Pathways to Equality: U.S. Army Indian Scouts

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Native and Alaskan Native American military members have been on the forefront of this nation's military fist and cradling arms.  In most cases the exploits of Native American sailors, soldiers and airmen are overlooked leaving one to pause or take note as to why they did what they did.  How could a people any people in the face of such adversity continue to support and defend the constitution of a nation that did not include them in the pursuits of life, liberty, happiness and citizenship?  Even so they served and this service lead to equality for all minorities.  Native and Alaskan Native Americas have played an important role while serving as scouts for the U.S. Military.

When this nation initially declared their freedoms from tyranny it did not include Native Americans as a people requiring freedom. Though when the call to arms arose from this fledgling nation Native Americans were often the first to join the continental army as soldiers and scouts.  There were many Native Americans who joined the army and fought alongside their white and black counterparts, froze with General Washington at Valley Forge and eventually contributed to this nation's freedom.  In an attempt to give the full picture Native Americans fought for the British as well and in some cases this splintered Native Confederations.  

After the war those Native tribes that sided with the British were poorly treated.  In some cases it did not matter what military a People fought for, their villages were destroyed anyway.  "In 1779, General Washington sent an army of 4,000 soldiers, led by Generals Sullivan and Clinton to western New York to stop the raids on the frontier and punish the Iroquois for supporting the British during the Revolutionary War. They marched across the state, burning villages, corn fields, orchards and granaries, and destroyed anything and everything that belonged to the Iroquois.  Many Iroquois escaped certain death by leaving their villages and hiding in the woods.  Joseph Brant and his followers escaped to Canada.  This destruction of the Iroquois became known as the Sullivan Campaign.  It did not matter to the soldiers which side the Iroquois had fought on, or if they were friendly or hostile. The strength of the Iroquois Confederacy was doomed. The Sullivan Campaign was clearing out all of the Iroquois to make way for American settlers after the Revolutionary War."

It was not long after the end of the Revolutionary War that Britain once again attempted to take control of the colonies and once again Native Americans had to choose a side.

"The War of 1812 was an important conflict with broad and lasting consequences, particularly for the native inhabitants of North America.  During the pivotal years before the war, the United States wanted to expand its territories, a desire that fueled the invasion of native homelands throughout the interior of the continent. Tribal nations of the lower Great Lakes, including the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, and others saw their lands at risk.  The same was true for the Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw in the south.

The Native leaders who emerged in response to this expansion shared a single concern, that of protecting tribal lands.  There were Indians who sided with the Americans -- Red Jacket and Farmer's Brother led a Seneca faction to help the Americans at the Battles of Fort George and Chippewa. But most Indian nations sided with the British against the U.S, believing that a British victory might mean an end to expansion.  In all, more than two dozen native nations participated in the war. In addition to the Lower Great Lakes Indians, led by Tecumseh, and Southern Indians, the Mohawks fought under Chief John Norton to hold onto their lands in southern Quebec and eastern Ontario."

By the time of the Civil War, Native Americans in the military were a common sight.  However, it was not until after the Civil War that Native Americans really found their place in the military. The Federal government could not ignore the large contributions of Native Americans in the Civil War and in 1866 the voice of the nation was heard.  The Army Reorganization Act of 1866 authorized the President, "to enlist and employ in the Territories and Indian country a force of Indians, not to exceed one thousand, to act as scouts, who shall receive the pay and allowances of cavalry soldiers, and be discharged whenever the necessity for further employment is abated, at the discretion of the department commander."

Later, "War Department General Order No. 28, issued March 9, 1891, authorized Native Americans to be enlisted in the Regular Army and serve in Indian Companies within Regular Army infantry and cavalry regiments. The order stipulated that Company I of Infantry Regiments (excluding the 24th and 25th) and Company L of Cavalry Regiments (excluding the 9th and 10th) would contain Indian soldiers. Each existing regiment of cavalry and infantry, except the Buffalo Soldiers (black regiments), would contain one Indian Regiment. A maximum of 55 Indians were authorized for each company or troop. This change was not well received by the Army, and although the general order authorized a maximum of 1,485 Indians for Regular Army service, the actual number of recruits only reached a little over half that number at 780. The Indian Company "experiment" proved to be a complete failure in the eyes of the Army, and the men of Company L of the Seventh Cavalry were the only Indian soldiers who served out their entire enlistments, serving until 1895."

Desired for their ability, dedication and warrior spirit these Indian Scouts were soon scattered throughout the Western Plains and further west at time into the most harsh and undesirable post throughout.  These scouts performed admirably in all aspects of military life.  Whether fighting Indians, scouting, guiding troops or guarding wagon trains heading west, they at times seemed to be the overlooked expendable military arm of the US Army.  Indian Scout units were very active and pursued many well-known western characters. 

From 1869 to 1952, twenty-five Medals of Honor (this nation highest military honor) have been awarded to Native Americans. Of these 16 were awarded to Indian Scouts.  One recipient was Sergeant John Ward, assigned to the 24th U.S. Infantry (all black infantry) regiment; this during the westward expansion in 1875 and the last of the official Indian Scouts to receive the Medal of Honor was Sergeant Rowdy while in action against Apache Indians.

Military exploits of the Native American in the Spanish American War has been vastly forgotten.  Native Americans from Indian Territory were also recruited by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders and saw action in Cuba in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Portrayed in this painting by Frederic Remington, "Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill," can be seen a mixtures of uniforms and men from different units.  Among them was Bankston Johnson, Choctaw Indian.  A starkly different photo from the typical we see with regards to the Rough Riders. Here we can see the 3rd US Cavalry, 1st Volunteer Cavalry and the 10th US Cavalry, all of which were minority units or had minorities' assigned.

The Native American soldiers, primarily scouts, continued to serve in the Mexican Border Wars and WWI.  During this period, "The prevailing image of the Indian [was] as a warrior, particularly suited to the scouting role." The traditional role of the soldier and scout was filled by the Native American in WWI.  However, a fairly new scouting concept was utilized and Native Americans played a role.  Native American Preston E. Hudson (Choctaw) was part of this new scouting concept.  He was one of several Native Americans assigned to one of many of the Army Air Service's balloon units utilized during the war. 

During WWI the US Army Native American Regts were utilized as Code Talkers.... "We wanted to do our share in the big fight, and we tried to do it. " Charles Sorrell (Shoshone), Company I, 13th Infantry, 8th Division. Researcher Joseph Dixon records that, "records...also suggest an additional reason why Indian men responded so enthusiastically to the call to arms: many of the veterans...hoped that their service would bring about greater justice for Indian people."

WWII and enter the Alaskan Native American who along with Native American of the lower 48 will service with distinction.  The legacy of the Indian Scout can some degree be found with the Native American Code Talkers from Alaska and the lower 48.  Code Talkers were utilized during WWI as well. Yet the true essence of the Indian scout is found when studying the Alaska Territorial Guard and the First Alaska intelligence Platoon. 

When the territory of Alaska was occupied by the Japanese in the Aleutians; it was the First People of Alaska who were called upon to serve their nation. The Alaska Territorial Guard (at times called Eskimo Scouts) was formed by Maj Marvin "Muktuk" Marston a Army Air Corps officer This guard was comprised of over 6,000 members and they served as homeland security for Alaska and the Nation.  The guard consisted of tribal member's men, women and children as young as 11 years old, from the Aleuts, Alutiiqs, Athabaskans, Haidas, Inupiaq, Tlingits, Tsimshian, Yupiks and white populations.  It was formed to stand watch over Alaska's coast and other militarily significant areas.  These Eskimo Scouts were the nation's frontline of defense and interestingly served without pay.  Though they were considered unorganized militia they had a concerted impact on the defensive posture of Alaska.

One of the more colorful joint Native and white Alaskan units to come out of WWII was Castner's Cutthroats, officially the First Alaska Combat Intelligence Platoon (or Alaska Scouts, not to be confused with the ATG Eskimo Scouts), "Alaska Natives were a significant presence on the Alaska Combat Intelligence Detachment. This outfit was the first ashore on each island occupied by Allied forces in the Aleutian Campaign."

Men of this special unit knew how to live off the land.  By war's end they traveled thousands of miles to gather intelligence.  They gathered their intelligence by boat, on foot, in rubber boats left behind by submerging submarines; they even traveled by dog teams.  "The Alaska Scouts, with 68 members at its greatest strength, was an assemblage of some of the finest woodsmen in the world - perhaps the most elite group of woodsmen gathered in one group since the Alamo.  It is unlikely that there will ever again be a comparable congregation under the U.S. Flag."

Legacy of the U.S. Scouts would also continue through the First Special Service Force, predecessor to modern day special operation force, specifically Green Berets.  Sergeant Tommy Prince of the FSSF (a joint U.S. and Canadian unit), was recognized as the most decorated Native soldier in the Canadian Army.

Finally, after WWII and prior to the Korean War President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 establishing a Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services.  Later he signed Executive Order 9980, creating the Fair Employment Board to eliminate discrimination in federal government.  By 30 Sept 1954, the Defense department announced that all segregated units were abolished.  Minority military members now filled the ranks with their fellow white soldiers, sailors and airmen. A new chapter in the legacy of the Indian Scout had begun.

Ever present often overlooked the Native and Alaskan Native American military member only wanted to be a soldier, sailor and airman, permitted to stand among his white "brothers in arms".  We must all choose how we will remember the sacrifices of those who went before us; we must preserve, protect and remember.