|Drawing by John Bruce|
Image = Soapy Smith's Soap Box
On this day, minus one, (that's yesterday for those of you who copied off of my math test in fourth grade) in 1898, a gunfight broke out in the gold rush town of Skagway, Alaska.
There were two participants and both ended up dead. It took one of them twelve days to get that way, but the other one made an immediate exit, so I guess the one who suffers longest, wins.
Anyway, the first to die - aka the loser - was a guy named Jefferson R. Smith, known to his friends as "Soapy." The winner was Frank Reid, a concerned citizen of Skagway who was organizing a vigilante group known as the "Committee of 101" to rid the town of Soapy and his thuggish minions, aka "The Committee of 303." Smith seems to have picked the name of his group using a little "message math."
It seems the Soapy group was fond of making a living by duping the local gullibles (known in modern day America as "voters") out of their gold dust. After a while, and more than a pinch of gold dust, it became tiresome for the gullible but civic minded citizenry, who decided enough was enough, and got together for a meeting to decide how to start the rinse cycle on the soapy problem.
As an aside, Jefferson got his nickname from one of his first schemes. It was a rather unsophisticated con game where he sold bars of soap wrapped in blue tissue paper to the rubes in various towns in the southwest for $5 each with the promise that some of them had a $100 bill inside them. Of course, one of the first in the crowd would inevitably find the C-note and shriek with joy while the line to buy the rest formed up apace. It's not known how much Soapy's employees earned for the Oscar worthy performances that followed their good fortune, but it's safe to assume it was more than they were making before. Today, such schemes are strictly forbidden by law. Except for the one run by the government, called "Mega Millions."
But back to the deadly affair in Skagway. (I love that name. It sounds like the name of a street where sailors might look for a whorehouse.)
Soapy decided to confront the gathering head first so he could control his own fate. He was used to controlling things. Some say other con men like "Boss" Tweed or Richard J. Daley had nothing on him. So he showed up uninvited at the meeting, rifle in tow, and confronted Reid and the boys.
The rest is history, and so was Soapy Smith. It just goes to show that even dim-wits get tired of being duped sooner or later.