Credit: Alaska State Library Collection, F.B. Bourn Photograph Collection, ca. 1899, ASL-P99-168
Company L of the 24th Infantry Division marching in a Skagway parade, 1899
A generation after the Treaty of Cession with Russia in 1867, thousands of fortune seekers traveled north in search of gold. By 1899, the Southeast Alaska towns of Skagway and Dyea were largely overrun with ill-prepared settlers and prospectors eager to reach the gold fields of the territory’s interior and Canada’s Yukon. Black soldiers, many of whom participated in the forced removal of Indigenous peoples in the Great Plains region, were known as Buffalo soldiers. In Alaska, Buffalo soldiers provided law enforcement, shelter, and other basic services, keeping a lid on the volatile town of Skagway for over two years before the gold rushers moved on to the next big strike. A few Black soldiers even caught gold fever and participated in the bonanza upon completing their deployment.