Riffraff Follows Fools
By Paty Jager
By Paty Jager
When I do research for a book, it’s the interesting or unique things I discover that cause my interest antennae to start quivering. One of the things I discovered while researching for my new release, Laying Claim, was the abundance of conniving people who followed the gold seekers.
One such person was Soapy Smith, or Jeffery Smith, who hustled people in western mining camps with cardsharping and shell games. He and his gang had control of Creede, Colorado in 1892 by rigging the elections to get his men in as officials.
When the word got out about the Klondike gold rush, Soapy gathered up his men and headed north. He landed in Skagway, Alaska in the fall of 1897. Through that winter he ran scams and hoisted money from every newcomer who walked off a ship. He set up a telegraph office charging $5 to send a telegraph. The only problem, no message was ever sent because the pole and wires went nowhere. He set up a saloon and gambling house called Jeff’s Parlor. From there he swindled people with a merchant’s exchange, cut rate ticket office, packers, and an information bureau.
As soon as a newcomer flashed money, Soapy or one of his men were by his side helping him spend the money on unnecessary things.
In the research I also discovered that a minister and a socialite helped a working girl get away from Soapy. I used this information to put my heroine in peril by having her not only have several run-ins with the notorious thief but she helped one of his girls get away, putting her on Soapy’s chopping block. I didn’t just have her help the girl, she knocked him out, and then shot at him with his own pistol. Needless to say she needed to get out of Skagway in a hurry. And Jeremy Duncan, the hero, was just the man for the job.
There wasn’t any law in the area. There was a military base at Dyea but they weren’t to get involved in civilian matters and the Northwest Mounted Police were at the summits, but they didn’t cross the boundaries into Alaska. The good news for the people traveling into the Yukon, Soapy didn’t take his business past the Mounted Police at the summit.
By the summer of 1898, the citizens had had enough of Soapy. They formed a vigilante group to try and run Soapy out of Skagway. The notorious con man came to the meeting armed with two pistols and a rifle. When confronted to put down the weapons, he and the man trying to unarm him both shot. Smith was dead and the other man died shortly after.
Blurb for Laying Claim:
Jeremy Duncan commits to haul one last load of supplies across the great interior of the Yukon before heading home. But, he has to trade his pack animals for sled dogs and leave Skagway in the middle of a blizzard due to one strong-willed, business-minded beauty.
Determined to find her older brother, Clara Bixbee doesn’t care how she gets across the pass, as long as she does, and soon. Hiring handsome pack guide Jeremy Duncan seems to be her best choice. Especially after she saves a young girl being beaten by the local gang leader and needs to escape Skagway fast.
Clara looked over her shoulder at the reverend and the woman standing by the alter watching her. “I don’t think he’s coming back tonight.” She walked down the aisle toward the two. “I think he’s learned his lesson.”
“Miss Clara you don’t know Soapy. He’s not going to stop trying for me.”
Clara winced. The woman’s face was black and blue. There was no telling what the man would have done if Clara hadn’t heard the noise in the alley and intervened. No one deserved to be beaten to this extent.
“Lily, when I came upon you, he didn’t look like he was going to stop beating on you. I couldn’t let that happen.” She glanced at the reverend. “Every life is precious.”
“Yes, it is Miss Bixbee. I’ll do all I can to get Lily on a ship out of here as soon as possible.” The reverend threw a glance at the front doors then toward the back of the building. “It wouldn’t be safe for any of us to set foot outside tonight. Soapy may have men watching and there wouldn’t be anyone around to help.”
Clara wasn’t excited about sleeping on a wooden pew, but it was better than stepping out and being grabbed by the angry man with black hair, beard, and eyes that she’d run into before—Soapy Smith. She should have put the two together when Jeremy was telling her about the man.
She hadn’t set out to put herself in harm’s way or to have the most feared man in Skagway out for her, but the whimpering and sound of flesh hitting flesh couldn’t be ignored.
Queasiness overtook her at the memory of what she’d witnessed. The man had been so intent on his beating, she’d sneaked up behind him, clobbering him in the head with a board. She helped herself to his pistol before half carrying Lily to the nearest church.
She sank to a pew as she realized she’d fired the man’s own weapon at his feet when he’d tried to enter the church and get Lily.
She heard the reverend’s low voice before she hung her head down in front of her knees and breathed deep long breaths.
CONTEST: This post is part of a week-long blog tour. I love to give and you could be the winner! I will be giving away an e-copy of my Christmas novella, Christmas Redemption, to one commenter at each blog stop where there are at least ten commenters. You can find the blog tour hosts at my blog or my website.
Bio: With sixteen published books, three novellas, and an anthology, award-winning author, Paty Jager is never at a loss for story ideas and characters in her head. Her rural life in central and eastern Oregon, and interests in local history and the world around her, keeps the mystery and romance ideas flowing. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.
You can learn more about Paty at her blog, her website, or on Facebook, and twitter - @patyjag