I finally got my copy of Jeff Smith's ALIAS SOAPY SMITH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL by Soapy Smith's great grandson, Jeff Smith. As expected, the biography is a hagiography. Couldn't be anything but, coming from family. Smith does his best to correct details of the story, and as the benefactor of his family's long history of collecting letters, clippings, and arcania about the Soapster, he certainly has a wealth of material about the man who tried so hard to make himself a legend in his own time. Its wonderful to see so much of the family material put into print, especially the letters and photographs that have been hidden away in a private collection.
I was disappointed -- and I admit not surprised -- to see that Smith missed too major sources of information: The Reverend Sinclair's papers in the British Columbia archives and the Skagway Townsite files in the National Archives. Both of these primary sources would have provided him with a considerable amount of primary information that would have bolstered and clarified his hypotheses regarding the "murder" of his ancestor in Skagway. John A. Sinclair's son, James Sinclair, edited his father's diaries, letters and other papers after doing considerable "research" into later papers. Smith relied on the book written by James Sinclair instead of John Sinclair's original papers, which are very different than what James Sinclair says his father wrote. There is no substitute for examining the original Sinclair papers, as the edited version are simply incorrect.
If Smith had examined the Sinclair papers, he would have found a number of newspaper clippings bearing on "Soapy" -- when he was and was not in town -- that would have clarified Smith's activities during the winter and spring of 1898.
The Skagway Townsite files, also, have a wealth of information about the Committee of 101, the Skagway Safety Committee, and the men who actually "ran" Skagway between September 1897 and July 1898. Understanding the interconnection of the townsite fight and the town politics is crucial to understanding who "ruled" Skagway that winter. As Smith has not ventured into those files, he cannot hope to have a handle on "who was who" in Skagway.
The major criticism I have of ALIAS SOAPY is that Smith, like all of his predecessors, fails to put "Soapy" in the context of his times. Once more, this glowing tribute to a charismatic con man focuses solely on character -- oh, but he's so charming! -- and says nothing about political corruption, influence-buying, or self-promotion at the turn of the century.