North American Indians in the Great War

North American Indians in the Great War

North American Indians in the Great War

North American Indians in the Great War


More than twelve thousand American Indians served in the United States military in World War I, even though many were not U. S. citizens and did not enjoy the benefits of enfranchisement. Using the words of the veterans themselves, as collected by Joseph K. Dixon (1856-1926), North American Indians in the Great War presents the experiences of American Indian veterans during World War I and after their return home. Dixon, a photographer, author, and Indian rights advocate, had hoped that documenting American Indian service in the military would aid the Indian struggle to obtain general U. S. citizenship. Dixon managed to document nearly a quarter of the Indians who had served but was unable to complete his work, and his records languished unexamined until now. Unlike other sources of information on Indian military service collected by government officials, Dixon's records come primarily from the veterans themselves. Their comments reveal pride in upholding an Indian tradition of military service as well as frustration with the U. S. government. Particularly in its immediacy and individuality, Dixon's documentation of American Indian veterans of World War I adds greatly to our understanding of the experiences of American Indians in the U. S. military.


—Arthur Elm (Oneida), twenty-one, Oneida, Wisconsin
1st Machine Gun Company, 127th Infantry, 32nd Division

Joseph K. Dixon, photographer, author, and Indian advocate, met Arthur Elm, Oneida Indian soldier, on March 27, 1919, at the Greenhut Debarkation Hospital #3 in New York City. Elm was recovering from wounds sustained at the battle of Cierges, France, during his service in the U.S. Army in World War I. Dixon, working to document Indian soldiers, was immediately impressed with Elm and interviewed him at some length. Dixon introduced the interview in his notes by remarking: “It is said that the Indians have no sense of humor. Listen to his testimony as he humorously told me how he lost so much blood that when they got him back to the hospital they gave him a transfusion of blood from the veins of an Irishman and the veins of a Swede, both of them orderlies.” At this point Dixon let Elm take over and continue without interruption:

After this, I didn't know what I was. I was a mixture of Indian, Irish
and Swede. the infusion was in the chest and leg. the swelling was
pretty bad. That went down. I got better and feeling that I was an
Indian again. I went back to the front. Then it was that we landed
in the battle of Juvingney [Juvigny].

I was a member of the 1st Machine Gun Co. Battalion, 127th Inf.,
32nd Division. At Cierges, we were the first ones in the battle. We
took the town. I found a place where I could plant my machine gun.
We had skipped a few Germans and they fired from our rear. That
was where I was wounded.

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