Native American Soldiers
Native American soldiers fought on both sides in the American Revolutionary War, American Civil War, U.S Indian Wars, and in every modern war since. Here are some of their stories.
Remembering Wounded Knee 1973
Ah-ho My Relations,
Today is heavy with prayer and reminisces for me. Not only are those who walk for the Yellowstone Buffalo reaching their destination, today is the anniversary of the night when, at the direction of the Oglala Chiefs, I went with a special squad of warriors to liberate Wounded Knee in advance of the main AIM caravan.
For security reasons the people had been told everyone was going to a meeting/wacipi in Porcupine, the road goes through Wounded Knee.
When the People arrived at the Trading Post we had already set up a perimeter, taken eleven hostages, run the B.I.A. cops out of town, cut most phone lines, and began 73 days of the best, most free time of my life.
The honor of being chosen to go first still lives strong in my heart.
That night we had no idea what fate awaited us. It was a cold night with not much moonlight and I clearly remember the nervous anticipation I felt as we drove the back-way from Oglala into Wounded Knee.
The Chiefs had tasked me with a mission and we were sworn to succeed, of that I was sure, but I couldn’t help wondering if we were prepared.
The FBI, BIA and Marshalls had fortified Pine Ridge with machine gun bunkers and A.P.C.s with M-60’s. They had unleashed the goonsquad on the people and a reign of terror had begun, we knew we had to fight but we could not fight on wasicu terms.
We were lightly armed and dependent on the weapons and ammo in the WK trading post, I worried that we would not get to them before the shooting started.
As we stared silently into the darkness driving into the hamlet I tried to forsee what opposition we would encounter and how to neutralize it…
We were approaching a sacred place and each of us knew it.
We could feel it deep inside.
As a warrior leading warriors I humbly prayed to Wakonda for the lives of all and the wisdom to do things right. Never before or since have I offered my tobacco with such a plea or put on my feathers with such purpose. It was the birth of the Independent Oglala Nation.
Things went well for us that night, we accomplished our task without loss of life.
Then, in the cold darkness as we waited for Dennis and Russ to bring in the caravan (or for the fight to start), I stood on the bank of the shallow ravine where our people had been murdered by Custers’ 7th Cavalry. There I prayed for the defenseless ones, torn apart by Hotchkiss cannon and trampled under hooves of steel by drunken wasicu.
I could feel the touch of their spirits as I eased quietly into the gully and stood silently… waiting for my future, touching my past.
Finally, I bent over and picked a sprig of sage – whose ancestors in 1890 had been nourished by the blood of Red babies, ripped from their mothers dying grasp and bayonetted by the evil ones.
As I washed myself with that sacred herb I became cold in my determination and cleansed of fear. I looked for Big Foot and YellowBird in the darkness and I said aloud —
“We are back my relations, we are home”.
Carter Camp- Ponca Nation AIM
FREE LEONARD PELTIER!!! NOW!!!
Soldier societies provided martial training, socialization, and preservation of tradition among the men who joined the groups.
Before Sweet Medicine created the Council of 44 Chiefs, there was chronic theft and murder among the Cheyenne people. To find a solution to these social problems, Sweet Medicine, the Cheyenne’s central cultural hero, ventured into the heart of the Black Hills country.
When he reached the sacred mountain known by the Cheyenne as Noahvose (today’s Bear Butte), he encountered a group of old men and old women. These elders instructed Sweet Medicine on how to solve the problem of Cheyenne anarchy.
He was told to implement “good government” by forming a council of forty-four chiefs and by organizing military societies to maintain a “good system of police and military protection.” Both Cheyenne civil councils and Cheyenne military organizations were, as the story suggests, structured on the basis of tradition and protocol.
Cheyenne Warrior Societies
- Himatanohis (Hĭmátanóhĭs, ‘Bowstring Men’)
- Himoiyoqis (Hĭ′moiyóqĭs, a word of doubtful meaning. Translated by whites as Crooked Lance Society). Also sometimes known as Oómi-nű′tqiu, Coyote warriors. Also known by the ethnohistorian George Grinnell as the Elks.
- Hotamimsaw (Hotám-ĭmsáw, ‘Foolish or Crazy Dogs’).
- Hotamitanio (Hotámitä′nio, ‘Dog Men’; sing., Hotámitä′n). Commonly known to the whites as Dog Soldiers.
- Woksihitaneo (Kit-Fox Men)
- Mahohivas (Red Shields )
- Konianutqio (Wolf Warriors) – Many scholars accept the view of George Bird Grinnell and his chief informant George Bent that the Bowstring Men and Wolf Warriors were the same society.
The Bowstrings were Southern Cheyenne while the Crazy Dogs were found exclusively among the Northern Cheyenne.
Each Cheyenne fraternal organization had its sacred symbols, decorations, dances, and songs.
This made members of each society different from those of other groups, and distinct from Cheyenne society as a whole.
Red Shield soldiers carried red shields that had the tail of a bison hanging from the base.
Wolf Soldiers were well known for both their military prowess and also for their elaborate social gatherings, which were complete with “noisy songs… effusive dances and the sparkling and varied colors of their outfits.”
Crooked Lance society members wrapped their lances in otter skins, while each member of the Dog Soldiers wore on his chest a whistle made of the bone of a bird.
A fierce contest existed between the various Cheyenne military organizations. Each society formed its own war parties and tried to “exceed the military accomplishments of rival societies.” Wooden Leg, who as a seventeen-year old warrior helped to defeat Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s command at the Little Bighorn, recalled that “the warrior societies competed with each other for effectiveness” in war and in status within the community.
“If an enemy party was small in number, soldier leaders selected only a few certain members of a society to do the fighting.”
“If this appointed segment of our fighters did well they were acclaimed. If they did not do well, especially if other warriors had to go to their assistance, the original combatants were discredited.”
As the cultural and military crisis deepened, the soldier societies responded by becoming more assertive. As their influence increased, the societies at times became arbitrary and dictatorial in their relationship with civil leadership and the community. They began to ignore the wishes of the Council of 44 Chiefs.
The most militant and elite society was that of the Dog Soldiers. The Dog Soldiers in particular came to exercise enormous influence and power. Though the last group to emerge, it became the most important, rising to unique prominence and power. The ascension of this society by the mid-1850s demonstrated the ability of the Cheyenne to respond to the national crisis created when United States citizens poured into the Cheyenne homeland.
When they went into battle, four of the bravest Dog Soldiers were chosen to wear sashes of tanned skins called “dog ropes.” Attached to each dog rope was a picket-pin [used to tether horses]. The pin was driven into the ground as a mark of resolve in combat.
When a Dog Soldier was staked to the ground in order to cover the retreat of his companions, he was required to remain there even if death was the consequence. The Dog Man could pull the pin from the ground only if his companions reached safety or another Dog Soldier released him from his duty.
The Dog Soldiers or Hotamitaneo asserted their dominance in many areas. They and the members of the other soldier societies maintained order in both the civil and the military spheres of Cheyenne life.
However, there had been traditional distinctions between civil and military authority among the Cheyenne.The ascension of the Dog Soldiers marked a breakdown of the separation between the civil and military elements of Cheyenne society.
The Dog Soldiers evolved into a political and military power as United States citizens poured into the Cheyenne homeland in the mid-1800s. As was their right in times of conflict, the military societies gained more control over their nation since its total mobilization was required to counter the assault.
The rise of the Dog Soldiers was not originally inspired by some momentous event in Cheyenne history. Instead, their ascent began with a sordid incident years earlier that freed them from many of the constraints of Cheyenne tradition and protocol.
Early in the winter of 1838, the Dog Soldier leader Porcupine Bear and a few of his warriors were traveling from camp to camp to recruit other societies to join them in a raid against the Kiowas. One village, located on the South Platte River in Wyoming, had just obtained whiskey from the American Fur Company post at Fort William (the future Fort Laramie).
According to Grenville Dodge, the “whole camp went to drinking that night.” Porcupine Bear and his men became drunk, and during the celebration, his two cousins Little Creek and Around became embroiled in a brawl. Around, getting beaten, begged Porcupine Bear to help him.
Porcupine Bear paid no attention. He sat alone in a corner of the lodge, singing to himself in a low voice. He was very drunk and was singing Dog Soldier songs.
Presently Little Creek rolled on top of Around, and drawing his knife raised his arm to strike: but at that moment Porcupine Bear leaped up in a sudden rage and springing upon Little Creek he wrenched the knife from his hand and stabbed him two or three times. He then forced the knife into Around’s hand and standing over him compelled him to finish Little Creek.
For this crime, Porcupine Bear and his followers were deemed outlaws by the tribe. They were forbidden to camp with other Cheyenne and banned from all national functions. Ostracized from society, Porcupine Bear and his men could only set up their lodges “near the village–a mile or two from it.”
The Dog Soldier Society in general “was also disgraced” and it was relieved of any future police responsibility. Porcupine Bear and his warriors still kept contact with other Cheyenne camps and fought on their behalf. In a battle at Wolf Creek with the Comanches and Kiowa, his men counted first coup. Porcupine Bear singularly killed twelve Kiowas. However, the Dog Men were still outlaws.
This alienation from the main camp, instead of chastening the warriors, led to the Dog Soldiers’ independence. Instead of being under the traditional band chiefs, the Dog Soldiers were now governed by their own band chiefs, all of whom were war leaders.
Men who became Dog Soldiers did so with the understanding that they would have to move their families and take up full-time residency among the Dogs. Instead of chastening the warriors, their alienation from the main camp led to the Dog Soldier society becoming independent from the rest of the Cheyenne bands.
Despite their alienation, the defiant and elite Dog Soldiers had no difficulty attracting young warriors. After the banishment, recruitment into the society snowballed until it comprised half of the fighting force of the tribe.
The Dog Soldiers lured the most militant of warriors into their ranks for their members would not give an inch to accommodate whites because they offered an alternative to the failed peace policies of civil leaders who were unable to prevent encroachment on their territory.
The distinction between being a military society and being a band of the Cheyenne became blurred as the Dog Soldiers became a separate division of the Cheyenne people.
The Dog Men represented a reorganization of Cheyenne society, a geographical movement, and a strong position on a political question in a disastrously changing world. The Dog Soldiers attracted all those who were unequivocally hostile to the encroachment of white settlers and prospectors and who chose war as the means to repulse this invasion of Indian country.
As the Dog Soldiers increased in members, they established a new domain for themselves. Dog Soldiers roamed east of the other Cheyenne bands, residing near the headwaters of the Republican and Smoky Hill between the Platte and Arkansas Rivers.
In this region they camped and intermarried with Republican River Brule and Oglala Lakotas. By the 1860s, bands of Lakota warriors and Cheyenne Dog Soldiers became fused into a single unit.
The restless and warlike elements of Brule and Oglala Lakotas were attracted by the defiant and obstinate nature of the Dog Soldiers, and vice versa. Together, the Cheyenne, their Arapaho associates, and the Lakotas would often form an informal alliance in the 1860s and 1870s to bar Euro-American settlement and fight the United States military on the central and northern Plains.
Cheyenne warriors also rode with Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches on the southern Plains to resist the intrusion of whites into their hunting grounds.
While most Cheyenne continued to honor the the civil chiefs for their wisdom and senior standing in society, young warriors gravitated toward militant factions such as the Dog Soldiers, for these were men of direct action. They preferred the leaders of the Hotamitaneo over those leaders who advocated peace, even though there was still much sentiment for it among both the Northern and Southern Cheyenne.
The civil leaders were becoming increasingly powerless, for the young men could not be controlled. The Dog Soldiers “forbade” one of their own principal leaders, Bull Bear, from attending a Southern Cheyenne treaty council with Gerry.
The Dog Soldiers feared that Bull Bear might be swayed by the influence of the peace chiefs there. They were determined to prevent the cession of more of the Republican River and Smoky Hill River country through the signing of another disastrous treaty like that made at Fort Wise, Colorado, two years earlier.
Many observers during this time believed that the Dog Soldiers had taken control of the Southern Cheyenne. While the civil chiefs attempted to carry out their traditional authority, white officials steadily recognized the Hotamitaneo as the main source of tribal power.
During the 1860s, the Dog Soldiers struck rail stations, wagon trains, and settlements and temporarily held off further expansion into Cheyenne country, making over 400 miles between Kansas and Colorado all but unpassable for white settlers.
Unfortunately because of the Dog Soldiers activities (as well as those of other soldier societies), peaceful Cheyenne became the target of territorial militias and the American military. The most tragic case of this came with the slaughter of the peace chief Black Kettle’s people at Sand Creek, Colorado, in November of 1864.
During the period 1865-1877, the Cheyenne were in continual conflict with the United States military. By the latter 1860s, the tide was slowly turning against the Cheyenne nation as the army gradually wore down Indian resistance. In early 1869, Cheyenne Dog Soldiers inflicted severe punishment on the Kansas frontier. This was partly in retaliation for the attack of George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry on Black Kettle’s village on the Washita River in Indian Territory in November 1868.
During the assault on this peaceful Cheyenne encampment, Black Kettle and his wife were killed, along with over one hundred Cheyenne (mostly women and children). It was after this that Roman Nose, a member of the Crooked Lance Society, began riding with the Dog Soldiers.
At the Little Big Horn, it was Crazy Horse and his Lakota warriors who defeated Reno’s column, and it was the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers who led the attack against Custer’s column. While the Lakota destroyed Reno, the Dog Soldiers decimated Custer. After Crazy Horse and the Lakota annihilated Reno, they, and the Arapaho, joined the Dog Soldiers against Custer and exterminated the U. S. 7th Cavalry.
This was the last major battle won by the Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors. The Northern Cheyenne were relentlessly pursued by eleven companies of cavalry under Mackenzie, along with his Pawnee and Shoshone scouts.
The pursuit ended when they located and leveled the encampment of Dull Knife in the Powder River country of Northern Wyoming on November 26, 1876. The Northern and Southern Cheyenne were forced onto reservations.
Several Indian agents asked the military societies to help keep the peace among the Cheyenne. The Dog Soldiers were particularly sought out by reservation officials to carry out this duty. But their obstinate nature and continued influence would pose a threat to government intentions.
The Dog Soldiers reemerged during the reservation period of the 1880s as a force in opposition to the assimilation programs of agency officials. At Darlington Agency, Dog Soldiers at times harassed and humiliated those who tried to accept the government’s policy of imposing the conquerors’ social and economic systems.
Though the Dog Soldiers never approached the political and military power they once had, they remained revered by other Cheyenne. They are still held in respect today.
Young Cheyenne are still recruited into this soldier clan. During the twentieth century, Dog Soldiers have served with the United States military in two World Wars and in the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf region.
While the power of the Dog Soldiers has mostly disappeared, the Cheyenne people have never forgotten their bravery..
Throughout November, the nation will celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month. This year’s theme is “Serving Our People, Serving our Nations: Native Visions for Future Generations.”
On Nov. 11, Americans also will celebrate Veterans Day. Through these two observances, Americans can celebrate not only the significant contributions of American Indians and Alaska natives to our heritage and culture but also their contribution to this country’s defense. “I am proud of the contributions of American Indians and Alaska natives to the heritage and legacy of America,” said Col. Trent Edwards, 42nd Air Base Wing commander. “As a military member, I am particularly proud of the contributions to our nation’s defense of American Indians. From the American Revolution to Operation Enduring Freedom, they have served this nation with valor and honor.”
The Boy Scouts of America, in 1915, originated the idea of a national recognition of American Indians.
By 1950, several states had recognized an American Indian Day, and in 1976, President Gerald Ford declared Oct. 10-16 as Native American Awareness Week.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed a joint resolution of Congress officially proclaiming November as National American Indian Heritage Month.
“During the month of November, I encourage our entire Maxwell-Gunter team to participate in National American Indian Heritage events and equally reflect on the diversity of America and the contributions of so many that keeps America so great,” Edwards said.
American Indians have significantly contributed to the heritage and culture of this country. For example, many still consider Jim Thorpe, whose mother was a Sac and Fox Indian, as one of America’s greatest athletes. Also, Maria Tallchief, whose father was Osage, received global recognition as America’s first prima ballerina.
American Indians have honorably served in all U.S. armed services since the American Revolution.
American Indians fought on both sides during the American Civil War, served as scouts during the Frontier Wars in the late 1800s, and were with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, Cuba in 1898.
During World War I, about 12,000 American Indians distinguished themselves in the brutal fighting in France. Of the approximately 600 Oklahoma American Indians, mostly Choctaw and Cherokee, assigned to the 142nd Infantry of the 36th Texas-Oklahoma National Guard Division, four received France’s Croix de Guerre (Cross of War) and others received Britain’s Church War Cross for gallantry for acts of heroism in combat.
More than 21,000 American Indians, including 800 women, fought in World War II. In November 1945, the U.S. Army Air Force’s Office of Indian Affairs reported that 71 American Indians had received the Air Medal, 51 the Silver Star, 47 the Bronze Star, and 34 the Distinguished Flying Cross. Five received the Medal of Honor, one posthumously.
Navajo Code Talkers
Perhaps the most famous group of American Indian servicemen during World War II was the Navajo code talkers. Serving as Marines in the Western Pacific, they provided secure communications for Marine ground operations, using a code developed from their native language. The Japanese military never broke the code.
The Navajo code talkers played a pivotal role in saving lives and hastening the war’s end in the Pacific theater. Marine Cpl. Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian, was one of the six men who raised the American flag over Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945, an event captured in the Marine Corps Memorial near the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.
Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is named after Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, who was one-eighth Osage Indian. He was the first American Indian to be promoted to general officer. He died on a flying mission after the battle of Midway in June 1942.
During our history, 30 American Indians have recieved the Medal of Honor: 16 during the Frontier Wars, seven during World War II, five in the Korean War and two in the Vietnam War.
As we celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month throughout November and Veterans Day on Nov. 11, let’s remember the thousands of American Indians who have honorably served in this country’s armed forces throughout its history.
AUTHOR: Dr. Robert B. Kane
Air University Director of History
The name code talkers is strongly associated with bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. Code talking, however, was pioneered by Choctaw Indians serving in the U.S. Army during World War I. Other Native American code talkers were also deployed by the United States Army during World War II, including Cherokee, Choctaw, Lakota, Meskwaki, and Comanche soldiers.
The code talkers received no recognition until the declassification of the operation in 1968. In 1982, the code talkers were given a Certificate of Recognition by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who also named August 14, 1982 “Navajo Code Talkers Day”.
On December 21, 2000 the U.S. Congress passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, Public Law 106-554, 114 Statute 2763, which awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the original twenty-nine World War II Navajo code talkers, and Silver Medals to each person who qualified as a Navajo Code Talker (approximately 300). In July 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush personally presented the Medal to four surviving original code talkers (the fifth living original code talker was not able to attend) at a ceremony held in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC. Gold medals were presented to the families of the 24 original code talkers no longer living.
On September 17, 2007, 18 Choctaw code talkers were posthumously awarded the Texas Medal of Valor from the Adjutant General of the State of Texas for their World War II service.
On November 15, 2008, The Code Talkers Recognition Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-420), was signed into law by President George W. Bush, which recognizes every Native American code talker who served in the United States military during WWI or WWII (with the exception of the already-awarded Navajo) with a Congressional Gold Medal of individual design for his tribe (to be retained by the Smithsonian Institution), and a silver medal duplicate to each code talker.