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Native Americans Role in World War I Research Paper

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Updated: May 26th, 2020

One of the factors that influenced Native Indians active participation in the First World War was patriotism. However, historians are in disagreement on this issue, Camurat is of the opinion that some native Indians out of patriotism requested to participate in the war.1 Camurat in her thesis mentions Chief Red Fox’s journey to Washington in 1917, to see Newton baker offering the services of his fellow Indians in the War he was quoted as saying, “from all over the West we now stand ready­ 50,000 Indians between the ages of seventeen and fifty-five. We beg of you, to give us the right to fight. We guarantee to you, sir, our hearts could be for no better cause than to fight for the land we love, and for the freedom, we share.”2

There were also assimilated Indians who by the virtue of proximity to the Whites developed a spirit of patriotism, education also contributed to the development of patriotism as some of them were already educated. Most of the students who went to schools away from the reserves came to the realization that they were, ‘first Americans and then indians second.’3 The schools also taught patriotic songs as well as observation of national holidays, this played a significant role in the development of patriotism as well as breaking the underlying tribal ties in the among the Indian students.

In addition, the economic conditions in the reserves was also played a role as a motivating factor. The natives in the reserves experienced poor economic conditions. These conditions forced them to find opportunities far from the desparation in the reservations. Finger, explains that just as Oneinda Indian had done in 1863 during the civil war, so did Thomas Mails by enlisting the Apache soldiers in 1917.4

Cato Sells the Commissioner of Indian affairs undertook the registration of native Indians in the reservations, he was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs as well as the governor the Indian reservations.5 “He coordinated mobilization and the registration of all persons living in the reservations through his supritendants and by July of 1917, Sells had completed the process.”6

Soon after the registration, the drafting began, all male Indians between twenty one and thirty years of age who were citizens, qualified for the draft, there was a sizable turnout for drafting as they registered in numbers. Native Indians served in all segment of the American army during the Fisrt World War, some were in the Calvery and others in the Military Police. They were known to be war like and ready for action a reputation that suited them in this war.7 Indian Women were not left out, they also participated in the war as nurses, entertainers and caterers. Some of the Indian women who entered this war were, Tsianina Redfeather, Anne Ross a descendant of Cherokee chief, John Ross.8

Native Indians displayed varoius acts of bravery and were instrumental in most occasions, they won praises from their counterparts as well as the commanders. One noted incident was the offensive at St. Mihiel in France, according to Britten;

“As fighting continued along the Vesles Sector, Pershing in mid-August began preparation for an offensive against the St. Mihiel stronghold. Early September 12, 1918, nearly 3000 American artillery guns opened fire at on German positions near St. Mihiel. Four hours after the artillery began its bombardments, the American ground assault began and for the next five days, American and French troops swamped through the forest and villages near St. Mihiel. The AEL reported 7000 casualties, taken nearly 15,000 German prisoners, captured 450 guns and secured the german position.”9

Major Frank Knox noted that the Indians showed great courage under fire, also singled out was Sam Lanier, a Cherokee who received praise for his performance. He was a truck driver and worked six days without sleep and never abandoned his truck under intense shelling.10

There has been conflicting information regarding the number of native Indians who participated in the First World War. Boston Hampton Committee indicated that 12,000 Indians were enlisted in the Canadian army and 5000 in the United States army. The committee does not mention in detail how many volunteers served in the United States forces.11 According to Hazel Hertzberg, an article written in 1920 by Red Fox mentioned 9,000 Indians in the Army, whom he refered to as “young braves.”12 Cato Sells who was in charge of Indian Affairs mentioned 6,000 enlisted Indian men in 1918 and later changed to 10,000 servicemen.13

According to Alison Bernstein while quoting from Micheal Tate and Jennings Wise estimates the number at 10,000 who she refers to as volunteers.14 The final report by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs mentioned that 6,509 Indians went to war, though the figures do not include volunteers.15 It is generally assumed looking at the data from the local Indian agencies, that the volunteers matched those who were inducted by 50%, these makes the number many scholars believe to have served at 13,000.16

The number of Indian soldiers who died in the war was high compared to that of the American Forces, as most of them were in the frontline and brave enough to take on the action. Norton, et al. (1990) claims that out of every 5 deaths, one was an Indian.They further assert that disease was as deadly as the war, half the deaths were caused by influenza that was wide spread all over the world during this period.

Effects of World War One on Indian Soldiers and Their Families

The American Psychological Association initiated a series of tests on the Indian soldiers who returned from the war. There was the Eddy’s psychological tests, Stanford- Binet test which classified the inductees based on their intelligence. The testing program came to an end in 1919 with the revelation that most of the inductees were illiterate.17

After the war, Indians were integrated into the army and most of them pursued carriers in the military. There was a heated debate then, whether to separate or integrate the Indians. One of the proponents of separation was Joseph Dixon who went as far as addressing the House Committee on Military Affairs on his separatist ideas. His plan was to help assimilate indians through training, he proposed gathering Indian divisions to be positioned near the reservations not to profit the Indians but from them.18 His ideas received wide spread condemnations from American Indian organizations and in 1917 the Committee rejected them.19

During the war, the Indians were not only few compared to total number of the U.S Army, but scattered among them as well. This had a profound effect on them because most of them changed their way of life as they adopted to white man’s life and manners. They were not segregated as their African American counterparts. This situation led to what Barsh termed the “civilizing effect of the war.”20 Their experience in France exposed them to a situation they could not have imagined before the war, they saw new landscapes, heard new languages and mingled with people with different cultures. These experiences broadened their minds and horizons.21

Many of the Native American soldiers who saw combat became traumatized just as the other war veterans. They were not happy to be away from combat instead, many of them became depressed. The deadly combat left them mentally scarred, their “homes became foreign, filled with aliens”. Most of them educated on the battlefield, could only share their experiences with those whom they served with in the war. This generation turned out to be a physically and morally “lost generation.”22 They did not adapt well to life in the reservation and would not speak of their experiences. They thought the horror they saw was irrelevant to their people instead, they took refuge in silence.

After their return from the war, Indian soldiers were offered a chance to become citizens of the United States. “The Indian Citizenship Act enacted on 6th November 1919 was not an automatic citizenship but upon application”.23The Commissioner of Indian Affairs then, greeted it as a “just and fitting tribute to the intelligence, patriotism, and courage of the young men of a virile and enduring race.”24 However not all of them took the chance because they still considered the white man the foreigner in addition, some just did not care.

The soldiers who returned from battle not only were exposed to money but worldly and selfish attitudes. In their interaction with the white men and other cultures, they learnt the value of money and consumption of alcohol. When they finally came back home to the reservations, many of them used the money paid as compensation and benefits in drinking alcohol. Nonetheless, they started stealing cattle and sold them to buy whisky. These practices were unheard of in the Sioux Country, which further alienated them from their people, a situation that frustrated their family members.25 Nonetheless, the war had a terrible effect on the families of those who returned home as well as those who lost their lives in the war. The war resulted in many Indian deaths and their families were shaken as some of these soldiers were heads of their families.

While the Indians were fighting in the war, the whites took advantage of the war to acquire Indian lands. A member of the Board of Indian Commission was quoted in 1918 saying;

“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. I am rather inclined to favor not only a liberal leasing policy but also a rather liberal selling policy touching surplus land.”26

In 1917, Franklin Lane, the then Secretary of the Interior said that the acquired Indian agricultural land had increased to 50 from 25%. He also expected to acquire another 50,000 acres within one year that would be cultivated under leases.27

Indian Politics during 1850-1940

After the Civil war, those in charge of the Indian affairs were concerned about the state of the Indian country. Miners had invaded the Indian country; the Indians also seemed to bear a heavy cost of military warfare. There were incidences that took place in the Sioux country such as the massacre at Sand Creek that took place in November 1864, white settlers’ aggression and the diminishing number of the Indian population as reported by the Doolittle Committee in 1867 that led to the creation of the United States Peace Commission. The work of this Commission was to facilitate the signing of treaties with the Indians to ensure their peaceful coexistence with the whites. A major concern of the policy makers was advancement of the transcontinental railways. 28 This commission signed a treaty in October 1867 that created reservations for southern Plains Indians and in 1868, a treaty that set aside Great Sioux reserve in Dakotas for the northern Plain Indians.29

In April 1869, President Ulysses Grant, established the Board of Indian Commissioners. This Board composed of eminent men mostly protestant Christians who were to serve without remuneration.30 This commission was to create reservations, discourage tribal practices and help assimilate the Indians into the American system as citizens. Eighteen Sixty-eight saw the ceding of Ponca reservation by the treaty of Fort Laramie to Sioux. In 1877, they were removed from Indian Territory as many of them died.31 The other two incidences that resulted in a huge public outcry was the movement of Northern Cheyenne further north in 1878 and the capture of Chief Nez Percés. A Senate Committee investigation revealed unwarranted treatment of this population.32

These kinds of sufferings seemed a common occurrence in this era and caused angry reaction by human rights activists, which resulted in the formation of humanitarian associations. A good example was the “Indian Rights Association in 1882 founded by Henry Pancoast and Herbert Welsh.”33 This association advocated for investigations and legislation in the Indian territories. They organized themselves into a national network of branches and found a forum of exchange as early as 1883.34

In 1887, the government introduced the General Allotment Act, which was to authorize the president of the United States to allot land in the reservations. This act was to help break the tribal connections of the Indians, civilize them and grant them citizenship upon allotment. It was also aimed at making farmers out of the Indians. The act also gave the Secretary of interior authority to buy the surplus land from the allotment process.

The treasury would then educate and try to civilize the respective communities using some of the money from the sale of their land. However, those tribes that were considered as civilized were excluded from the act. The then Senator from Colorado Henry Teller did not agree with the contents of the act and opposed it from the start saying that “ought to be entitled ‘a bill to despoil the Indians of their lands and to make them vagabonds on the face of the earth.”35 His sentiments were accurate and later used in criticizing the Act in 1920 and early 1930.

In 1880, the tribes whose territories that had been excluded from the Allotment Act were proclaimed by as open settlement land. Whites’ settlers and railway companies exerted the pressures under the pretext that there was wide spread lawlessness in the territories leading to the formation of a formal territorial government in “Oklahoma in 1890 and in 1907, Oklahoma became a State of the Union.”36 By 1893, 15 million acres of Cherokee land was made available for white settlement. In 1898, the Curtis Act outlawed tribal practices putting all Indian territories under United States jurisdiction. By 1907, the Federal government declared native Indians United States citizens.37 Most of the lands finally allotted by 1920 were “North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and northern California.”38

The Allotment Act raised many problems; one assumption was, upon the death of the owner during the twenty-five year trust period, the land was to be divided and inherited by a descendant. The result would be smaller pieces of land that could not be developed; in addition, the heirs had their own land to worry about. In 1907, the Congress authorized the sale of inherited land, but this did not solve the problem and this resulted in fractionalization of Native Indian land. 39

The prevailing conditions of the time did not make it easy for the Indians to adapt farming as it was expected of them. Most of the allotments were located in areas with minimal rainfall. It was hard to farm without water, furthermore; most of them did not have money to buy basic agricultural tools. On the realization of this fact, the Indian office initiated a wide scale irrigation scheme financed by money from the tribal funds. However, the Indians did not cultivate their land and preferred leasing them out. In addition, the irrigation threatened their water rights.40

In 1900, life in the Indian reservations proved desperate. There was the creation of the Indian Police as well as the establishment of Courts. It appeared as if their land was taken from them and even worse, the Whiteman destroyed the traditions that they valued as well as their internal unity. The Indian Courts punished offences such as polygamous marriages, dances, medicine practices and most practices the white did not understand.41

Native Indian Life during World War One

In 1911, at Columbus Ohio, Fayette McKenzie together with a group of prominent American Indians who included, Dr. Charles A. Eastman, Charles E. Daganett, Dr. Carlos Montezuma Reverend Sherman Coolidge, Thomas L. Sloan, Henry Roe Cloud and Arthur C. Parker formed the Society of American Indians.42 The members all went to white man’s schools and were guided by evolutionary ideas. The adapted a platform of education and citizenship for the American Indians. They seemed to favor assimilation and published the Quarterly Journal for two years between 1913 and 1915, they also published American Indian magazine for five years from 1915 to 1920. However, consensus faded away as they failed to agree upon the suppression of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Moreover, the use of peyote became a controversial issue as some of them opposed it while others were part of it.43

When the United States finally entered the war, there was great need of resources to finance the war. Liberty bonds were used to finance the war; Cato Sells encouraged the Indians at home to participate in the war by subscribing the bonds. By the time the first issue of Liberty Bonds came out American Indians had subscribed to over $ 4 million. 44 The commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells cited the move as motivated by investment need rather than patriotism. He regarded this to suggest growth of Indian attitude pertaining to their general welfare.45 The involvement of Indian schools was significant as they provided support as volunteers to the Red Cross. Thirty thousand pupils worked as volunteers sewing, gathering moss to make surgical pads and pillows.

The difference between the attitude of American Indians before, during and after the war is striking. The Native Indians were concern with their way of life and resisted any form of interference in their way of life. A good example is The Chief of Comanches who surrendered to the Whites in the battle of Adobe, just because he wanted to keep the traditions he inherited from his parents. They valued their traditional patterns and could do anything to save the cultural lives from annihilation.

On the other hand, they we see them subjugated by their so-called enemy and confined to the reservations. They did not seem to understand what was going on around them; perhaps because they were not farmers and did not put value in their land. However, during the war, they seemed willing to participate alongside the Whiteman. The Whiteman had classified them as either noble and peaceful or war-like. Nonetheless, they undergo intensive assimilation. By 1917, they are serving in the United States Army symbolizing Americanness and fully participating in the United States intervention in Europe. After the war, many took their rightful place as citizens of the United States of America.

Bibliography

American Indian Y.M.C.A. Bulletin. “Lessons from Army Life.” Virginia: Amstrong, 1919. Web.

Barsh, Russel L. “American Indians in the Great War.” Ethnohistory, 38, no.3 (1991): 276-303. Web.

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

Boston Hampton Committee. A Brief Sketch of the Record of the American Negro and Indian in the Great War. The Committee, Boston: Boston Hampton Committee, 1919. Web.

Britten, Thomas A. American Indians in World War I: At home and at war. University of New Mexico Press, 1998. Web.

Camurat, Diane. The American Indian in the Great War: Real and Imagined. Diane Camurat, 1993. Web.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History. New York: Random House, 1973. Web.

Commissioner of Indian Affairs Report. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984. Web.

Delanoë, Nelcaya, and Joëlle Rostkowski. Les Indiens dans l’Histoire américaine. Nancy: Presses universitaires de Nancy, 1991. Web.

Department of the Interior. Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918. Web.

Finger, John R. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the Twentieth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. Web.

French, Warren. The ‘Lostness’ of a Joyless Generation. Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle,1993. Web.

Hagan, William T. United States Indian Policies, 1860-1890. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. Web.

Hertzberg, Hazel W. Indian Rights Movement, 1887-1973. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. Web.

Hertzberg, Hazel W. The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1972. Web.

Hoxie, Frederick E. A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Web.

Kelly, Laurence C. United States Indian Policies, 1900-1980. Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. Web.

Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Web.

Mails, Thomas E. Fools Crow. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. Web.

Norton, Mary Beth, et al. A People and a Nation. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990. Web.

Prucha, Francis Paul. In Documents of United States Indian Policy. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Pres, 1975. Web.

Prucha, Francis Paul. Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian,” 1880-1900. Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1973. Web.

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

Prucha, Francis Paul. The United States Government and the American Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991. Web.

Tate, Michael L. “From scout to Doughboy: The National debate over integrating American Indians into the military 1891-1918.” Western Historical Quarterly, (1986): 434-35. Web.

Utley, Robert M. Indian-United States Military Situation, 1848-1891. Smithsonian Institution: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. Web.

Footnotes

1 Camurat, Diane. The American Indian in the Great War: Real and Imagined (1993).

2 ibid

3 ibid

4 Finger, John R. ” Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the Twentieth Century ( Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 43.

5 Camurat, Diane. The American Indian in the Great War: Real and Imagined (1993).

6 ibid

7 ibid

8 ibid

9 Britten, Thomas A. American Indians in World War I: at home and at war (University of New Mexico Press, 1998).

10 ibid

11 Boston Hampton Committee. A Brief Sketch of the Record of the American Negro and Indian in the Great War. The Committee (Boston:Boston Hampton Committee, 1919).

12 Hertzberg, Hazel W. The Search for an American Indian Identity: Modern Pan-Indian Movements (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1972).

13 Prucha, Francis Paul. The United States Government and the American Indians. (Lincoln :University of Nebraska Press, 1991).

14 Bernstein, Alison R. American Indians and World War II. (Norman & London :University of Oklahoma Press, 1991).

15 Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The American Indian and the United States: A Documentary History (New York: Random House, 1973).

16 Camurat, Diane. The American Indian in the Great War: Real and Imagined (1993).

17 Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).

18 Tate, Michael L. “From Scout to Doughboy: The National Debate Over Integrating American Indians into the Military 1891-1918.” (Western Historical Quarterly, October 17 1986) 434-35.

19 ibid

20 Barsh, Russel L. “American Indians in the Great War.” Ethnohistory, (1991).

21 American Indian Y.M.C.A. Bulletin. “Lessons from Army Life.” (1919) 2.

22 French, Warren. The ‘Lostness’ of a Joyless Generatio. (Paris: Presses de la Sorbonne nouvelle, 1993).

23 Prucha, Francis Paul. In Documents of United States Indian Policy (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1975).

24 Commissioner of Indian Affairs Report. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press , 1984).

25 Mails, Thomas E. Fools Cro. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979).

26 Department of the Interior. Forty-Ninth Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1918).

27 Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indian (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).

28 Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indian (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).

29 ibid

30 Hagan, William T. United States Indian Policies, 1860-1890 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1988).

31 Hoxie, Frederick E. A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880-1920. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

32 Utley, Robert M. “Indian-United States Military Situation, 1848-1891.” In History of Indian-White Relations, by Wilcomb E Washburn and William C Sturtevan (Smithsonian Institution: Smithsonian Institution, 1988), 175-76.

33 Pruncha, Francis Paul. Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian,” 1880-1900. (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1973).

34 Hertzberg, Hazel W. “Indian Rights Movement, 1887-1973.” In History of Indian-White Relations, by Wilcomb E Washburn and William C Sturtevant (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988),305.

35 Delanoë, Nelcaya, and Joëlle Rostkowski. Les Indiens dans l’Histoire américaine (Nancy: Presses universitaires de Nancy, 1991).

36 Prucha, Francis Paul. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).

37 ibid

38 Kelly, Laurence C. “United States Indian Policies, 1900-1980.” In History of Indian-White Relations, by E Wilcomb Washburn and William C Sturtevant (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988),66.

39 Kelly, Laurence C. “United States Indian Policies, 1900-1980.” In History of Indian-White Relations, by E Wilcomb Washburn and William C Sturtevant (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988),66.

40 ibid

41 ibid

42 Hertzberg, Hazel W. “Indian Rights Movement, 1887-1973.” In History of Indian-White Relations, by Wilcomb E Washburn and William C Sturtevant (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988),305.

43 Hertzberg, Hazel W. “Indian Rights Movement, 1887-1973.” In History of Indian-White Relations, by Wilcomb E Washburn and William C Sturtevant (Washington, D.C: Smithsonian Institution, 1988),305.

44 Camurat, Diane. The American Indian in the Great War: Real and Imagined (1993).

45 Commissioner of Indian Affairs Report. The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians (Lincoln &London: University of Nebraska Press , 1984).

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