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World War I Choctaw Code Talkers

Updated on September 28, 2013

Code Talkers

Since the 2002 movie, Windtalkers, staring Nicholas Cage, most people have been made aware of the role played by the famous Marine Corps Navajo code talkers.

These were Navajo Indians from Arizona who joined the Marine Corps and worked as battlefield radio operators communicating with each other during battle using the Navajo language which the Japanese forces did not understand.

Thus, while the Japanese troops could intercept the radio communications of our troops, just as we were able to intercept theirs, they couldn't understand what was being said since they didn't understand the language.

Hub 19 for 30 Hubs in 30 Days Challenge

My assistant, Chika, and I trying to write and publish 30 Hubs in 30 Days
My assistant, Chika, and I trying to write and publish 30 Hubs in 30 Days | Source

World War II Was Not the First War the U.S. Used Code Talkers

Also, because the Marines radio operators were speaking to each other in Navajo, the Japanese troops could not try to trick the U.S. troops by sending false messages on the radio channels used by the U.S. Marines since the Japanese did not know Navajo.

Having had an interest in history since childhood, I was aware of the Navajo code talkers.

However, it wasn't until a recent visit to the Arizona Military Museum in Phoenix, AZ that I discovered that the idea of using Native Americans speaking their language to communicate by radio on the battlefield originated with some Choctaw Indians in World War I.

The 14 World War I Code Talkers

The information in the Museum lists fourteen Choctaw soldiers in the U.S. Army's Thirty-sixth Division serving in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe during World War I.

According to the account in the Museum these fourteen played a key role in winning some major battles during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign during that war.

The fourteen Choctaw soldiers were:

Albert Billy
Solomon Louis
Mitchell Bobb
Pete Maytubby
Victor Brown
Jeff Nelson
Ben Caterby
Joseph Oklahombi
James Edwards
Robert Taylor
Tobias Frazer
Calvin Wilson
Ben Hampton
Walter Veach

Choctaw Code Talkers in Training

Fourteen Choctaw soldiers selected as coders in World War I
Fourteen Choctaw soldiers selected as coders in World War I | Source

Choctaw Tribe Had Long Relationship With the United States

The Choctaw peoples were originally found in the southeastern part of the United States mainly in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

A few are still in this area, however, most are now found in Oklahoma.

The Choctaw had long had a good relationship with the European settlers and had sided with the Americans against the British during the American Revolution.

However, they were the first of the so called Five Civilized Tribes to be forcefully relocated from their traditional lands to the Indian Territory (now the State of Oklahoma) west of the Mississippi River during the Administration of President Andrew Jackson.

DVD About Indian Code Talkers in World War I and World War II

Like many of their fellow Native Americans, many Choctaw men volunteered to join the Army to fight in World War I.

This despite the fact that most Native Americans were not considered citizens and were thus exempt from military service.

Problem With Preventing Enemy From Deciphering Messages Intercepted in the Field

While fighting in France the Army had three main means of communicating at the front:

  1. Field telephones connected by telephone wires strung between various command posts.
  2. Radio communications.
  3. Written messages carried by runners (who also used bicycles or motorcycles to travel with messages between units).

The problem with telephones was that the enemy could tap the phone wire with a wire of their own and listen on on conversations.

Radio transmissions could be intercepted by other radios and runners with written messages could be shot or captured and their messages read.

Of course, all of the messages using any of these means were sent in code and each side had its own cryptographers who worked to break the codes of the other side while also working to continually devise new codes for their side to use.

While trying to come up with a solution to the problem someone came up with the idea of using the Indians to send messages in their native languages.

Choctaw Language Selected for Use as a Code

There were a number of Indians from various tribes including some Indian officers. After some discussions it was decided to use the Choctaw Indians.

Fourteen Choctaws, who were fluent in their native language as well as English, were selected and sent for special training.

Upon their return from training they were divided up among the various units and devoted their time to translating messages into their language for sending as well as translating messages received from Choctaw to English.

Although the Germans continued to intercept telephone, radio and written messages they were unable to decipher them thereby giving the American forces an advantage which helped them in the fighting.

Use of Native American Laguages in World War II

Choctaw and other tribes were used by the Army in Europe to some extent in World War II while the Marines relied on the Navajo Indians for transmitting information in the Pacific.

It appears that the Native Americans and their languages were used more extensively in the Pacific than in Europe.

This was due in part because Adolph Hitler was aware of the use of the Choctaw and their language during World War I. In anticipation of having to fight the United States in World War II, Hitler had sent teams of anthropologists to the U.S. before the war to study Native American languages.

Hitler's program was apparently not very successful but the U.S. also apparently knew that he had done this and did not rely on Native Americans as extensively in Europe as in the Pacific.


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    • botipton profile image

      Bo Tipton 5 years ago from Cecilia, KY

      Not many people know about our people being the original Code Talkers. Thank you for posting this hub.

    • profile image

      Russell Estlack 5 years ago

      As a published author of historical nonfiction, I am always interested in true stories of historical events that need to be told before they are lost forever. The story of these brave men who helped to end "the war to end all wars" should be part of every history class in every school and college in America.

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Michael E. Louis - thank you for sharing this information about the picture and your uncle.

    • profile image

      Michael E. Louis 7 years ago

      Regarding the photo below titled "Choctaw Code Talkers in Training"... It's actually a photo from Armstrong academy in Oklahoma. My grandfather, Solomon B. Louis, Sr, is credited with being the original leader of the Choctaw code talkers. In the photo below he is standing holding the left side upper corner of the flag containing the stars. The photo is supposedly the Armstrong Academy baseball team - they joined together. My grandfather was an orphan and was underage but the team said he was of legal age when they enlisted. The men were involved in the war when the code talkers idea was conceived and would not have been wearing civilian clothes as shown. Thanks. Mike Louis

    • profile image

      Ken Williams 7 years ago

      Great information.

      Just as additional info; There were also Sioux indians used by the Marine Corps during WWI.

      Nice job!!

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 7 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Great information. I didn't know about the Choctaw indians in WW I. Thanks.

    • Cathi Sutton profile image

      Cathi Sutton 7 years ago

      What a great history lesson! Thank you for the information. Great Hub!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Chuck - what a fascinating article about a fascinating piece of history.

      I saw the film, Windtalkers, but wasn't aware that Indians were also involved as "code talkers" in the first World War. Thanks for the great research.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      Very interesting. I didn't know this, either. How very interesting, and thank you for a terrific hub.

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      Another good article. And as I said before, you're not slacking at all!

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 7 years ago from Illinois

      Chuck, I'm glad to know about the role of the Choctaw(Chautaw) my grandmother was Choctaw from Mississippi. She died before I was born. I know that she was a teacher, apparently very smart. Native Americans it appears have held their own in the United States. The sad part is that they are still very poor and suppressed. I am going to share this information with my family. In Mississippi they call themselves Chautaw.( that my southern family). I think that she was very beautiful and that helped in her being educated.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Good background. I remember mention of the code talkers in an anthropology course back in the 1950's.

    • bobmnu profile image

      bobmnu 7 years ago from Cumberland

      We should be teaching such thing in school instead of just the wrong that was done to the Native Americans. Not only would it serve to educate them on the contributions made but it would also give the Native Americans a sense of pride and belonging to the American Culture.

      Good Hub and Good Luck with the challenge

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Good hub about the Choctaws. Thank you!

    • gramarye profile image

      gramarye 7 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

      Well written and very informative.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 7 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Fantastic, I mean it really awesome great job to both of you , thump up . I started writing the challange about one week before, I have one more to go. I wrote one late tonight and now I have to think of what to write tomorror, my brain hurts. This was hard, I am glad I did it, but it's hard. Have a great night and we will talk soon.

    • The Rising Glory profile image

      The Rising Glory 7 years ago from California

      Interesting...I did not know this