Spinning Your Wheels: Changing your Research Plan
By Alysha Page
After a couple of months of research it became very clear to me that going through the War Department records was not yielding any new information. Essentially, I felt that I was spinning my wheels in the mud. I went through records of the District of the Columbia, District of the Lynn Canal, Camp Dyea, and Camp Skagway. I thought that perhaps going through correspondence from all of the districts connected to Camp Skagway might give me a fuller image of what happened in Skagway or perhaps even hear a voice other than Captain H.W. Hovey, Commanding Officer of the 24th Infantry, but it unfortunately turned out just to be the same correspondence (letters and telegrams) recorded by multiple districts. Turns out, the War Department is very through and repetitive. It was time to refresh my research area.
My first stop was looking through the probate records of Alaska. Probate records are complied after the death of an individual and relate to how the court has decided to distribute the deceased estate to their heirs or the state. I knew that the likelihood of soldiers from Company L, 24th Infantry still residing in Alaska was slim after 1902 and even slimmer was that these African American men would have owned property in that area in the early twentieth century. Given all the issues that Black men faced in the United States at that time, and even more specific in the military. This search ended up being fruitless.
After searching the probate records I branched out into “Chronicling America,” the newspapers compiled by the Library of Congress. With all the records and correspondence about disciplinary actions taken against these African American soldiers in Skagway, Alaska I wanted to get a better understanding of how they were received by African American newspapers and other newspapers throughout the United States.
Public reception is important to fill in the blanks about the narrative of the African American military experience in Skagway and the U.S. The online chronicle dealt a great deal with movement of the 24th Infantry to the Philippines and only some mention of Company L directly.
The Spanish American War and the War in the Philippines overshadowed the happenings of Company L, 24th Infantry. These articles do give us some wider context of African American Military reception. Our hope with this project is to illuminate an extremely neglected portion of the African American experience, patriots protecting and serving the nation. The more I research, and even search through the archives, the more it is impressed upon me the importance of the history I am writing. Company L has been neglected in the history of the 24th Infantry and it’s time to shine a light on them.