Our ship docked early Thursday morning at Skagway, Alaska. The town’s first name was Mooresville and consisted of one cabin and a dock. Later during the Klondike Gold Rush, hundreds of gold seekers overran Mooresville. Surveyor Frank Reid re-platted the town as Skaguay. This second name seems to be a variation of the Tlingit name, Skagua, often translated as Home of the North Winds.
In 1898 the post office changed the spelling of Skaguay to Skagway. Most businesses reluctantly followed—most, but not all. When we left the ship at Skagway we were met by a local family distributing the Skaguay Alaskan free newspaper. It looks like you can spell the name both ways and people should still know what town you’re referring to.
Travel Light Humor
Not many tours take you to cemeteries. However, this one did. While our bus-tour-driver-guide drove us to the famous Gold Rush Cemetery, he recounted the saga of Soapy Smith.
Soapy earned his name in a confidence game while he traveled around the southwest. He would briefly set up shop in the street selling bars of soap wrapped in blue tissue paper. He promised the crowds that a few lucky purchasers would find a $100 bill wrapped inside a few of the $5 bars of soap. One of the first to buy a bar would inevitably win that money. Of course that person was a plant.
Apparently Soapy had several schemes to fleece the citizens of Skagway. He and his partners were very successful at it for a time and relieved many gullible miners of their cash or gold.
Soapy was well liked by some in spite of his criminal activities because of his charitable deeds. He was known for being quite generous and patriotic. In fact, he was the grand marshal in the July 4th parade with Alaska’s governor.
However, many honest citizens grew tired of his criminal activities. Things came to a head when Soapy’s gang took $2,600 in gold from a Klondike miner in an illegal card game. A vigilante group formed.
Various versions of what happened next abound. One version says that an angry mob led by Frank Reid shot and killed him in 1898. Soapy shot Reid, too. Reid died from his wound and was given a hero’s funeral at the cemetery.
Soapy’s funeral service was held in the Skagway church he donated funds to help build. The minister chose a verse from Proverbs 13 as the text for his sermon: The way of transgressors is hard.
Travel Light Tip
Our bus tour followed the route of the Whitehorse and Yukon Railroad across the summit of White Pass crossing the Canadian border. Notice the pink flowers in the foreground of the featured photo. This fireweed grows extensively in Alaska. According to local lore, once it blooms it will be six weeks until the first snow dusts the mountaintops. Its called Terminal Dust by Alaskans. Summer is terminated and the long dark winter is on its way.
So if you see the fireweed blooming when you travel to Alaska, make sure you leave within six weeks or prepare for winter.
Until next time…Travel Light,
©2015 SuZan Klassen