July 8, 1898 was an eventful day in Skagway, Alaska. A scoundrel by the name of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith met his untimely demise. Soapy had been making a name (and not a good one) for himself for years from Texas to Colorado to Alaska. Conduct a search at the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America web site or at Newspapers.com and you will find hundreds of references to “Soapy Smith” from the early 1870’s through the early 1920’s. To say he was notorious might be an understatement.
Jefferson Randolph Smith II was born in Coweta County, Georgia on November 2, 1860 to parents Jefferson Randolph and Emily (Edmundson) Smith, Sr. His family was prosperous; his great-grandfather had owned one of the largest plantations in the area and his father was a lawyer. As with so many Southern families their fortunes were depleted by the Civil War, so Jeff (as he liked to be called) and his family moved to Round Rock, Texas in 1876.