The American Indian in the Great War:
Real and Imagined


Diane Camurat


WWI and its Consequences



The consequences of the participation of Native Americans in the Great War can be seen from two angles. First, from the outside, the point of view of Indian policy makers. Did the integration of American Indian soldiers in the Army during the Great War play a role in their further integration into Army? Did it have any impact on the Indian reformers' cherished dream of assimilating the Indian to society in general? Was the participation of American Indian soldiers in the Great War decisive in their being granted citizenship in 1924? The other point of view is from the inside, the perspective of American Indians themselves. What was the experience of American Indian veterans coming back home? Did it bring any change in traditional and ceremonial life? Finally, did the war in general bring any change on the reservations?

I will try to address these questions in the coming chapter, although I often have been short of information. For example, I will hardly be able to speak of the involvement of Native American veterans in veterans' organizations, such as the American Legion because I found little if any material on this question. This does not mean that Native Americans did not become members of veterans' organizations­the celebration of patriotic events by returning soldiers tends to prove the contrary.

In the same way, I know from having talked about it with Russel Barsh that most veterans who later became political activists on their reservations, and who became involved in the discussions around the Indian Reorganization Act in the early 1930s, were veterans who had not seen combat in France. They had benefited from their experience of integration in the Army and had come back with the will to be respected as human beings and fought to win this respect. On the contrary, veterans who saw combat in France apparently did not become activists when they came back. Their experience on the front, along with the difficulty of adaptation they had when coming back home merely broke them down. I found information on the psychological breakdown of returning American Indian soldiers but found nothing on their political activism in relation to the late 1920s and 1930s reforms in Indian affairs.

1. "War as a Civilizer" 1

"War is a civilizer if from the blood and ashes of its battles flower the blessings of truth and enlightenment, although the fruit may be centuries in ripening."

Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells, 1919 2

American Indians were only one of many minorities who served in the Military during the Great War. It is estimated that close to one draftee in five was foreign-born. Many people, like Theodore Roosevelt, saw military service as a way to obviate "older racial types, (...) maintain a new American type,"3 in such a way that, in 1918, the government simplified naturalization procedures for men in the Army. Yet many other people also favored the organization of ethnically segregated units for the Georgian, Slav, Italian, and above all Black soldiers, without mentioning the American Indians of whom we have already spoken. Their opinion was that of this staff report: "It may rightly be claimed that such segregation of races into regiments, etc., does not make American citizens, and possibly this is true, but we are not in this war to make more American citizens, we are in to win the war."4

Yet, contrary to Black soldiers who were organized in segregated units­the 92d Division, notably­under the orders of White officers, American Indians were scattered throughout the Army.5 In France, the American Indian soldier­as well as the recently-arrived immigrants6­disappearedin becoming an American soldier. For the duration of the war, they had all become part of the big army of an idealist nation which had come to fight for democracy against the evil German forces.

1.1. Integration in the Military

1.1.1. Lt. Eddy's Report on Indian Abilities

"The new mental testing in the early decades [of the 20th century] reinforced racist interpretations of inherent mental differences."

Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr.7

Lieutenant Eddy's psychological tests on American Indian soldiers were part of a whole series of psychological tests carried out by the Army at the initiative of the American Psychological Association. The Stanford-Binet test­first developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet in the early 20th century and improved by Stanford University's Lewis Terman in 1916­was used by early 1918 to "classify all inductees on the basis of their intelligence." "Alpha" tests were administered to the literate inductees and "beta" tests to the illiterate ones. According to the results of this test, inductees were then graded as "superior," "average," or "inferior." The extent of illiteracy proved to be much greater than imagined: 25% of those drafted. The testers were quick to correlate this alarming figure with the numbers of recent immigrants and Afro-Americans in the Army. However the Army always remained reluctant to exploit the results of these first hesitant steps of an infant science. In January 1919, the testing program was ended.8

Nonetheless, as American Indian soldiers seemed to be superior to other soldiers in some techniques of warfare, it was decided to conduct a series of tests on them. Jennings C. Wise, who helped Lt. Eddy in his work, fully reported on these tests.9 The initiative came in 1918 from Lieutenant J.R. Eddy, who had formerly been Superintendent of the Crow Reservation, and who was serving in France with the 4th Division. After having suffered from the after-effects of a gas attack, Lt. Eddy was sent back to the United States and assigned to the General Headquarters of the Army, where he became a member of the newly-created Historical Section of the General Staff. There, he wrote a questionnaire that was to be distributed to over 1,500 combat units by Brigadier General Oliver L. Spaulding.

The most noted report came from Colonel A.W. Bloor, commanding the 142d Infantry, 36th Division, who described his experiences with Indian code talkers. As Jennings C. Wise justly noted, American Indian soldiers proved no extraordinary aptitude in transmitting and deciphering coded messages­they had simply made use of their native languages.

Most reports received by Lt. Eddy emphasized one quality that seemed to be a strictly Indian one: stealth. Indian soldiers were unsurpassed in "crawling" and "running." For Jennings Wise, the American Indian being "only two or three generations distant from his ancient environment," he still had an "inherited adaptability to deal with the conditions of nature and to draw conclusions as to how animals­including man­will act under certain circumstances." His "understanding of nature [was] still instinctive so that in many instances he [would] arrive at an accurate conclusion intuitively rather than by a conscious process of reasoning."

The conclusions Lt. Eddy drew from the answers he received bore a curious resemblance to the kind of description of Indian soldiers to be found in newspaper articles. The Indian

proves to be a good athlete, shows remarkable sense of direction, goes about his duties uncomplainingly, does not get lost, is a good runner, has unlimited patience and reserve, is a good shot, crawls habitually on night patrols, has non-light reflective countenance at night, is silent at work, stoical under fire, and grasps the significance and makes free use of signals.10

There is not much difference between Eddy's description and the one given by Asebrit Sundquist as a result of her analysis of 19th-century literary stereotypes of Indians who usually have "an iron constitution, superior physique, proficiency in wilderness skills, stoicism, and a special Indian way of speaking."11 In short, the Indian was a brave and stoical warrior. His qualities were proper to his race. Would a White soldier "crawl" even if he had the physical ability to do so? Lt. Eddy was so satisfied with the confirmation of Indian qualities that he ended his report by recommending the creation of scouting units in the Army. Only little education would be necessary to make up for Indian deficiencies in handling maps, buzzers, etc.

I do not have enough elements to assert, like Wise or Eddy, that American Indian soldiers had inherited qualities from the past generations of warriors of their race. For all we know, the answers brought by American Indian soldiers to Lt. Eddy's tests were influenced if not determined by the way those questions were asked. From what I have learned, most American Indian soldiers came from schools where much emphasis had been put on military training, which could attest for their good physical condition. Their "silence" and "reserve" could also have resulted from their isolation and the way they were treated by White soldiers.

I agree with Jennings C. Wise who wrote:

... ninety-nine out of a hundred instances cited in good faith as evidence of peculiar Indian prowess will be disposed of, for invariably his reported exploits may be matched by similar ones on the part of the associates of the red men. Nor do the well-wishers of the Indians serve their interests by endowing them with virtues and qualifications which exist merely in the imagination of the enthusiasts. The creation in the popular mind of an unreal Indian must in the end bring only bitter disappointment to all alike. It is much better for him that his white associates understand him as he is in reality, for thus only can they place a rational valuation upon him as a national asset, and frame their expectations accordingly.12

1.1.2. Debate: Separate Units vs. Total Integration, Part II

Joseph K. Dixon, who had lost the battle for separate Indian units before the War, nonetheless thought he had not yet lost his war. Through his friend Congressman Julius Kahn, he succeeded in addressing the House Committee on Military Affairs about his idea. His plan was to gather 54,000 Indian men in two or more Indian divisions that would become part of the regular peacetime army. He wished to see regimental and battalion headquarters located near reservations to profit from Indian horses and to develop the military training of Indian school boys. Dixon's plan was intended to facilitate the acculturation of Indians through military training.13

Nonetheless, Joseph Dixon was no more successful than in 1917 and the Committee rejected his idea. He was as badly received by the Indian Rights Association, the Board of Indian Commissioners, and the Society of American Indians, all three organizations fearing a return to blanket days near reservations.14

From then on, American Indians would be integrated in the Army. Indeed, some American Indian soldiers, back from service in the Great War, considered pursuing a career in the military. James Henderson, agent for the Eastern Cherokees, encouraged this trend, saying that the reservation "is not very good for young men who desire to make a good living."15

1.2. Strangers in a Strange Land

1.2.1. Wartime Fraternization

Having been scattered throughout the Army and not segregated in separate units as Black soldiers, integration and contact with Whites appeared for most observers of the time as the main reason for the civilizing effect of the War on American Indian soldiers: "they were in practically all cases the sole Indian in a company and therefore compelled to take up in every way the life and manners of the white man."16

For many soldiers­and not only American Indians­the experience of combat in France was one of broadening horizons. They discovered things, people, landscapes, languages, and customs that they had not even imagined before. In this intercultural experience, the Indian and his fellow soldiers of the American Army had a shared point of view: they were all strangers in a strange land. The following testimony of an American Indian soldier could have been written by just about any A.E.F. soldier:

The experiences broadened our minds and horizons; we got to know that there are other people living in other parts of the world; doing our own washing, scrubbing, etc., taught us to have sympathy with the women folks; gave us a chance to show what stuff was in us; taught us the necessity of showing our colors­standing up for the right; it was a testimony of faith.17

It was quite an experience for all soldiers to discover France, an unknown country with different customs. Testimonies of American Indian soldiers express their surprise: "You should see them cut hay over here," or "The women do their washing at little creeks or springs and it is all done by hand," or "It is a mighty pretty country but is way behind the old U.S.A.," or speaking about Brest, "one can see poverty on all sides."18 Although there was certainly a great share of homesickness behind what these soldiers said, it also contributed to forging the notion of a common culture between Native American and White soldiers­a culture of being different. This was only due to the artifice of life in a foreign country and did not mean that this feeling of being men from the same land would last once the war was over­especially when land remained such a big issue between Whites and Native Americans.

1.2.2. War as a Rite of Passage

"They who went away as boys, come back as full-grown men."

Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells, 1919."19

During the battles fought on the front, fraternization was an important fact of life. American soldiers had been unprepared for the type of combat that Europeans had developed over the first three years of the war. During the time they were on the field, they perished in greater proportions than French, English, or German troops. In such conditions, American soldiers needed each other's fraternal support.

When the Commissioner of Indian Affairs spoke of Indians in the War in his 1919 Report, he did in a section called "War as a Civilizer":

The immediate benefit comes from the equal opportunity [the American Indian soldiers] had with white comrades for gaining knowledge, for maturing judgement, for developing courage through contact with events and conditions that trained and toughened character in the defence of a just cause and a great ideal. No education serves a man better than this in any circumstances. It puts into him the ability to 'go over the top' anywhere. The great lesson mastered by American soldiers, as their achievements clearly show, was to get things done. They are not likely to forget how. No Hindenburg line across the field of civil progress can stand against such fellows. They are destined for tomorrow's leadership. The wondrously multiplied interests of trade, industry, education, and professions, statesmanship, await them. The same sort of splendid initiative and self-reliance should find expression in action wherever the Indian soldier returns to his people.20

In his own lyrical style, Cato Sells reflected an opinion that was widely held: the hardships of the war had toughened the character of American Indian soldiers who were, as a result, ready to take in hand the destiny of their people, an enthusiastic but unrealistic assessment. The experience of "going over the top" in France was not one that necessarily built one's character. The war generation turned out to be a "lost generation," not only in literal, physical terms but also in terms of moral injury.21 In Erich Maria Remarque's deeply moving novel published in 1928 All Is Quiet on the Western Front, a German soldier on leave from service on the front gave words to what so many soldiers felt:

Aujourd'hui, je remarque que, sans le savoir, je suis déprimé. Je ne me trouve plus ici à mon aise. C'est pour moi un monde étranger. Les uns vous questionnent, les autres ne vous questionnent pas et on voit qu'ils sont fiers de cette attitude; souvent, ils disent eux-mêmes, du ton de quelqu'un qui comprend les choses, qu'il n'est pas possible deparler de cela et, en même temps, ils affectent un petit air de supériorité".22

This young soldier, instead of being elated to be away from deadly combat, only feels depressed. His own home has become a foreign world, peopled with alien persons. The "real" world for this young man educated on the battlefield is the front, and the friends with whom he shared this experience, with whom he can talk because they are the only ones who really understand.

There was no reason whatsoever why Native American soldiers should have reacted any differently than other­numbering millions­of traumatized veterans. The American Indian soldiers who benefited from their military experience were those who did not see combat. Their experience was socializing, not alienating. Integrated into the army, they learned that they could be respected as human beings and this certainly gave some Native American veterans the will to change things when they went back home.23

1.3. Citizenship

The war was no doubt a hard experience for American Indian soldiers, one that would not be easy to adapt upon their return home. Yet, as soon as the war was over, many people­Indian Friends and Indian progressives who had not fought in France­immediately saw in the war experience a way to promote their own humanitarian ideas. The Indians' participation in the war was the ultimate test of their ability to assimilate to the general society. Everyone was unanimous in saying that the Indians had successfully passed this test and thus deserved to be justly rewarded... with citizenship.

1.3.1. 1919 and 1924 Citizenship Acts

The November 6, 1919 Indian Citizenship Act

BE IT ENACTED ..., that every American Indian who served in the Military or Naval Establishments of the United States during the war against the Imperial German Government, and who has received or who shall hereafter receive an honorable discharge, if not now a citizen and if he so desires, shall, on proof of such discharge and after proper identification before a court of competent jurisdiction, and without other examination except as prescribed by said court, be granted full citizenship with all the privileges pertaining thereto, without in any manner impairing or otherwise affecting the property rights, individual or tribal, of any such Indian or his interest in tribal or other Indian property.24

After the Act was passed, Cato Sells greeted it as a "just and fitting tribute to the intelligence, patriotism, and courage of the young men of a virile and enduring race."25

The 1919 American Indian Citizenship Act did not grant automatic citizenship to American Indian veterans having received an honorable discharge. The Act simply authorized those American Indian veterans who wanted to become American citizens to apply for and be granted citizenship. Although I do not have statistics concerning the number of veterans who undertook this procedure, it would appear that very few of them did so. For example, by early 1920, no Eastern Cherokee veteran had applied for citizenship under the 1919 Act, although all of them had had an honorable discharge.26

The June 2, 1924 Indian Citizenship (Snyder) Act

After the war, Dr. Joseph K. Dixon, ever active when assimilation of the "vanishing" race was in perspective, campaigned in Congress for citizenship:

The Indian, though a man without a country, the Indian who has suffered a thousand wrongs­considered the white man's burden­and from the mountains, plains and divides the Indian threw himself into the struggle to help throttle the unthinkable tyranny of the Hun. The Indian helped to free Belgium, helped to free all the small nations, helped to give victory to the Stars and Stripes. The Indian went to France to help avenge the ravages of autocracy. Now, shall we not redeem ourselves by redeeming all the tribes?"27

For Joseph Dixon, the granting of citizenship to American Indians thus appeared as a kind of a making amends by Americans to the first inhabitants of the land they made their own. To these men "without a country," Dixon offered a status and a place in the society which had taken over what used to be their country.

The participation of American Indians in the Great War probably accelerated the granting, by an Act of Congress in 1924, of American citizenship to all American Indians born in the United States. Nevertheless, it is an oversimplification to say that it was the key factor in that decision. Assimilation of American Indians had been the official, enforced policy of the government for more than three decades before the Great War and the Citizenship Act of 1924 appears primarily as the logical extension and culmination of this policy.

BE IT ENACTED by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property. (Approved, June 2, 1924)28

1.3.2. The Refusal of Citizenship

To use D'Arcy McNickle's words, the Indians' "experiences in dealing with the government had been such that citizenship was not a possession of great promise."29 In 1924, many Iroquois rejected the Act, because participation in non-Indian society would be a denial of their separate status­this separate status being guaranteed by treaties.30 Here is what Chief Clinton Rickard, a Tuscarora and veteran of the Spanish-American War, thought about the Act:

United States citizenship was just another way of absorbing us and destroying our customs and our government. How could these Europeans come over and tell us we were citizens in our country? We had our own citizenship. We feared citizenship would also put our treaty status in jeopardy and bring taxes upon our land. How can a citizen have a treaty with his own government? To us, it seemed that the United States was just trying to get rid of its treaty obligations and make us into taxpaying citizens who could sell their homelands and finally end up in the city slums... The Citizenship Act did pass in 1924 despite our strong opposition. By its provisions all Indians were automatically made United States citizens whether they wanted to be so or not. This was a violation of our sovereignty. Our citizenship was in our nations. We had a great attachment to our style of government. We wished to remain treaty Indians and preserve our ancient rights.31

The main reason for the Iroquois refusing citizenship was the obvious conflict they saw between the status of citizenship and that of their own sovereignty. Not only was it threatening their independence, but it also appeared as another pretext found by the United States government to deny its treaty obligations. In the same way as the Iroquois had entered the war as a separate nation, they refused citizenship as a sovereign nation.

In 1941, although unsuccessfully, the Tuscarora, the St. Regis Mohawk, and the Seneca, were to claim that the draft did not apply to them since they had refused citizenship in 1924.32 In a test case, they argued that the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 was unconstitutional, that the Iroquois were foreign nations, and that Congress had no right to make laws affecting them, especially without their consent. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit later rejected the case. Nonetheless, the Iroquois challenged the Selective Service Jurisdiction until the Vietnam War.33

For the first time in 1928, American Indians were able to vote, on the occasion of the presidential election. Once again, Chief Clinton Rickard expressed how this possibility was received in Iroquois country: "There was no great rush among my people to go and vote in white man's elections. Anyone who did so was denied the privilege of becoming a chief or a clan mother in our nation."34

2. Impact on the Life of Native Americans

Coming back home after two years fighting "for democracy" was not easy for American soldiers. The ones who certainly suffered the most were the Afro-American soldiers. Returning with the experience of having been relatively well-treated by French soldiers.35 they found a very tense situation. The accelerated migration northward of Afro-Americans seeking wartime jobs aggravated racism and the Ku Klux Klan was soon revived. Between 1914 and 1920, 382 Afro-Americans­some of whom were soldiers­were lynched.36 Although less tragic than for Afro-Americans, the return home for Native American soldiers was hard, too. Their experience at the front was unspeakable and they found the economic and healthcare situation at home in shambles after three years of budget cuts in the Indian Service Administration.

2.1. Back to Everyday Life

2.1.1. An Irrelevant Experience

There are not many testimonies from veterans on the difficulties of readaptation to reservation life. The main reason for this is the fact that returning soldiers who had seen combat in France would not speak of their experience. The horror they were exposed to and their life on the front were irrelevant to the people back home. It was not that the latter did not care, but that the experience was just too different, too difficult to explain and so veterans took refugee in silence.

The only film that I know of which evokes the Indians in the Great War is The Vanishing American, directed by George B. Seitz, adapted from a novel by Zane Grey, and featured in 1925. It is interesting as it emphasized the difficulty of readaptation of a Great War Navajo veteran.37 The movie begins with a eloquent panorama of the history of the Indians, a true demonstration of evolutionism. The story is that of Nophaie, a Navajo Indian who is influenced by the enthusiastic and patriotic discourses of the young and beautiful White schoolteacher whom he loves and enlists as a soldier in the Great War. He goes to France with the American Army and saves his captain during the Battle of the Somme. Proud of how gloriously he has proved his patriotism, Nophaie returns to his homeland to find only indifference, with the recent deportation of his tribe to the desert of far more concern to his people than heroic feats "somewhere in France." Disappointed, Nophaie tries to find some comfort in his old traditions and rituals, but this does not last long: the schoolteacher is there to save him from his "devils." She convinces him to convert to Catholicism. Nophaie thus once again adopts the cause of the Whites and warns them that his people plan to attack. He dies with the Bible in his hands, killed by a Navajo.38

While this story is only fiction, it emphasizes an important fact: Nophaie had lived a life on the front which had no cultural signification for his people, who themselves had been undergoing traumatic experiences. Nophaie's heroic feats on the Somme belonged to him alone and could not find expression in the framework of the society he had belonged to. Lost between two worlds, Nophaie ends up dying.

Frank Fools Crow, a Sioux Indian and very famous and respected medicine man from the Pine Ridge reservation, evoked this problem a long time after the Great War:

In the ancient days mental illness was a rare thing, and until 1930 the only instances I experienced personally were those connected with the veterans of World War I.39

2.1.2. Culture Shock

I will once again rely on Fools Crow's experience. When he was asked to organize a Sun Dance for tourists in 1927, the medicine man wondered when things began "to go wrong" on the Pine Ridge reservation and asked help from Wakan-Tanka 40:

He told me then that it had started when the young men went off to fight in World War I. It had been their first real exposure to the outside world, and to what money could do. The losses of the families whose sons were killed or handicapped had surely weakened the Sioux nation, but the worst damage came with the worldly and selfish attitudes the survivors brought back. Now money was paid them for compensation and other veterans' benefits. Moreover, the families on the reservations had added their produce to the war effort, been paid well for it, and money was desired by them for the first time in our lives. Where money is, liquor follows. Many of our young people were getting drunk and fighting one another. Had I noticed that now and then cattle and horses were missing from farms, stolen to be sold for whiskey? It was known that one young man had even argued and fought with his father, a thing unheard of in earlier days.41

It is hard to know if the veterans Fools Crow speaks about were deliberately "worldly" and "selfish," or if this attitude was but the expression of deeper psychological trouble. Yet it shows that, along with their "civilizing" contact with Whites, Native Americans soldiers had also learnt to use money and to drink alcohol­both practices that were far from Sioux tradition. And if the veterans were drinking up their lives, it is certain that they could not fit any longer in their pre-war life.

2.2. Influence on Ceremonies and Traditional Tribal Life

It is difficult to know exactly the place that was made in traditional ceremonies for welcoming the veterans home since most religious ceremonies were forbidden at this time.42 Nonetheless, a number of ceremonies were organized to honor the returning veterans. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells, in his 1919 annual report, acknowledged the existence of "some form of old war-time dances [which] can best express complete approval of those who enlisted under the banner of American freedom."43 Frank Fools Crow also remembered such ceremonies:

... as the veterans arrived back at Pine Ridge the elders and the older religious leaders did what they could to restore and renew them. They gave the veterans sweatbaths, which cleansed and purified their bodies and souls; they gave them the best food available; and they talked with them for days on end.

Then when the time was right, the parents and relatives of the veterans put on huge feasts to thank Wakan-Tanka for bringing their young men home, and these feasts were always followed by the traditional giveaway. From that time on it became the custom for many traditional parents to select only those who had served their country honorably in war to be the ones to bestow upon their children, in a naming ceremony, an Indian name.44

It was thus that, after the Great War, Comanche veterans were recognized as warriors by a traditional dance organized by older military society members:

[The veterans] were given a reception, honored with a dance for them. My brother-in-law was a veteran and we went over to Indianahoma to where they were going to have a dance on the bank of the creek right west there. I had a box Kodak and took some pictures. It was mostly those boys that live around Cache and Indianahoma there. We went on the buggy over there. They had a beef. Kind of welcoming home. That was the biggest they had. Try to get all the Comanches over there, but the traveling distance was such that they couldn't get there.45

Many other testimonies show that ceremonies were much influenced by the patriotic celebrations held by Euro-Americans to honor their glorious sons. The American flag was always featured in these ceremonies, along with veteran songs sung by returning soldiers. From 1919 on, powwows would begin by a veteran song. In describing the ceremony held on the Rosebud Reservation for the funeral of a young man who had died of influenza at Camp Dodge, Iowa, an official reported:

Long before we reached the home we could also see Old Glory floating from a tall flagpole (...) In front of the procession rode another young Indian brave carrying Old Glory also. It was so impressive in its complete demonstration of loyalty that one could not keep back the tears.46

After the War, the American Legion became an important organization on each reservation. The first Post was created on the Navajo Reservation, with 24 members.47 The first and allegedly only all-Indian post was created in North Carolina by the Eastern Cherokees­the Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post.48 According to Hazel H. Hertzberg, a veteran's organization­"American Indians of the World War"­existed in the early 1920s and had its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Its president was George W. Peake and its secretary was Anderson W. Cash.49

2.3. Wartime Loss of Land

As soon as 1917, Native Americans actively participated in the National Food campaign by producing more and increasing their cultivated lands, either themselves or through White lessees. Nonetheless, not all Native Americans were willing to "scratch the ground"50 and the opinion Malcolm McDowell, a member of the Board of Indian Commissioners, expressed in 1918 about the Crows reflected a widely-spread opinion:

... if the farming land of the Crow Reservation is to be made useful it will have to be leased to white farmers until such time as the Indians can be educated up to the point where they will become self-supporting farmers (...) and I am rather inclined to favor not only a liberal leasing policy but also a rather liberal selling policy touching surplus land".51

The high prices brought by farm produce quickly stimulated the interest of Whites who took advantage of the war to use and acquire Indian lands for agricultural production but also for mineral resources. In his 1917 report, Secretary of the Interior Franklin Lane stated that there had been a 25 to 50% increase in cultivated acreage of Indian lands. He also predicted the addition of 40 or 50,000 acres cultivated under leases for the year to come.52

What happened on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, during the War is a good example of the way the war effort was used to further dispossess the Indians, in this case the Oglala Sioux. Up until 1916, the Oglalas had slowly recovered from the tragic, miserable years of the late 19th century by raising large herds of cattle on communal land, refusing to take allotments. Nonetheless, in 1917 their agent had them sell off their cattle and lease their land to White ranchers who brought their own cattle from the South. The cattle market broke after the war so that the Oglalas could not reenter the business. Soon after, the government forced allotment of the reservation, rendering as many Oglalas "competent" as possible so that they could lease or sell their lands. It was not long before White cattlemen and farmers took over the lands of the Pine Ridge reservation.53

2.4. The Indian Medical Service

Before the Great War, Cato Sells' campaigns had favored a steady increase in appropriations for Indian health. Wartime demands for personnel were to have a devastating effect on the Indian medical service. In August 1918, a circular from the Office of Indian Affairs asking superintendents to carefully study the question of exempting people employed in the Indian Health Service did not have much effect. In 1918, nearly 40% of the positions for regular physicians were vacant.54 The Indian Office tried to make up for the depletion of the medical service by contracting with physicians residing in the neighborhood of reservations, by transferring Indian Service physicians from schools and agencies to remote reservations, and by raising the retirement age from 40 to 50 years old. However, these measures were not enough to meet all the needs, especially in those places where tuberculosis was rampant­in Oklahoma especially.55

Related services of teachers and matrons were also reduced since men and women went into military service or took better-paying jobs outside the Indian Service. This tendency was further amplified by wartime shortages of materials and rising prices.56

The influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 consequently struck some reservations with even more force than it did with army units and the general public. This epidemic had been caused by the Swine flu virus; it affected 200 million people around the world, killing 25 million. In the United States, 500,000 people died from it.57 Between October 1, 1918 and March 31, 1919, out of a total American Indian population of 304,854, there were 73,651 cases of influenza and 6,270 reported deaths. The mortality rate of 2% far exceeded that of the White population.58


Conclusion, Chapter IV: Consequences of the War

On the part of Indian policy makers and friends of the Indian, the participation of Native Americans in the Great War was essentially the ultimate proof that the American Indian had the ability to become civilized. Having been in contact with other American soldiers, having fought with them against a common enemy, the American Indians had successfully passed through a rite of passage leading to citizenship for veterans, extended to all American Indians in 1924. In reality, the war mainly brought havoc on Indian reservations­the veterans were lost in an unknown world, and the participation by civilians in the war effort had mainly resulted in still more loss of land and the collapse of an already very fragile medical service.



Between the time when Friends of the Indian were discussing whether American Indians should be integrated or segregated in the Army, and the time when Indians were definitely accepted as any other American in the Army, the American Indians had fought in the Great War, had proved they could associate warrior qualities­an American Indian quality which had never been questioned even though many American societies had no warrior traditions whatsoever­with "civilized" qualities, and had contributed their linguistic skills to the creation of code talker units, an experience that would be further developed in the Second World War with the famous Navajo code talkers.59 In the meantime, their families back home had sustained the war effort through both financial and work efforts.

In the end, the participation of American Indians in the Great War appeared to Indian friends and policy makers as the last test towards the obtaining of citizenship. In their eyes, the Great War had thus been largely positive for the American Indian. However, it would take another decade after the war before the satisfaction over the assimilation of American Indians would fade away, following wide-scale studies and investigations of conditions relating to the American Indian initiated by people like future Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier. The reports generated by these studies would show that the situation of Native Americans was disastrous, and the Great War, with the loss of land and degradation of the medical service it had provoked, had only worsened things.60



On November 11, 1921, for the consecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery, Chief Plenty Coups, a Crow Indian, had been chosen to represent all Native Americans. He came to the ceremony with gifts­a warbonnet and a coup stick­and captured the audience with a moving speech, saying among other things that he was "glad to represent all the Indians of the United States in placing on the grave of this noble warrior this coup stick and war bonnet." His two presents were later put in a show case labeled "Chief Plenty Coups, American Indians" in the trophy room of the Arlington Cemetery.61

In 1921, Marshal Foch, commanding general of the Allied Forces during the Great War, was invited by the American Legion to participate in their annual conference in Kansas City between November 1 and November 3. A few days later, he took part in the consecration of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, where he certainly met Chief Plenty Coups. Then the war hero went West, having previously expressed his desire to see Indian tribes. At Bismarck, North Dakota, he was welcomed by Red Tomahawk. Dressed in full war regalia in honor of his visitor, Red Tomahawk made an eloquent speech and gave Foch an Indian name­"Charging Thunder." Marshal Foch then visited the Crow Indians in Montana where Plenty Coups met him and smoked the "traditional pipe of peace with him." A headdress, a shirt, and another name­Napoleon-of-Napoleons­were given to Foch.62

Right after the war, the participation of Native Americans as soldiers in the Great War came to be symbolized by the selection of Chief Plenty Coups, a Plains Indian who had not fought in the Great War, as representative of all American Indians. The presents Chief Plenty Coups offered as reminders of this participation were a feather bonnet and a coup stick­no doubt, the American Indian soldier of the Great War, whether Cherokee or Iroquois, Quapaw or Oglala, was the heir of the noble Plains Indian warrior. As for Marshal Foch's desire to visit Plains Indian tribes during his trip to the United States after the war, it further underscores the importance of the Plains Indian symbol in the mind of so many people, American or European.

After the Great War, when the whole movement of fraternal Pan-Indianism developed, the Plains Indian costume became the rallying symbol of Pan-Indianism.63 The stereotype was now fed by the American Indians themselves, leading Arthur Parker to say that it is hard "to have to play the Indian in order to be Indian."64 This once again shows the pervading influence of the stereotype and of American culture.

Yet, the participation of Native Americans in the Great War, beyond all the stereotypes, was real and was all the more important as it set a pattern for the other conflicts in which the United States would enter. Indeed, each generation of Native Americans would from then on fight for the United States­in the Second World War where 25,000 of them enlisted,65 in the Korean War, in the Vietnam War,66 and in the Gulf War.67 The Passamaquoddies of Maine, for example, participated in all these conflicts.68 On November 9, 1983, an article was pubished in the Lakota Times that read:

The American Indian has fought for, and earned more decorations (as a group) than any other ethnic group in this country. (...) Maybe it isn't very fashionable to be patriotic in these times, but I have never attended a veterans meeting, or an American Legion meeting on the reservation without witnessing the extreme pride held by the Indian veteran."

The only new element for the conflicts in which American Indians fought after the Great War was that they could no longer choose: they were now bona fide American citizens, obliged to submit to the draft.


Table of Contents


1 . Title of the section concerning the Great War in the report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells for 1919. September 30, 1919. In The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. Vol. II. Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. New York: Random House, 1973, pp.894-96.

2 . Ibid., p.894.

3 . Donald E. Kloster. "Military Uniformity­A Pictorial Essay." In A Nation of Nations. Ed. Peter C. Marzio. New York: Harper &Row, 1976, p.326.

4 . David M. Kennedy. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980, pp.157-63.

5 . "Only one in every five black men sent to France saw combat." Ibid., p.160-62.

6 . Marc Ferro. La Grande Guerre, 1914-1918. Paris: Folio/Gallimard, 1990 (1969), p.205.

7 . Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr. The White Man's Indian: Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. New York: Random House, 1978, p.61.

8 . David M. Kennedy, op. cit., pp.187-89.

9 . All information on Lt. Eddy's tests come from Jennings C. Wise. The Red Man in the New World Drama. A Politico-Legal Study with a Pageantry of American Indian History. Edited and revised from the 1931 edition by Vine Deloria, Jr. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1974 (1971), pp.325-32.

10 . Ibid., p.331.

11 . Asebrit Sundquist. "Projections on a Blank Screen: Nineteenth-Century Images of the American Indian Woman." In Victorian Brand Indian Brand: The White Shadow on the Native Image. Ed. Naila Clerici. Torino, Italy: Il Segnalibro, 1993, p.36.

12 . Jennings C. Wise, op. cit., p.321.

13 . Michael L. Tate. "From Scout to Doughboy: The National Debate Over Integrating American Indians into the Military, 1891-1918." Western Historical Quarterly. 17, n°4, (October 1986), pp.434-35.

14 . Ibid., p.435.

15 . John R. Finger. Cherokee Americans. The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the Twentieth Century. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991, p.43.

16 . Russel L. Barsh. "American Indians in the Great War." Ethnohistory. 38:3 (Summer 1991), p.294.

17 . "Lessons from Army Life." American Indian Y.M.C.A. Bulletin. 9:2, October 1919, p.2.

18 . Quoted by Russel L. Barsh, op. cit., p.283.

19 . Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells. September 30, 1919. In The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. Vol. II. Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. New York: Random House, 1973, p.894

20 . Commissioner of Indian Affairs Report, 1919, quoted by Francis Paul Prucha. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Vol.II. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, pp.771-72.

21 . Warren French. "The 'Lostness' of a Joyless Generation." In Les Etats-Unis à l'épreuve de la modernité: Mirages, crises et mutations de 1918 à 1928. Ed. Daniel Royot. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle, 1993, pp.67-89.

22 . Erich Maria Remarque. A l'Ouest rien de nouveau. French translation by Alzir Hella &Olivier Bournac from German original. Paris: Stock/Livre de Poche, 1984 (first German edition: 1928), p.169.

23 . Interview with Russel Lawrence Barsh. January 16, 1994.

24 . In Documents of United States Indian Policy. Ed. Francis Paul Prucha. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1975, p.215.

25 . Commissioner of Indian Affairs Report, 1920, quoted by Francis Paul Prucha. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Vol.II. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, p.772.

26 . John R. Finger, op. cit., p.45.

27 . Russel L. Barsh, op. cit., p.295.

28 . (H.R. 6355, 68th Congress, 1st Session). In The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. Vol. III. Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. New York: Random House, 1973, p.2209.

29 . D'Arcy McNickle. Native American Tribalism: Indian Survivals and Renewals. Revised and expanded edition of The Indian Tribes of the United States. New York, London: Oxford University Press, 1973, p.91.

30 . Laurence M. Hauptman. The Iroquois and the New Deal. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1981, p.5.

31 . Ibid., pp.6-7.

32 . Alison R. Bernstein. American Indians and World War II. Norman & London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, pp.28-33.

33 . Laurence M. Hauptman, op. cit., p.9.

34 . Ibid., p.7.

35 . French acceptance of American Blacks had caused some problems in Franco-American relations. See André Kaspi. Le temps des Américains: le concours à la France en 1917-1918. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1976, pp.302-304.

36 . Mary Beth Norton, et al. A People &A Nation: A History of the United States. Third edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990, pp.674, 682.

37 . I did not see the movie myself but drew my information from Gilles Laprévotte. "The Vanishing American." In Les Indiens et le Cinéma : des Indiens d'Hollywood au Cinéma des Indiens. Eds. Gilles Laprévotte et al. Amiens: Trois Cailloux, 1989, pp.41-43 and Michael T. Marsden &Jack Nachbar. "The Indian in the Movies." In "History of Indian-White Relations." Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. Vol. 4. of Handbook of North American Indians. Ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988, p.612.

38 . Gilles Laprévotte, op. cit., pp.41-43. Michael T. Marsden &Jack Nachbar, op. cit., p.612.

39 . Thomas E. Mails. Fools Crow. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979, p.150.

40 . While, for the purposes of simplification, Wakan-Tanka has often been translated as Great Spirit, Good Seat, an Oglala man, gives the following insight: "Wakan was anything that was hard to understand. A rock was sometimes wakan. Anything might be wakan. When anyone did something that no one understood, this was wakan. If the thing done was what no one could understand, it was Wakan Tanka. How the world was made is Wakan Tanka. How the sun was made is Wakan Tanka. How men used to talk to the animals and birds was Wakan Tanka. Where the spirits and ghosts are is Wakan Tanka. How the spirits act is wakan. A spirit is wakan. In old times, the Indians did not know of a Great Spirit. There are two kinds of spirits. Wanagi, that is the spirit (nagi) that has once been in a man. Nagi (a spirit) has never been in a man." In James R. Walker. Lakota Belief and Ritual. Edited by Raymond J. DeMallie &Elaine A. Jahner. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991, p.70.

41 . Thomas E. Mails, op. cit., pp.110-11.

42 . In 1882, Secretary of the Interior Henry M. Teller had instigated the creation of Indian courts of offenses in order to punish the "old heathenish dances, such as the sun-dance, scalp-dance, etc." In April 1921, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Burke issued a circular asking agents to allow dances, except those including "acts of self-torture, immoral relations between the sexes, the sacrificial destruction of clothing or other useful articles, the reckless giving away of property, the use of injurious drugs or intoxicants, and frequent or prolonged periods of celebration which bring the Indians together from remote points to the neglect of their crops, livestock, and home interest." It would take another thirteen years and the hard headedness of Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier to restore the religious freedom of Native Americans, through the circular "Indian Religious Freedom and Indian Culture" of January 3, 1934. Francis Paul Prucha. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Abridged edition. Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press, 1986, pp.218, 275, 320.

43 . Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells. September 30, 1919. In The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. Vol. II. Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. New York: Random House, 1973, p.896.

44,. Thomas E. Mails, op. cit., p.91.

45 . Robert Coffey to Morris W. Foster. Morris W. Foster. Being Comanche: A Social History of an American Indian Community. Tucson & London: The University of Arizona Press, 1991, p.125.

46 . Report of Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells. September 30, 1919. In The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. Vol. II. Ed. Wilcomb E. Washburn. New York: Random House, 1973, p.896.

47 . Russel L. Barsh, op. cit., p.295.

48 . John R. Finger, op. cit., p.44.

49 . Hazel W. Hertzberg. The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1971, p.231.

50 . This was how Spotted Tail's Brûlé Sioux described the activity of farming in the late 1870s. George Hyde. A Sioux Chronicle. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956, p.7.

51 . Department of the Interior. Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918, Appendix J: Report on the Crow Indians, Montana, by Malcolm McDowell, p.48.

52 . Francis Paul Prucha. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Vol.II. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984, p.884.

53 . Peter Matthiessen. In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. New York: Penguin, 1992 (1983), p.25. Vine Deloria, Jr. Behind the Trail of Broken Treaties: An Indian Declaration of Independence. New York: A Delta Book, 1974, pp.68-69.

54 . Cato Sells to superintendents (Circular 1340), August 13, 1917, Y.M.C.A. Historical Archives. Francis Paul Prucha, op. cit., p.854.

55 . Department of the Interior, op. cit., pp.11-12. For the tuberculosis in Oklahoma, also see Department of the Interior. Forty-Eighth Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1917, pp. 6, 11.

56 . Francis Paul Prucha, op. cit., p.854.

57 . Mary Eisenman Carson. Blackrobe for the Yankton Sioux: Fr. Sylvester Eisenman, O.S.B. (1891-1948). Chamberlain, South Dakota: Tipi Press, 1989, note 11 p.x.

58 . Francis Paul Prucha, op. cit., p.855.

59 . Alison R. Bernstein. American Indians and World War II. Norman &London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, pp.48-49.

60 . Ibid., Chap.I.

61 . Michael L. Tate. "From Scout to Doughboy: The National Debate Over Integrating American Indians into the Military, 1891-1918." Western Historical Quarterly. 17, n°4, (October 1986), p.417.

62 . Lt.-Col. Francis E. Drake. International Crossroads and Marshal Foch in America. Paris: privately printed by Herbert Clarke, 1926, pp.284, 287-89. Jean Raspail. Journal Peau-Rouge: Mes libres voyages dans les réserves indiennes des Etats-Unis d'Amérique. Paris: Robert Laffont, 1975, pp.238-39. A movie was made on Marshal Foch by the French Army after his death, retracing his career. The Marshal can be seen for a few seconds in company of Plains Indians during his 1921 trip to the United States. Foch, 1418 B800 (VHS), Etablissement Cinématographique et Photographique des Armées, Fort d'Ivry, Ivry, France.

63 . Hazel W. Hertzberg. The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1971, pp.318-19.

64 . Ibid., p.319.

65 . Alison R. Bernstein. American Indians and World War II. Norman &London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991, p.35.

66 . I did not really take the time to look for the participation of Native Americans in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Yet once again I was surprised to find very little information­a whole other field of research seems to be opened. American Indian Korean War veterans are evoked by Harold E. Fey &D'Arcy McNickle. Indians &Other Americans: Two Ways of Life Meet. New York &Evanston, Harper &Row, Publishers, 1970 (1959), p.242. American Indian Vietnam War veterans are alluded to by: Robert Burnette &John Koster. The Road to Wounded Knee. New York: Bantam Books, 1974, p.234.

67 . Russel Barsh evoked the participation of Native American soldiers in the Gulf War. Interview with Russel Lawrence Barsh. January 16, 1994.

68 . Joseph A. Nicholas, Curator of the Waponahki Museum and Resource Center at Perry, Maine, gave me this information. The leaflet of the museum indicates that "photos of Indians who fought in the American wars­The Civil War, the Revolutionary War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Strom­dot the walls." Passamaquoddy Tribe. "Waponahki Museum and Resource Center." (leaflet). Perry, Maine.

Diane Camurat