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As the Klondike gold rush peaked in spring 1898, adventurers and gamblers rubbed shoulders with town-builders and gold-panners in Skagway, Alaska. The flow of riches lured confidence men, too - among them Jefferson Randolph Soapy Smith (1860-98), who with an entourage of bunco-men conned and robbed the stampeders. Soapy, though, a common enough criminal, would go down in legend as the Robin Hood of Alaska, the uncrowned king of Skagway, remembered for his charm and generosity, even for calming a lynch mob. When the Fourth of July was celebrated in '98, he supposedly led the parade. Then, a few days later, he was dead, killed in a shootout over a card game. With Smith's death, Skagway rid itself of crime forever. Or at least, so the story goes. Journalists immediately cast him as a martyr whose death redeemed a violent town. In fact, he was just a petty criminal and card shark, as Catherine Holder Spude proves definitively in That Fiend in Hell : Soapy Smith in Legend, a tour de force of historical debunking that documents Smith's elevation to western hero. In sorting out the facts about this man and his death from fiction, Spude concludes that the actual Soapy was not the legendary boss of Skagway, nor was he killed by Frank Reid, as early historians supposed. She shows that even eyewitnesses who knew the truth later changed their stories to fit the myth. But why? Tracking down some hundred retellings of the Soapy Smith story, Spude traces the efforts of Skagway's boosters to reinforce a morality tale at the expense of a complex story of town-building and government formation. The idea that Smith's death had made a lawless town safe served Skagway's economic interests. Spude's engaging deconstruction of Soapy's story models deep research and skepticism crucial to understanding the history of the American frontier.
Prostitution, gambling, and saloons were a vital, if not universally welcome, part of life in frontier boomtowns. In Saloons, Prostitutes, and Temperance in Alaska Territory, Catherine Holder Spude explores the rise and fall of these enterprises in Skagway, Alaska, between the gold rush of 1897 and the enactment of Prohibition in 1918. Her gritty account offers a case study in the clash between working-class men and middle-class women, and in the growth of women's political and economic power in the West. Where most books about vice in the West depict a rambunctious sin-scape, this one addresses money and politics. Focusing on the ambitions and resources of individual prostitutes and madams, landlords and saloon owners, lawmen, politicians, and reformers, Spude brings issues of gender and class to life in a place and time when vice equaled money and money controlled politics. Women of all classes learned how to manipulate both money and politics, ultimately deciding how to practice and regulate individual freedoms. As Progressive reforms swept America in the early twentieth century, middle-class women in Skagway won power, Spude shows, at the expense of the values and vices of the working-class men who had dominated the population in the town's earliest days. Reform began when a citizens' committee purged Skagway of card sharks and con men in 1898, and culminated when middle-class businessmen sided with their wives - giving them the power to vote - and in the process banned gambling, prostitution, and saloons. Today, a century after the era Spude describes, Skagway's tourist industry perpetuates the stereotypes of good times in saloons and bordellos. This book instead takes readers inside Skagway's real dens of iniquity, before and after their demise, and depicts frontier Skagway and its people as they really were. It will open the eyes of historians and tourists alike.
When gold was discovered in the far northern regions of Alaska and the Yukon in the late nineteenth century, thousands of individuals headed north to strike it rich. This massive movement required a vast network of supplies and services and brought even more people north to manage and fulfill those needs. In this volume, archaeologists, historians, and ethnologists discuss their interlinking studies of the towns, trails, and mining districts that figured in the northern gold rushes, including the first sustained account of the archaeology of twentieth-century gold mining sites in Alaska or the Yukon. The authors explore various parts of this extensive settlement and supply system: coastal towns that funneled goods inland from ships; the famous Chilkoot Trail, over which tens of thousands of gold-seekers trod; a host of retail-oriented sites that supported prospectors and transferred goods through the system; and actual camps on the creeks where gold was extracted from the ground. Discussing individual cases in terms of settlement patterns and archaeological assemblages, the essays shed light on issues of interest to students of gender, transience, and site abandonment behavior. Further commentary places the archaeology of the Far North within the larger context of early twentieth-century industrialized European American society.