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 day.
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.
The 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
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
|The Soapy Smith Symposium
|Howard Cifford and Jeff Smith
|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.
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.
At 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 death-walk. 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 was.
|The Smith's visit will be remembered
|Skagway City time capsule
The city 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.
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.
in Skagway's frozen dirt, Mister Smith's shade laid his plan,
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,
And feeling 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,
So the 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.
When Heavens Crew Boss heard the news, he came to Soapy's shrine.
"Come on up to heaven," the Crew Boss paid his debt,
And Soapy's soul j'ined all the saved, a'cause
he'd won his bet,
But as Soapy's shade ascended, forever leaving hell,
To shear the lambs in heaven, he brought a pea and three nut shells.