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Lima (Ohio) News / September 23, 1898

Tough Band of Criminals Wiped Out.

Henry Rydstrom Tells of the Killing of “Soapy” Smith -- A Chicago Man Illustrates How Skaguay Was Rid of a Desperado.

Henry Rydstrom, formerly a Chicago man, but now a citizen of Skaguay, Alaska, was an eyewitness of the night in which the notorious “Soapy” Smith was killed in that place by City Surveyor Reed. He stood, in fact, where the desperado almost fell against him when Reed shot him. Mr. Rydstrom has been in Skaguay since last January and has seen the rapid growth of the place from simply a group of tents, constantly being put up and constantly taken away as the migrating herds of humanity came and went. From the start “Soapy” Smith’s reign has been supreme. He had a gang of 29 toughs, all as desperate as himself and all completely under his control. Like the able leader in villainy he was, he had his crew well distributed among the municipal offices and in all places where they could be used to best further his schemes and to afford protection to himself and the gang. “Boss” Tweed never in his palmiest days had such a perfectly and systematically organized band of robbers. There were always three of them in the city council, his first lieutenant was the deputy city marshal and his second officer was the editor of the one daily paper in the town. The others were disposed to the best advantage possible.

Smith was a genius and a general in his line. His place was among the high officials, where he acted as adviser and director in all the affairs of the city. He could easily have been the mayor had he chosen, but that would not suit his purposes half so well as being in the position he occupied. His band was never actually seen in any of the villainies perpetrated, and it was known how useless a task it would have been to try and fasten any of the crimes upon him. But everyone knew he was the leader of the gang just the same. “Soapy,” however, was an admirable strategist and often laid plans for bold robberies that completely deceived the good and honest citizens and invariably proved successful. One of these schemes, which was carried through with masterly generalship, will serve to illustrate the ability of the man as a leader and a campaign planner. There was a Canadian minister in town who was anxious to raise enough money to build a church for his congregation. It was “Soapy” Smith who put him in the right way to accomplish his purpose. He advised the minister to make a personal canvass of the town and solicit subscriptions from the prominent business men. To show his genuine interest in the matter he at once put down his name and really gave up $350 in cash toward the project. This liberal donation had a marked effect upon the “other” good citizens.

They all subscribed liberally, and the minister was gratified that in a very short time he had raised several thousand dollars. But that money was never used to build the church. The minister had no sooner completed his work and had the money in his possession than he was waylaid and robbed of the whole sum. It is a certainty that “Soapy” had his $350 duly returned to him and with a liberal interest added, while the rest of the gang, to the same certainty, profited individually, according to their rank in “Soapy’s” army of robbers.

But such was this man’s power that no one dared openly denounce him. It was bad enough to know that he systematically plundered from the strangers who chanced to land in Skaguay with gold dust, but it was worse when his scheming brain devised plans to rob his fellow citizens and set his band to carry them out. And yet his reign continued, though Skaguay had grown to be a city of 5,000 business men. He was at the height of his power just previous to his being killed. On the Fourth of July Skaguay had resolved to be patriotic and a general celebration was inaugurated. One of the features was a grand parade, and in this “Soapy” Smith was the leader. But even then matters were shaping themselves to bring about his destruction. About the first of July and miner had come into town from the north with some $3,000 in gold. One of the gang succeeded in getting him in town and took him to one of the dens where the robberies were committed. It was Smith’s policy never to use extreme measures when it could be avoided, although a murder or two cut no figure with these villains. The ordinary plan was to get the victim drunk and draw him into a “shell” game and thus relieve him of his money in a “legitimate” manner. In this way, the miner was robbed of his $3,000. He, however, made a vigorous kick and an effort was made to induce “Soapy” to give up the spoils. But this “Soapy” would not do, and the refusal led to his tragic end. For the first time since his reign began he was publicly denounced. There were open and private meetings held and measures were in the way of adoption to depose the “boss.”

On July 8, a large number of the citizens had congregated on the wharf and the city surveyor was just calling upon the people to take some decisive action and drive Smith and his gang out of town, when the desperado himself appeared on the scene, Winchester in hand. He deliberately shot Reed, who fell to the ground, but, wounded and dying as he was, he pulled his pistol and shot Smith in the head, killing him instantly.



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