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The Selective Service Act of May 18, 1917

To bring the armed forces to war-time strength, Congress passed the Selective Service Act on May 18, 1917. The law applied to all male citizens and all other males, who were not alien enemies and who had declared their intentions to become citizens, between the ages of 21 and 30, both inclusive. Indians had to register but were exempt from service if they were non-citizens and chose exemption.

While most who registered did not choose exemption, some tribes, such as the Navajos and Nez Perce, whose members were not citizens, resisted registration for the draft as did a few Seminoles, who joined Oklahoma socialists in what was known as the Green Corn Rebellion, which was quickly quelled. The Pamunkey and Mattaponi tribes of Virginia brought forth a formal complaint when their men were called up for the draft. Pamunkey Chief G.M. Cook reasoned in his deposition that since the Pamunkeys are considered wards of the Commonwealth of Virginia without the right to vote and their property not subject to taxation, their young men should not be subject to the military draft. Provost Marshall General Crowder ruled that while the Pamunkey and Mattaponi were required to register for the draft, they were exempt from service. Once this ruling was passed, several young Indians volunteered for service.

When Cato Sells, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, visited Texas training bases in late 1917, he saw about 1,500 Indians in the four camps he visited. Some 85 percent were volunteers, including non-citizens. Of the 15 percent who were draftees, some could have been exempt because they also were not citizens. In August, 1918, Congress amended the Selective Service Law to apply to all men 18 to 45 and barred further volunteering.

Herbert Cooper (Wampanoag) draft registration card
Herbert Cooper (Wampanoag) draft registration card