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November 18, 2022

Soapy Smith in Skagway bari2.wp.com/www.geriwalton.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Soapy_Smith_1898c-wiki.jpg?resize=208%2C300&ssl=1 208w” sizes=”(max-width: 626px) 100vw, 626px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ style=”caret-color: rgb(83, 82, 51); color: rgb(165, 163, 108); font-family: Helvetica, Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; text-align: center; box-sizing: border-box; height: auto; max-width: 100%; border: 0px none; vertical-align: middle; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; width: auto;”>

“Pay attention….you could be the lucky man.”
“Who is that speaking.”
“Oh, that’s Sloapy Smith…watch what happens.”
“I am wrapping a $100 dollar bill in one of these  bars of shaving soap.
You ould be the lucky man who gets that $100 … Now I will shuffle
the bars of soap.  Mix Them up.  Try and keep your eyes on the
$100 bar…it could be yours in a moment.”
“For $5…just a fiver.  This is your chance right now.  Who has a five dollar bill
and will get the hundred dollar bill?  Just five dollars.”

“And there is a winner. Your name , sir?  Show everyone the hundred dollar bill.
No tricks….no slieght of hand.   A winner for five dollars,

Now here is how Soapy Smith got the nickname Soapy.  He never let on
that the winner of the soap shuffle was a good friend of his.  The hundred
dollar bill went back into Soapy/s pocket along with all the five dollar
bills he fleeced from the crowd.   Soapy loved to work boom towns…mining
towns for instance…where he was not known.  But he did not worry if he
was known because he always had a gang of ruthless hoodlums on his side.

He was a bunko man.  Had all sorts of ways to get money from innocent but
greedy newcomers.

Soapy needed towns where law and order were absent.  Mining boom towns
always presented good pickings.  Skagway was the perfect place for a bunko
man.  There was no law and order in the gold rush yeas.  Scams were many.
Soapy took slamming seriously.  He gathered a gang of like minded criminals.
Tough guys who welcomed the steamships full of gold seekers each of whom
had a grubstake to get him to the gold fields of the Klondike,

Soapy Smith had no intention of  climbing the Chilkoot Trail.  He had no
intention of beating a horse to death trying to get a ton of food and tools up
the slippery slopes of the mountains behind Skagway.  Why do that
when the gold would eventually be brought back through Skagway where 
he could get it with little effort.


Stories of Soapy Smith vary somwhat but the kernel of truth is present.  For instance
I rely on the excellent article by Gen Walton, published February 28, 1011.

Soapy’s most famous scam was the hidden money in the shaving soap caper.  Some sources
say he hid a hundred dollar bill in the soap wrapper,  Gen Walton says he hid five, ten
and fifty dollar bills.  No matter  All the bars of soap were won by his associates….
his gang members.

He had a whole suitcase full of scams.

1) Sleight of hand scams were favourites because they were easy to set up and paid off immediately. i.e. the soap scam
2) Gambling in all its forms, except no winners. None.
3) fake stock market scams…sold stock of companies that did no exist
4) real estates scams…gold mines with no gold
5) fake watch and diamond auctions
6) rigged poker games
7) Three card monte  (Must find out how to play….see post script)

There is a tendency to regard bunko artists and con men just as non violent thieves stealing money
from greedy customers.  Soapy was violent.  He gathered gangs of violent men around him.  Dealing
with Soapy was no joke.  Before he went north to Skagway he ran a gangland empire in Denver,
Colorago.   The newspaper editor ran an article exposing Soapy’s criminal activities.  How did
Soapy react?  With vicious violence.  For instance:

“Smith did not want his criminal activities highlighted and he hated the News’allegations against him. He decided to get revenge on Arkins (*editor) and took a friend, “Banjo” Parker, with him. The men hid in the shadows and when Arkins emerged from the newspaper building, Smith struck him over the left temple with a loaded cane fracturing his skull and knocking him to the pavement senseless. Smith then pummeled, kicked, and beat Arkins as Parker stood guard and when Smith was finished with “his brutal work,” both men casually walked away.

Soapy Smith History Part 3

Soapy presided over a criminal gang empire before he ever went to Skagway but,once there, he took control of the town.  His gang members greeted newcomers prtetendimg to be journalists  or Christian ministers or
other sal of the earth  people.   Many of the thousands of men arriving in Skagway had money.  At least enough to finance the two thousand pound survival package needed to prove to Canadian officials they could survive in the Canadian wildernes  Soapy and his men fleeced many gold seekers many of whom would never get beyond Skagway.  Violently if necessary.   What did Skagway politicians and police do to stop Soapy?
Not much since Soapy’s men were often the various town officials expected to keep the peace.   For a while Skagway was Soapy’s town.

i1.wp.com/www.geriwalton.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Skagway-js-parlor-1898-wiki.jpg?resize=300%2C210&ssl=1 300w” sizes=”(max-width: 568px) 100vw, 568px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ style=”caret-color: rgb(83, 82, 51); color: rgb(83, 82, 51); font-family: Helvetica, Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; text-align: center; background-color: rgb(247, 247, 247); box-sizing: border-box; height: auto; max-width: 100%; border: 0px none; vertical-align: middle; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; width: auto;”>

Then one day Soapy’s criminal empire collapsed when he confronted a group of indignant citizens calling themselves
the Committee of 101

                 “… on 7 July 1898 John Douglas Stewart, a Klondike miner, returned to Skagway carrying a sack of gold dust valued at $2,700. Three of Smith’s gang members learned of his treasure and convinced him to play three-card monte. Unfortunately, Stewart did, and he lost. When he refused to pay the three men grabbed his sack of gold dust and fled.

Stewart reported the theft and as news broke about the robbery broke in Skagway, city-wide indignation grew. Most citizens believed it was Smith’s gang that had committed the crime. Hubbub over the robbery reached fever pitch the following day and that is when the Committee of 101 demanded that Smith return the gold. He refused and claimed that Stewart had lost fairly. The Salt Lake Herald provided a summary of what happened next:

“Soapy got drunk and went out to fight them all. Arriving at the place where an indignation meeting was being held, Soapy found five men guarding the entrance. He rapped Frank Reid, the city engineer, over the head with a rifle. Reid snapped his pistol at Soapy and Soapy shot him in the groin. Standing on one foot Reid put three bullets into Soapy, killing him instantly.”[5]

Funeral of Frank Ried [sic] on the street of Skagway 1898. - Alaska State  Library-Historical Collections - Alaska's Digital Archives
ABOVE  The funeral for Frank Reid , the man who shot Soapy Smith who was, in turn killed
by Soapy Smith before he died.


Skagway, Alaska - Wikipedia

Skagway Attractions, Shops, & Local Businesses

DATELIE SEPT 15, 1961  When I got off the largely empty train in Skagway …coming from the north…a large cruise ship 
was docking at the south end of town and a great number tourists flooded Skagway.    I had never paid much attention to
the criminal career of Soapy Smith but noticed Skagway’s main street seemed to feature his exploits.   Sort of like Chicago’s 
misplaced glorification of Al Capne.   The drunkenness, and gang centred lawlessness.  All really imaginary 1961…tourist lore.Skagway was
a living movie set for the tourists to enjoy.   Without the toursits the town was quiet…almost empty.  I was lucky.  Skagway had
come alive..   Seemed there were a lot of girls dressed in flouncy 
dresses reminiscent of the dance hall girls of the 1890’s.  There might even have been summer students imitating Soapy Smith
…the bunko side of him.  Nice to be a part of the crowd.  Met quite a few people who thought I was a local resident..   Must have been my
full beard

Red Onion Saloon

“Do you live here in Skagway?”
“Nope, just arrived like you..came down through White Pass on the  train.”
“Where are you heading?”
“To Juneau…..have flight booked to Seattle.”
“How will you get to Juneau?”
“Bus, I guess.”
“No roads out of Skagway except ferry and road north to Anchorage.”
“You must be kidding.”
“Why don’t we smuggle you aboard the cruise ship…good food
and nice cruise.   We could do it….or try.”
“Sorry….got to get to Juneau.  There must be a way.”
“Only the water taxi.”
“Water taxi?”
“Small passenger boat….holds about 10  people tops. Need to reserve.”

Alaska Water Taxis | Quick Access to the Wilderness | ALASKA.ORG

Lucky.  Got a seat on the water taxi.  Quite a thrilling ride south past places where a large glacier was calving 
huge chunks of ancient ice into the channel.   The water taxi got a lot closer to the
glacier than the cruise ship.  Every one on board seemed to take the
trip for granted.  Except for me. So excited but tried to hide it.

Margaret glacier - Picture of Juneau, Alaska - Tripadvisor

I’ve often thought would my life be different if I got smuggled aboard that tourist ship.
If I had done that I would miss all the connections….would arrive in Toronto who
knows when.    I am not sure if I even spent the night in Skagway.  I do remember a feeling
of relief when I paid for the water taxi.  I had to leave Skagway as fast as possible.



Three-card Monte – also known as Find the Lady and Three-card Trick – is a confidence game in which the victims, or “marks”, are tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the “money card” among three face-down playing cards.

Definition:  BUNCO ARTIST   What does bunco mean in police terms?
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The word bunco comes from the Spanish word “banco,” which means bank, and the term is used by law enforcement to describe several criminal swindles. According to the National Association of Bunco Investigators (NABI), these schemes are also called confidence, or con, games.

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