The Law and Order Trail

While Soapy Smith and his gang victimized miners in Skagway, prospectors on the Valdez Glacier route sought law and order.

By February, several hundred men and women were hauling a year's supply of provisions over Valdez Glacier. As a prospector hauled gear from one cache to the next, he had to leave most of his supplies unattended. Theft was a greater concern than murder.

The miners established a Law and Order Committee and elected Frank Reed court clerk. Trials were to be by jury with 12 jurors and 3 peremptory challenges. Murder and larceny over $100 were punishable by death. Conviction of larceny under $100 required full restitution and banishment within 10 days.

Margeson, who arrived in March, commented thus: "This punishment may seem to many as too severe, but when it is remembered that one's provision was his life in a country like this, it was regarded that a person who stole that was as truly taking life as if he went to the tent and killed the owner outright."

Were the rules successful? Again, Margeson writes: ". . . I never knew a place in any civilization where the principles of honesty were so thoroughly carried out as upon the Valdez and Copper River trail. Goods could be left upon any part of the trail for an indefinite time without their being molested." There were no Soapy Smiths to be glamorized by history on the Valdez Glacier route.

(Margeson's Experiences of Gold Hunters in Alaska has been reprinted by Prince William Sound Books and is available in local stores.)

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