Questionnaires of American Indians Overseas in the AEF
By Constance Potter
"I feel it an honor to the red man that he takes part in this great event, because it shows that the thousands of Indians who fought in the great war are appreciated by the white man.”
-- Chief Plenty Coups of the Crows, spoken while placing his war bonnet and coup stick atop the coffin of the Unknown Soldier, 1921
During World War I, approximately 12,000 Native Americans served in the U.S. military, including both enlisted men and draftees. About two-thirds served in the infantry. Most of these men were not United States citizens. (On November 6, 1919, Congress granted Indian veterans the right to petition for citizenship.)
In February 1919, Brigadier General Oliver L. Spaulding, Jr., chief of the Historical Section of the General Staff of the Army, sent a questionnaire to the Chiefs of Staff of the AEF Divisions relating to “activities of American Indians who served overseas in the AEF.”
The records are arranged by division and then by company. Within the company, the questionnaires are in random order, not in alphabetical order by the soldier’s last name. Not all of the forms are filled out completely, nor are there questionnaires for all the divisions. There are files for the following AEF divisions: 2nd through 7th, 26th, 28th, 30th, 32nd, 35th and 36th, 41st and 42nd, 77th through 79th, 82nd, 85th through 91st.,
The forms describe the service of 1,204 men. The men answered such questions as their home town, education, tribal affiliation, and war experience. Their officers, however, completed the longer remarks sections.
In some divisions, there is a list at the front of the file that lists the rank, last name, service number, first name, and company and infantry of the soldier (e.g., Private Henry (76617) Philip, Co. F, 102d Infantry).
The questionnaires asked:
- Name (surname first)
- Address (home). This generally includes just the name of the town or city and the state or the reservation.
- Place & Date of Birth. Sometimes the form lists only the year of birth.
- Tribe or Nationality of the father and the mother.
- Education (schools and colleges, and years attended). Many men has little formal education and many went to Indian schools. Josiah A. Powless, however, was a physician in the Medical Corps (see below).
- Athletics (in order of preference). The most favorite athletics were football, baseball, and basketball. Three men played on the 36th Division football team, “which won the football championship of the Army.”
- Enlistment (place and date).
- Ranks (give dates of appointment or commission).
- Date of arrival in France.
- Service at Front (give dates, places, and units). Many of the men fought under fire at the Oise-Aisne, St. Mihiel-Toul, and the Meuse Argonne offensives.
- Duty Preferred (infantry, artillery, scouting, etc.).
- Personal Remarks. In both this section and the Remarks of Company Commander section the amount of information varies, but as shown below the comments can provide a moving account of the soldier’s service.
- Remarks of Company Commander and others.
According to Susan Applegate Krause in North American Indians in the Great War, “The U.S. Army’s project to document Indian military service sought to verify the belief that Indians were especially suited to scouting.” The Historical Section asked for “points of inquiry concerning the American Indian as a soldier and more specifically as a scout,” however, this section was not always completed. The form asked some general questions first.