The American Indian in the Great War:
Real and Imagined


Diane Camurat


Master's Thesis submitted in 1993 to the Institut Charles V of the University of Paris VII
This work is used with consent. © Diane Camurat


What struck me the most when I heard that 17,000 Native Americans had served in the Great War was that, not even thirty years after the end of the Indian wars, American Indians were willing to fight alongside their former enemy. I also was under the impression that most Native Americans had not been American citizens before the American Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 and wondered therefore how they could have been enlisted in the army, but also if their actual enlistment had anything to do with the granting of citizenship to American Indians in 1924. With this in mind, I began to sift through books on American history for anything concerning Native Americans fighting with the American army­and not against it­and on the status of Native Americans in 1917 according to United States law. I also tried to gather sources on the situation of American Indian affairs in the years preceding the Great War

Meanwhile, I looked for information on the participation of American Indians in World War I but found little. Books dealing with the general history of Native Americans either failed to speak about the subject or dismissed it quickly with a participation figure which varied from one text to the next. The first concrete elements I found seemed only indirectly related to what I was looking for: emblems. The insignia of the Second Division of the American Expeditionary Forces was a Plains Indian head.(1) Section One of the American Ambulance Field Service also used a similar motif,(2) as well as the Lafayette Escadrille.(3 )Exploring this phenomenon, I noticed that, on pictures of American memorials erected after the Great War in France, the same Indian head profile appears­a motif taken even further in the memorial located in Tours where American intervention has been symbolized by an Indian raising his hands towards an eagle. While exploring visual traces, I also began to become aware of other forms of stereotyping such as the portrayal in newspaper articles in the Stars and Stripes, the official review of the American Expeditionary Forces, of the "typical" image of Native American soldiers as brave yet primitive warriors.

The presence of American Indians in the Great War as symbols interested me all the more as I found little on their actual presence. Accordingly, I began looking for information on the image of the Indian, in order to try to understand the meaning of the symbol of the Indian in the Great War. At this point, I had the good fortune to be directed to Russel L. Barsh. The information he sent me and the discussion we had later helped me a great deal to advance in my understanding of the subject of the actual presence of Native Americans in WWI. At the same time, with no desire to duplicate Russel Barsh's extensive research, and without the time in the course of a year's research to explore American archives myself, I realized that Russel Barsh was likely to be my only source on this aspect of my study. I therefore decided to put less emphasis on my treatment of the presence of American Indians in military units in France, and devote more energy to exploring the causes that led to their participation in the first place. In the same way, all consequences of the participation of American Indians in the Great War are limited in my study to the years immediately following WWI. It would have been quite another undertaking to analyse the long-term consequences of their military experience.

During my investigations at the French military and diplomatic archives, I rapidly realized that I would find little, if anything, on the participation of Native Americans in the Great War. Thus, I turned increasingly towards the B.D.I.C. (Bibliothèque de Documentation Internationale Contemporaine) in Nanterre, the Documentation Center of the Historial de la Grande Guerre (Museum of the Great War) in Péronne, the C.R.H.E.U. (Centre de Recherches sur l'Histoire des Etats-Unis) in Paris, and the B.P.I. (Bibliothèque Publique d'Information, Beaubourg) in Paris, for primary sources in the form of original documents or compilations of texts made later. As time went on, I gathered more and more primary documents, along with all the related secondary sources, the analysis of which helped me to understand many unclear points. I eventually found myself with more material than I had anticipated. What there was enabled me to carry out this study but, even more than that, it opened vistas of promising fields of study.





   Chapter I. "FRIENDLIES" BEFORE 1917


    1. Friends and Allies

    1.1. Friends

    1.2. Allies

    1.2.1. Inter-Indian Alliances before the Europeans

    The Iroquois Confederacy
    The Powhatan Confederacy

    1.2.2. From Colonial Times to the War of 1812

    The Pequot War, 1636-1637
    King Philip's War, 1675-1676
    The Covenant Chain
    The French and Indian War, 1754-1763
    The American Revolution, 1775-1783
    The War of 1812

    1.2.3. The Civil War, 1861-1865

    2. Scouts

    2.1. Enlisting Indian Scouts, Military Efficiency and the "Civilizing" Process

    2.2. Enlisting as an Indian Scout

    3. Indian Police and Regulars

    3.1. Indian Police

    3.2. American Indian Regulars

    3.2.1. The Civil War

    American Indian Soldiers in the Confederate Troops
    American Indian Soldiers Fighting with the Union

    3.2.2. The 1891-1897 Experience

    3.2.3. American Indian Soldiers Abroad, 1898-1916

    Conclusion Chapter I




    1. Grant's Peace Policy and Its Developments, 1869-1879

    1.1. From Military Uniforms to Men of the Cloth
    1.2. The Last Native American Upheavals

    2. The "Social Gospel," 1879-1897

    2.1. Growing Concern for the American Indians

    2.1.1. The Ponca Removal and Flight of the Cheyenne
    2.1.2. Humanitarian Organizations
    2.1.3. Education

    2.2. Allotment and Resistance

    2.2.1. Allotment

    The General Allotment Act (February 8, 1887)
    Allotment in Indian Territory

    2.2.2. Ghost Dance; A Doomed Revival

    Misery on the Reservations
    The Ghost Dance

    3. A "Progressive Era" for the American Indians, 1897-1917

    3.1. Loss of Lands and Acculturation

    3.1.1. Acceleration of Allotment

    The Five Commissioners of Indian Affairs
    The Culmination of Allotment

    3.1.2. Difficult Adaptation for the American Indians

    3.1.3. Two Forms of Pan-Indianism

    The Peyote Religion
    The Society of American Indians

    3.2. Education and Health

    3.2.1. From Off-Reservation Boarding School to the Public School

    Attack on the Off-Reservation School System
    Vocational Training

    3.2.2. Indian Health

    Conclusion Chapter II




    1. Inventing the Indian and Representing Him from the First Encounters to the Civil War

    1.1. From Colonial Times to the 1820s

    1.1.1. The Colonial Period
    1.1.2. The Indian of the Young Republic

    1.2. The Romantic Indian: Paintings and Literature

    1.2.1. James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
    1.2.2. George Catlin (1796-1872)

    2. Various Images of the Indian, 1860-1917

    2.1. The People's Indian


    2.1.1. From the Dime Novels to the First Movies

    - Dime Novels
    - Wild West Shows
    - First Movies

    2.1.2. Objects in Wide Circulation

    - Popular Art and Advertising
    - Coins
    - Postcards

    2.1.3. The European's Indian

    European Popular Literature and the Example of Karl May

    - Context
    - Karl May (1842-1912)

    Imported Exoticism

    - Newspaper Articles and Ethnological Exhibitions in France
    - Newspaper Articles
    - Ethnological Exhibitions

    Conclusion 2.1 The People's Indian

    2.2. The Vanishing, the Scientific, and the Official Indian in the United States

    2.2.1. The Vanishing Indian

    - Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952)
    - Joseph Kossuth Dixon and Rodman Wanamaker

    2.2.2. The Scientific Indian

    2.2.3. The Official Indian: International Fairs

   Conclusion, Chapter III. Portraying the Indian








    1. Debate: Segregation vs. Integration

    1.1. State of Affairs in April 1917

    1.1.1. Segregationists
    1.1.2. Integrationists

    1.2. De Facto All-Indian Units

    2. Were Native Americans Subject to the Draft in 1917?

    2.1. American Indian Citizenship in 1917

    2.2. American Indians and the Draft

    2.2.1. Indian Draft Status
    2.2.2. Draft Incidents
    2.2.3. Entering the War as a Sovereign Nation

    Conclusion Chapter I




    1. Indian Military Service in WWI

    1.1. Numbers, Overall View

    1.1.1. Total Indian Participation: State of the Research
    1.1.2. How Many Volunteered for the Canadian Army?
    1.1.3. Indians in the Army: Numbers and Proportions
    1.1.4. Casualties

    1.2. Registration, Draft, and Assignments

    1.2.1. Registration
    1.2.2. Draft
    1.2.3. Assignments

    1.3. Origins

    1.3.1. Indian School Students
    1.3.2. Geographic Origin of American Indian Soldiers

    1.4. Motivations

    1.4.1. Military Training at Indian Schools
    1.4.2. Patriotism
    1.4.3. "Common Cause with the Allies"
    1.4.4. Proof of American Loyalty

    1.5. The Front

    1.5.1. Heroes, Like All the Others
    1.5.2. The Choctaw Code Talkers
    1.5.3. Life on the Front: the Work of the Y.M.C.A.

    2. American Indian Civil Service During WWI

    2.1. Liberty Bonds

    2.2. Working for the Government and the Red Cross

    2.2.1. Recruiting Agents
    2.2.2. Liberty Bond and War Stamp Salespersons
    2.2.3. Supporting the Red Cross

    2.3. Wartime Work Efforts





    1. The "Redskins" Against the "Huns"

    1.1. Sources

    1.2. The German Seen by the Americans and the American Indian Seen by the German

    1.2.1. The Huns
    1.2.2. The "Hun" Identifying with the "Redskin"
    1.2.3. The "Huns" Frightened by the "Redskins"

    1.3. The Everlasting Stereotypes, and a New One

    1.3.1. Savage against Savage: Civilizing Process
    1.3.2. The Primitive Warrior
    1.3.3. "The Millionaire Company"

    2. Visual Representations

    2.1. Unit Insignia
    2.2. Graffiti
    2.3. American Memorials

    Conclusion Chap. III




    1. "War as a Civilizer"

    1.1. Integration in the Military

    1.1.1. Lt. Eddy's Report on Indian Abilities
    1.1.2. Debate: Separate Units vs. Total Integration, Part II

    1.2. Strangers in a Strange Land

    1.2.1. Wartime Fraternization
    1.2.2.War as a Rite of Passage

    1.3.Citizenship and 1924 Citizenship Acts

    The November 6, 1919 Indian Citizenship Act
    The June 2, 1924 Indian Citizenship (Snyder) Act

    1.3.2. The Refusal of Citizenship

    2. Impact on the Life of Native Americans

    2.1. Back to Everyday Life

    2.1.1. An Irrelevant Experience
    2.1.2. Culture Shock

    2.2. Influence on Ceremonies and Traditional Tribal Life

    2.3. Wartime Loss of Land

    2.4. The Indian Medical Service

    Conclusion Chap. IV.






   1 . Stars and Stripes. January 17, 1919.
   2 . L'Illustration. n°3961, February 1, 1919, facing p.118.
   3 . Postcard edited by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1992. "Fragment de toile ayant appartenu à Harold Buckley Willis." Musée national de la Coopération Franco-Américaine, Château de Blérancourt. Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Thenault. L'Escadrille Lafayette, Avril 1916-Janvier 1918. Paris: Hachette, 1939, p.75.

Diane Camurat