Soapy Smith & Other Bad Guys
The lure of gold brought more than honest miners and foolish adventurers
to the North. It also brought con men, thieves and opportunists who got
rich by preying on gullible miners. Notorious among them was Jefferson
"Soapy" Smith, whose gang of over 100 ruffians ruled Skagway in 1897 and
1898. He ran crooked gambling halls, freight companies that hauled nothing,
telegraph offices that had no telegraph link, even an "army enlistment"
tent where the victim's clothes and possessions were stolen while a "doctor"
gave him a physical. His men met newcomers at the docks posing as clergymen,
newspaper reporters, knowledgeable old-timers and freight company representatives.
After sizing up a fellow with a fat wallet, they would direct him to one
of Soapy's bogus businesses or mark him for a later robbery. Soapy met
his end when he and his thugs fleeced a miner of $2,800 in gold. The miner,
instead of slinking away beaten, fired up the citizens of Skagway who
formed a vigilante committee headed by Frank Reid, a civil engineer. Reid
stood up to Soapy and shot him in the heart, but was fatally wounded in
In Nome, the worst criminals were on the other side of the legal fence, with the most nefarious crimes being committed by Judge Arthur E. Noyes and his accomplice Alexander McKenzie, an influential Washington politician. Disputed claims were brought before Judge Noyes who left the disputes unresolved while placing the claims in the receivership of McKenzie who operated and milked them in the name of the Alaska Gold Mining Company, formed in Washington for the express purpose of bilking the Nome miners. When a San Francisco Appeals Court judge ordered them to desist, Noyes and McKenzie refused and had to be arrested, along with their court clerk, by two U.S. marshals. Because of their political influence, neither man served time and only the court clerk wound up behind bars.
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