Help asked to verify list of WWI Native American servicemen

Private 1st Class John Elk (Standing Rock), in 1919 serving in Company D, 139th Infantry Regiment (35th Division), with several other Native servicemen from tribes in North Dakota. Elk has been posthumously recognized as a code-talker in WWI. His commanding officer said he was an “exceptionally good scout, was very cool and calm but very quiet.”  From “Warriors in Khaki,” by Michael and Ann Knudson. Photo – British National Archives

BISMARCK (UTN) – Even before most Native Americans had citizenship rights, thousands of men from tribes across the country showed their patriotism by volunteering for the military and fighting in World War One (WWI).

Started in 1914, the raging conflict in Europe known as the “Great War” ended the lives of over 116-thousand Americans and wounded another 200-thousand. Before it was over in 1918, it claimed an estimated 10 million military deaths and another 20 million wounded. It was one of the largest wars in history and dubbed then: "the war to end all wars.”

Now, as the nation solemnly marks the WWI Centennial, United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) is planning to honor Native American servicemen from North Dakota tribes who served and sacrificed.

“One hundred years ago men from our tribes willingly chose to enter the military,” said Leander R. McDonald, UTTC president, one of the planners of a WWI memorial on the college campus. “They didn’t have to do that. It was prior to the time when all Native People were granted U. S. citizenship. But they stepped-up. And we owe it to them to remember.”


Native veterans are highly respected and revered throughout Indian Country. An estimated 10-thousand American Indians served in the Army in WWI and two-thousand in the Navy. Historians characterize their patriotism as remarkable despite having no reason to serve as most were not yet citizens.

In North Dakota, many were recruited in 1917 by Alfred B. Welch of Mandan, ND, an officer in the North Dakota National Guard. Welch befriended Chief John Grass of Standing Rock and was adopted by him into the tribe. He commanded a company of the Guard in France during the war and looked-after the wellbeing of Native Servicemen.

"I had, in every instance under my observation, found them to be soldiers of great courage, initiative and intelligence,” wrote Welch about the loyalty and behavior of North Dakota Indians who made it good in the great war. “[they were] always volunteers for the most dangerous missions; brave to the point of recklessness; and had proven themselves to be soldiers of the highest type."


In WWI Native servicemen performed duties in all military capacities. But one assignment offered a singular purpose not available to others. Those who became messengers and telephone operators transmitted information in Native languages and dialects. Along with men from a handful of other tribes, servicemen speaking Lakota thus were among the first Native “Code Talkers” in the military.

Only in recent years have Lakota Code Talkers been posthumously recognized for what they did in World War I, often to the surprise of descendants who knew little of the nature of their service. That’s because they remained faithful to their oath of silence, preserving the effectiveness of that field tactic for use later during World War Two.


UTTC plans to erect a memorial that will bear the names of WWI era Native American servicemen. Listed will be those who were enrolled members of the tribal nations in North Dakota that govern the college: Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation; Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate; Spirit Lake Tribe; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Assembling an accurate list after one hundred years has taken cooperation and communication.

Authors Ann G. and Michael J. Knudson of Bismarck provided a solid start by sharing the list of men whose service records are described in their 2012 book “WARRIORS IN KHAKI, Native American doughboys from North Dakota,” Robertson Publishing. During three years of research, the Knudsons tapped military and census records, newspaper stories, correspondence, family recollections and official reports.

The college also consulted with tribal historians, tribal leaders and veterans who serve as Tribal Veteran’s Service Officers.

Now UTTC seeks the public’s help in verifying the names of approximately 356 who served. The list is organized by tribe and carries the names of all enrolled members who are believed to have served in the era from 1913 to 1920. In the case of Standing Rock and Sisseton-Wahpeton, where each tribe’s boundary crosses two states, included are men whose homes were in South Dakota.

In reviewing the list, relatives, descendants and other interested parties are asked to look for misspellings, preferred name usage (such as Joseph rather than Joe), and the possible omission of names.

Some may also wish to share details known of WWI service, including honors or medals received and photographs.

UTTC plans an honoring for WWI Native Servicemen and a Veterans Dance Special during the 2017 United Tribes Technical College International Powwow on Sunday, September 10 at the college in Bismarck.

The college will gather financial support over the next year for the permanent memorial, listing all the names. It will be dedicated during the college’s annual powwow in 2018.

To provide information, please contact United Tribes Technical College, Office of Public Information, 3315 University Drive, Bismarck, ND, 58504, 701-255-3285 x 1386,




SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, Following the 1 p.m. Grand Entry

United Tribes Technical College hosts an honoring Sunday, September 10 for WWI Native servicemen from the college’s governing tribes. It follows the powwow’s Sunday 1 p.m. grand entry.

Families and descendants of WWI Native servicemen are invited to take part, along with veterans and others attending the powwow. Native Color Guard and Auxiliary units are cordially invited to participate.

An honor song will be presented and the names will be announced of WWI veterans from the five governing tribes of United Tribes Technical College: Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation; Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate; Spirit Lake Tribe; Standing Rock Sioux Tribe; and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

A Veterans Dance Special will follow with prize money for women and men participants.

More information: Todd Goodsell, 701-255-3285 x 2751,