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The Unterrified


By Catherine Holder Spude

What happens when a True Hero steps out of Nowhere to save the Little Guy, gives his all, then disappears in obscurity with no one but another True Hero to recognize his worth?

A Legend is born.

This Legend’s time is Come.

In January 1898, Chris Shea goes to the Far North to dig for gold. He makes it as far as Skagway, Alaska, where he tends bar, plays baseball, and jokes with the men. He pours their drinks, collects their dimes, stops their fights and laughs at their high jinks. When they need someone they can depend on, he stands at their front, speaking loud and clear whatever message they tell him needs to be said.

Without hardly thinking about it, Shea, a skinny Irishman with a gift for politics, charms Skagway’s working class men and alienates the conservative businessmen and the biggest business in town: the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. Chris overthrows City Hall and forces out the most powerful man in Skagway, John Troy, editor of the daily newspaper. The Juneau newspapers call him “King of Skagway.”

In a well-coordinated backlash, the middle class businessmen bent on regaining political power, the corporate owners of the White Pass railroad, and moral reformers ashamed of a saloon-owner mayor join forces to bring the King to his knees.

And not even Si Tanner, the man who truly owns Skagway, the man who bought and paid for her with his soul in the days that he hunted down the Soapy Smith gang can
save him.



The Unterrified

is due to be published as

Book Two in

The Si Tanner Chronicles,

by Lynn Canal Publishing in 2012

Send comments to Catherine at






THURSDAY, MARCH 14, 1899. Chris Shea cursed when he looked at the flier Gus Fowler shoved into his hands. “Quit this camp. By order of the Alaskan Confederation of Labor.”

“What is it?” his best pal, Billy Blackmer, asked.

Chris handed him the single sheet of paper and glanced at Harry. “Go get Marshal Si Tanner. Mike Heney will try to handle this himself and someone will get killed. I’d rather it not be us.”

Billy scowled and passed the flier on to Harry. After reading it, the stocky longshoreman stuffed the sheet into his pocket and started running for town.

“Clear the boys out of the camp, as quick as you can,” Chris ordered Billy. “Don’t let labor leaders Bob White and his men near the workers. If they don’t get the fliers, they won’t panic.”

“What do I tell them?” Billy wanted to know.

“Um…” Chris squinted his blue eyes, taking off his hat and wiping the perspiration off the broad forehead under his curly brown hair. Funny how a man can get all sweated up in ten degree weather.  He scratched the day-old stubble on his well-defined jaw. “I know. Tanner just reopened the saloons. Free beer at the Pack Train in celebration,” the skinny Irishman suggested, as he loosened the top couple of buttons of his dark wool overcoat.

“Who’s gonna’ pay for that? You?” his pal demanded

“Open the saloons! I’ve never heard of anything so preposterous, young man!”

Chris spun around on his heels and came nose to nose with a pudgy, red-faced bloke in a dress coat, his shoes entirely inappropriate for the four inches of snow that covered Skagway’s street, and his hatless head no doubt contributing to the violent shivering that had seized the man.

“Hell, the saloon’s are closed,” Chris addressed both Billy and the stranger. “But telling the men that they’re open will get them outa’ camp and back into town. They’ll ignore White and his rowdies on their way south for the beer. If I can avoid some death, sure, I’ll pay for it.”

“Who’s gonna’ stop the riot in Skagway when they find out the bars are still shut down?” Billy argued.

“You cannot open the saloons. It’s a sin. The men need to learn to live without them,” the pious stranger squeaked.

Chris ignored him. He replied to Billy. “The U.S. Army’s across the street at the Astoria Hotel, isn’t it?”

“Twenty-four soldiers are gonna’ stop two hundred thirsty construction workers?” Billy scoffed.

“Tanner closed the saloons only two days ago. They’re not thirsty enough to take on the U.S. Army,” Chris pointed out. “Don’t argue. Just do it.” He slapped his buddy on the back as Billy headed over to the area where Fowler had disappeared among the workers’ tents.

Chris turned to head up the road toward the railroad shops and ran headlong into the temperance man.

“I will not let you reopen those saloons,” he shouted at Chris.

“I didn’t say I was going to, Mr. – ?”

“Malmont. Harris Malmont.”

“Mr. Malmont. I’d like to stop a killing or two. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be happy to discuss the iniquity of the saloons at another time.” He slipped passed the flushed, spluttering man and headed towards the rail yards.

Chris could hear the screech of a locomotive engine being moved onto a spur, an unusual occurrence this late in the evening. Michael Heney, the construction supervisor on the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, must be using the engine headlights as arena lamps. He’s setting up the location for the final confrontation, Chris thought. I wonder if he knows it will be about three to thirty.

Luke McGrath, one of the laborers on the construction crew, ran up to Chris.

“The union boys are going through our tents, throwing our stuff out on the ground. They’re burning one of ‘em up. What’re we gonna’ do, Chris?”

“Tell the men the drinks are on the house at the Pack Train. I’ll go stop the burning.” Chris slapped the boomer on the back and took off for the camp. Damn it. This was getting out of hand.

When he got to Camp One, he found that only one tent had been burned, the cook tent. Chris bet no one had set it afire on purpose. A dozen men stood around with buckets of water, dousing the cold embers. Much of the canvas still sagged on the remaining poles.

“Grease fire,” Cookie Johnson admitted as Chris walked up.

“Thought so.”

He cast a rapid eye around the camp and caught sight of Bob White standing near the center, gesturing towards the outlying edges of the encampment.

“Just the fella’ I want to talk to,” Chris said as he turned that direction.

“White,” he greeted the man who had started this walk-out two weeks earlier.

“Shea, isn’t it?” Bob White smiled with a charisma usually reserved for mayoral candidates in mid-sized cities. He reached out a hand to shake Chris’s.

“Yeah. Cold tonight, Boys.” Chris observed, looking around at the crowd that had gathered. “Heard the Pack Train just reopened. Free beer to celebrate the end of the strike.”

A cheer went up, just like Chris wanted. White glared at him as the men on the edges of the crowd started to move off towards town.

“Shea’s lying. There’s no deal yet. I wouldn’t be out here if there was,” he shouted above the noise.

“I suggest you go talk to Mr. Heney about this, White,” Chris told him. “White Pass hasn’t needed any of us for the past two weeks anyway. You know that, I know that, every single one of these men knows that. Heney’s been delighted that you took all of us off his hands. No payroll for two weeks while the blizzards raged over the pass. Now the weather’s turning good again, and well, he’s thinking he might be ready to hire us all back. So now’s your chance. Why do you think he made Tanner close the saloons two days ago?” The crowd around him began to mutter. “Yeah. To force us back to work, that’s why.”

Chris made a slow circuit around the labor leader, letting his eyes rove over the mob, but watching White with his peripheral vision. “I had a talk with Mr. Tanner, our U.S. Deputy Marshal. He told me that Judge Sehlbrede has ordered White Pass to ante up the missing payroll from the two weeks before that. We have Mike Heney, our general superintendent, by the balls. He has no other source of labor, his investors are about to back out on him, and the weather has hurt him. He’s got to give us that extra five cents more an hour. All you, as our labor organizer, have to do is walk over to those two locomotives, shake his hand and start talking. Forget trashing the men’s tents.”

“They’re going back to work, Shea. I can’t let them do that.”

“Listen, White. You call off your toughs, I’ll talk to the men about holding out a couple more days while you negotiate a fair deal.”

The labor leader stared at Chris for a good fifteen seconds. His eyes flicked off to Fowler and Vince Johnson, the two men who acted as his seconds. He nodded curtly and jerked his head off towards the railroad yards.

“Alright. We’ll try it your way, Shea. But if it doesn’t work, I’m burning tents.”

He stomped off in the direction of the steam locomotives.

“You sure this is gonna’ work, Chris?” Billy asked from behind him.

“I’m never sure of anything,” Chris admitted, drawing the collar of his navy wool coat up around his ears. The broad brim of his felted hat kept the snow out of his steely blue eyes, and fit well enough that the wind didn’t snatch it off his head. He was fond of that hat and wanted to keep it, much as the notorious Skagway wind kept trying to haul it away from him.

Chris and Billy followed White’s group of men by enough distance that no one would associate the two of them with the hard-core trouble-makers. They had to see what happened. Chris knew he couldn’t miss this. But he sure wanted Tanner here, and soon. Nothing good could happen without U.S. Deputy Marshal Si Tanner.

So far, the deputy had been one of the main reasons this strike hadn’t gotten out of hand earlier, Tanner and the Reverend Sinclair. The men had walked off the job on February 28, just as one of the biggest blizzards anyone around had ever seen hit up on White Pass. Two hundred men had moved into the newly built Presbyterian Church, proceeding to call it “Strike Headquarters,” much to the good reverend’s dismay. After seeing that each striker had a place to lie down and sleep, Sinclair had trotted down to the marshal’s office to check out the allegations.

And Si had followed up with impeccable investigations. Chris was only one of the men he’d talked to. Yes, the workers had not been paid for over a month. Yes, some men had died during construction work, but not the dozens the organizers claimed, only a handful, and those due to their own negligence. Chris told Tanner he’d seen one of the reputed victims get stabbed in a barroom brawl and another in a fight over one of the girls in Paradise Alley. It was not Mike Heney who ordered that the men’s bodies be left under that locomotive engine-sized boulder after the big slide, but the U.S. Commissioner, Judge Sehlbrede.

But Chris did point out that Heney was so anxious to get that railroad built that he pushed the men past their endurance time after time, and exhausted men made mistakes. Shorter shifts, down to ten hours a day, would mean fewer accidents, and the railroad would get built in the same amount of time, but with the same men, not so much turn-over. It seemed a reasonable thing to ask. That, their back pay, and a five cent an hour pay raise, and that’s all they wanted.

And that’s what Tanner told the Reverend.

That’s what Sinclair told Heney and the White Pass investors.

That’s what they’d all been sitting on for two weeks now, waiting for the blizzards to end. Rumor had it that someone pulled some strings somewhere back east and got a Senator to call the Secretary of War, who ordered Captain R. T. Yeatman of Company B, 14th Infantry, stationed at Camp Dyea, to go to Skagway and end the strike. Yeatman took two dozen soldiers and ordered Deputy Marshal Si Tanner to close the saloons, thinking that would solve the problem.

Well, it had brought things to a head. Without a place to hang out, a few of the men had indeed gone back to work. That’s why Bob White and his thirty-some thugs had taken to breaking up the camp, trying to scare the workers back to the strike line.

Chris could see the crowd of men silhouetted against the golden bank of steam lit up by the headlamps of the two locomotives, their engines throbbing at idle on the two spur tracks off the main line here in the rail yards at the north end of Skagway. He worked his way over to the closest engine, shadowed by Billy. They squeezed past the men on the edge of the crowd. No one stopped them.

All conversation had died by the time they made it to the front of the crowd. White and Fowler wearing ball caps, and Johnson in a brown tamoshanter and thick muffler stood a few feet in front of the others, all packed together in a wide half circle. Confronting them, their backs to the two locomotives, stood three lone men, all yielding Winchester rifles. As far as Chris could tell, none of the union men had a weapon on them. Made a bit of a stand-off, then, didn’t it?

Everything came to a stand-still, like one of those staged tableaus Chris had seen in San Francisco, when actors posed like a famous painting or recreated what they imagined a moment of history may have looked like. No one moved.

Then Bob White stepped forward. Chris took a quick lungful of air when he saw the broad-shouldered Englishman draw a revolver out of his belt.

Dr. Fenton B. Whiting, the man who had extracted a bullet out of the body of the notorious con man, Soapy Smith, stepped forward to meet him.

“Don’t do it, White!” Chris shouted.

The labor leader glanced over his shoulder towards Chris with a sneer of derision on his face. Whiting whipped up his rifle, spun it around once, grabbed it by the barrel, lifted it high over his head, and brought it crashing down on Bob White’s back. The tall, brawny man crumpled to the ground as the stock broke in two.

The crowd of over thirty fired-up union thugs raised a cry of protest as Mike Heney and section boss Walter Middaugh raised their Winchesters to their shoulders and sighted down the barrels.

“Stand down, men!” Chris yelled again, rushing out in front of them, hands in the air. He wanted to scream with frustration as his slight, five-foot, eight-inch frame disappeared below the top of the crowd. He knew the men in the back would never see or hear him. He headed for Fowler and Johnson, suspecting the two men were his only chance at stopping the crowd.

Then the sound of a gunshot split the air. The mob hesitated. Another shot. Chris looked to the front of the locomotive opposite him and saw a tall, derby-topped figure standing on top of the pilot.

“I really don’t want to shoot anyone,” Si Tanner boomed through a megaphone. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t. I suggest you all just sort of disappear before anyone else gets hurt.”

Men had already started melting into the darkness at the edge of the crowd. Dr. Whiting dropped his shattered rifle and sank to his knees beside the crumpled union leader. A dozen armed deputies slipped out between the locomotives, ringing the two men on the ground, watching as the mob dissolved.

Johnson glared at Chris from under that oversized tamoshanter. “You’re gonna’ pay for this, Shea.” Then he melted into the steam.

Chris stared after the man, and then decided to let it go. He turned and grabbed Billy. “Go find Harry and make sure he’s not getting beat to a pulp for telling lies about saloons being open.”

“So you’re the one that started that story,” Tanner growled in Chris’ ear.

Chris turned with a jerk.

“I had to get them out of the camp, Marshal. We were gonna’ have a slaughter on our hands,” he started to explain.

“Smart man. Soon as Harry came by and told me what you’d done, I sent a runner off to the Pack Train’s owner, George Rice, telling him to open up. You, however, are buying the first round.”

Chris grimaced.

“Harris Malmont is not going to be happy about that.”

“Malmont? Why? You owe him some money?”

Chris laughed. “No. But I bet that teetotaler won’t leave me alone for a very long time.”

Si simply chuckled. Chances are he knew the man. The expression on his face indicated he didn’t doubt Chris’ assessment of the situation. He clapped the young man on the back, and then stalked over to where Dr. Fenton was taping up Bob White’s ribs.

Chris glanced over at Billy. The two of them grinned at one another. Billy whooped. “Last one to the Pack Train’s a girl.”

“Not fair!” Chris yelled at his departing pal as he scrambled to catch up. Billy was a head taller, all of it legs. He’d have to split the tab with Billy and Harry. Jeez, there goes our five cent raise, he thought. How do I get myself into these fixes?

If you enjoyed this excerpt, click on Aces and Eights for another chapter from The Unterrified.

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