One would be hard-pressed to find a book on Alaskan outlaw Soapy Smith as well researched as Catherine Holder Spude’s “That Fiend in Hell” (University of Oklahoma Press; $29.95). Spude reveals Smith was not a lovable rogue, but also not the king of Skagway’s underworld as legend defines him.
The man designated as his killer may not even be the right man. While previous chroniclers of Smith’s life relied on prior literature and newspaper accounts, Spude mined court documents. In making her case that the Smith legend is overblown, Spude comes across like an attorney before the court, sometimes losing the reader in the presentation. Even so, anyone interested in Smith’s ever-growing legacy should read this.
—Mike Coppock, author of The Oceanside History of Alaska