“Soapy Smith’s Last Bluff And Its Fatal Ending”
[By E. J. White]
The Skaguay News, July 8, 1898
Armed With a Winchester He Endeavors to Intimidate a Large Meeting of Indignant
Citizens on the Juneau Wharf
SHOT THROUGH THE HEART BY FRANK REID.
The Jail Nearly Full of Members of “Soapy’s” Gang, and Citizens Armed with
Winchesters Still Rounding Them Up: Brave Frank Reid will Probably Recover.
“Soapy” Smith is dead. Shot through the heart, his cold body lies on a slab at People’s undertaking parlors, and the confidence men and bunco steerers which have had their headquarters here for some time have suddenly taken their departure, the tragic death of their leader having completely unnerved them.
It was at 9:30 last night that the checkered career of “Soapy” Smith was brought to a sudden end by a 38 calibre [sic] bullet from a revolver in the unerring right hand of City Surveyor Frank H. Reid, while the latter lies at the hospital dangerously wounded by a bullet from Smith’s rifle.
The cause which lead up to the trouble which ended Smith’s life, had its origin in in the morning shortly before 10 o’clock when J. D. Stewart, a young man just out from Dawson, was robbed of a sack containing from 12 to 15 pounds of gold. There are conflicting stories as to how the robbery was committed, the accepted version being that Stewart desired to sell his gold, and that one Bowers, a well known member of Smith’s gang, represented to Stewart that he was here for the purpose of buying gold for some big assaying company below. The unsuspecting stranger accompanied Bowers to a point in the rear of Smith’s place on Holly ave., and near the Mondamin hotel, where, it is alleged, two of Bowers’ pals were in waiting, where the three men overpowered Stewart, wrested the sack of gold, containing $2679, from his hands, and disappeared from sight around adjoining buildings, leaving the returned Klondiker as poor as when he started for the land of gold and hardships nearly a year before.
As soon as the news of the bold and daring broad daylight robbery became circulated about the city, there was fire of indignation. People were inexpressibly surprised and shocked that such a flagrant outrage should have been committed in the city. Business men quietly discussed the situation, and , feeling assured that it was Smith’s men who did the job, many of the best and most influential of our citizens went quietly to the leader and informed him that the gold must be returned, and that he and his gang must shake the dust of Skaguay from their feet. During the earlier part of the excitement, Smith partially promised several men, including the writer, that, in case there was no “roar” made in the papers, the gold would be returned by 4 o’clock last evening, and that his influence would be used to prevent his men from in any way interfering with returning Klondikers in the future.
The promise was not kept, however, nor was the gold returned. On the contrary, Smith began to drink heavily and talk in a rash, defiant manner. When told by a News representative that unless the gold was returned there would be trouble last nigh, Smith replied: “By ----, trouble is what I am looking for.” He got it in a way he least expected.
The gold not being returned, public indignation continued to increase until at eight o’clock it had reached fever heat. Cool heads prevailed, however, and no outward demonstrations were made, although there was an ominous look worn by several hundred of men, including the best of Skaguay’s citizens, which plainly said: “Sure thing men must go.” At nine o’clock last night a meeting was started in Sylvester’s hall, but the space being inadequate to accommodate the crowd, an adjournment was taken to the Juneau dock, where, at a point half way to the ware house, a meeting was called to devise ways and means for ridding the city of the lawless element, which for some time has infested it. The meeting was called to order by J. T. Hayne, foreman of the News Office, who suggested the election of a chairman, Thomas Whitten of the Golden North hotel, being chosen. Frank H. Reid, Jesse Murphy, J. M. Tanner and Mr. Landers, to guard the approach to the dock, in order that no objectionable characters might be admitted to disturb the deliberations of the meeting.
It was while this committee of four was stationed at the end of the dock that Jeff Smith appeared carrying a Winchester rifle in his hands. He walked straight up to Reid and with an oath, asked what he was doing there, at the same time striking at him with the barrel of the gun. Reid grabbed the gun in his left hand as it descended, pushing it down towards the ground, and drawing his revolver with his right hand at the same time. When the point of the rifle was close against Ried’s [sic] right groin, Smith pulled the trigger. The ball passed clear through and came out through the lower part of the right hip. At about the same time Reid fired two of three shots in rapid succession, one of which pierced Smith’s heart, another striking one of his legs. Smith also fired a second shot, striking Ried [sic] in the leg. Both men fell at about the same time, “Soapy” Smith stone dead and City Engineer Reid dangerously, perhaps mortally, wounded.
Needless to say, the meeting which was in session down the dock speedily adjourned. The dead and wounded were picked up and brought to town, Smith’s remains being taken to the undertakers and Mr. Reid being carefully carried to Dr. Moore’s office where a number of physicians made a careful examination of his wounds. At first it was thought the wounded man could live but a few hours, but he has since rallied materially and his chances for recovery are now considered very fair, and strong hopes are entertained.
Later in the evening the citizens again convened in meeting, with the result that a thorough organization was effected. It appearing to the citizens that Deputy Marshall [sic] Taylor, by his affiliations with the Smith crown was not the proper man to head an armed body of men, Captain J. M. Tanner was sworn in as deputy marshall [sic] by U.S. Commissioner Sehlbrede, about twenty five others were deputized to assist Captain Tanner. Captain Sperry was placed at the head of the deputies, each of whom carried a Winchester rifle.
All last night the measured tread of the guards could be heard as they patrolled the streets. All the haunts where any of those supposed to be in any way connected with “Soapy’s gang” was liable to be found were visited. But in most cases, the birds had taken warning and fled. However, quite a number were placed under arrest, and are now confined in the city jail, which is closely guarded. It is feared that the three men who robbed Stewart of his sack of fold have escaped to the hills, as did several others of the gang last night, on learning of the deaths of their leader. All the avenues of escape from the city have been closely guarded, and unless the bold highwaymen got out by small boats yesterday, their chances for escape are very small. Every wharf is closely guarded, and detachments of deputies have been sent to Dyea, as well as to Lake Bennett. The entire trail from Skaguay to Bennett is closely watched. Business is practically suspended today. Hundreds of men, the majority of them armed with Winchesters, are congregated on the streets, but the best of order prevails.
Four deputy Marshals, Caswell, Joy, Barney, and another, were sent over the trail to Lake Bennett this morning in search of the notorious three who stole the bag of fold. Joy is an ex-detective, from New York and smart as a whip. Caswell is equally as brave, and when they return it is safe to say that they will render a good account of themselves.
THE DEAD MAN’S FAMILY.
Although there was not a single person in Skaguay who appeared to do honor to the man who yesterday was a popular hero and is to day [sic] but a dead “highwayman”, yet there are those who will deeply mourn his untimely end. Smith received on the last mail photographs of his wife and 6 children, who are living at St. Louis, also loving letters from them. Smith was born at Camilla, Ga., 48 [sic] years ago, and has a brother who is one of editors of the Evening Star, Washington, D.C. He had a large correspondence with leading politicians, and by the last mail received a letter from the Secretary of War declining the tender of the volunteer company which he had organized on account of the cost of transportation, but the secretary accompanied his declination with warm expressions of the government’s appreciation of Mr. Smith’s patriotism.
REID MAY RECOVER.
City Surveyor Reid was taken after the shooting in Dr. Moore’s office, where all the leading medical men of the town called later and tendered their services. These formed a medical council for his treatment and at three o’clock this morning decided to remove the sufferer to the Bishop Rowe Hospital. Three hours later, when Mr. Reid had recovered from the shock incident to his removal, the council made an examination of his wounds.
The sufferer was found to have been shot by a Winchester, 45 caliber, the ball entering two inches above the groin on the right side and making its exit and inch to the right of the point of the spinal column. The ball made a compound comminuted fracture of the pelvic bone, and several fragments of this were removed at the time of the examination.
It needs no words to tell of the agonizing pain of the operation, yet Mr. Reid showed the same Spartan coolness and endurance which he has exhibited since first stuck by the rifle of “Soapy” Smith. Before the doctors begun the examination and operation he asked for a cigar, and this he calmly smoke while the shattered fragment of his anatomy were being removed. The opinion of the medical council is the chances of Mr. Ried’s [sic] recovery are fairly good.
As we go to press Mr. Reid is resting easily, and talking over the stirring events of yesterday with philosophic calmness that excite wonder and admiration.