Roshier Harrison Creecy

(1866 - 1948)

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Roshier Creecy near Wiseman, Alaska circa 1930

Roshier Creecy near Wiseman, Alaska circa 1930
Photo credit: Harry Leonard

Born in Virginia in 1866, Roshier was among the first generation of African Americans who were free to migrate. Escaping southern culture intent on retaining a racial hierarchy, Roshier joined the U.S. Army's Ninth Cavalry, known as the "Buffalo Soldiers.F" Following discharge, and a brief marriage, he joined the Klondike gold rush of 1898 and prospected around Dawson, eventually becoming an owner of a roadhouse at which the North-West Mounted Police billeted. In 1906, he mushed his dog team to Alaska, bound for the Koyukuk gold fields, where he remained the rest of his life. Roshier was the first African American to live and mine in the Koyukuk. His story contributes to the historical accounts of the Koyukuk mining community in the first half of the 1900s because it adds perspective from an African American man and broadens our understanding of that time in the country.

Virginia Ancestry

Roshier was one of eight children born to Wyatt Creasy and his wife Selena in Rustburg, Campbell County, Virginia. Wyatt had been born a slave, a son of his white master, George Creasy and black slave mother, Usley Rosser. George taught his slave son, Wyatt, the trade of carpentry and also how to read and write, which was risky because under Virginia law, it was illegal for a slave to be educated. In turn, Wyatt made sure his children could read and write and encouraged them to be industrious. Following Emancipation, Wyatt leased a farm in Campbell County where the family raised their food as well as tobacco. In an interview, Roshier's great niece said that Roshier was known to be, "outspoken, fearless and aggressive. He did not stand for mistreatment." Roshier went to Washington, D.C., where in 1887 he enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army Ninth Cavalry.

Buffalo Soldiers

By the time Roshier joined the army, many military forts had already been constructed across the Great Plains and a multitude of Indian Wars fought, so his military service occurred during a relatively peaceful time. It was during his time in the army that the spelling of his named changed to "Creecy." Roshier was first assigned to Fort Washakie in Wyoming's Wind River Territory, home of the Shoshone and Bannock tribes. In 1888, his company was transferred to Fort Duchesne in the Uinta Basin of Utah, home of the Ute people. His time in the cavalry consisted of training maneuvers in concert with infantry and artillery; patrols of the reservation and regular garrison duties. The men enjoyed sharpshooting competitions, on an off horseback, as well as contests in running and boxing. Teams were posted to saw mill and lime quarry camps where they labored to provide building materials for the fort. Roshier was also sent on details to fetch fresh horses for the fort. At the age of twenty-five, he fell victim to "rheumatism and disease of the heart." Rheumatic fever was the third most common cause of troop impairment during and after the Civil War. Following recovery at the Army and Navy Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Roshier was discharged with a disability pension of $12 a month and returned to Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. In 1893, Roshier was married to a beautiful woman named Georgie Arnold at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church by Pastor Walter Brooks, who held a formidable reputation as an advocate for racial equality. In 1896, Roshier's son, Nathan, was born. However, Roshier became restless and in 1897, when news of the Klondike gold rush appeared in the newspapers, he resolved to join the stampede. Roshier left home, never to return.
The Klondike

During the early winter of 1898, Roshier boarded a steamer in Seattle and arrived in Skagway, where he prepared for the long traverse across the White Pass Trail to Lake Bennett, Yukon Territory. Upon reaching Lake Bennett, he and several companions set about felling timber and building a scow that would float them down the Yukon River to Dawson. On June 6, 1898 a Mountie inspecting scows on the shores of Lake Bennett recorded Roshier's name in his ledger and judged his water craft adequate to launch. When the lake ice melted, throngs of Klondikers set off on their Yukon River journey. Upon landing in Dawson three weeks later, Roshier prospected and gambled. In a 1903 census of Dawson, Roshier Creecy was listed as a resident. By 1904, he had become the proprietor of a roadhouse on Eureka Creek, in the Indian River drainage, at the southern boundary of the Klondike gold fields. Gold had been discovered in the Indian River area in 1894, but with the riches found in Bonanza and Eldorado creeks, little attention was paid to the Indian River area until the rich claims played out. There are several records of billeting expenses at Roshier's roadhouse in Eureka Creek filed by the North-West Mounted Police.

As news of Alaskan gold strikes filtered into the Klondike, prospectors stampeded to the fresh gold fields. In January of 1906, Roshier joined them, mushing his dog team along the Yukon River winter trail to Fairbanks.

Wild Lake

Roshier didn't linger in Fairbanks because there were reports of large placer gold discoveries in the Chandalar and Koyukuk districts. In the 1910 U.S. census, Roshier was prospecting for gold in the Chandalar. He roamed all over the Chandalar and Koyukuk districts. His friend, Tishu Ulen, said, "In his early years, he traveled all over. He goes to Chandalar, next year he was in Wild River. He was always on the go, walking, wandering in summer time. In the days he had dogs, he'd take them with him, hiking up one creek, then another."

In 1911, Roshier established a base of operations in Wiseman, filing gold mining claims in creeks to the north, including Vermont Creek. By 1916, Rosher had drifted over to Bettles, where he based his operations for prospecting at Jay, Rye, Spring and Surprise creeks in the Wild Lake area. Along with pick and shovel work, Roshier used dynamite and booming in his hunt for gold.

map of creeks where Creecey hunted

Creeks where Roshier mined for placer gold in the Wild Lake area, 1917-1933

In the meantime, Roshier's son, Nathan, left home to search for his long-lost father. Nathan worked his way across the country and into Alaska, where father and son re-united in Alatna during a really cold spell in December of 1916. Nathan suffered from frostbite on that journey. Roshier taught Nathan how to live and prospect in the Alaskan wilderness. Joe Mathews, a successful prospector in the Wild Lake area, hired Roshier and Nathan to help him, and then gave them "half of a claim up Rye Creek to give us a chance." Nathan stayed with Roshier until the spring of 1919 before heading back to civilization in Fairbanks where he worked until leaving for the Lower 48 in 1924. Roshier and Joe partnered and enjoyed each other's company while prospecting the Wild Lake area through the 1920s.

On his claim at Surprise Creek, Roshier found a big piece of float quartz, later estimated to contain $400 worth of gold, but he never found the quartz pocket where the rock fell from. Joe allowed the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines to exhibit the float quartz but died before he could retrieve it, whereupon the college declared ownership of the prized rock. Roshier had to petition the court to retrieve his rightful property from college president, Charles Bunnell.

In the winter of 1924, on one of Roshier's cross country forays, he met Mardy and Olaus Murie, renowned naturalists, at Roy King's Fox Farm and Roadhouse. Mardy related meeting Roshier in her book, Two in the Far North, writing, "Dinner was a gala affair, such a happy reunion, so much news to relate, so many questions to ask and answer. Here were a French Canadian, a mulatto old-time Alaskan, an American Hoosier with a good meal, a bright room, and an admiring audience of two newcomers who had never heard any of the stories before. Such entertainment comes few times in a lifetime."


In 1930, a U.S. census taker found Roshier in Wiseman. Also in Wiseman at this time was Bob Marshall, forester, conservationist and observer of people. Bob stayed in Wiseman for awhile and published his observations in a book, Arctic Village. Among the 77 non-native people living in the Koyukuk studied by Bob was Roshier, who was described as "a mulatto Negro who has been in the Arctic a quarter of a century."

Roshier prospected in several creeks before staking claims and settling for a time on Gold Creek, north of Wiseman. It was on Gold Creek that Roshier met prospector Harry Leonard in 1934, and the two became friends.

map of creeks mined near Wiseman 1911-1948

Creeks where Roshier mined for placer gold in the Wiseman area, 1911-1948

In an interview Harry described Roshier.

"He liked to tell stories, but I had to sort the straight from the bull. Creecy was witty all right. He wanted you to analyze them stories. He'd say, 'Analyze that!'"

During the 1930s, Roshier was accepted into the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloo No. 8 in Wiseman. His application was endorsed by his friend and neighbor on Gold Creek, Pat Kelleher, and U.S. District Commissioner, George Huey, who both verified, "He is a man of good moral character." The initial membership requirements were, "White men who came to Alaska before January 1, 1900". But, the Pioneers in Wiseman who sponsored Roshier didn't care about color; Roshier was one of them.

In addition to placer mining, Roshier did a little hard rock mining, digging trenches 15 to 20 feet deep looking for a rich vein. Harry said, "Creecy would be talking about mining and he'd say, 'I likes to dig!'" For winter drift mining, Roshier used a wood fire to thaw the ground. Harry said that Roshier got a little gold, but the big strike eluded him, like it did for so many others.

Troubling Times

In the winter of 1936, Roshier made a trip from his cabin on Gold Creek to Wiseman for supplies and froze his feet in overflow. Roshier ended up losing most of his toes. Doctors in Fairbanks sewed the skin back over the bone stumps and he resumed life in his cabin on Gold Creek. Later, he moved to Emma Creek, south of Wiseman, and in the early 1940s filed claims and settled in a cabin on Kelly's Mistake.

With the outbreak of World War II, the War Production Board deemed gold mining nonessential to the war effort and curtailed it, encouraging the mining labor force to focus on iron, copper and nickel. A shortage of food and supplies ensued with rationing. The old-timers were dying off, and the war took many men, so the once-vibrant Wiseman community dwindled. A pacifist, Roshier keenly followed war reports, saving clippings of the conflict and its casualties. In 1943, Roshier wrote on a scrap of paper,

My moral is at low ebb.
Age has doubtless dimmed my memory somewhat.
Prejudice in the Army, Navy and Jim Crow in this so-called democracy. What is going on in Georgia is similar to what is happening in Germany.

In the winter of 1948, Roshier had not been seen in town for awhile, so his friends, Sammy Hope and Benny Ulen, mushed their dogs to his cabin on Kelly's Mistake and found him frozen to death with not a stick of firewood in the stove. At the time of his death Roshier was eighty-two years old. He was buried in Wiseman's cemetery. Tishu said, "Everybody came. Everyone liked Creecy."

In his last official notation as probate judge for the Roshier Creecy estate, U.S. District Commissioner Charles Irish wrote,

"In memoriam, Roshier H. Creecy was a unique character, given to much laughter, a lonely man, hard-working and given to much roaming around . . . He died as he lived and alone and may God rest his soul."

Written by M. Merritt

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