Artwork depicting the "Gunfight on Juneau Wharf" was being produced
as early as 1901 to accompany stories written about the death of Soapy Smith. The early artists and up into the 1990s could
only rely on contemporary accounts of what actually took place the night of July 8, 1898. It was not until 2006 that the first
known artwork was produced that depicted accurately the shooting of Soapy by vigilante guard Jesse Murphy. Below are
some of the known examples.
THE END OF SOAPY SMITH
by Andy Thomas
The End of Soapy Smith - Skagway, Alaska by Andy Thomas
is the most authentic portrayal of the Shootout.
The earliest known rendition
of the Gunfight on Juneau Wharf comes from the San Francisco Call, July 24, 1898, just 16 days after Soapy Smith's
drawing by H. M. Eaton, was published in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly magazine, January, 1901 to accompany
a story entitled, The Reign of Soapy Smith.
This 1932 drawing was done by artist, James Lynch an artist for the Rocky Mountain News.
Photo by Andrew Cremata, The Skagway News
of a gold rush era building in October 2007 uncovered a mural that had been painted on a wall in 1951. After paneling
was removed from the walls of Moe’s Frontier Bar, a mural by Bea O’Daniel (now Lingle) completed in May 1951 was
revealed. The entire painted mural stretches around the perimeter of the main bar room and includes a detailed panoramic
scene of Skagway from 1898 - 1900 with separate pieces showing gold seekers ascending the Chilkoot Trail’s Golden
Staircase and a Canadian Mountie on horseback atop a mountain. The above portion shows the Soapy Smith/Frank Reid gunfight.
The scene in the painting is a little
confusing. First mistake made by the artist is the name of the dock being Sylvester's Wharf. It should read Juneau Company
Wharf if anything at all. There is a man laying face down on the wharf planking dressed in black. It is assumed that this
is Soapy, but he is closer to the end edge of the wharf rather than on the other side of the crowd closer to
where he entered from. There is a question as to which one is Frank Reid. A brown bearded appears to be falling backward and
possibly dropping a pistol. This man may represent Frank Reid, but Soapy and this man should be in the opposite places.
There are twenty other men in the painting and just who they are is confusing. Some are probably members of the Soap Gang
and two appear to be running towards their fallen leader. Others are running apparently towards the oncoming gang
members in order to stop them. The rest of the painted figures are mostly facing forward which makes it impossible
to tell who is on which side. Standing directly in the middle dress in black and a huge black handle-bar mustache appears
to be a center piece of the painting. He also appears to have one arm being held by a man behind him and to his right. Soapy's
rifle is not to be seen. Perhaps the man just over him running towards the gang with a rifle in his hand might be Jesse Murphy
who had picked up Soapy's rifle and shot Soapy with it. It is not known if the artist painted Murphy as the killer.
mural was covered up in the late 1960s or early 1970s. There are currently no plans to salvage it.
Soapy confronts Frank Reid
This painting by Stan Galli was illustrated in the August 1958 issue of True magazine
for an article entitled Showdown for a Conman. It is the most colorful and dramatic example of the seconds preceding
the gunfight. Gang members peek over freight and crates from a distance. Realistically the painting is too dark for July
8, 9:15 pm., Skagway, Alaska.
Drawing from the Winnipeg Free Press, May
9, 1964, Life & Death of Skagway's Soapy Smith. A very good likeness of Soapy, minus the boots. Soapy wore
business-attire shoes. Water front stores were non-existent. The artist should have made less open space between
Soapy and Reid.
Drawing by Rudy J. Ripley for the Mike Miller's
Soapy, 1970. Nice drawing but Soapy and Frank Reid are to far apart from one another. At the start of the fight Reid
's left hand was so close he was holding the end of Soapy's rifle barrel when he was shot.
One of the least authentic renditions comes from the 1978 Reader's Digest condensed
book, Tara Kane. The illustrator, Guy Deel, made numerous mistakes, such as Frank Reid having the rifle rather than
Soapy and the distance between the two combatants being much too far apart. The fight location in this piece shows Smith and
Reid in the middle of a busy street rather than a wharf.
courtesy of Look & Learn Magazine
A nice rendition by artist Graham Coton for an
article on Soapy Smith in the February 23, 1980 edition of England’s Look and Learn magazine. Another version that appears to be taking place on a town street rather than a wharf.
A Skagway artists rendition of Soapy Smith on
Juneau Company Wharf moments before he confronts Frank Reid. There are too many townspeople in the piece. Soapy appears
to be wearing a string-tie, which went out of style in the 1860s and it looks like he is wearing cowboy boots as opposed to
civilian business shoes that he was known to wear. The Winchester should be draped over his right shoulder but whose to say
it was on his shoulder the whole time.
This particular copy proudly hangs in the Magic Castle where one of the annual Soapy Smith wakes take
Courtesy of John Culligan
PaintShop piece comes from John "Grub" Culligan, the Trust's Historical Weapons Analyst. Made in 2008 it is
one of the very first depictions and the first published piece that shows Jesse Murphy shooting and killing Soapy Smith
rather than Frank Reid being the only shooter.
reenactment of Soapy Smith's demise comes from Cyrano's Theater Company in Anchorage, Alaska for their play, The Ballad of Soapy Smith, the Michael Weller play. The original cast performed their parts
as promised, even though it took place during a snow storm. It was filmed on February 28, 2009 for Gold Rush Day during the
cities annual Fur Rondy event.
Andy Thomas' The End of Soapy Smith is without a doubt the most authentic portrayal
of the shootout on Juneau Wharf made to date. The reason for this is that he and Alias Soapy Smith author
Jeff Smith combined their talents. Jeff and Andy examined all of Jeff's historical information including the hundreds
of period photographs giving Andy everything he needed to paint the perfect rendition, right down to the correct amount of
light in the sky and boards on the wharf. More details of the research and a look at the details in the photograph can be
WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?
read Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel