Committee of 101 (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 were well known.
Having been run out of Denver, Colorado, Soapy saw 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 once again in earnest. His saloon soon 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 who’s heavy drinking and black temper had begun to get completely out of hand.
After about nine months of the domination and fleecing of the town, a number of 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.
However, Soapy retaliated by forming his own group, that 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 himself, 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.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August, 2017.