Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Taphophile Tragics

Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II (November 2, 1860 – July 8, 1898) was an American con artist and gangster who had a major hand in the organized criminal operations of Denver, Colorado; Creede, Colorado; and Skagway, Alaska, from 1879 to 1898. He was killed in the famed Shootout on Juneau Wharf. He is perhaps the most famous confidence man of the Old West.

On 7 July 1898, John Douglas Stewart, a returning Klondike miner, came to Skagway with a sack of gold valued at $2,700 ($71,093 in 2009 dollars. Three gang members convinced the miner to participate in a game of three-card monte. When Stewart balked at having to pay his losses, the three men grabbed the sack and ran. The "Committee of 101" demanded that Soapy return the gold, but he refused, claiming that Stewart had lost it "fairly".
On the evening of 8 July 1898, the vigilantes organized a meeting on the Juneau Company wharf. With a Winchester rifle draped over his shoulder, Soapy began an argument with Frank Reid, one of four guards blocking his way to the wharf. A gunfight, known as the Shootout on Juneau Wharf began unexpectedly, and both men were fatally wounded.

Soapy's last words were "My God, don't shoot!" Letters from J. M. Tanner, one of the guards with Reid that night, indicate that another guard fired the fatal shot. Soapy died on the spot with a bullet to the heart. He also received a bullet in his left leg and a severe wound on the left arm by the elbow. Reid died 12 days later with a bullet in his leg and groin area. The three gang members who robbed Stewart received jail sentences.

Soapy Smith was buried several yards outside the city cemetery. Every year on 8 July, wakes are held around the United States in Soapy's honor. His grave and saloon are on most tour itineraries of Skagway.

“He gave his life for the honour of Skagway”

For more taphophilia please visit Julie's Taphophile Tragics.


Sondra said...

A really good Last Frontier story of greed and deed. Its always amazing how "gangsters" make it to the limelight, they still hold wakes in his honor...yet he had very little honor~

Jim said...

Another interesting tale.
Sydney - City and Suburbs

Gemma Wiseman said...

Gangsters do seem to hold their legend over time! Our Ned Kelly has a rather dubious legend, but still it regurgitates over time! Fascinating post!

Peter said...

This is the best! Another great OS graveyard tale.

Joan Elizabeth said...

So Australians are not the only ones who make folk heros of our scoundrels.

Herding Cats said...

What an interesting sorry behind such a small stone. Thanks for sharing.

Julie said...

Why do we do this? Raise up the worst of us, and tear down the best. The 'tall poppy syndrome' works in both directions apparently.

At least the two graves are in line with their station in society.

VioletSky said...

Ah well, I like that Soapy's grave site is 'several yards outside the cemetery'!

Francisca said...

Wakes in honour of a cowardly con-artist? What are they thinking? Good story for TT, though. :-D