Matthew M. Sundeen

The Sundeen family came to Skagway in 1898. Matthew was a master mariner and had a steamship business as well as being a quartz miner. His wife Ida ran the Pearson and Sundeen laundry. Matthew was born in 1866 in Sweden and married Ida Louella Crosier in Oregon in 1892. They had three daughters, Carrie, Lucille Loraine and Etta who was born here in Skagway in 1903. Mrs. Sundeen died in 1914 at the age of 38 in Portland but Matthew stayed in Skagway for many years and died on this day, September 9, 1941 and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery.

Just prior to his death in 1941, Sundeen wrote an article that appeared in The Fairbanks Daily News. Back in 1898, Sundeen said he was in the hardware store opposite the Juneau Wharf and had been first on the scene when he looked out to see Smith and his gang confront Tanner and the boys. He remembers Reid’s revolver failing to fire three times, as Smith fired four shots into the surveyor. Then he watched Jesse Murphy struggle with Smith, trying to wrestle the Winchester away from him before he killed anyone else. In the process, Smith shot and killed himself. Well, enough people had remembered seeing Reid kill Soapy through the years to put into question one old miner’s 43-year-old memory.

Sundeen claimed no one else but him, Smith, Reid, Tanner, Murphy and Landers were on the wharf approach when the killing occurred. Further he claimed that Tanner, Murphy and Landers all agreed to lie to the officials to let Reid think he’d died a hero. Who knows, the story has a certain amount of credibility. I have tried to find record of what became of Jesse Murphy, but with such a common name, he disappeared after 1898. Certainly White Pass who employed Jesse Murphy had much to gain from the end of all the lawlessness in Skagway.

Here is picture of the schoolkids in 1906 in front of the school, no doubt Carrie, Lucile and maybe even Etta are here.

censuses; familysearch; Fairbanks Daily News.



6 Replies to “Matthew M. Sundeen”

  1. The research in my book, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, clearly shows that while Frank Reid and Smith exchanged shots, it was Jesse Murphy who fired the fatal life crushing blow into Soapy’s chest, using Soapy’s own rifle.

    Murphy did demand credit for the killing and demanded (and received) orders for a second autopsy on Smith’s body. When the second autopsy showed no change in the original determination he disappeared.

    I call Sundeen’s story that Soapy killed himself with his own rifle, the rubber rifle theory. To this day I could never figure out how it would be possible.

  2. I’m a great grandson of Matt Sundeen. I’ve heard of Matt’s eye witness account of the Soapy Smith shooting and that his account might have been made up. I’d add that Mrs Sundeen did not die in Portland, but in the Tacoma Washington area and that she outlived Matt by many years. I have a bit more info if there is an interest, including some photos, one of the family in front of their cabin and then one of Matt’s house that I assume is in Skagway. I’m going on an Alaska cruise on May 19 and excited that it will be stopping in Skagway.

  3. Tom, I am off on Saturday May 19, but please have the desk call me at home, or you can call me at 983-2197 to come down and visit (I only live a few blocks away) We are in the process of packing and moving to California, but I will continue to post stories here. I would love to get a copy of your photos of family in Skagway to post, with your permission. Certainly Matt Sundeen was one of the main characters in our town history. See you then! – Marlene

  4. Hi Marlene, Tom Arter is my second cousin and I wish I were making the Skagway trip with him. I am the son of Lucille Lorraine Sundeen and at age 88 still living a very great life. I live in Suisun City, California a few miles northeast of San Francisco. You say you are moving to California? Would it be near this area?
    My first real contact with Tom came when I was doing the genealogy of the Sundeen name. Hope you get to meet with him as he is one great guy. As a matter of fact when (and if) you meet him you would think old Mathew had come back!
    It was in 1941 that old Mathew venture out of Skagway and came down to Tacoma, Washington where I met him for the first time. I have pictures of that meeting and we all stayed at Aunt Etta’s home. How wonderful for me to get to spend time with the only grandfather i ever met even if it were for only a few weeks. I felt so blessed!
    He wanted to take me home with him at that time but my parents said no. I guess it was best as he died not long after that visit. I just loved his old Labrador retiever. I have the original picture Tom is referring to (the log home with Mathew, Ida, Carrie and my mom pictured.
    Ida remarried in Tacoma to Charles Baker and I spent time with her in 1938 (after Carries death in 1937) and she died while I was in the South Pacific (WWII) in 1945. I have many pictures that came from my mothers collections of the family while in Skagway.
    I also have the original picture of the school shown above and pictures of my mom and her basketball team times. Would like to hear from you and hopefully add to your website of old Skagway with what I have. Thanks so much for what you do…..Ed

    1. Thanks Ed, I would love to post any pictures and stories that you have on Skagway people! you can scan them and send them to me, I will share them with Tom when he gets here on the 23rd if you do. Cheers, Marlene

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