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SOAPY SMITH, GOOD AND BAD.


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Washington Post / August 14, 1898

Odd Traits of the Gambler Who Was Killed in Skaguay.

From the San Francisco Examiner.

A man of contradictory characteristics was Jefferson Randolph (“Soapy”) Smith, who perished in his boots the other day while attempting to maintain his self-conferred director generalship of Skaguay’s destinies.

“Soapy’s” power as a leader of ruffians was attained through his ability to accurately measure men at a glance and to adapt his method to meet any exigency. Sincere only in his basic purpose to scare or cajole, he could assume at will the reckless bravado of the frontier bully or the subtle finesse of the business strategist, and clothe either role with convincing semblance of sincerity. None of his fellows in crime on the Alaskan trails possessed this command of mood and readiness to utilize it. Among them were men who could successfully lead a gang of thugs on a raiding expedition, and there were others who had acquired a reputation as shrewd confidence operators. But the best -- or worst -- scoundrel of them all was merely a specialist. “Soapy” was a clever all-round practitioner. As a “bad man,” he compelled the respect, if not the fear, of the rougher elements of his profession, and he could wheedle the craftiest “con man” in the crew. Such an exceptional combination of qualities could only lead to leadership -- and death in boots.

Yet this Admirable Crichton of criminals confessed to more than one human weakness. Newspaper notoriety was as the breath of his nostrils. He dearly loved to see his name in print, and did not seem to care very much whether it was used in terms complimentary or otherwise. Affection for his family was a more redeeming trait. Indeed, he declared that it was his dominant one. When he obtained money -- and during his reign in Skaguay he obtained much of it -- a certain sum was invariably sent to his wife and children and some other dependent relatives in the East. It was for them, he said, that he became a criminal.

But even more anomalous than “Soapy’s” conduct in this respect was that of the woman with whom he took up in Skaguay. Whenever he made a winning at faro she always reminded him of his marital obligations so far as they applied to the maintenance of his family. One night he was wildly squandering about $2,500 which he had just won when this unusual woman entered the gambling den and quietly requested him to give her a thousand dollars.

“There’s the ‘dough,’ “ said Smith, pointing to the pile of gold and bills which he had placed upon the bar to “lie as long as it lasted.”

Without a word she abstracted from the heap the sum she had asked for, while “Soapy” watched her with drunken gravity, and his guests in the revel eyed the process with poorly concealed disapproval.

“Come home when you’ve blown the rest of it,” was her parting admonition.

That thousand dollars was not spent for wearing apparel to adorn the person of the woman who took it. She sent it to the wife whose place she had taken. The people of the Skaguay express office said it was not her first visit to them on a similar errand.

 

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