Since tomorrow is Halloween, we’ve moved our regular Sunday “Port Profile” feature up a day to make way for some suitably scary tales tomorrow.  

 Skagway, Alaska’s main street.
Photo © Aaron Saunders

Nestled at the end of Lynn Canal – which itself is the deepest fjord in North America – lies Skagway, Alaska.  Skagway has been a staple of the Inside Passage cruise for years; in fact, many bygone ships have left their presence in Skagway, thanks to a rock face near the piers that has been spray-painted with the logos and names of the ships that have called there since the 1970’s.

Passengers are attracted by the rich Gold Rush history of Skagway, as well as the famous White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad which transports passengers literally from their cruise ships up into the Canadian Yukon.

 White Pass & Yukon Railroad car with Holland America’s
ms Zuiderdam in the background.
Photo © Aaron Saunders

Skagway’s origins can be traced back to 1887, when William “Billy” Moore purchased a plot of land at the mouth of the Skagway river.  Moore knew gold had been discovered in similar mountain ranges in South America and British Columbia, and was convinced it was a matter of time before gold would be discovered near his land.

His decision would pay off nine years later.

In 1896, as Moore had predicted, gold was discovered in the Yukon.  Immediately, a rush of eager prospectors descended on his land, and the town of Skagway was born.

Two years later, Skagway was home to roughly 8,000 full-time residents, with another thousand passing through the town each year.  By June of 1898, it had shot up to 10,000 residents and became the largest city in Alaska, virtually overnight. 

 The streets of Skagway: Largely unchanged since 1898.
Photo © Aaron Saunders

This sudden influx of gold-hungry miners was palpable.  Prices for goods and services were grossly inflated.  Con artists worked the streets with ease, sometimes ensnaring their victims the second they stepped off the steamboats.  Brothels were on every corner.  It was, according to a North West Mounted Policeman of the time, “little better than a hell on Earth.”

Among the con men who descended upon Skagway was Jefferson Randolph Smith – better known by his alias and moniker, Soapy.  He’d acquired it down in Colorado, where he had done a steady business selling bars of soap – purportedly wrapped with varying sums of money – to curious onlookers.  Shills planted in the crowd would open the wrapped packages of soap, and, finding a sizable sum of money, enthusiastically stir the crowd into a frenzy.  Soapy, of course, would claim there was a $100 bill still wrapped in one of the bars of soap.

The good citizens of Denver bought as many as they could carry.

By the time Soapy Smith drifted north to Skagway, he had an impressive criminal past behind him.  He immediately set to the task of establishing control over Skagway upon his arrival in 1897.  Not only was the town’s only Marshall paid off to look the other way, Soapy even established a fake telegraph office.  This looked just like a normal telegraph office and was staffed accordingly.  The only difference was, the wires never went out of the building.  Patrons could gamble while waiting to send their telegraph – thus becoming even more indebted to Soapy and his gang.

Things fell apart for Jefferson Randolph Smith on the night of July 8, 1898, when he was shot by a vigilante gang assembled on the wharf – exactly where cruise ships disembark tourists every year.

His grave can still be seen today.

While times may have changed, the overall size and feel of Skagway hasn’t.  The town remains much as it was a hundred years ago (albeit in a modernized fashion).  While the railroad understandably remains a huge draw, a simple stroll through Skagway can be just as rewarding.  Sure, there’s a Starbucks on one corner and a Diamonds International on the other, but the town still manages to retain a very Gold Rush feel that is hard to find anywhere else. 

Leaving Skagway & sailing down Lynn Canal.
Photo © Aaron Saunders 

Even itineraries that don’t call directly in Skagway may offer passengers the opportunity to visit for the day.  Some lines, most notably certain Holland America Line sailings, call at the nearby town of Haines, Alaska.  Excursions are routinely offered from Haines to Skagway for the day.

Almost every major cruise line calls at Skagway on at least one of their itineraries.  Pay a visit to your favorite cruise line’s website to determine if their Alaska cruises call at this fascinating town.

 

10 Responses to Port Profile: Skagway, Alaska

  1. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  2. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  3. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  4. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  5. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  6. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  7. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  8. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  9. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

  10. Jeff Smith says:

    Thank you for including the story of "Soapy" Smith in your history of Skagway. I enjoyed the story very much, however, I might be considered a little biased being a great-grandson of the notorious bad man. Members of the cruise industry who might profit from knowing more about this interesting old west character are invited to check out the Soapy Smith website and blog. Thank you.

    Jeff Smith
    website: Alias Soapy Smith
    blog: Soapy Smith's Soap Box

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:


Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!