Who Was Soapy Smith?

November 2, 1860 - July 8, 1898

Meet Jefferson “Soapy” Smith – Alaska’s most notorious outlaw.

The events depicted in The Days of ’98 Show are taken from the Skagway historical record and center on Soapy Smith’s reign over the town during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and 1898.

So, who was Soapy Smith? Jefferson Randolph Smith was born in Georgia in 1860. Venturing west as a young man, he learned his trade as a con man during the silver and gold rushes of Colorado and eventually made his way to Skagway in the fall of 1897. 

Smith had a wife and family in St. Louis, but he befriended Miss Belle Davenport and her “soiled doves,” Alice and Mollie, in Seattle before heading north. Once in Skagway, he and Colorado cohort “Rev.” John Bowers assembled what was reputed to be the largest band of thieves in North America. Smith’s gang reigned supreme for nine months during which time Skagway was described by Canadian Mountie Sam Steele as “a little better than hell on earth.”

While his men did most of the dirty work, Soapy tried to establish himself as a solid citizen of Skagway, contributing to the building of Skagway’s first church and founding an “Adopt a Dog” program. City surveyor Frank Reid and others saw through Smith’s good deeds and tried to run the con man and his gang out of town. But Smith was able to rally much of the business community around him. Indeed, Soapy was riding high on July 4, 1898 as he rode his white horse up Broadway to stand on the platform with none other than the Governor of Alaska.

Four days later he was a dead man.

Soapy’s gang had robbed a Canadian stampeder named J.D. Stewart of $2,800 in gold dust. Smith stood by his men and refused to give the gold back. Enough was finally enough. Reid’s vigilante Committee of 101 gathered at the Juneau Co. Wharf – as there was no hall in Skagway big enough to contain the justice-seeking mob. Most of Smith’s men ran for the hills, but Soapy grabbed his Winchester and headed for the wharf to break up the meeting.

In The Days of ’98 Show, you’ll get a front row seat to the events leading up to this historic moment. It would prove a showdown for the ages. You don’t want to miss it.