Search
  • Maria Ogborn

Native Americans in the First World War


Soon after the U.S declared war on Germany in April 1917, Native Americans began to enlist to fight for their country.

Chippewa, Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Coeur d’Alene Indians of 2nd Battalion 358th Infantry 90th Division, 1919. (Image: Mathers Museum)

This was as country that did not consider them to be citizens. The Dawes Act or The Allotment Act of 1887, was Congress’s attempt to incorporate Native Americans into white society by granting them citizenship if they moved away from their tribal lands or took up land allotments. The Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek Indians that resided in the Indian Territory were all exempt from the act. The act was amended under The Burke Act in 1906, meaning that those Native Americans who took up allotments had their citizenship withheld for a 25-year period and the Secretary of the Interior was given the authority to decided if individuals were capable of handling their own affairs and incorporating into white society, before being granted an allotment of land.

Born April 10, 1890, on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, Ontario, Canada. Her dream was to pursue nursing but under Canada’s Indian Act, she was unable to receive any form of higher education. As a result she moved to New York and received her training at New Rochelle School of Nursing. In 1914, she became the first Canadian Indigenous nurse. Following her training, she joined the U.S Army Nurse Corps and set sail for Liverpool on 16th February 1918, before being sent to Base Hospital 23 in France. She kept a diary throughout the war. Her final entry, written after the Armistice, reads,

(Image: Oneida Nation)

Despite their treatment by American society, by early autumn 1917, nearly 12,000 Native Americans had enlisted in the AEF. Some Native people believed that they belonged to a separate nation and therefore refused to join the U.S Army until their own nations had declared war. As a result, the Onondaga and Oneida Nations, both part of the Iroquois Confederacy, declared war on Germany in 1918.

Those that were unable to enlist played their role at home by buying war bonds and raising funds for the war effort. It is estimated that 10,000 Native Americans also joined the Red Cross.


This long-forgotten map, titled The North American Indian in the World War, was produced in 1925 by Dr Joseph Dixon, a preacher and Native American rights activist. The maps shows were Native Americans fought on the Western Front and where many of their burial locations are. Nearly 5% of those that enlisted were killed.

Image: Library of Congress

Many Native Americans hoped that the part they played in the First World War would mean that American Society would view them differently. It would not be until 1924, that all Native Americans were granted citizenship under the Indian Citizenship Act. The act did not guarantee voting right, which varied by state. Many Native veterans were abandoned by the government, which failed to help them with unemployment or medical care.



Lieutenant J R Stacey, Canadian Expeditionary Force. (Image: IWM)


John .R. Stacey (Iroquois)

Stacey was born on 5th March 1888 in Caughnawega, Quebec. He joined the 1st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force on the 6th May, 1916 in Ontario. He was sent to France and injured near Lens in 1917. After recovering from his injuries, Stacey became a pilot in the first squadron, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in February 1918. He was killed when his plane crashed on 8th April 1918, outside of London. John .R. Stacey is buried in St. Leonards churchyard, Heston, London.







Amado Garcia. May 17, 1919 (Image: Indiana University)

Amado Garcia (Acoma Pueblo)

Garcia joined the US Army on 3rd June ,1918 in Colorado. He was enlisted into the 110th

infantry regiment, 28th division. He was cited for bravery after advancing 100 yards through wire entanglements to attack and capture a German gun battery before returning to allied lines. For his bravery in France, Garcia was awarded the Croix De Guerre with gilt star. He was also one of several Native American troops to receive the Distinguished Service Medal.








Code Talkers


We associate Native American code-talking with the Second World War but it was pioneered in 1918. The German forces had been tapping U.S Army communication lines and de-coding information during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (26th September – 11th November). The 36th Division of the 142nd Infantry Regiment had Choctaw troops, two of which were overheard speaking in their native language, and they were asked to relay a coded message. Within twenty-four hours, nineteen Choctaw troops from the 141st, 142nd and 143rd Divisions began to develop a coded form of their own language, to relay messages over the lines. This was at a time when Native Americans that were in government-run boarding school in the U.S, were largely forbidden from talking in their native languages. Later men of the Oklahoma Cherokee, Osage, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Yankton Sioux all served a code-talkers. They became known as the 'Choctaw Telephone Squad.'

U.S National Archives (Identifier 34392177)

Some of the codes are listed in this document (right) from Lieutenant-Colonel William Morrissey, dated 1919.


The Germans were unable to decipher and break the Native American codes the codes. In a memorandum from Colonel A. Bloor, of 142nd Infantry Regiment, he stated,


'While comparatively inactive at Vaux-Champagne, it was remembered that the regiment possessed a company of Indians. They spoke twenty-six different languages or dialects, only four or five of which were ever written. There was hardly one chance in a million that Fritz would be able to translate these dialects, and the plan to have these Indians transmit telephone messages was adopted. The regiment was fortunate in having two Indian officers who spoke several of the dialects. Indians from the Choctaw tribe were chosen and one placed in each P.C.’

U.S National Archives (Identifier:34392177)
From left: Solomon Louis, Mitchell Bobb, James Edwards, Calvin Wilson, James Davenport, Captain Elijah W. Horner. (Image : Mathers Museum)

The nineteen Choctaw code-talkers were Noel Johnson, George Davenport, Ben Colbert, Joe Davenport, Robert Taylor, Calvin Wilson, Jeff Nelson, Tobias Frazier, Solomon Louis, Otis Leader, Walter Veach, Victor Brown, James Edwards, Mitchell Bobb, Joseph Oklahombi, Pete Maytubby, Ben Carterby, Albert Billy and Ben Hampton.







Native American Women in the First World War.


Fourteen Native American/Indigenous women joined the U.S Army Nurse Corps in 1917-1918 and served in the U.S, France and Italy. Sadly, only twelve of these women are known. These women are Susie St. Martin (Chippewa), Regina McIntyre (Salish/Kootenai), Charlotte (Edith) Anderson (Mohawk), Lula Owl (Eastern Band Cherokee), Ruth Hills (Apache), Constance Madden (Cherokee), Cora Elm (Oneida), Margaret Frazier (Santee Sioux), Effie Baker (Choctaw), Marie Baker (White Earth Chippewa), Ruth Cleveland Douglass (Mille Lacs Chippewa) and Agnes Anderson (Jamestown S’Klallam).


Charlotte (Edith) Anderson (Image:https://wardiaries.ca)

Charlotte (Edith) Anderson


Born April 10, 1890, on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve, Ontario, Canada. Her dream was to pursue nursing but under Canada’s Indian Act, she was unable to receive any form of higher education. As a result she moved to New York and received her training at New Rochelle School of Nursing. In 1914, she became the first Canadian Indigenous nurse. Following her training, she joined the U.S Army Nurse Corps and set sail for Liverpool on 16th February 1918, before being sent to Base Hospital 23 in France. She kept a diary throughout the war. Her final entry, written after the Armistice, reads, 'When we looked over the shell torn fields and think of the millions of dollars in property destroyed to say nothing of the tremendous loss of life, we cannot wonder that in France they bury the dead facing the north.'

After the war she returned to Canada, married Claybran Monture, raised four children and dedicated her life to nursing and worked on the Six Nations Reserve. Charlotte (Edith) Anderson Monture passed away in Ontario, on 3rd April 1996, six days away from her 106th birthday.


Cora Elm (Image: Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Centre)

Cora Elm

Born 18th February, 1892, on the Wisconsin Oneida reservation. She began studying at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School 1906 and graduated in 1913. She then began nursing at the Episcopal Hospital School of Nursing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and graduated in 1916. She joined the Army Nurse Corps on November 23, 1917 and sailed for Liverpool onboard the Leviathan, in December From there Cora was sent to Base Hospital 34 in Nantes, France where she served until the end of the war. She was discharged on 19th August, 1919 and returned to the U.S, where She married James E. Sinnard and continued to dedicate her life to nursing. Cora Elm passed away on 9th June, 1949.





Left: Company E, 142nd Infantry, 36th Division. Centre: Native American women volunteering with the American Red Cross, California. Right: Code-Talker Joseph Oklahombi (Images: National WWI Museum and Memorial and Oklahoma Historical Society)



Further Information

35 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All