has guest speaker
"Warriors in Khaki: Indian Doughboys in the Great War" was the
featured presentation to a packed room at the library during the
Platte County Historical Society's meeting Jan. 31.
Doug Cubbison, curator for the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum
in Casper, showed slides as he discussed the service of Native Americans
from Wyoming during World War I. He said the museum's "Warriors
in Khaki" exhibit was inspired by a quote from the book "Americans
at the Front" by F.A. McKenzie.
"This guy saw Wyoming Indians on the front line," Cubbison said.
Cubbison remarked that in 1917, when the United States entered
World War I, it was not easy for the military to trust Native Americans
since their last clash had just happened in December 1890 at Wounded
"That was as close to them as the first Gulf War is to us,"
Cubbison said. "It's not that long ago."
However, Maj. Gen. Hugh Scott, who was chief of staff of the
U.S. Army in 1917, and Army Gen. John Pershing, who commanded the
American Expeditionary Force in Europe at the time, were both familiar
with Native American soldiers and impressed by their skills. Both
men thought Indians made fine non-commissioned officers.
Cubbison said although there had been Native Americans in the
U.S. Army since the Civil War, such as the Army's Indian scouts,
most were not formal soldiers but more like contract workers.
In the 1890s Hugh Scott organized Troop L of the 7th Cavalry,
comprising all Native Americans, which Cubbison said became the
best unit in the U.S. Cavalry. After 10 years, the U.S. government
disbanded Troop L. Cubbison said Pershing had also had Native Americans
under his command.
Cubbison discussed the Rodman Wanamaker Expedition of Citizenship,
which began June 17, 1913, and was meant to demonstrate Indian patriotism
even though Native Americans were not legally U.S. citizens
at the time, but citizens of their respective Indian nations.
Cubbison explained Wanamaker's father was the founder of the
first department store in the nation, and his family very wealthy.
As a child in Pennsylvania, Wanamaker enjoyed Buffalo Bill Cody's
Wild West shows. He grew up to fund trips to the West to see the
Indians before their way of life vanished. Wanamaker hired Joseph
Dixon, who Cubbison described as a "shady character
a minister." Dixon convinced Wanamaker he knew all about the Indians.
Once they start making their trips to the West, however, Dixon
was appalled at the conditions he saw on reservations. Cubbison
said Dixon became increasingly strident in his criticism of the
Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Expedition of Citizenship toured several Indian nations
and held a ceremony at each one, visiting Wind River on Oct. 11,
1913. The ceremony stressed that Indians were U.S. citizens
although they weren't and featured the gift of a flag and
Indian leaders signing proclamations of their patriotism.
"Those proclamations were turned over to the BIA," Cubbison
said. "We believe the BIA destroyed all those proclamations."
Cubbison theorized the BIA destroyed the Expedition of Citizenship's
documents after "Dixon calls 'em out" regarding the appalling conditions
In April 1917 when the U.S. declared war, Scott and Pershing
both wanted Indian soldiers on the Mexican border to free up soldiers
for the front. Others didn't know if Indians could be trusted. Cubbison
Scott and Pershing ended the argument when they said "we need 'em"
and then proceeded to integrate Native American soldiers into the
"This is a huge paradigm shift in our culture," Cubbison said.
"This was the first time the Army incorporated non-whites into the
Army mainly because of Hugh Scott."
One complication at the time was the draft, which was still
law at the time. Cubbison said the federal government did "what
it often does," which was put the burden on counties, telling the
counties to figure out whether they should draft Native Americans
or not. Some counties did, some didn't, and the U.S. ended up with
about 12,500 active-duty Native American servicemen mostly
in the Army, but some in the Navy.
Cubbison said Native Americans made top-notch soldiers as Scott
and Pershing had predicted.
"Also, their languages came in handy," he said, noting the first
code talkers were some Choctaw Indians. For instance, the Choctaw
had no word for "machine gun," so they would come up with their
own words for it and thus make up their own code.
Cubbison noted Germans were also terrified of Native Americans,
having received much of their information from pulp fiction. American
commanders would often advertise that they had Native Americans
among them, convincing terrified Germans that all manner of horror
and scalpings were in store.
Wyoming Indian Cpl. Thomas Saunders, for instance, was able
to capture 63 Germans with the assistance of just one other soldier
after the men had cut their way through barbed wire to a village.
Saunders received the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts.
Cubbison said Saunders was the most highly decorated Wyoming
soldier in World War I. Saunders was also one of the six pall bearers
for the Unknown Soldier. Saunders was discharged from the service
in 1939, then worked for the Corps of Engineers during World War
Cubbison lamented that historians have not had much success
so far in tracing Wyoming Indians in the military in fact,
they have only four names.
In addition to Saunders, Wyoming Native Americans in World War
I include Roy Shade Large, who is buried in Wheatland Cemetery;
Pvt. Arthur B. Ried, 13th Field Artillery, 4th Division, a Navajo
who enlisted in Sheridan; and Pvt. John Washakie, a grandson of
Chief Washakie, born July 19, 1899, at Fort Washakie on the Wind
River Indian Reservation.
"We need to do more research," Cubbison said. "I'm sure there
are more than four men from this state."
He expressed envy at the great book of Native American doughboys
that North Dakota has compiled.
Cubbison's presentation concluded with two acts of Congress:
"an act granting citizenship to certain Indians" in 1919, which
granted citizenship to all Native American veterans of World War
I, and the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, aka the Snyder Act, which
granted full U.S. citizenship to all the indigenous peoples of the
"Indian suffrage happened because of people like Corporal Saunders,"