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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

That Fiend in Hell: Soapy Smith as grand marshal of the July 4, 1898 parade.

Soapy on his horse awaiting the parade to commence.
Holly Street, July 4, 1898
Corner of Jeff Smith's Parlor is seen on the far left.

Royal British Columbia Archives Col., James A. Sinclair col. (ZZ-95358)
(Click image to enlarge)

In "That Fiend in Hell," the author addresses how participation of Soapy Smith in the 4th of July parade of 1898 has "become so mythologized that it is almost impossible to cull the fantasy from the fact" (p. 53). However, despite many claims to the contrary, the author states as "fact" that Soapy did not lead the July 4 parade (p. 55).

“That Fiend In Hell,” pages 53-55

Unfortunately, the only known newspaper accounts about the parade that took place in Skagway, Alaska, on July 4, 1898, are the ones published previous to that date. No newspaper accounts about the parade on or after that date are known to exist. However, there are numerous published eyewitness accounts from people who claimed to have seen the parade. Not a single eyewitness account is known to exist that states Soapy was positioned at the rear of the parade. All of them remember seeing Soapy at the head of the parade.

Newspapers prior to July 4, 1898, list Soapy as the marshal of the fourth and last division of the parade, assisted by Skagway pack train owner J. H. Brooks and Soap Gang member William Tener. The fourth division had four parts: the Skaguay Military Company, the Fitzhugh Lee float, the Man of War float, and J. H. Brooks's Pack Train. "Fitzhugh Lee'' was the American bald eagle captured alive outside of Skagway by two men. They brought it to the city and gave it to Soapy in honor of his patriotic efforts in creating the all-volunteer Skaguay Military Company and offering its services to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War. The author of "That Fiend in Hell" writes that the bird was named after a Southern Confederate general (p. 55). Fitzhugh Lee was a general during the Civil War, but Soapy was honoring Lee, the American Consul General based in Havana, Cuba (Alias Soapy Smith p. 520), when the battleship Maine was sunk in February 1898, starting the war.

"Fitzhugh Lee" float awaiting parade to start.
Holly Street, July 4, 1898
The live bald eagle is in the cage.
John Clancy's son dressed as Uncle Sam by the cage.
Jeff Smith's Parlor on the right of photograph.
Flag bearer for the Skaguay Military Company stands behind the wagon.
Royal British Columbia Archives Col., James A. Sinclair col. (ZZ-95360)
(Click image to enlarge)

What follows is how the coming July 4th parade is presented in my book. I share it here to set the stage for how Soapy Smith might have led the parade, at least for a time.
With the approach of the July Fourth holiday, Skaguay was full of excitement. The Commercial Club, consisting of business owners, took early control of planning the celebration and appointed a committee to arrange “for the proper observance and celebration of the Glorious Fourth.” Skaguay would have a parade, of course, and the committee decided it would consist of three divisions and three marshals, with Commercial Club President C. W. Everest as grand marshal. Jeff’s name does not appear as a planner or as being in the parade, but by July 1 his name appears in the plans as marshal of an added forth division. The News published the program.
[1] Grand Marshal, C.W. Everest and aids J.F. Burkhard and A.P. Tony [2] Band [3] Marshal First Division—S.L. Lovell and aids [4] Veterans [5] Children’s Float with Goddess of Liberty [6] News boys [7] Chilkat Indians [8] Grotesque characters [9] Bicyclists [10] Marshal Second Division—C.N. Hanson and aids J.G. Price and Sam Roberts [11] Knights of Pythias [12] Ladies Cavalcade [13] City Brewing Float [14] Gentleman’s Cavalcade [15] Skaguay Brewing Float [16] Floats and displays of Skaguay business and industries [17] Marshal Third Division—F.W. Whiting and aids Messrs. Heney and Wilson [18] Railroad employees [19] Mechanic’s Floats [20] Marshal Fourth Division—Jeff R. Smith and aids Wm. Tener and J.H. Brooks [21] Skaguay Guards and “Fitizhugh Lee” [22] Man of War Float [23] Brooks Pack Train.
The parade will form on Broadway at 1:30 p.m., and after parading the prin- [unreadable line] … front of the city hall where speeches will be delivered by the orators of the day, Messrs. R. W. Jennings, Walter Church, Judge Sehlbrede and Dr. Campbell.
The following sentence is from Sinclair's July 4 diary entry: "Went to wharf to hear programme and was called upon to open with prayer on about 2 minutes' notice" (Royal B.C. Museum, MS 1061; 98002-10, reel 1). Indicated is that the location for the speeches was changed from the place announced in the paper (in front of city hall) to one of the wharfs.

Those who have read the history of Soapy will surely recognize that being listed as marshal of the fourth division and dead last in the parade no doubt sat ill with him. He was well-known as a very patriotic man who always flew American flags from the majority of his businesses in Colorado. Surely, he reasoned, given his success with the May 1 parade, no one knew better how to lead a celebration and stir a crowd than he. The committee had planned the parade, but Soapy planned to make it memorable.

Soapy on horseback, left side of Broadway street.
Brooks Pack Train center
No sign of floats, Skaguay Military Company, etc.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (KLGO-00532)
(Click image to enlarge)

There is one known photograph taken of Soapy (see above) during the parade, and it offers some clues. The author of “That Fiend In Hell” points to this photograph as proof that Soapy did not lead the parade (p. 67), but there is more in that photograph, made conspicuous by their absences, that better offers us clues as to what could have happened that day.

Captain Jefferson Smith was proud of the Skaguay Military Company he commanded and no doubt would want to lead it on his dapple-gray horse. Since formed on March 19, 1898, Soapy had had his military unit drilling, and by June, a newspaper reported that the company continued to drill "every night" (Sitka Alaskan Report 06/01/1898). Newspapers were notified of the following parade sequence in Soapy's division: Soapy, the well-drilled Military Company, the “Fitzhugh Lee” float, consisting of a large wood and wire cage on a wagon decorated with six American flags and traditional tri-colored bunting. John Clancy’s six-year-old son, Frank, dressed as Uncle Sam, riding on the wagon behind the driver. Then the Man of War float, followed by the Brooks Pack Train. However, a considered look at the parade photograph shows something missing—in fact, that quite a bit is missing. The Brooks Pack Train has a sign, but the division marshal is without one. Missing also are the “Fitzhugh Lee” float and the Man of War float, nor is Captain Smith at the lead of his prized Skaguay Military Company. Soapy's history reveals a man who rarely gave up or gave in unless forced to, and even then, not without resistance. The parade committee chosen by Skagway merchants hardly seems a threat to Soapy, so it is likely he had a plan to circumvent its will. A plan so effective and generally pleasing that it remains a part of the annual July 4 parade tradition in Skagway to this day. What was Soapy's strategy? I will explain.

Reverend Sinclair wrote in his diary for July 4 that “Soapy mounted was much in evidence” (Royal B.C. Museum, MS 1061; 98002-10, reel 1). Why would he write that if Soapy just rode alongside Brooks and Tener for the entire parade? The answer is that he wouldn't. The words "much in evidence" imply that Soapy made himself evident in the sense of being noticeable and conspicuous, and showing up in different places. Prominent Skagway citizen Harriet Pullen wrote that Soapy Smith asked her to participate in the parade and that she did. "It was during the parade," she continued,
that I had my second interview with "Soapy" [—]when galloping up and down the line on his white charger, he stopped and thanked me for taking part, then wheeled and headed for another part of the parade. (Alias Soapy Smith p. 522)

Here is what I think could have happened during the parade that day.

Going in one direction, the parade moved down Broadway toward the harbor with Soapy’s contingent at the very rear. Soapy knew that he could not talk the parade committee into changing its line up and getting what he wanted. So instead, he made a parade plan of his own. His fourth division would remain at the end of the parade, but as it was reaching the end of its course, Soapy put his plan into action. He dashed about, up and down the parade, announcing that they should turn about and make another pass back through town. Everyone had worked hard on the floats and costumes and on getting organized, so in the spirit of the 4th of July, the idea of more parading would not have been rejected out of hand. Having announced the proposed about face all along the parade, Soapy turned his horse and galloped back to the end of the parade where the Skaguay Military Company, Fitzhugh Lee, and the Man of War Float were already turned around and waiting for him. Then, with Soapy suddenly at the head of the parade, he led it back up the street before anyone could do anything, but follow. Perhaps some did not follow, such as those at the very front, the grand marshal and the dignitaries, who might have left their mounts and carriages and walked to the program stage as planned. But even if they didn't follow the parade back, nevertheless, Soapy would have led a sizable contingent of his own, presumably with many following.

"Fitzhugh Lee" float during parade.
Broadway, Skagway, Alaska July 4, 1898
John Clancy's son holding onto a board attached to the eagle's cage.
Flag bearer for the Skaguay Military Company stands behind the wagon.

(Click image to enlarge)

This is when Soapy and his company shined as they performed the grand military maneuvers they had been practicing. Always the planner when it came to managing a crowd, Soapy would have had his many friends, supporters, and particularly his "associates" spread among the spectators, boosting enthusiasm and excitement as Soapy would bring his mount to a stop and the military company would perform some sharp maneuver. Then lifting his hat and waving to the crowds to acknowledge their approval, he would lead on, guiding his mount from side to side to present himself. Of course, it is not known what Soapy actually did during the parade. This is just a possible scenario. However it was, Soapy at the head of his Skaguay Military Company must have put on a spectacular show for him to be remembered as the grand marshal of the parade.


The author of “That Fiend In Hell” writes that Governor Brady wrote a letter to his superior, the secretary of interior, about July 4 in Skagway … “noting that the town had far too many bunco artists.” In actuality, Brady's report also mentions Soapy, stating that “Everything is orderly now, but there is a character there now by the sobriquet ‘Soapy Smith’ and he seems to have the gambling element completely under his control.” Brady also expressed the fear that Jeff “might find it convenient to have the [railroad] men strike just after a payday and rush them into the town to help his business” (Alias Soapy Smith p. 523).

With Governor Brady in Skagway that July 4 was his seven-year-old son, Hugh. He later wrote that his father tried to strike a deal with Soapy. If Soapy would give up Skaguay, the governor would make him a deputy marshal at Sitka. Jeff is said to have respectfully declined (Alias Soapy Smith p. 524).
The Skaguay News reported how the Fourth “was a great day for amateur photographers, as every man, horse, mule and float was ‘snapped’ at on every corner….” These picture-takers probably photographed the decorated speakers’ platform as well. Rev. Sinclair is reported to have taken up a good picture-taking position, but photographs of this venue have yet to surface in the present day. Hopefully one day they may (Alias Soapy Smith pp. 522-23).

Children’s’ Float with Goddess of Liberty
Broadway, Skagway, Alaska July 4, 1898

University of Alaska (Fairbanks) Archives (UAF-1976-35-60).
(Click image to enlarge)


Fourth of July parade.
"Bill" Saportas one of the "sure-thing" men.
Could this photo have been taken on the "turn-around" pass of the parade?

(Click image to enlarge)


A portion of the fourth of July . Start of parade.

(Click image to enlarge)