Crime does pay, and well.
Until you part grizzled Klondike
Miner from his gold.
Jefferson ‘Soapy’ Smith was killed at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf in Skagway, Alaska 120 years ago today.
Ol’ Soapy was a con artist and crime lord, so nicknamed for his most famous scam, the ‘prize soap racket’. He and his confederates would pick a busy street, armed with soap. He would advertise the wonders of the soap. He then, as all watched, begin wrapping up dollar bills with selected soap cakes, ‘hide’ them in the pile, and pump up sales with this apparent contest. His men would get the winning soap and act surprised and delighted at their luck.
Naturally, this lead to the founding of criminal empires in Colorado, buying off police and politicians, committing voter fraud, and continuing with a vast array of swindles. He eventually left the state after his attempted murder of a saloon manager. After a quick trip down south to trick the Mexican president, he decided the climate and gold of Alaska appealed to him more.
Once up in Skagway, he decided it was time to set up another criminal empire, much the same as the previous ones, but with exciting new schemes! This included running a telegraph office three years before a line was run to Skagway. A vigilance committee was formed to fight him; Soapy formed another vigilance committee to fight THEM. But his glorious reign was cut short after only half a year when he parted John Douglas Stewart from his gold after another shifty poker game. Stewart wouldn’t pay. Soapy’s gang took the money and ran. Stewart went to the vigilance committee. And tensions rose.
Thus the shootout. Soapy was supposedly shot through the heart by guard Frank Reid, who also died. (Another guard may have fired the bullet, but they gave the credit to the dead guy to avoid trouble.)
Then he became a folk hero, gaining a wholly undeserved reputation as an American Robin Hood. Goddamn.