Gateway to the North

Soapy Smith in 1898
Soapy Smith in 1898 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Of all the gold rushes in history, the Klondike in 1898 caused the greatest hardships.  The worst problem was how to get to the gold fields.  Some prospectors traveled 3,000 miles by ship to the mouth of the Yukon River in the Bering Sea, and then another 1,700 miles up the river to Dawson. Others went to Edmonton, “the gateway to the north,” and trekked into the Yukon from there.  The most popular route was by ship to Skagway, Alaska, then overland through the mountain passes.  In one year, only 2,000 out of 10,000  men who set out from Skagway completed the trip.  Many died along the way, while others turned back.


At first, the horse-drawn Red Line Transportation Company carried supplies for the miners at $1 per pound.  Everyone using it had to sign a pass reading


this pass is not transferable and must be signed in ink or blood by the person who, thereby accepting and using it, assumes all risk of damage to person and baggage.  The holder must be prepared to mush behind. Passengers falling into the mud must first find themselves and remove the soil from their garments.”


In May, 1898, a group of promoters began to build a narrow-gauge railway called “The White Pass and Yukon.”  It reached the summit of White Pass on February 18, 1899, and eventually completed the 110 miles to Whitehorse.  Its construction was not only a battle against the elements but also against the owners of the Red Line Transportation Company.  One of them was a character called “Soapy” Smith, who operated so many rackets in the Skagway area that Al Capone would be like a choir boy in comparison.  Yet “Soapy” was regarded as a “Robin Hood” by many, because he used some of the revenue from his crooked gambling to build churches and help the poor.  His slogan was, “the way of the transgressor is hard – to quit.”


“Soapy,” trying to prevent the building of the railway, got involved in a gun duel with Frank Reid, Skagway engineer, and both were killed.  Smith’s body was put in a cart and exhibited throughout the area as a warning.


Want to know more about “Soapy”?  Read on at Wikipoedia, and Alias Soapy Smith, Soapy Smith’s Soap Box (site maintained by Smith’s descendants),and visit Tombstone Times‘s page “The Sure Thing Man.”




  1. the quote “hard to quit” reminds me of my slogan “oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you are a fighting gator”. As for Soapy I thought it was a bar of soap that you have to wash the mud away before boarding again. 😀


  2. Thank you very much for including my article, website and blog on Soapy Smith. As you mentioned I am a descendant. Soapy was my great-grandfather. I am also the author of the book Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. Although Soapy is famous in Klondike history he also ran other criminal empires earlier, such as Denver, Colorado where he controlled the underworld. He has gunfights, election fraud, and murder attached to his name. It’s a fascinating story!


    • I applaud your site, and though I haven’t read it, I’m sure the book is unique considering your heritage involved. Really, I thank you for the extensive work you’ve shared with us on the site! 🙂


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