Committee of 101 – Protecting Skagway, Alaska

Soapy Smith

Soapy Smith

The Committee of 101 was a vigilante group that operated in Skagway, Alaska, in 1898.

In 1897, Jefferson “Soapy” Smith arrived in Skagway, Alaska. Known in former mining camps throughout the American West as the “King of the Frontier Con Men,” Soapy’s reputation for running his illegal rackets and taking over a town was well known.

Having been run out of Denver, Colorado, Soapy saw an opportunity in the Klondyke Gold Rush and, bringing in his gang of rogues and thieves, set about to repeat the process in Skagway. Setting up “shop” in his new saloon named Jeff Smith’s Parlor, Soapy’s cons began in earnest. His saloon became known as the “real city hall,” even though Skagway already had an official one. But some of the Skagway citizens were not so impressed with Soapy, whose heavy drinking and black temper had begun to get entirely out of hand.

After about nine months of the domination and fleecing of the town, several Skagway citizens had had enough of the man, and a vigilante group, who called themselves the “Committee of 101,” threatened to drive Smith and his gang out of town.

Jeff Smith's Parlor, Skagway, Alaska, 1898

Jeff Smith’s Parlor, Skagway, Alaska, 1898

However, Soapy retaliated by forming his own group, which he called the “Committee of 303,” to intimidate the first group. Soapy alleged that his group had more than 300 members, hoping to force the vigilantes into submission. It worked.

However, when Soapy’s gang took some $2,600 in gold from a Klondike miner in an illegal Three-card Monte game, the vigilantes re-emerged and demanded that Soapy give him back his gold. Soapy, of course, refused, claiming that the miner had lost the gold “fairly” in a sporting game. The next night, on July 8, 1898, the vigilantes organized a meeting in Juneau, Alaska. Hearing of the meeting, Soapy decided to attend, arriving with a Winchester rifle draped over his shoulder. When he was barred from entering the meeting, he argued with one of four guards, a man named Frank Reid, who was blocking his way. Before long, a gunfight erupted, and when the smoke cleared, both men lay dead.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated April 2022.

Also See:

Old West Vigilantes

Outlaws Across America

Soapy Smith – Bunko Man of the Old West

Who’s Who in American History