1997 - 1998
Klondike Gold Rush
The Demise of Soapy Smith
|The proud Smith family in Skagway, Alaska
year 1998 was a big one for the Smith family. It marked the centennial of Soapy Smith’s demise. Those that could make
it met in Skagway, Alaska during the first week in July. It was a wonderful family reunion as well. Jacqueline Smith, the
last remaining granddaughter of Soapy made the journey as well as several great-grandchildren. The festivities for the family
began on July 4 with the annual Fourth of July parade, a huge tradition in Skagway since Soapy led the very first one as grand-marshal
in 1898. This years announced grand-marshal's were two members of the Frank H. Reid family. Even after 100 years of water
passing under the bridge the members of the Smith and Reid families seemed to have little interest in meeting one another.
|Ashley Smith with the Reid family
Jeff Smith and his daughter, Ashley cautiously approached the antique automobile
awaiting the start of the parade that contained two members of the Reid descendants. Jeff had coached Ashley to start the
first communication and thus became the first Smith family member to speak with the Reid family in 100 years almost to the
planned route of the parade was to proceed north on Broadway and then make a u-turn and head back down south again
as it had for many decades. Where else in the world can you watch the same parade go by twice? As announced, the Reid's
were to be the grand marshal's. The Smith's were supposed to be content with walking directly behind the Reid car.
The Smith's are never content.
We Smith's like
to keep traditions intact. In 1898 the Skagway Commercial Club tried to control the fourth of July celebration and parade.
They appointed Soapy as grand marshal of the 5th division, some ways behind their grand marshal. During the start of the parade
Soapy managed to split the parade up and when it joined together again he had become the new head of the parade riding proudly
up front on his horse.
One hundred years later would be no different. The Smith family was not
going to let the Reid family have the front position as we felt it belonged to us. By the middle of the parade members of
the family had commandeered an antique vehicle and made our way to the front of the procession where we belonged. That was
the last time we saw the Reid’s.
|Jeff & Ashley Smith at Soapy's grave
|Jeff & Ashley in front of Jeff Smith's Parlor
July 8th was perhaps the most important day for the Smith's in 1998. The owner
at the time decorated Jeff Smith's Parlor in black. It was very fitting for the day.
cemetery was off limits at sundown as Wakes held there were banned several years prior, due to a tradition started in 1974
at the very first Wake. Jeff's father Randolph, with the help of several locals, started a horrid tradition known
as "the sprinkling of Frank." After paying respects to Soapy party goers would wander over to Frank Reid's
grave and pay their respect to him in a different manner. In 1998 there was great concern that the Smith family would
venture up to the cemetery after sunset and continue the tradition. We were warned that we were being watched,
however, nothing was said about going up in the daylight hours. We secretly made our way to the old grave-yard and held
our own private ceremony for family members only.
|The Soapy Smith Symposium
|Howard Cifford and Jeff Smith
Later in the afternoon the family attended a symposium on the death
of Soapy Smith. It was held in the Days of 98 show theater. The building had originally been built with a large portion
of the Mondimin Hotel added on. The Mondimin was were Soapy lived while in Skagway. The symposium panel included
Skagway News owner, Jeff Brady, a historian in his own right. Author, historian, Howard
Clifford and author, historian and Soapy Smith descendant, Jeff Smith. Jeff Brady acted as moderator. Those
in attendance were welcome to ask questions and add their own observations and comments. The main focus of the panel was on
the death of Soapy but it quickly became a question of "Who shot Soapy." It became a lively discussion
that could only conclude with an agreement that Frank Reid was not the only shooter on July 8, 1898.
|Jim Smith, Ashley, Annie Brady & Jeff at the memorial
Soon after the symposium preparations began for the evening reenactment of the Gunfight on
Juneau Company Wharf. Ashley and I hung around the staging area of the Eagles Hall as Jeff Brady and Jim Richards prepared
for the shoot-out. Brady was dressed the part of Soapy and Richards, who usually plays Soapy, was Frank Reid on this evening.
We waited there until 9:00 p.m. as I wanted Ashley and I to walk the same path as Soapy did exactly a century earlier.
the opposite end of town people were beginning to gather at the corner of State and First streets where a plaque had
been secured to a huge boulder marking the entry way to the wharf and commemorating where the gunfight took place. The plaque
was under wraps waiting for the official unveiling ceremony to take place after the reenactment.
approximately 9:15 p.m. Brady, complete with rifle in hand, Ashley and I began the trek towards State street. The side streets
were empty and the evening was quiet, which only added to the eerie feeling already congregated in my mind. Not a soul was
out. Brady was walking at a brisk pace but I managed to run ahead and snap photos of the deathwalk. At State we turned
left and made our way towards First. As we approached our destination I was surprised to see around one hundred people gathered
for the event. The moment we came for had arrived. Unfortunately, the crowd quickly gathered around Brady and Richards
and before I knew it the gunfight was over. Those in history who witnessed a glimpse of the original gunfight in
1898 stated that it all happened so fast. I can honestly make the same statement as the one I witnesses occurred
so quickly that I could not get off a single photograph. The most important photograph to me is the one with Ashley walking
alongside Jeff Brady.
|wrong wharf name
|Plaque commemorating the gunfight
|a mirror effect
|Jim "Soapy" Richards and Jeff Smith
After the reenactment and unveiling, everyone went
back to the Days of '98 theater and Eagles Hall where the 24th annual Soapy Smith Wake was being held. What a night that
|The Smith's visit will be remembered
|Skagway City time capsule
of Skagway asked Jeff Smith if the family had a small item that we might want to add to a time capsule the city of Skagway
was putting together. Jeff had the perfect item. He had purchased several postcards of Soapy on his horse taken in July of
1898 and had them postmarked on July 8. Jeff had also stamped them with a custom ink stamper made for the Soapy Smith
centennial. Jeff had all the attending Smith family members sign one of the postcards and gave it to the capsule committee which
placed it inside the container on July 3, 1999. The capsule will be opened again on July 4, 2099.
Alaska flew the wrong flag
On the morning of July 4, 1998 Jeff and Ashley
Smith went to Soapy's grave site and decorated the surrounding fence with red, white and blue bunting. Soapy was a very
patriotic man so as a final touch Jeff draped a reproduction 45 star US flag on the fence, the same flag that flew over Skagway
in 1898. The rest of the Smith family appreciated the gesture.
A week after Jeff and Ashley returned home to
California from their trip, the Skagway News reported that the flag flying over the Alaska State Coast Guard building
in Skagway had been stolen. The following day, the flag was reported as "found draped on Soapy's grave." The
flag was taken back to the state building and hoisted up the state flag pole. It is not known how long it flew there before
it was discovered to be a 45 star flag, the same flag that Jeff and his daughter had draped over Soapy's grave. The best
part of this story is that Alaska was the 49th state admitted to the union, therefore the flag they had flying over their
office did not have Alaska's star sewn on.
Ed Parrish, a poet, who has since become a member of the Friends of Soapy Smith, heard
about the incident which inspired him to write a poem about the affair. We proudly showcase, Soapy's Salvation.
by Ed Parrish
A century beneath the turf, all frozen in the sod,
Soapy won another wager. This one he made with God.
Who said his grifting days were done - and bet salvation on it,
So the sporting king got right to work,
and don't you know he won it!
Heaven's Crew Boss laid the rules and told ol' Soapy's soul,
All Alaska was his mark, but he couldn't leave his hole.
There up in
Skagway's frozen dirt, Mister Smith's shade laid his plan,
Which hinged upon his great grandson, another grifting man.
July the Fourth,
the hundredth year, young Jeff Smith and his daughter,
Laid bunting on great-gran'paws
grave. And as he knew they ought'a,
Jeff made sure
the flag they draped was an accurate imitation,
Of the flag they'd flown at Soapy's wake - before Alaska
joined the nation.
Forty-five stars blazing white stood in the field of blue,
just a reproduction, it was historically true,
good about their great progenitor of yore,
Jeff and his daughter
left the grave looking better than before.
Next day, old glory disappeared, it vanished
from the pole,
At the Alaska Coast Guard Headquarters, from which it had been
And someone said the missing flag was on ol' Soapy's tomb,
Coast Guard got their flag back, or so they did presume.
They flew that flag
for several weeks. The breezes blew it proud,
And the whole while
Soapy's frozen ghost was a' laughing in his shroud.
For five stars
were missing from the flag, one star, Alaska's sign.
Crew Boss heard the news, he came to Soapy's
"Come on up to heaven,"
the Crew Boss paid his debt,
soul j'ined all the saved, a'cause he'd won his bet,
Soapy's shade ascended, forever leaving hell,
the lambs in heaven, he brought a pea and three nut shells.