Frank Reid's grave since the celebration is now held in the downtown area.

For me, while I was in Skagway, Alaska, on September 10th, 2014, just a few weeks ago, I talked to local residents who were not fans of Smith. On the flip side, I found a "Soapy Smith" reenactor who talked pretty highly about the man who was in fact just another criminal getting rich off others. He discribed Smith as "misunderstood," and "a Robin Hood sort of guy who did a lot of good things for Skagway."

Actually I found out a great deal about Soapy Smith while in Skagway. One myth was that Soapy Smith was unarmed when Murphy took his rifle from him and turned it on him. But that is wrong. In fact, Smith carried a concealed weapon in his vest pocket. He carried a small Colt derringer that was found on his person after he was shot dead.

So yes, the spin that his gang tried to pull off by saying that Smith was "unarmed" when shot dead was just another scam. The pistol sits in Skagway's museum with a letter of authenticity from the coroner who found it during his examination of Smith's body.

The mock indignation of his men, all claiming that he was unarmed was not surprising to most in Skagway at the time. Let's be frank here, in the short time he was there, while he was loathed -- he was also feared. And yes, most knew the types of men they were.

Many of who I spoke with know Skagway's history pretty well. Many have traced their ancestry back to the days of the "Stampeders".  And yes, most there are great folks who know and acknowledge the truth about Soapy Smith.

Many know how the people of Skagway celebrated after his death and were happy that he'd been shot dead. Many told me that the local Soapy Smith celebration was actually started by newcomers to Skagway. People who have no idea what kind of man Soapy Smith really was.

One man who I spoke with said that Smith started "soup kitchens, and a "miners fund" and even a "dog rescue program" for displaced sled dogs.

It reminded me of the "soup kitchens" that the notorious gangster Al Capone set up in Chicago while trying to garner an air of respectability there -- when in fact he ruled that city through extortion, intimidation, murder, and payoffs.

Smith used any means to appear respectable to the community. While it is true that Smith donated to numerous charitable causes in town to help with his pretense of looking legitimate and saintly, we have to remember that he was trying to make himself look good while using stolen money to do so.

One Skagway local said that with one hand Smith gave a dollar, while Smith's other hand stole thousands. But frankly, even though the scam has been revealed for years, some are still gullible and see Smith as a "Robin Hood" instead of the notorious crook, swindler, and criminal boss that he was -- even today.

It is sort of amusing to read email from Smith supporters telling me how Smith was "wronged" at the end. They seem to feign indignation while stating that the notorious criminal was "unarmed" and subsequently "murdered" in the end. Yes, even though the evidence says that he was indeed armed.

So why would anyone honor or celebrate the life of a man who was a notorious con artist, a criminal boss, a thieve, a swindler? Who knows. Human nature being what it is, there will always be those who admire a cheat and swindler.

Yes, it is the sorry side of human nature as there will always be people who will sell out and support a crook if it means that they get something in return. And yes, there are those who don't mind selling out -- even if it means selling out to the Devil.

Of course, there are those who understand and live by a different code. While there are those of us who live by a code that says a person should be better than that, and not sell out to temptation, those who lie and cheat and steal could care less. After all, they know that there are plenty of other "suckers" out there for them to prey on.

Soapy Smith was one of the most notorious con men in the history of the Old West, and I find it almost amusing that some people don't like the idea that Smith got the bullet that he had coming to him.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

A picture of the old wharf befoer it was torn down in Skagway at the time of the shooting.

Skagway as I saw it a few weeks ago.
The blue line shows where the wharf used to be.



  1. I pissed on Soapy Smith's grave in July of 1987.

  2. That's funny about the part where you mentioned that people in Skagway would hold "Soapy Smith's Wake" and get drunk so that they could piss on Frank Reid's grave. It's like when Ozzy Osbourne pissed on the Alamo. Epic. As for the death of Soapy Smith, some say he did not die instantly after being shot on July 8, 1898. He took three gunshot wounds to the arm, leg, and heart, with the final one killing him. He was still 37 years old. Interesting fact. Soapy Smith witnessed the death of Sam Bass in his hometown of Round Rock, Texas on July 21, 1878. It was the birthday of Sam Bass. Soapy Smith was still 17 at the time. But still, that's funny. Getting drunk and pissing on people's graves. Not that I would condone it. But still pretty funny.


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