Things they carried

The Buffalo Soldiers of Company L were stationed in Skagway for three years from 1899-1902. Despite the "rough and tumble" nature of those early days, we're still finding hints and clues about the life they lived here. These are just some of the artifacts associated with the men of Company L that park archeologists have excavated.
 
Composite image showing 4 button fronts on the left and four button backs on the right.  Buttons are in various conditions.
Four military buttons found during archeological excavations.  The top two buttons were found near Sixth Avenue.  Bottom two buttons were found near Second Avenue two decades later.

NPS photos/K. Pontius  Artifacts (top to bottom): KLGO 16356, KLGO 16354, KLGO 49195, and KLGO 48180

Eagle Buttons

What are they?
All four buttons are two-piece metal buttons with a loop shank. On the front each has an eagle design. The eagle is facing right, has a shield in front of it, and holds arrows in one foot and an olive branch in the other.

One button (KLGO 16356) was originally a yellow metal and has a stamp reading “Waterbury Button Co.” It is 13/16 of an inch across. Another button (KLGO 16354) was a white metal that may have originally been gilt. It is 7/8 of an inch across and has a stamp reading “HORSTMANN.” This button has been conserved and now has a protective coating on it. Another button (KLGO 48180) has a severly damaged front, but it is still possible to make out the eagle's shield. The fourth button (KLGO 49195) is a smaller size button than the other three.

Where did they come from?
Two of these buttons were found during an archeological excavation of the Peniel Mission and Mill Creek dump on Sixth Avenue. This excavation was carried out to check for any buried cultural resources before utilities work was done in the area.

The other buttons were found during archeological excavation on Second Avenue between Main and Alaska Streets. Due to construction of new housing for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the site was checked for historic artifacts.

Why do we think they may have belonged to Company L?
During research, archeologists discovered that these buttons were part of the U.S. Army uniforms for general enlisted personnel. This exact style of button was used between 1875 and 1902. Most likely these were all part of military coats.

The Sixth Avenue buttons were found in a layer with other gold rush era as well as other military items like the helmet decoration and vent. This tells archeologists that they were all from the same time period. Both the temporary and permanent barracks for Company L were located on Sixth Avenue.

The Second Avenue buttons were found in a layer with other military related items such as ammunition shells and Brilliantine bottle. This tells archeologists that they were all from the same time period. During research we also learned that the small buildings on this site around 1901 were leased by Company L.

Return to the Company L artifact gallery

 
Close up views of glass bottle.  Top: standing up. Bottom: view from end

NPS photo/K. Pontius.  Artifact: KLGO 48934

Brillantine Bottle

What is it?
This is a complete glass bottle that once contained Brillantine. Brillantine is a hair product. It is advertised as making hair glossy and smoothing it out. It has traditionally been marketed toward men with thicker hair, or ones who want to tame their mustaches.

The bottle is approximately 4 inches tall. On the side upraised text reads:

WILLIAMS'
BRILLANTINE
THE J.R. WILLIAMS CO.
GLASTONBURY, CT., U.S.A.

Where did it come from?
This bottle was found during an archeological excavation on Second Avenue between Main and Alaska Streets. Due to construction of new housing for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the site was checked for historic artifacts.

Why do we think it may have belonged to someone in Company L?
This bottle was found in a layer with other military related items such as ammunition shells and line eagle buttons. This tells archeologists that they were all from the same time period. During research we also learned that the small buildings on this site around 1901 were leased by Company L.

Return to the Company L artifact gallery

 
Composite image of 3 photos. Top: Metal spike standing on metal base with oak leaf decorations. Bottom: front and back of metal circle with 4 inward facing spokes.
Metal parts from an 1881 infantry helmet include a metal spike, oak leaf style base, and a ventilator socket (front on left, back on right).

NPS photos/K. Pontius. Artifacts (top to bottom): KLGO 16480 and KLGO 14186 (front and back views)

Helmet Ornament and Ventilator Socket

What are they?
These artifacts are a decorative spike, a base for the spike, and a metal socket. The spike and base are typical of a decorative helmet for the US Infantry and are made of brass. The base is decorated with 8 oak leaves and acorns. The socket is round metal with 4 prongs facing inward and is approximately 1 7/16 inches across.

Where did they come from?
All three of these artifacts were found during an archeological excavation of the Peniel Mission and Mill Creek dump on Sixth Avenue. This excavation was carried out to check for any buried cultural resources before utilities work was done in the area.

Why do we think these may have belonged to Company L?
During research archeologists were able to identify the spike and oak leaf base as parts of an infantry helmet. Typically these helmets were wool felt. An infantry helmet had a metal spike while a cavalry helmet had a plume on the top. The circular ventilator socket was used to hold the decoration on top of the helmet. Both the 14th Infantry and 24th Infantry were stationed in Skagway. Based on the archeological layers, these artifacts were from the later Company L, 24th Infantry who heavily used this area, rather than the earlier 14th Infantry.

Archeologists suspect this helmet may have been purchased in the late summer of 1899. Initially, Company L had been sent to Dyea, but on July 28, 1899 their entire camp was destroyed. After relocating to Skagway, Captain Hovey submitted a request November, 7, 1899 for more supplies including "metallic cap ornaments."

Return to the Company L artifact gallery

 
Metal buckle with two prongs and green corrosion

NPS photo/K. Pontius. Artifact: KLGO 14204

Buckle

What is this?
This is a double-pronged metal buckle that is approximately 1 1/8 inches by 1 1/2 inches. On the back is a manufacturing mark reading "H.B. & Co."

Where did it come from?
The buckle was found during an archeological excavation of the Peniel Mission and Mill Creek dump on Sixth Avenue. This excavation was carried out to check for any buried cultural resources before utilities work was done in the area.

Why do we think it may have belonged to Company L?
During research, archeologists discovered that this kind of buckle was part of the U.S. Army uniforms. The "H.B. & Co." mark likely stands for Horstmann Brothers and Company. This buckle is the same as buckles displayed in the US Army Uniforms and Equipment catalog from 1889. In that publication a white metal buckle, such as this one, was worn to match white linen trousers.

The buckle was found in a layer with other gold rush era (pre-1900) as well as other military items like the helmet decoration and vent. This tells archeologists that they were all from the same time period. Both the temporary and permanent barracks for Company L were located on Sixth Avenue.

Return to the Company L artifact gallery

 
Two metal cartridges one with headstamp reading "U.M.C. .45 COLT" another in profile with visible slice.
Close up of two .45 Colt cartridges found near 2nd Avenue.

NPS photo. Artifact: KLGO 47882

.45 Cartridges

What are they?
These are spent Colt .45 center-fire cartridges. Each one has a stamp reading "U.M.C .45 COLT". Each of the 38 cartridges has a diagonal slice in the casing.

Where did they come from?
All of the cartridges were found in a layer with other military related items such as a Brilliantine bottle and line eagle buttons. This tells archeologists that they were all from the same time period.

Why do we think they may have belonged to Company L?
These cartridges were found with other gold rush era military items. During research we learned that the small buildings on this site around 1901 were leased by Company L. This type of ammunition is consistent with ammunition used by the military while Company L was here. We do not know why each cartridge has a diagonal slice, but you can explore some ideas why or share your own.

The stamp on each case corresponds to the manufacturer United Metallic Cartridge Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Return to the Company L artifact gallery

Last updated: February 16, 2017

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Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
P.O. Box 517

Skagway, AK 99840

Phone:

(907) 983-9200

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