Skagway’s History

This history of Skagway is flaunted around town, it is part of the tourist appeal, and had me intrigued enough to spend my day off in the library.


My curiosity along with some rain clouds drew me in to the Skagway Public Library while the bean bag chairs drew me in to the teen section with a copy of Skagway: A Legacy of Gold.

Curled up in my bean bag chair I was able to get halfway through the book before I got kicked out and sent to the adult area. Life is depressing when people remind you how old you are and force you to adult.

I want to sum up what I learned in the four hours I spent in the library yesterday because I genuinely think it is interesting and hopefully it will spark your curiosity and make you want to come see Skagway for yourself.

There was never any gold in Skagway, the gold was found in the Yukon in Canada. Travelers from America were able to sail in to the port in Skagway and hike up either the White Pass trail or the Chilkoot Trail.

The Chilkoot Trail is located about eight miles from Skagway in the former town of Dyea. Dyea pretty much died out when the railroad was built in Skagway which made the journey north easier.

Skagway was originally known as Mooresville, named for its founder William Moore. The name Skagway comes from the Native American term ‘Shagagwei.’ As I mentioned in my last post, this roughly translates to ‘the windy city’ and as Bernard Moore said, “The same air is never breathed twice.”

On Palm Sunday in 1898 there was an avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail.The Native Americans in the area warned the miners not to travel, but they didn’t listen and about 70 miners and their family members were killed in the avalanche. They were buried in what is now known as the Slide Cemetery in Dyea, which you can still visit today.

One of my favorite stories of Skagway is the story of Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Soapy is the most infamous outlaw to come out of Skagway. He ran illegal saloons, gambling and brothels.

Soapy got his name because he came up with a plot to make more money. He made soaps and in some of the bars he would put money, this made sales of his soaps sky-rocket. The soaps containing money always ended up getting sold to friends of his, so he kept making money.

Soapy was killed in a shootout with Skagway’s first town surveyor, Frank Reid. There is now a show in town based on Soapy Smith, The Days of 98 Show.

I could write a novel about the history of Skagway and what makes this place so interesting but I will leave it at that so you can come learn more for yourself.


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